Of all the “official” nuclear powers (Russia, the US, France, the UK, China), the UK arguably displays the most peculiar approach to nuclear deterrence. Here, we will outline the most salient details, assess the prospects, and suggest possible confidence-building measures.
Let us start with the “hardware” before addressing various conceptual features. As of today, the UK’s nuclear deterrence appears highly optimized, resting on the following three pillars:
- Four UK-manufactured Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) providing “Continuous At-Sea Deterrence,” that is, permanent at-sea presence of at least one ballistic missile submarine (presumably in the North-East Atlantic) ready to deliver a nuclear strike at any time (while another submarine is being readied for patrol at the base and two more are undergoing maintenance)
- Trident-II submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) “leased” from the US (unused Tridents are stockpiled at the US naval base appropriately named Kings Bay)
- UK-designed nuclear warheads (presumably with certain specific features making them very similar to US-made W76-family warheads) with a payload of about 100 kt (other variants are also possible) most likely “packaged” in reentry bodies similar to the US-made Mk4/Mk4A.
The total number of warheads is steadily declining, with the goal of reducing the amount from 200 currently to only 180 by the mid-2020s. The latest 2015 stage legally enshrined the following figures: not more than operationally available 120 warheads with a maximum of 40 warheads per SSBN on combat patrol.
As regards nuclear payloads for British SSBNs, it is a curious (though not officially confirmed) fact that, while the US creating the low-yield W76-2 warheads prompted rather passionate debates worldwide, the Royal Navy has never caused anyone any particular concern even though it has roughly the same weapons.
Currently, work is underway to develop a new generation of aptly-named Dreadnought-class strategic missile submarines that will replace the Vanguard-class SSBNs in early 2030s and ensure that the UK has a “convincing, independent, and battle-worthy” deterrent until 2060. The new Dreadnoughts will be equipped with 12-SLBM “common missile compartments” (CMC) (three four-tube launchers), while actually carrying eight SLBMs, which is similar to the new Columbia-class American SSBN developed with a significant financial contribution from London. Incidentally, American partners are working with their British allies on developing the nuclear power unit for the Dreadnoughts.
Work has already started on the lead Dreadnought SSBN (2016), on the first follow-up Valiant (2019); the second and third follow-ups will be called, no less aptly, Warspite and King George VI.
An interesting development in recent months is that American officials have announced a programme for developing new W93/Mk7 SLBM warheads (in terms of START treaties, we may say that W refers to warheads, while Mk refers to reentry bodies) and directly mentioned cooperation with the UK. This came as news to the British expert community, especially since the UK’s Ministry of Defence is mandated to notify the Parliament about any plans to develop new nuclear weapons. Giving credit where it is due, a relevant public statement was made very promptly.
Certainly, debates around the term “new” when it comes to nuclear warheads (especially since one would like to believe there are no opportunities or plans for nuclear test explosions) are extremely interesting in and of themselves, and each party may gain nothing. Yet, this situation serves as a vivid illustration of possible “glitches” in coordinating “para-nuclear” communications, even between the closest allies. Currently, though, there are more questions than answers related to W93.
The UK’s SSBNs are based at the Clyde naval base in Scotland. Certainly, despite Brexit, the prospects for an independent (and non-nuclear) Scotland remain rather slim, yet, if London’s worst-case scenario comes true, a new site will have to be found and new infrastructure built in a very short order.
The UK’s nuclear doctrine guarantees unacceptable damage to any aggressor and there is no doubt that the UK has the requisite capabilities. Nuclear weapons can be used independently or as part of NATO’s nuclear forces. Since 1994, it has been assumed that Tridents are de-targeted. Yet, retention of a certain ambiguity regarding, for instance, the first nuclear strike is considered rather useful in order to bolster deterrence.
The order to use nuclear weapons can only be given by the Prime Minister, although experts believe the decision would be collegial. The order would travel from a special room in a bunker beneath Whitehall, down the chain of command to a SSBN and, at each stage, two people would participate in “passing the signal.” The order could, it is believed, be issued from the Prime Minister’s airplane, as well, but it would still travel via the Pindar.
Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s coming down with coronavirus once again brought to the fore the issue of delegating responsibility for the “nuclear button.” The Prime Minister may supposedly personally appoint up to three “nuclear deputies” in the government, whose identity is kept secret and who are vested with the authority to commit nuclear forces in a predetermined order. During the Cold War, “nuclear deputies” (two, as a rule) were selected from among the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary, and the Home Secretary. The procedure was suspended after the end of the Cold War but resumed in 2001. Supposedly, while Boris Johnson was in the hospital, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acted as such a “deputy”, in the same way that he shouldered other duties of the Prime Minister.
A curious feature of the British nuclear forces combat control is the tradition of written letters whereby the Prime Minister describes procedures and lists targets for a nuclear conflict; subsequently, such a “letter” is sealed in an envelope and placed in a safe box onboard each SSBN. When a prime minister leaves office, the letters are destroyed unopened and new letters are delivered (sealed as well). Remarkably, even though the world has been afflicted by a real epidemic of leaked official and sensitive information, the contents of such “envelopes” remain inaccessible to researchers even today. Nonetheless, the possible “options” given to an SSBN’s captain include: “retaliate,” “do not retaliate,” “use your own judgement,” “place the submarine under an allied country’s command.”
The Royal Navy is staffed by flesh-and-blood people, the result being sex and drugs scandals and possible danger to maintaining CASD amid the COVID-2019 pandemic. Confined spaces often without access to outside air are, in general, good breeding grounds for infections, so reasonable concerns have been voiced about breaking CASD for the first time in the 50 years it has been in place. It should be stressed, however, that should this happen, even a sick crew would launch a missile if such a need arose, and a second submarine would be ready to go on combat patrol immediately.
It is not certain whether human error led to the failed submarine test launch of a Trident missile in the summer of 2016 (the British crew reportedly did everything by the book but the American-made missile failed), but the “political dimension” of the situation was very personal. According to media reports, Barack Obama personally asked then Prime Minister David Cameron to keep the details of the incident a secret. Theresa May, who became Prime Minister shortly afterwards, also kept mum. One of the first “victories” of the new cabinet was a successful vote on renewing the British deterrence programme (this ultimately became the above-mentioned Dreadnought). It is hard to say whether things would have gone differently if the information had been made public in a timely manner but, on the whole, the picture is not entirely seemly (even if not entirely new).
The UK’s powerful anti-nuclear movement is another important “human” factor and sometimes a source of remarkable documents. The starkest example is probably a report on the consequences of an SSBN nuclear attack on Moscow. We will not go into every detail of this valuable material but do note that, based on the calculations therein, up to half of Moscow’s population would die. Certainly, Moscow’s missile defence can handle some threats but the hypothetical British attack could involve several submarines. Of course, this is a purely hypothetical scenario, yet it serves best to show the destructive power even such a modest (compared to Russia and the US) nuclear potential has.
The International Dimension
Unlike France, with its emphatic “nuclear independence,” the UK has always maintained a significant “international element” in its nuclear development, primarily through close cooperation with the US. In the late 1970s, for instance, the UK had nearly 400 American warheads, including such exotic ones as artillery shells and nuclear landmines. At the same time, when it comes to arms control, the nuclear stockpiles of the US’ allies have traditionally been discounted.
Russian scholars note that continuously discounting the UK, with its added US-made SLBMs, from Russia-US nuclear arms control treaties is a way of executing Trident launches that do not count towards the treaties’ telemetry exchange limits. The problem may not be particularly relevant with respect to this venerable missile itself. When, however, a new generation of “Anglo-Saxon” SLBMs appears (approximately by the late 2030s), it might already be too late to discuss new approaches. It is, therefore, unacceptable to reduce the problem of multilateral nuclear control to the Russia-US-China triangle.
When it comes to the UK, traditionally proposed transparency measures appear too timid, given the “material” aspect of the UK’s nuclear deterrence architecture, as described above. Still, searching for uniform approaches to the declarative information on deployed and non-deployed nuclear forces, to notifications of test launches, etc. could promote further advances toward multilateral arms control.
The topic of the Russia-UK “para-nuclear” interaction conducted both bilaterally and within the “P5” (which was originally London’s idea) has been researched very thoroughly, and proposed cooperation options deserve the closest attention.
In conclusion, let us note that the British authorities are experts at providing information to the public at large. Certainly, the publicly accessible data are not exhaustive, but any attempt to clarify Russian nuclear deterrence approaches (which are significantly more multi-level and involve qualitatively different elements) in a similar manner would be a useful exercise at the very least.
