US President Donald Trump in his first annual address to the Congress “on the state of the country” on January 30, assessed the state of the US economy, opposed the cut of the military budget, declared the need to modernize the country’s nuclear arsenal and noted that Russia and China threaten the interests of the United States.
In the Budget Message of the President to the Congress released recently Donald Trump “requests $24 billion to modernize and sustain the three legs of the nuclear triad—land, sea, and air—as well as nuclear command, control, and communications systems”. The overall budget of the DOD for 2019 should be $686 billion – 13 % more than in 2017. China and Russia are again mentioned as a problem to America’s security.
A year ago, Donald Trump won the presidential elections claiming the USA is going the wrong way, and it was mainly about economic, tax and social policy. “America first” – then sounded his famous and victorious slogan. His foreign policy precepts were also largely reduced to economic issues. Now, a year later, in his statements about the future prosperity of the United States under his leadership we clearly witness a call for strengthening the country’s military component. He stated that the idea of a nuclear-free world is unattainable in modern conditions (which one can agree with!), there are a lot of enemies and rivals around the world, and they threaten the welfare of America. What has changed in the US foreign policy since Donald Trump’s inauguration to the White House a year ago?
At home and overseas many acknowledge that the foreign policy rhetoric of the White House has become more aggressive and at the same time more reckless. Trump has set a course for active interference in the policies of other countries, claiming he is ready to use military force where necessary without hesitation. His first objects of attention were such countries as Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea. He stubbornly follows this path, threatening to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran, pointing to the possibility of using force against the regime in North Korea and transferring troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. Threatening Russia with new sanctions the United States has plans to impose new sanctions against North Korea as well.
It is understandable that the current aggressive presidential rhetoric and increased attention to foreign policy issues are Trump’s response to his domestic problems -the investigations that have been initiated with regard to his electoral past. His one-year- after growing anti-Russian stance is used as a tool of defense in the exhausting struggle with his multiple opponents.
At the same time Trump’s attitude towards the possible use of nuclear weapons has raised more concerns among Americans about the President’s authority to order a nuclear attack. Many experts believe that as a result Trump will inevitably begin to lose the votes of his supporters within the country.
“..a poll commissioned by the Committee for Responsible Foreign Policy revealed that nearly 71 percent of Americans want their representatives in Congress to constrain Washington’s interventionist impulses. Americans believe that war is a last resort. They desire “clearly defined goals to authorize military engagement overseas, including a timeline and what will contribute victory; [and] oversight and accountability from Congress in regards to where troops are stationed and what is being accomplished abroad.”A solid majority of Americans, according to the poll, also want assurances that weapons and equipment provided to others are not used in ways that harm innocent civilians”- writes Christopher A. Preble in the National Interest.
But these warnings do not stop the White House. Domestic problems force the administration to constantly “pedal” the bike of external threats and need for an American response to them.
“The Pentagon released a new nuclear arms policy” – Paul Sonne writes in the Washington Post, – “….that calls for the introduction of two new types of weapons, effectively ending Obama-era efforts to reduce the size and scope of the U.S. arsenal and minimize the role of nuclear weapons in defense planning”.
The US intends to modernize its nuclear arsenal in order to deter Russia, – says the new nuclear strategy of the Pentagon. In Moscow, such plans were considered confrontational, also noting that Washington’s intentions would lead to the launch of a new arms race, which has many direct and indirect consequences. Trump already receives warnings from many experts that the possibility of unleashing a nuclear conflict is not a toy with which to play and throw away. The inevitable response on the part of the opponents of the United States can transform this conflict from regional to global one. History teaches us that wars are easily unleashed, but they end very hard.
” In dealing with our Middle East adversaries—and China, Russia and especially North Korea—President Trump ought not to assume that they will respond to his bluster and blandishments in the same way partners and rivals in the business world did ” – warns George C. Herring and Michael C. Desch in the National Interest.
A year has passed, but Trump, in contrast to his predecessors, until today has never taken any initiative on nuclear arms control. It can be assumed that his administration’s strategic report, which paints a gloomy picture of America’s weaknesses, only strengthens the President’s opinion that the nuclear component should be urgently strengthened, Europe included. But European experts are hesitant on the issue, worrying about the danger of being an unwitting victim in a confrontation unleashed by the US far from its borders. In a new possible nuclear arms race, Europe may find itself in the middle, as a potential region of military tension, which causes concern for many EU countries.
In an article in Neue Zürcher Zeitung journalist Andreas Rüesch writes: “There are enough vulnerabilities along NATO’s Eastern border, but it is the issue of conventional arms. Strengthening tactical nuclear capabilities can be not only a false signal, but also a waste of money, which at a time of limited military budget the United States need in other areas”, – sums up the author.
