THE SPECTER IS BACK: ON THE RE-EMERGENCE OF THE DEPLOYMENT OF INTERMEDIATE NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Alexander Krabbe/Layne Hartsell
2021.12.22 17:04, KOREAN TIMES
By Alexander Krabbe, M.D. and Layne Hartsell, Ph.D.
It was a quiet ceremony, without much ostentation, no breaking news on TV or the Internet; no representatives from the political world shaking hands in front of cameras. No noticeable public attention. Still, on November 8th, 2021, the 56th US Artillery Command was reactivated in the German city of Mainz-Kastel. This military command was previously also known as the "Pershing Missile Headquarters" during the first Cold War, then operating at the highest level of combat readiness. From 1983 onwards, the command operated the equipment of the Pershing II intermediate-range US nuclear weapons until when in 1988, following the ratification of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Treaty, the dismantling of its mid-range nuclear weapons and missile launchers began. The command was "discontinued" on September 30th, 1991.
The Program has returned – after 20 years of wars of aggression around the globe, the erosion of international law and amidst the largest military build-up in human history. This time, the 56th US Artillery Command will operate the equipment of the new US hypersonic, nuclear missile "Dark Eagle". Dark Eagle missiles and launchers will be air transportable via C-130 aircraft for rapid deployment in any international location, understood as being nuclear-capable and able to fly at speed of up to 4,000 mph (6400 km/h), which is 5 times the speed of sound (Mach 5).
Just recently, on December 13th this year, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov of the Russian Federation stated that Russia may be "forced to act if the West declined to join it in a moratorium on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF)" and that this may lead to the deployment of its own intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe in response to the United States' nuclear weapons deployment plans.
Similar to the THAAD crisis on the Korean Peninsula, the recent news from the military branches fall together with an atmosphere of growing mutual mistrust between major military powers, together with already reduced and weakened diplomatic exchange channels and reflexive sanctionism, which seems to have replaced bilateral or multilateral talks on the international level. Let alone the rhetoric of aggression about thermonuclear annihilation like US Republican senator, Roger Wicker, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who recently stated that “we don’t rule out first-use nuclear action" while speaking about Russia and Ukraine specifically. Later, when challenged on the comment, he responded that he had not been speaking specifically.
It is notable that the United States and NATO's military doctrine include the nuclear first strike option. This policy stated directly by Wicker within public view looks to be against international law.
The news about the deployment of the "Dark Eagle" on European soil comes only two years after the US administration under President Trump abandoned the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF treaty, 1987-2019). On October 26th, 2018, Russia unsuccessfully called for a vote to get the United Nations General Assembly to consider calling on Washington and Moscow to preserve and strengthen the treaty. There was, however, a run-up to the US withdrawal from the INF treaty. All the while the treaty itself is internationally considered as one of the most valuable arms control treaties in history. According to NATO Review, the INF-treaty was "a remarkable arms control achievement as it led to the elimination of an entire class of Soviet/Russian and US missile systems".
It can be remembered that the nuclear arms of today can be thousands of times greater than the atomic bomb which destroyed Hiroshima. Modern nuclear weapons have the capacity to render third-degree burns 10s of miles away from ground zero and the most powerful weapons can be capable of such injury up to 62 miles from ground zero. The immediate fireball can expand up to a 2.3 kilometer radius and with a thermal radius of 77 km covering an area of 18,626 square kilometers.
Allegations were made by the US that the Russian side had in advance broken the INF-treaty by developing and testing its own mid-range nuclear weapons, preparing their installation in its western territories. As a matter of fact, the then Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Army General Yuri Baluyevsky, said back in 2007 that Russia was planning to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in response to the deployment of the NATO missile defence system and because other countries were not bound to the treaty.
An inauspicious spiral may have been set in motion when in 2002 the US under President George W. Bush unilaterally abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM-treaty, 1972-2002). While the US side justified its termination of the agreement with the aim to protect the United States from nuclear blackmail by a "rogue state", NATO under US command soon after promoted plans for a Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic. Due to Russian protests, the plans were adapted several times.