From our partner RIAC
What is driving Russia’s security concerns?
The current discussions between Russia and NATO pivot on Russia’s requirement for the Alliance to provide legally binding security guarantees: specifically, that the alliance will not expand east, which will require revoking the 2008 NATO Bucharest summit decision that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO” .
It is useful to shed some light on the underlying points which drive Russia’s deep concerns. Moscow holds that the USSR was deceived on the issue of NATO expansion. At the same time, it is recognised that it was the fault of the Soviet leadership not to acquire legally binding guarantees at that time and the fault of the Russian leadership in the 1990s not to prevent NATO expansion per se. The current acrimony is caused by numerous examples of Western leaders making promises, blurred or straightforward, not to expand NATO further.
But Russia’s proposals were not limited only to political statements. For example, in 2009 Moscow already put forward the draft of a legally binding European Security Treaty.
As to the issue of membership, it is unlikely that Moscow buys certain behind-the-scenes hints that the potential NATO membership of Ukraine is really only a rhetorical position. Often this approach is called “constructive ambiguity”. Moscow strongly believes, with good reason, that in the past all unofficial promises about the expansion of NATO were broken. Why would it believe them now?
Another fundamental point, from Russia’s point of view, is that beside the right to choose alliances, there is a crucial role for the concept of indivisible security, particularly the elements of equal security and the obligation that no country not to strengthen its own security at the expanse of the other. These principles are enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act (1975), in the Paris Charter (1990), in the NATO-Russia Founding Act (1997) and in the Charter of European Security (1999). Therefore, it should be the obligation of both sides to work out the parameters of indivisible security holistically and not to pretend that this is an invention of Moscow.
Arguably, indivisibility of security may include, for example, an obligation not to indicate the other side in military strategic concepts, doctrines, postures and planning as an enemy, rival or adversary. Among other things, it may also include an obligation to halt the development of military planning and military exercises, which designate Europe as a potentialtheatre of war between NATO and Russia. It is Pentagon, which in its official press statements indicate for example Georgia, Ukraine and Romania as “frontline states”.
A common Western argument against Russia’s current draft is that it is difficult to see how such a legally binding guarantee can be achieved when Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty stipulates that its parties, upon unanimous decision, can invite any other European state to join.
But to refer to Article 10 regarding the expansion of NATO after 1991 is not correct. In 1949 Article 10 of course did not envisage the open-door policy for the states that were in the Soviet bloc. After 1991 a qualitatively new situation arose. It was not Article 10 but a political decision of the United States in 1994-1995 to open a totally new chapter in the expansion. That decision was of a paramount importance.
Also, it is said that the United States is similarly unlikely to enter into a bilateral arrangement with Russia regarding NATO expansion, since this would violate Article 8 of the Treaty, whereby parties undertake not to enter into any international engagements in conflict with the Treaty.
Again, the point is not straightforward. The US de facto is the dominant member of NATO, which in most circumstances calls the shots there. According to history, when its national interests demanded, it took decisions that can be interpreted as conflicting or even undermining Article 8. For example, the security interests of the UK were clearly disregarded in 1956-1957 in the course of the Suez crisis due to the actions of the US. Or doesn’t the AUKUS run counter to the security interests of France? Or, for example, didn’t the way in which the US left Afghanistan undermine the security of some other members of NATO?
Short of the legally binding guarantee by NATO, what other options for a settlement might be satisfactory for Russia?
Russia deeply values the status of neutrality that several countries in Europe maintain. Indeed, it would be difficult to dismiss the fact that the international standing of Finland, Austria or Switzerland would have been much lower if not for their policy of neutrality. Moreover, one may say that the security of these countries is even higher than the security of some member states of NATO. So why not consider an option of neutrality, for example, for Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia, buttressed by certain international treaties like it was in the case of Austria?
Another back-up option would be to consider any further theoretical expansion of NATO on the conditions that were applied to the territory of the former German Democratic Republic—i.e. that NATO integrated troops or NATO infrastructure is not deployed on this territory.
Alternatively, a further option could be to place a moratorium on a new membership, for example for 15-20 years, which would not undermine Article 10 per se. For example, Turkey now for 16 years is a candidate-country of the European Union but nobody in the EU pretends that it can become a member in the foreseeable future.
