Since 1998 I have publicly warned of Russia's war preparations. The idea of preparing for nuclear war is absurd for most Americans, because the idea of nuclear war makes no sense in a consumer society. However that may be, Russia's war preparations were as undeniable then as they are today. And Russia is not a consumer society. In the late 1990s Russia was refurbishing huge nuclear war bunkers and building underground cities. The only purpose such bunkers and cities could serve is in relation to a future nuclear war. For a country that was supposedly broke to be spending its precious resources on something so expensive, so far out of the way of "normal" expectations, seemed inexplicable. "Oh well," people would shrug. "The Russians are used to doing this sort of thing. It gives them psychological comfort. Let them do what they want. It needn't trouble us." The public missed the fact, however, that Russia was continuing to violate arms control agreements. It was not admitting to all the nuclear warheads it possessed, and was not reliably disposing of them. It was developing new, deadly, biological and chemical weapons.
Why in the midst of peace, a few short years after the end of the Cold War, were the Russians adhering to this insane path? Were they anticipating a future war?
The answer must be yes. And the answer continues to be yes. In the 1990s Russia forged an alliance with China that involved a growing series of joint military exercises. Why would the Russians do this? Why would they seek to develop a joint military capability that would link Russian missile power with Chinese manpower? For over a decade the Russians have been providing the Chinese with technology and weapons. This is not merely a commercial transaction, as some would insist. These transactions are carefully considered strategic steps. Since the mid-1990s, Russia and China have initiated joint-armaments programs that further solidified their military partnership. It is obsolete thinking to suppose Russia and China are enemies. It must be understood, as a practical matter, that Russia and China are underdog powers locked in a struggle for primacy with the United States. The only sensible strategy, if Russia and China expect to emerge on top, is to unite against the Americans. And that is what the two countries have been doing for the past decade.
A week ago today, on August 17, the Russians and Chinese conducted joint military exercises on Russian soil, in the southern Ural Mountains. These coincided with strategic air operations involving Russian nuclear bombers. The combination of ground exercises with nuclear bomber exercises is a characteristic of Soviet nuclear war theory, which holds that troops must be used to follow up nuclear strikes. President Putin and China's President Hu Jintao watched the exercises while holding a summit in Bishkek (the capital of former Soviet Kyrgyzstan). While China and Russia insist that their preparations aren't aimed at any specific power, only a simpleton would believe them. (I am sad to acknowledge that many Americans, in this regard, are simpletons.)
Last week, in an obvious upgrading of nuclear war readiness, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the resumption of long-range nuclear bomber patrols that had previously been suspended in 1992. "I made the decision to restore flights of Russian strategic bombers on a permanent basis," said Putin. "Combat duty has begun." For some reason, Americans cannot digest Putin's statement or his decision to resume bomber patrols. Why is this happening? Well, we say to ourselves, there is no reason other than the peculiar psychology of the Russians. President Bush has not put U.S. strategic bombers on patrol. And why should he? Russia isn't our enemy. We are all friends. We are all economic partners and allies in the war against terror.
In Washington the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, responded to the Russian announcement of permanent strategic bomber patrols by saying, "It's interesting. We certainly are not in the kind of posture we were with what used to be the Soviet Union. It's a different era. If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that's their decision."
It's as if the Russian military had resumed stamp collecting or archery. There is no strategic alarm, no threat, no difficulty and no discomfiture. Let them play with their obsolete toys. We are living in a new era, and these activities no longer trouble us. The Cold War ended and the animosity between the great powers is gone. Say good-bye to it. Any evidence to the contrary is not evidence. We're living in "a different era." Anyone who doesn't know this, even if they are the president of the Russian Federation, is out-of-step. One might imagine Washington's reaction to a Russian missile strike against U.S. targets. "It's interesting," the State Department would purr. "This is not the sort of missile strike we would have expected from the Soviet Union. Of course, it's a different era. If Russia feels that they want to launch some old, useless missiles, that's their decision."
Our lack of imagination, our inability to grasp our enemy's thought process, leads us to dismiss what is obvious. The Russians are getting ready. Why isn't the American side responding? Why aren't the Americans getting ready? We have been seduced by a series of comforting illusions. We are also absorbed in a struggle against Islamic terrorism (only we are at pains to admit the "Islamic" aspect of it). The American shopping mall regime produces stupefaction and complacency. The regime is predicated on economic optimism and entertainment. This optimism is about to be shattered. The Russians know this is going to happen, and they are preparing even as we fail to prepare.