Moreover, Russia, apparently, is not going to get involved in this “game of the past.” “The nuclear doctrine of the United States is an attempt to draw Russia into an arms race and to confirm the USA superpower status” – says Vladimir Shamanov the Chairman of the Russian Duma Defense Committee. According to him, by this doctrine “the Americans are trying to restore their superpower status quo as a result of the next round of the arms race. President (Putin) has already said how we are going to react. We have our own strategy: it is balanced and reasonable. The most important for us is not to repeat the mistakes of the Gorbachev period, not to get involved in the arms race, but to implement our own concepts and evaluate what is happening in a balanced manner, effectively at the same time,” – Shamanov told TASS Agency.
In this regard the main question arises: is the United States ready for the extension of existing arrangements in the field of nuclear arms control? Signals on this issue are different. Uncertainty is in the air. The START treaty is valid till February 2021, and if agreed upon, and the period of validity may be extended for up to five years, until 2026, – the nuclear doctrine of the United States says.
There are no serious threats to the implementation of the current agreements within the START framework, and over the past seven years the parties have already made the arms reductions stipulated in the Treaty, Russian political scientist Alexey Arbatov believes. “The only threat to START – is the break of the Agreement on medium-range and short-range missiles: if it will collapse, START will collapse too”, – the expert believes. As for the extension of the agreements, the situation is uncertain. “Earlier, Donald Trump was critical of the START, however, the nuclear doctrine mentions the possibility of extending the Treaty until 2026,” – said Arbatov.
American experts also agree that the recent statements of the US administration on nuclear weapons do not make the world safer. Andrew C. Weber, an assistant defense secretary during the Obama administration who directed oversight of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, called “the new plan a dangerous folly that would make nuclear war more likely”.
In their turn analysts Michael McFaul and Jon Wolfsthal write in the Washington Post: “That’s a mistake. The lessons of the Cold War are that nuclear wars must not be fought and that arms races cannot be won. Of course, we must preserve a strong and effective nuclear deterrent to protect us and our allies. The United States’s nuclear forces and planned modernization are already more than capable of sustaining that deterrent for decades. But arms control agreements such as the New START treaty, also advance U.S. security interests….We cannot predict whether new arms-control talks will produce results, let alone what the next arms-control agreement might look like. But we know what happens when we lack the predictability and transparency that verified treaties provide. And we know that the next deal will not happen without direct negotiation with our Russian counterparts”.
Besides there is evidence that the US military distort facts in an attempt to get bigger budget.
“Pentagon chart misleadingly suggests the US is falling behind in a nuclear arms race”- says the title of the article by Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post.
He continues: “The chart purports to show that Russia, China and North Korea have raced ahead of the United States in developing new nuclear systems since the last NPR was released in 2010……..
The chart clearly was ginned up to cast the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the worst possible light. By dint of its timeline and its exclusion of U.S. life extensions and future systems, the chart offers a highly misleading picture of the U.S. strategic position, suggesting the United States has allowed its delivery systems to atrophy. The chart should be replaced with a more accurate representation of the facts — and officials such as Mattis should not cite it in congressional testimony to claim a 34-to-1 advantage for adversaries over the United States. From such flimsy statistics bad policies may be born”.
It seems very likely that the current US administration is again trying to win the next round of the global game and get the “Superpower Cup”. But for this, in the current circumstances, they do not have the main thing – geopolitical and economic superiority. In the 21-st century we know – it’s this, rather than the number of nuclear missiles and other weapons that allowed the US to win the cold war and try rule the world for a while complacently. Much has changed since then. More countries possess nuclear weapons and their delivery systems nowadays, the United States is divided into two camps of opponents and supporters of the current administration, its European allies do not share Washington’s new foreign policy, do not understand and do not believe in its ally in many respects. China is on the verge of economic victory and tries on the role of a superpower, Donald Trump, mindlessly destroying NAFTA, loses friendship of American neighbors, and Russia is not going to repeat its mistakes of the past in the field of the arms race, stubbornly and successfully overcoming economic difficulties of the post-sanction period. It’s for this reason that the old-script game, apparently, will not take place.
In conclusion, it makes sense to recall the statements of two famous characters of the past. “War is a continuation of politics by other means,” said the famous Prussian military commander Karl Clausewitz. And this has a direct bearing on the US current foreign policy. But the German writer Thomas Mann decided otherwise. “War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace time” – he said. And it’s a much more precise definition of what President Trump is trying to do – to solve problems by force. But there is another way to solve the “problems of peace time.” And it is well known.
First published in our partner International Affairs