The RealClearDefense.com website has recently published a new anti-nuclear diatribe by the defense issues ignoramus and rabid anti-nuclear propagandist Kingston Reif, formerly of the Council for a Livable World and now at the Arms Control Association (both of which advocate America’s unilateral disarmament and strongly support President Obama’s July 14th capitulation to Iran).
In in, Reif yet again desperately tries to delegitimize the US nuclear deterrent using the Left’s favorite – but old and tired – propaganda tactic: portraying conventional weapons as good and nuclear arms as bad. He essentially claims atomic weapons have no role in deterring Russian aggression against the US and its allies, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
He starts off with the false claim that:
“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, coupled with troublesome Russian rhetoric in the nuclear area and frequent military flights near NATO air space, has prompted warnings from some in Washington that, despite a powerful and diverse arsenal of approximately 2,000 deployed nuclear warheads, the United States has a serious deficiency in its nuclear capabilities vis-à-vis Moscow.
Call it a new kind of missile gap. Yet today’s gap is just as illusory as the 1960s version and acting as if there is such a gap will undermine – not strengthen – U.S. security.
For starters, U.S. nuclear capabilities are already highly credible, flexible, and robust. The arsenal includes lower-yield weapons that can produce more “limited” effects, including the B61 gravity bomb, which is being modernized at an estimated cost of $10 billion.”
Here, Reif is making a straw man argument. Nobody is claiming that “the United States has a serious deficiency in its nuclear capabilities vis-à-vis Moscow”, or that the US nuclear umbrella is not credible. But it is suffering from aging, aggravated by 26 years of post-Cold War neglect. In fact, since 1989, the US military – and especially its atomic arsenal – have been on a 26-year-long procurement holiday that continues to this day.
To be blunt: the nuclear deterrent – which then-SECDEF Chuck Hagel rightly called, in 2014, the most important capability the military has – has been inexplicably neglected for 26 years, and the bill for that negligence has now arrived.
Meanwhile, for many years now, Russia has been busy upgrading, modernizing, and expanding its atomic arsenal. In strategic atomic weapons, it has parity with (and is seeking superiority over) the US (it has 1,780 of these deployed); in tactical nuclear arms, it has an overwhelming advantage over the West, with up to 4,000 warheads deliverable by a wide range of systems (missiles, aircraft, surface ships, submarines, artillery pieces, etc.).
So while the US does have a very credible nuclear deterrent, keeping it that way will require serious investments – especially now, after 26 years of neglect. And while America does still enjoy nuclear parity with Russia, that parity is eroding as Moscow is busy building up its atomic arsenal.
Therefore, modernizing all components of America’s nuclear deterrent – the ICBMs, the submarines and their missiles, their bombers – is a must-do.
Reif worries that:
“There is growing concern in Washington and other NATO capitals that Russia’s military doctrine purportedly envisions the use nuclear of weapons in a limited fashion to compel NATO to back down in the event of a conventional war (a war NATO would almost certainly win).
Some analysts say this doctrine could come into play if NATO responds militarily to the potential Russian employment of the hybrid warfare strategy it used to annex Crimea to grab territory in one of the Baltic States. To ensure that NATO is not faced with a decision between accepting Russian nuclear-backed aggression or threatening a suicidal large-scale nuclear strike, they argue, Washington must close the gap by developing more useable and discriminate U.S. nuclear options. “
Yet, Reif opposes the US developing such weapons and options because, allegedly:
“Though the urge to respond in kind to Russian nuclear saber-rattling may be understandable, that does mean that it is wise. Gen. Phillip Breedlove, the head of U.S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 30 “that the security situation in Europe is less stable, but it’s not based on the nuclear piece….That’s not what worries me.”
Russia is likely to continue to use nuclear threats to try to intimidate, coerce and split NATO, but Putin would have to be delusional to think he could get away with the actual use of nuclear weapons and face little or no risk of a nuclear response. Given that Putin and his cohorts consider NATO to be Russia’s number one threat, it’s hard to believe they have a nuclear strategy based on the view that the alliance is a house of cards.
With all due respect to Gen. breedlove, the Russian threat to Europe (and the US) is EXCLUSIVELY nuclear (the occassional attacks of Russian hackers on American networks notwithstanding). Russia has NO means other than its atomic weapons to threaten anyone but its most immediate neighbors. Its conventional forces are third-rate, as Reif himself admitted a few paragraphs earlier, a Russia-NATO conventional war is “a war NATO would almost certainly win.”
Russia’s main battle tanks – the T-72 and T-80 – are obsolete trash. T-72 doesn’t even have explosive reactive armor, is very prone to any kind of projectile or mine attack, has no visibility when buttoned up, and has a manual transmission that forces the driver to use all three hands to steer. Its armor can be easily pierced with the shells fired by Western tanks. Ditto the T-80 and the T-90.
