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Putin's Plutonium Play
Is It a Threat or Desperation?
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  • Nevis07

    There was an interesting “60 Minutes” piece on CBS a week ago. In it, they covered the idea that Russia might believe that they could get away with a limited nuclear war. No doubt the piece was an act of public diplomacy on the part of the US, but nonetheless, I found it to be a troubling piece. For those interested:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-new-cold-war-nuclear-weapons-david-martin/

    • f1b0nacc1

      The real danger of weakness in the West has always been that it would embolden the tyrannies of Russia and China (not to mention the other bad guys….) not providing them with real opportunities for aggression, but simply by convincing them that aggression might be viable because the West would be be too weak in terms of morale to respond. Fools like Obama and Kerry are exceptionally dangerous in that respect because the given the impression that they would not respond to aggression, hence encouraging an aggressor to act. This is clearly what has happened in Syria, the Ukraine, Crimea, the South China Sea, Korea, etc. In all of these cases (with the possible exception of the South China Sea, and likely even there), the US is more than capable of responding effectively to stop an aggressor and punish his acts, but with the current clowns in charge, those states know that they can get away with their actions because we will not respond.

      The danger is that they (the aggressors) may not know the difference between actions that we are too self-absorbed to respond to, and those actions that we will respond to, and thus may stumble into a war through miscalculation. A simple example of this in history would be the shameful appeasement of Hitler leading up to WWII, and its collapse when Hitler invaded Poland. We know from German records that the German military and foreign policy establishment firmly believed by the summer of 1939 that they could get away with an attack on Poland without starting a war with the West, and that a big part of the basis for this belief was that the history of the last 4 years convinced them that the West was too weak and decadent to respond, despite the fact that the West had a military establishment far greater in power than anything Germany could bring to bear. In a similar fashion, Japanese records show that in the planning leading up to Pearl Harbor, the Japanese believed that the US would not go to war after they had been subjected to attack precisely because the US had not responded to provocations in the past (the Navy in particular did not consider the sanctions against Japan to be a ‘real’ response). In both cases the aggressors were wrong, and paid a horrific price for their errors, but only after long, incredibly bloody war where the result was not assured.

      I have argued since the 1980s that limited nuclear war was (and remains) possible because of exactly this sort of phenomenon, but until the rise of Obama, I always felt that it was a very remote danger.

      • Kev

        It takes a really warped worldview to define Russia as an agressor in Syria. Russia is an old ally of Syria and was invited by the legitimate government to fight US-backed rebels. America is violating international law every time its combat planes enter Syrian airspace, to say nothing about its sponsorship of terrorism.

        Now, although you misidentified the bad guy in this case, your basic thinking is sound. Miscalculation by the agressor may very well lead to a nuclear exchange. This is why US threats to impose a “no fly zone” in Syria worry me. Hillary indicated she expects Russians to simply back down in the face of US bullying. SHE IS WRONG. This may be the classic case of agressor miscalculating.

      • Nevis07

        I agree with your broader point. It’s a bit like a policy of the carrot and the stick, except ignoring the fact that you have a stick. It absolutely is a possibility to have a limited nuclear exchange under leadership such as Obama’s.

        I agree with the piece above that Putin is not an “irrational” actor. More a wily opportunist. So the question of miscalculation has to be asked. Obama may well avoid pushing the button (at least more than once), but of course then comes the question of how much of this appeased upon behavior does the Kremlin believe believe it can carry over to the next administration. In other words, has the Putin/Obama dynamic put the US on it’s back foot going forward? It’s a troubling thought about the possibility of growing Russian aspirations.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Precisely right. The real danger is that Putin (or some other loon…lets just use him as shorthand for ‘wily opportunist who is running one of our advesaries’) will conclude that the weakness is with American leadership in general, not just Obama specifically.

        • Andrew Allison

          The question, given the series of meaningless “red line”, is under what circumstances would Obama push the buttom. I fear that he would, as he has in the past, temporize until it was too late.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Precisely right. What is worst about that is that given the inability of an aggressor to tell the difference between temporizing and dithering, they might not know how far they can go before forcing a response. In that circumstance, an potential aggressor wouldn’t be deterred because they might (mistakenly) interpet dithering as systemic weakness and act, thus forcing a response…

          • Nevis07

            I think perhaps the way the Kremlin sees Obama is someone that has a reactionary foreign policy, but more precisely a tempered reactionary. That is to say that Obama believes he can and should almost always de-escalate his reactions to avoid a larger conflict.

            If the Kremlin sees what we see, then they may well have concluded that they can in fact win a limited nuclear exchange because Obama might be willing to hit the button once but he may well opt for a remote military installation rather than anything close to a civilian population. Putin is however willing to push the button again and again, etc…

            Remember, notice from the Russian’s perspective we’re updating our tech to make smaller yielding nukes to decrease civilian casualties. That a noble idea. But I doubt Putin has any such moral quandaries with the existential use of force (not to mention the basic mass destructive concept of the weapon itself), just observe their rampant carpet bombing in Syria.

