Nuclear Disarmament and Russia's Heart of Darkness

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In Steve LeVine's book, Putin's Labyrinth, we read about the atrocities of Russian troops in Chechnya and the torturing of innocent people. We read how Russian soldiers kill for sport. In one example, Russian troops seized a large group of civilians hiding in a bomb shelter. The soldiers handcuff them and stacked them face down, five deep on top of one another and transported them to the main headquarters of the North Caucasus Military District. Some victims suffocated to death, others were shot.

LeVine has lived and worked in the former Soviet Union. He has witnessed the callousness of Russian policy, and the criminal methods of the Russian state. He knows that the Kremlin hires assassins to kill its critics at home and abroad (e.g., Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko). "I had been under no illusion about Putin," LeVine wrote. "His bare-knuckle approach to governing Russia had been apparent for some time. But now it was hard to avoid the conclusion that something more ominous was happening. What I was seeing in Russia went beyond the question of leadership style. Putin had set about restoring the legacy of brute Russia."

LeVine is careful to explain that "other countries" don't occupy "a higher moral ground than Russia." The United States cannot claim noble status after the war in Iraq (which LeVine calls "a war of opportunity … employing torture as a policy—with the support of a majority of Americans"). Even so, the Russian atrocities testify to a more fundamental evil; a more thorough depravity that threatens the civilized world. What LeVine calls "the legacy of brute Russia" can best be understood by three facts: (1) The Russians haven't buried Lenin; (2) They haven't abolished the secret police; (3) They continue to wage the Cold War and quietly support Communists in Africa and Latin America.

To understand where Russia is headed, we have to ask why there is a Russian military buildup across the border from tiny Georgia, on the Black Sea. We have to ask why the Kremlin is playing games in Ukraine, Moldova and Central Asia.  The following two charts, based on data from the Union of Concerned Scientists, tells the story. I picked the UCS data because it cannot be dismissed as coming from a "right wing" source. Chart 1, below, gives us a visual perspective on the world's nuclear weapons, deployed and reserve. A deployed nuclear weapon is one that is set to be launched by a missile or bomber. A reserve nuclear weapon is not immediately deliverable, but may be deployed to a military base in the future.

nuc weapon graphic

Readers may be shocked by the fact that Russia has a larger nuclear arsenal than the United States. They may also be surprised to see that all other countries combined do not match the sum of either Russia or America. This is the approximately same balance of nuclear power that existed during the Cold War. In light of these numbers, Chart 2 (below) gives us a visual perspective on the nuclear balance if the United States negotiates a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, putting the number of deployed warheads below 500 on each side.

nuc warhead count

Before negotiating something that looks like Chart 2, I would urge the president to read LeVine's book. In fact, the president should read about the crimes of Lenin, Stalin, Andropov and Putin. The murders and mass killings of Communist and post-Communist regimes in Russia cannot be disputed. While the United States continues to insist that the greatest danger is from nuclear weapons, maybe it matters as well who has the nuclear weapons—and how many are "reserved" for us?

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About JR Nyquist