Russia’s new Armata tank revealed itself to be a huge flop just days before the Victory Day Anniversary Parade in Moscow on May 9th.
On top of that, all Russian ground vehicles could be easily pummelled from the air by American AH-1 and AH-64 tank-killing choppers, A-10 tank-killer aircraft, and Western tanks (Abrams, Challenger, Leclerc, Leopard 2). Even Poland’s T-72B and PT-91 tanks could handle them.
Russia’s frontline fighters – the Flankers and the PAK FA – are big, hot (and thus easy to detect visually and with infrared seekers and shoot down with IR-guided missiles), heavy, unmaneuverable, and underequipped (most don’t even have modern radar or infrared seekers, or have ones inferior to those in Western fighters). And the PAK FA can carry only 4 missiles in its “stealthy mode.” It is not a peer to the F-22 Raptor; not even close.
In addition, in recent months, the Russian Air Force’s fleet of aging aircraft has been crashing quite frequently.
The Russian Navy is a mixed bag. Most ships of the Northern Fleet are in good, seaworthy condition – but things are different in the navy’s other fleets, and especially dire in the (Russian) Pacific Fleet, where most ships (including submarines) are not in seaworthy condition and are awaiting overhaul. Plus, Russia has only one aircraft carrier that’s not even comparable with America’s 10 supercarriers.
Therefore, while Reif pontificates that
“To strengthen deterrence against a Ukraine-style campaign or larger conventional military assault by Russia against one of the Baltic states, NATO’s top priority must be to ensure that it has adequate conventional forces capable of quickly and proportionally countering the aggression. In particular, NATO must have the capability to deal with Russian irregular forces in ways that also reduce the risks of further escalation, thereby reducing Moscow’s incentive to send them across the border in the first place.”
NATO ALREADY has these capabilities, and its conventional weapons edge over Russia is overwhelming, as demonstrated above. The Russians themselves know it perfectly, which is why they are building up their nuclear arsenal and threatening to use it. This is the only way they can menace Europe or the US; their conventional forces are a joke. They know they’d bankrupt themselves if they tried to match NATO’s conventional forces.
So instead, they’re doing exactly what the US did under the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s: trying to achieve a nuclear advantage over the competition by building up their atomic arsenal. This is why the overwhelming majority of Russia’s weapons procurement budget is spent on atomic weapons – ICBMs, ballistic missile subs, bombers, shorter-range missiles, tactical strike aircraft, cruise missiles, etc. Vladimir Putin himself has admitted that “without nuclear weapons, Russia would’ve been a third-rate power.”
Reif then falsely claims that:
“More broadly, NATO must be able to fight a robust yet limited engagement that spans the conventional military, political, and economic domains. Much of this has already been on display in the alliance’s response to the Ukraine crisis.”
Wrong. To date, the West has failed to display an ability to fight Russia politically and economically. It has failed to impose true sanctions on Moscow, sanctions that would bite – specifically, an immediate freeze of all assets stashed in the Western economic system (incl. banks) by Vladimir Putin and his associates. And deterring Russia WILL also require a large, modern, credible, and survivable nuclear deterrent – no matter how hard Reif tries to take it out of the equation.
Reif then claims:
“If Russia is not deterred from climbing the escalation ladder by such conventional forces, backed up by existing U.S. nuclear forces, then it’s hard to argue that greater emphasis on limited nuclear options would appreciably change Moscow’s calculus.”
But again, the existing US nuclear arsenal is eroding due to 26 years of total neglect and underfunding. Restoring is credibility will require serious investments.
Reif then falsely claims:
“The onus should be on advocates of new options to point to specific evidence, historical or otherwise, that more nuclear weapons with diversified yields would offer more suasion than troop rotations, joint conventional military exercises, and other non-nuclear measures. To date they have failed to do so.”
This is downright laughable. It is utterly foolish to believe that mere exercises, troop rotations (i.e. a temporary presence of a limited number of American troops), and “other non-nuclear measures” will deter the Kremlin better than permanent, real, credible, massive nuclear (and conventional) power permanently deployed in Europe. So far, these “non-nuclear measures” have SPECTACULARLY failed to deter Vladimir Putin from menacing Central and Western European countries, while the West’s continued deemphasis and neglect of nuclear weapons has only emboldened him.
Let’s face it – Reif is just making an idiot of himself while desperately trying to delegitimize American nuclear weapons.
Reif further claims that:
“At a June 25 House Armed Services Committee hearing, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work criticized loose talk about controlling nuclear escalation, noting that “Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”
This is wise counsel and speaks to the limited utility and added risks of seeking to fine-tune deterrence. Nuclear weapons are extremely blunt instruments, both in terms of their destructive power and the fact they have not been used in 70 years.”