However, on February 4th, 2010, Romania agreed to host SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles at Deveselu Airport as part of the US-NATO missile defence shield, with the site being upgraded to the THAAD-system (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) since 2019. The second installation of the missile defence shield is planned to start service beginning in 2022 and is located at the Słupsk-Redzikowo Airport in Poland to be operated by the United States Navy as a land-based version of the Aegis Combat System. SM-3 missiles came already close to the Russian coastline long before the end of the INF-treaty and were carried by the US Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG-61), which manoeuvred in the Black Sea as early as 2011.
The mutually agreed upon idea of the ABM treaty was that ballistic missile defense would jeopardize the balance of power and could start an arms race. Relative insurance against a nuclear first-strike attack due to the possibility of a credible threat of a devastating counter-attack would be called into question. Such a scenario might provoke a first strike against the nation fielding the defense.
The treaty was signed on May 26th during the 1972 Moscow Summit by then US president Richard Nixon and his counterpart, then General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev. It was ratified by the US Senate on August 3rd, 1972. What then happened after the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty in 2002 might be living proof of the exactitude of the underlying reasoning that the treaty's architects had in their minds.
With the return of intermediate-range nuclear weapons on European soil, there, however, is a significant difference to be taken into consideration in the direct comparison to the strategical situation during the first Cold War. In short: The situation might very well be even more critical now. What is not new is that, rightfully or not, one side worries about the military actions of the respective other.
A major difference, however, lies in the now available ultra-speed modern hypersonic missiles which were – thereby furthermore confirming the logic behind the original ABM-treaty – developed primarily in Russia and later also in China in order to overcome anti-ballistic missile defence systems.
Back in the first Cold War, the intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) already forced the military on both sides to operate on a hair-trigger alert situation. With only ten minutes of warning time from launch to nuclear detonation, there was potentially too little space for political de-escalation in the event of fatal military misunderstandings or false computer alarms. The inadvertent nuclear exchange has since then never ceased to be a threat. And, with the re-emerging deployment of intermediate-range nuclear weapons – combined with ultra-speed hypersonic missile technology – there is now even less warning time than during the first Cold War.
The human costs of the US-led wars alone have, counting from 2002, already reached numbers in the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed directly through military violence, and in the millions considering all factors such as shortened lifespan due to hardship such as migration casualties. The costs of preparation for war accumulate to the planned budget of 7.7 trillion US dollars for the US military over the next ten years.
This enormous amount of military expenditure differs in its magnitude significantly from the expected US budget to counter climate change, which is set to account for only 0.65 trillion US dollars over the next 10 years, while much more investment is needed to successfully enforce transition. Estimates say that it would take at least 4.5 trillion US dollars of investment to decarbonize the energy supply in the United States alone, and it will take 10s of trillions of US dollars to transform globally. Numbers are uncertain due to the magnitude of the problem that is quickly approaching.
Right now, we are massively financing a (military) structure, which has yet again led to more insecurity in stark contrast to its promise of bringing "peace through strength". Effective arms control through mutually binding treaties, however, has the potential to significantly shift this ratio for the benefit of sufficiently financing the conservation of our common geophysical and ecological environment in a time when the basic conditions for life on Earth are under real threat, perhaps even extinction, from consumption-based "infinite" growth war economics.
저작권자 © Korea IT Times 무단전재 및 재배포 금지
Layne Hartsell, PhD is currently working on agroecology and agroforestry, and writing in the area of ecological philosophy.
He is a Research Professor at the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology, Department of Philosophy, Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok, Thailand and a Research Fellow at The Asia Institute, Convergence and 3E Program, Seoul, South Korea.
He has held teaching/research positions at Mahidol University Siriraj Medical Center, Bangkok; Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea; and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.