Democrats and Republicans in Washington agree on one thing at least: the need to fight Russia. In their view, Vladimir Putin believes the US lacks the resolve to defend its allies; he is also trying to protect his authoritarian regime against democratic and liberal contagion. He has therefore chosen aggression against the West. But US politicians on both political sides, and the military, have decided to counter-attack.
In response to a White House request, the Pentagon recently completed a draft report that advocates a wider role for nuclear weapons (1). Since existing bombs are so destructive that using them is unimaginable, their deterrent role is undermined; so the report suggests it might be better to develop low-yield nuclear arms as part of a greater range of strategic threats. A range that would also include non-nuclear options: ‘chemical, biological, cyber, and large-scale conventional aggression.’
In 2016 candidate Trump, lacking the most basic understanding of nuclear deterrence, is said to have asked an adviser: ‘If we have them why can’t we use them? (2)’ The Pentagon report is a response of sorts: that the US, faced with what it claims are the geopolitical ambitions of Russia and China, and Moscow’s ‘willingness to use force to alter the map of Europe and impose its will upon its neighbours,’ must update its nuclear arsenal as soon as possible to ‘remain faithful sentinels of our nation’s security and freedom.’
You can’t put a price on such democratic self-sacrifice. Or perhaps you can: tripling the US military’s nuclear budget.
There might have been more opposition in the US to such geopolitical alarmism in pursuit of a new arms race if what passes for the American left had not spent the past year doing all it could to present Donald Trump as Moscow’s stooge (3).
This has forced him to supply arms to Ukraine (which President Obama refused to do) and toughen sanctions against Russia. Former vice-president Joe Biden’s stance is clear from the title of his recent article: ‘How to Stand up to the Kremlin: Defending Democracy against its Enemies’ (4).
In the same vein, Democrats on the Senate foreign relations committee have published a report analysing ‘Putin’s asymmetric assault on democracy in Russia and Europe’.
Rachel Maddow, who leads the anti-Trump ‘resistance’ on MSNBC, reported it immediately, with glee: ‘Not only is our president not leading us to do the kinds of things other countries have been trying to do to put out the fire, in some ways our government under this president has been pouring on gasoline and helping this thing burn.’
She can sleep easy now: the Pentagon is on her side.