Deputy Secretary Work is dead wrong and is, like Reif, pontificating about issues he knows nothing about. The only reason nuclear weapons haven’t been used in 70 years is because, so far, the US has maintained a highly credible and survivable nuclear deterrent. Were the US ever to stop maintaining it, potential aggressors like Russia would attack America and/or her allies.
Reif also lies blatantly that:
“It’s not even clear that a NATO response in kind to a limited Russian nuclear attack would be in the alliance’s best interest. As the Council on Foreign Relations’ Adam Mount has written, it may be more advantageous for NATO to continue to press its goal of reversing Russia’s aggression by using conventional weapons. This would demonstrate that Moscow could not avoid conventional defeat on the battlefield by resorting to nuclear weapons and put the onus on Moscow to climb the nuclear escalation ladder.”
Again, those are blatant lies. NATO cannot defeat a Russian nuclear aggression – even a limited one – with conventional weapons only. Russia’s atomic weapons are so powerful that they could wipe out NATO’s conventional forces in an afternoon if Moscow decided to use them. Plainly, conventional forces stand ZERO chance of surviving a nuclear attack. Russia can compensate for its woeful conventional military inferiority with nuclear weapons – and will not hesitate to do so.
Therefore, renouncing the use of nuclear weapons – even in the face of an atomic first strike by Moscow – is a recipe for NATO’s defeat, not victory. Contrary to Reif’s and Mount’s lies, it would lead straight to NATO’s defeat on the battlefield and only encourage further Russian aggression – because, absent a robust NATO nuclear response, Russia could simply wipe out NATO’s conventional forces with atomic weapons and thus win.
Reif further lies blatantly that:
“It would also send a wider signal about the limited benefits of nuclear weapons more generally, which would be beneficial to larger U.S. nonproliferation objectives.”
That is also a blatant lie. Renouncing to defend oneself by all available means, and thus encouraging Russian nuclear aggression, would only undermine these objectives and make nuclear weapons even more attractive than they already are – and they already have a huge appeal around the world, contrary to Reif’s blatant lies.
Reif also falsely claims that:
“Attempts to develop more discriminate means of nuclear deterrence would also be highly controversial within NATO, threatening alliance cohesion at a time when it is vitally important. Allies don’t want to have a “limited” nuclear war fought on their territory. “
Wrong. The only “allies” who would oppose such measures would be a few pacifist-minded, pro-Russian countries like Germany, Hungary, and Italy. The vast majority of allies would support such measures – which would actually guarantee that no nuclear war would be fought on their soil because Vladimir Putin would simply be unable to threaten it.
Reif further lies blatantly that:
“In addition, developing more usable nuclear capabilities wouldn’t be cheap. At a time when U.S. and NATO defense spending is at a premium and the Pentagon is fretting about the affordability of its plans to rebuild the existing arsenal, every dollar spent on nuclear weapons is a dollar that can’t be spent to provide central and eastern NATO allies with the additional conventional military support that is more relevant to their predicament.”
Again, a blatant lie. Nuclear weapons are among the cheapest in America’s arsenal; they cost only 6% of the US military budget. And no, the Pentagon is not fretting about the affordability of its nuclear modernization plan; it’s anti-nuclear hacks like Reif himself. As for conventional weapons, NATO already has – as demonstrated above – overwhelming conventional superiority over Russia. What it needs to prioritize now is nuclear deterrence.
Also, Reif is lying by trying to oppose conventional and nuclear weapons. This is a false choice propagated by a pathetic, congenital liar. The truth is that both have an important role to play in NATO’s and America’s overall deterrence policy, and both need to back each other up. To maintain only one while neglecting the other would be pointless.
And as demonstrated above, in conventional weapons, NATO already has undisputable superiority over Russia, a superiority that Russia is not even seriously trying to contest. Where the balance risks slipping in Moscow’s favor is in nuclear weapons. This is not a “missile gap mirage” but a real threat resulting from Moscow’s huge, ongoing nuclear weapons buildup. Accordingly, these weapons deserve increased investment.
Last, but not least, Reif utterly betrays his appeasement mindset in the last two paragraphs of his screed, wherein he falsely claims that:
“As it seeks to buttress conventional deterrence, NATO should also more vigorously engage Russia in high-level military-to-military talks designed to avoid unintended military encounters, enhance stability and predictability, and reduce the risk of escalation.
Reinforcing NATO’s conventional forces while keeping channels of communication with Moscow open will be much more likely to achieve stability than chasing missile gap mirages.”
No amount of “engagement” and “talks” will work with an aggressor who seeks to intimidate, attack, and conquer other countries. Only a credible threat of raw, brute, massive force can deter and stop him. And as stated above, Russia’s nuclear buildup is no mirage.
Shame on Reif for lying so blatantly, and shame on RealClearDefense for publishing his completely worthless anti-nuclear screeds.