      • Czech Mate

        Sadly, after closely following the ruSSian invasion of Ukraine I have come to the same conclusion. My question to which I do not have any answer is: when we find ourselves in this dangerous place in time, is there a chance to revert it still? To deter the agressor? Because with Obama I have the feeling, Kremlinals believe he is trying to outsmart them by avoiding any “fistfight” which may be tempting them (enraging them) to go for one in the end as they may subconsciously or not feel this is their strenghth and his weakness.

        So is there a chance to put a bully in its place after a time of missteps?

        • f1b0nacc1

          Only once they are convinced that Obama was an exception, not the rule. Sadly the only way to do that is to call their bluff in the next crisis, something insanely dangerous and unpleasant.
          The really scary question is what if Obama wasn’t an exception??

          • Czech Mate

            how about a scenario where HRC wins in November and O calls Putin and sends Kremlin a message along the lines of: guys I offer you this and that and that is my last word, take it or leave it but I cannot guarantee you’ll get the same treatment and patience come January.

            Would they fall for that?

          • f1b0nacc1

            Unlikely….after all, Obama has backed away from ‘Red Lines’ in the past, and offers no real reason to suspect that he wouldn’t do so in the future. Putin would likely (and of course nobody can say for sure) think “I can probably get a better deal from HRC, who would like to start off her new administration with a bang, than with Obama, who really has nothing to offer me in the first place and is more likely than not just looking for a legacy enhancer”
            As a minor note, I would also point out that Putin is likely to have more dirt on Hillary (through hacking of her insecure email server), and thus is fairly confident that he can get a better deal out of her.

          • Czech Mate

            ok but I would still expect at least these changes from new POTUS with regards to ruSSki mafia:
            being less predictable, keep Putin guessing whenever possible
            humiliating Kremlin in private and in public but of course in an intelligent and well targeted way
            Simply put, giving the ruSSki mafiosos taste of their own medicine and above all: making it a priority to END Putin and his rule.
            Why so childish you may ask? Well, it would be to put them off balance and then capitalizing on the ensuing errors.

            And I know this is a huge problem by talking to a very knowlegable source almost from inside (yeah, I know it sounds funny but life is strange) who confirmed to me that the fear among the powers that be about the possible collapse of RF is at times greater than the fear of Putin going nuts in any possible way. They still believe he is the better option so far…

            Which brought me to my long time suspicion there was or used to be certain backroom deal between Putin and the West about not trying to rock his chair.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Trying to humiliate the Kremlin or ‘end’ Putin is likely to have the opposite effect of what you think it will. If Russia (in general, or Putin specifically) has to choose between humiliation (and/or being deposed), and upping the ante (i.e. risking war), they will likely choose the latter. Remember, Russia isn’t a country of laws, it is a cabal of strongmen, where ‘winner takes all’ is taken quite literally. Putin wouldn’t be facing a quiet retirement to a dacha on the Black Sea, he would likely face imprisonment and or ‘a sudden accident’, and the rest of the thugs at the core of the RF understand that their own fates wouldn’t be too different if they were deposed. Humiliation would be the fastest way to guarantee a fall from power, which only makes such a goal worse.
            It is a cardinal point in negotiating tactics to always give your opponent a way to back down gracefully, and this should be a critical point to keep in mind here. Like it or not, we are stuck with Putin and his ilk for the foreseeable future, and must live with what we have. Taking a firm line against his provocations is one thing, doing so in such as way as to incentivize him to escalate matters is entirely another…

  • Kev

    This is neither a threat nor a sign of desperation. It’s a troll. Russians are sick of American ultimatums and are giving them a taste of their own medicine.

    • Czech Mate

      LOL it’s like a criminal thug saying he’s fed with Police ultimatum and going on a killing spree with guns and knives. And I used the police metaphore on purpose. Yes, policeman may not be a saint but he is most definately and objectively NOT there in the thug league like the criminal.

      Why is ruSSia under Putin criminal? If we exclude “their” Chechen war, journalist executions, apartment bombings then still invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, stealing of Crimea -all this with thousands of innocent casualties makes up for a very serious war crimes- a biggest crime any person can commit in our world. And should I continue with poor decimated Syria?

      • Kev

        The difference between USA and Police is that police have a lawful right to use force. But there is no international law, that establishes American hegemony on the planet Earth. No law that gives Americans the right to invade countries and replace governments they don’t like. Syria was decimated by US attempts at regime change, not Russian bombing.

        We’re talking about a bunch of crazy thugs here with messianic complex. Russia is right to oppose them. By fighting elements allied with US, Russia makes the world a better, safer place.

        • Czech Mate

          “Syria was decimated by US attempts at regime change, not Russian bombing.”

          An outright lie, end of discussion.

  • Dantes

    Treaties are binding only to the extent that the signators believe the other will have power and will to enforce them. Putin doesn’t think Obama has either. Can’t say I blame him, especially after the Obama/Kerry Iran “treaty”.

    • Kev

      I really don’t see the issue here. If this agreement is so important to you, Putin told you what you must do to have it restored.

  • Andrew Allison

    It’s neither, but simply a probe.

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