Escalation including nuclear potential

Berlin government advisors and foreign policy experts warn of a further intensification of NATO’s escalation policy towards Russia. With regard to the dangerous incidents which have been occuring during military flight maneuvers, for example above the Baltic Sea, “sooner or later” there will be no other approach left than that of “associating and dealing with one another”, explains a high-ranking NATO official in the German foreign policy establishment’s leading magazine. It is to be ensured that the power struggle between NATO and Russia “does not grow into a major conflict,” warns a renowned Russian expert of a US think tank. Also the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (“Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik”, SWP), which is funded by the Office of the Federal Chancellor, urges that in order to avoid war risks, the long-term course followed to date, in particular by the USA, should be given up and “influence spheres in their respective regional context” should instead be granted not only to Russia, but also to China. The SWP points out the nuclear component of the conflict – and warns that in the long term the possibility of a deployment of land – based nuclear missiles in Europe can no longer be ruled out.

The unipolar world

The Berlin “Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik” has gathered its warning against a further intensification of the escalation policy towards Russia from an analysis of the US policy towards Russia. The recently published study of this Federal Chancellery-funded think tank examines, among other things, fundamental strategic decisions taken by Washington at the beginning of the 1990s. According to the SWP, it was indeed discussed in the US capital at that time “whether influence spheres were to be conceded to the two great powers of Russia and China” – i.e. areas in their regional contexts where their interests would not be fundamentally questioned.1 But the idea was rejected and it was decided to further develop a “unipolar world under the leadership of the USA”. One way of putting this aim into practice was the expansion of NATO to include Eastern and South Eastern Europe, contrary to affirmations given to Moscow in 1990 and in spite of the fact that the Russian establishment would understand this “as a continuation of the old game of equilibrium and containment policy”. “The geopolitical power conflict” resulting from the continual expansion of the Western powers’ influence towards Eastern Europe and the simultaneous refusal to grant Russia its own sphere of influence, had ultimately “culminated in the Ukraine question.”

Conflict domination

After the upheavals around 1990, the United States had fixated primarily on “so-called rogue states like Iran, Iraq and North Korea” and after 11 September 2001 also “on transnational Islamic terrorism” to enforce its global dominance. But in the meanwhile, in the words of the SWP, the spotlight is on “the power policy rivalry between the US on the one hand and an emerging China as well as a resurging Russia on the other side.”2 This means that “the old, always present but seldom openly articulated vital power political interest of the United States” has been pushed to the fore again namely “to prevent one or more hostile powers from controlling Eurasias resources” and “from acquiring a power potential that could endanger American superiority.” The US interest in the prevention of a united “Eurasia” has been described by former US President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his geostrategic classic “The Grand Chessboard”.3 The SWP confirms that in effect, current Washington strategy regards Russia and China as “the potential opponents which are to be deterred by superior military power,” – and “by the ability of conflict dominance”.

New dialogue

The journal “International Politics”, published by the German Society for Foreign Affairs (“Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik”, DGAP), has recently called for greater restraint in the conflict. With reference to continually recurring dangerous incidents, as for example when Russian and Western fighter aircraft met over the Baltic Sea, the head of the NATO Energy Security Unit, Michael Rühle, said in the online version of the newspaper that “sooner or later” there would be no other approach left than that of associating and dealing with one another”.4 “Were a new dialogue with Moscow to develop – for example over talks on the avoidance of military incidents”, then one should by all means once again consider further-reaching “practical cooperation”. Over the last two decades, this had after all ranged from “joint peacekeeping in the Balkans to maritime search and rescue missions” as well as “from the training of Afghan military specialists to the fight against drugs and terrorism”. It is true that the dealings with Russia will probably remain difficult, says Rühle; nevertheless, the current conflict “forces NATO not only to carry out a military re-adjustment towards Russia but also to explore new ways of dialogue and cooperation”.

“Not worth a war”

As early as in July, the online version of the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” has published a warning contribution by the Russian foreign policy expert Dmitri Trenin. As former colonel of the Soviet armed forces and present head of the American Carnegie Endowment Moscow office Trenin explained, it is currently mainly a matter of ensuring that the confrontation between NATO and Russia “does not grow into a major conflict”.5 First steps towards understanding are indispensable on both sides; so that the West should take note of the fact that the confrontation with Russia should not be held against Russian politics alone. If, after a major conflict as the system confrontation had been, one were to forget “to create an international order acceptable to the losing party”, it would inevitably lead to a new round of the competition. In fact, the dominance of the West as well as its advance into the Russian sphere of influence (by means of the NATO east expansion) was by no means acceptable to Moscow. The current conflict between NATO and Russia is “not trivial”, but “undoubtedly not worth a European war”, writes Trenin; now, “common precautions should be taken” to prevent it.

Medium range missiles

In this context, the SWP explicitly points out the nuclear component of the conflict. “The mere strengthening of conventional deterrence”, such as “the deployment of armed forces at the front, the plans and measures relevant to bringing up reinforcements as well as the necessary safeguarding of maritime connections,” could set in motion an armament dynamics that will reciprocally aggravate the security dilemma”, says the new SWP analysis of US policy towards Russia. However, the new “deterrence policy” will “hardly be confined to the conventional level.”6 In fact, after previous discussion, in which German think tanks also called for the expansion of the Western nuclear arsenal7, the recent NATO summit in Warsaw explicitly referred to the nuclear nature of the alliance.(german-foreign-policy.com) In return, Russia has now announced that it will suspend the destruction of nuclear-weapons-grade plutonium.8 The SWP warns that if the tensions continue to be fueled, it may be only a matter of time before there are the first voices to suggest that the INF Treaty be revoked  and land-based middle-range nuclear missiles be deployed in Europe.

Risks of war

Washington is “more and more faced with the challenge,” warns the SWP, to change its course and to allow Russia and China spheres of influence in their regional context after all, – “in the interest of global cooperation and the prevention of war risks” – as it would otherwise promote “power rivalries with a high potential of escalation”.9 In this case, the escalation potential is nuclear.     •

1, 2     Rudolf, Peter. Amerikanische Russland-Politik und europäische Sicherheitsordnung. (American policy towards Russia and European security order.) SWP study. Berlin, September 2016
3     Brzezinski, Zbigniew. The Grand Chessboard. American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. New York 1997. The German version was published as: Brzezinski, Zbigniew. Die einzige Weltmacht. Frankfurt am Main 1999
4    Rühle, Michael. Jenseits der Abschreckung. (Beyond deterrence) zeitschrift-ip.dgap.org, 15 September 2016
5    Trenin, Dmitri. Talk to each other! www.zeit.de, 8 September 2016
6    Rudolf, Peter. American policy towards Russia and European security order. SWP study, Berlin September 2016, p. 17
7    See: Die Nukleardebatte der Nato. Die Nukleardebatte der Nato (II) und Grundlegende Neujustierung. (NATO’s Nuclear Debate. The Nuclear Debate of NATO (II) and the Basic Reintroduction. german-foreign-policy.com
8    Russia stops plutonium destruction. www.zeit.de, 3. Oktober 2016
9    Rudolf, Peter. American policy towards Russia and European security order. SWP study. Berlin, September 2016

Source: www.german-foreign-policy.com/en/fulltext/59454 from 5 October 2016

(Translation Current Concerns)