Friday, July 17, 2009

Russian Wilsonianism and US "First Strike" capability

Michael Kuznetsov left the following comment in response to my "Russia's Wilsonianism": I’ll comment below his response:


You must be kidding, yet I appreciate your grim humor.

You conclude with this phrase:
"Save yourself some money, Russia: abolish your draft."
Oh, do you really mean this, Lawrence?!

You assert that there is no more threat to us?
How about this detailed plan how to smash Russia.

See this:

The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy

By Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press

From Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006

Summary: For four decades, relations among the major nuclear powers have been shaped by their common vulnerability, a condition known as mutual assured destruction. But with the U.S. arsenal growing rapidly while Russia's decays and China's stays small, the era of MAD is ending -- and the era of U.S. nuclear primacy has begun.

An excerpt from the article:

The current and future U.S. nuclear force, in other words, seems designed to carry out a preemptive disarming strike against Russia or China.
The intentional pursuit of nuclear primacy is, moreover, entirely consistent with the United States' declared policy of expanding its global dominance. The Bush administration's 2002 National Security Strategy explicitly states that the United States aims to establish military primacy: "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States." To this end, the United States is openly seeking primacy in every dimension of modern military technology, both in its conventional arsenal and in its nuclear forces.


If you have any problems with the reading directly from the Foreign Affairs website, I could willingly provide you with the full text of the article.

Michael Kuznetsov



To begin with, while Foreign Affairs is a highly respected journal, but it does not represent official U.S. policy. Pravda used to represent the official policies of the Soviet Union, but the US has never had a publication that did that. Furthermore, the writers of the articles in Foreign Affairs are not all affiliated with the US government. The article you refer to was by Keir Lieber, who is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and Daryl Press, associated Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Typically, in American academia, Associate Professors aspire to become full professors. One of the paths to advancement is through writing. These two Associate Professors have written one book each (at least at the time of their 2006 article), and at least one provocative article. While some who write articles for Foreign Affairs do have some standing in the US government, that is not true of the two authors that have so alarmed you.

The Lieber-Press article garnered interest in Russia and elsewhere. The Defense Department was offended by it and issued a response. If you have access to Foreign Affairs archives, you will find the response to this article on page 149. It is by Peter Flory of the US Defense Department. Flory who does (or “did” in 2006) have some standing in the U.S. government. His response begins, “The essay by Keir Lieber and Daryl Press (‘The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy,’ March/April 2006) contains so many errors, on a topic of such gravity, that a Department of Defense response is required to correct the record”; which Flory then proceeds to do.

Also, see page 167 of Olga Oliker’s Russian Foreign Policy, Sources and Implications, published April 2009. She wrote, “Russia’s concern about relative parity was highlighted in the country’s response to a 2006 Foreign Affairs article by U.S.-based analysts Keir Lieber and Daryl Press. Leiber and Press asserted that the combination of a U.S. preventive nuclear strike and NMD could destroy Russia’s ability to retaliate against an attack by the United States. The authors’ calculations were based on what they themselves said was a highly unlikely ‘bolt from the blue’ surprise attack that in no way reflected U.S. policy or planning. The article’s scenario, assumptions, and conclusions were heavily criticized by U.S. and Russian officials and security analysts. . . .”

I take it that the comment of mine that your are responding to was, “. . .can you honestly say that there are any Western nations today that are ‘aggressive’ in the sense that Germany was in the late 19th and early 20th century? Surely not.” You then referred to the Lieber-Press article as indication that the US was an “aggressive” western nation, and therefore necessitated the continuation of the “draft” in Russia. But that doesn’t make sense to me on any level. If you were worried about a nuclear “first strike” from the U.S.; then surely your Russian Army, however large it has become through the “draft’ would be no deterrent.

I can understand why there may have been some cause for Russian concern during the Bush administration. Bush showed a willingness to use military force much as the Russians do on along their borders. But, since the U.S. has no draft, it pretty much used up all its available land forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It had none left over for the invasion of Russia; which is a preposterous consideration which no one outside of Lieber, Press, and some paranoid Russians seems to have had.

Leiber and Press say that back in the 50s the US was seriously considering a first strike against Russia, but I don’t believe that is true. A first strike may have been “war-gamed” much as Russia war-games such matters but a war-game doesn’t represent official policy. War-games are necessary to evaluate one’s military capability. They are in a sense “neutral.” War games in Germany prior to World Wars One and Two were put into effect by aggressive military regimes, but if a government is not aggressive, a given “war game” may represent fear or paranoia. In the 1950s, we had Dwight Eisenhower as our president, and he was not an “aggressive” president. He was criticized during World War Two by some British generals as not even being an aggressive general; so the idea that he was seriously considering a first strike against Russia strikes me as preposterous. Eisenhower didn’t have the will for anything like that.

If anyone was going to do it, it was Truman. He did after all authorize the nuclear bombing of Japan, but Truman didn’t intend the use of nuclear weapons to be normal policy. When General MacArthur wanted to use them against the Chinese during the Korean War, Truman refused him permission, and, ultimately, fired him.

Also, this is no longer 2006. Maybe you had something to worry about when Bush was president (although I don’t think you did), but now we have Obama and Obama just signed an agreement with Medvedev, I believe, that schedules the reduction of nuclear weapons. The announced plane is to get down to zero eventually. If the US has a “first strike” capability and wants to retain it, why would the US agree to reducing their nuclear weapons arsenal?

The US concern is that some nuclear weapons from the former USSR or Pakistan might get into the hands of the Islamists. A reduction to zero makes sense from that standpoint. There would then be no “nuclear club” for the nuclear wannabes to aspire to. But it would make no sense if the Lieber-Press scenario had any basis in reality.

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