Mutual security concerns could be met if a significant complex of agreements is approved. Firstly, agreements could be made on military-to-military communication, on military drills and exercises, and on patrols of strategic bombers.
Secondly, there could be a NATO-Russia comprehensive agreement on the basis of well-known IncSea and dangerous military activities agreements.
Thirdly, there is scope for an agreement on an obligation not to deploy in NATO members, bordering Russia, any strike systems, either nuclear or conventional.
And fourthly, in the league of its own, there could be an agreement on a Russia-NATO legally binding moratorium on the INF land-based systems, both nuclear and conventional.
Finally, on Ukraine, it is often said that Ukraine is much weaker than Russia and has no ability to launch and sustain a large-scale offensive against Russia. This misses the point.
Russia is concerned about two things. First, that there is no guarantee that sooner or later a third country would not decide to sell to or deploy in Ukraine strike systems that will endanger Russia’s security. Second, that Ukraine may attack not Russia but Donbas, like Poroshenko did in 2015, to try to solve the problem with military means and at the same time to try to involve NATO in military confrontation with Russia. This could be called a Saakashvili style of doing things.
It is unlikely that Russia will ever agree to restrain the movement of troops on its own territory, which would be quite humiliating. This would be a matter for a new CFE treaty if such a treaty is ever revived. Another question is what is considered “in proximity to the Ukrainian border”? At present, the deployment of most additional Russian troops, described by Western sources as “in proximity”, is minimum 200-300 km from the border. Does it mean that Russian troops will be prohibited from approaching its own borders in proximity, for example, of 400-500 km?
Meanwhile, on the other side there are more than 100 thousand Ukrainian troops concentrated on the contact line with Donbas, and much closer to it than the distance between the Russian troops and the Russian border. It is interesting to note that maps, which Western media these days is so fond of printing and which show locations where Russian military forces are stationed or deployed on the territory of Russia, do not have any indication of Ukrainian troops disposition. What happens if Ukrainian troops receive orders to attack Donbas akin to orders that Saakashvili gave his troops in 2008 to attack Tskhinval? It is clear that Moscow will never let Kiev take Donbas by force destroying the whole edifice of the political process based on the Minsk-2 agreements, which, importantly, in 2015 became a part of the UN Security Council Resolution. The additional Russian troops deployments are intended to deter Kiev from attacking Donbas and they are not a harbinger of “invasion of Ukraine”.
At present there are conflicting signals coming from all sides, which can be interpreted in many ways. Warmongers shout that diplomacy is a waste of time and that only muscle-flexing and even application of hard power will teach the other a lesson. Still, most top policymakers in Moscow, Washington and major European capitals seem to prefer further consultations and dialogue, both public and confidential. In the sphere of arms control in Europe and CBMs, on which there is an ample pool of expert recommendations, the US and NATO have let it be known that they are ready to talk seriously with Moscow.
The situations in the Baltic region and in the Black Sea region require urgent and lasting de-escalation. A compromise on the issue of further expansion of NATO should be reached in a way that satisfies both sides in spite of each having to make necessary concessions. A final imperative is that the US-Russia tracks on the future of strategic stability and cyber security should proceed unhindered. The P5 statement of January 2022 on preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races needs to be followed by a P5 summit – the Russian proposal that was unanimously supported in 2020.
In summary, Western and Russian diplomats, both civil and military, need time to continue their work, which is of existential importance.
From our partner RIAC
In 2022, military rivalry between powers will be increasingly intense
“Each state pursues its own interest’s, however defined, in ways it judges best. Force is a means of achieving the external ends of states because there exists no consistent, reliable process of reconciling the conflicts of interest that inevitably arise among similar units in a condition of anarchy.” – Kenneth Waltz,
The worldwide security environment is experiencing substantial volatility and uncertainty as a result of huge developments and a pandemic, both of which have not been experienced in a century. In light of this, major countries including as Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and India have hastened their military reform while focusing on crucial sectors. 2022 might be a year when the military game between big nations heats up.
The military competition between major powers is first and foremost a battle for strategic domination, and the role of nuclear weapons in altering the strategic position is self-evident. In 2022, the nuclear arms race will remain the center of military rivalry between Russia, the United States, and other major countries, while hypersonic weapons will become the focus of military technology competition among major nations.
The current nuclear weapons competition between major nations will be more focused on technological improvements in weapon quality. In 2022, the United States would invest USD 27.8 billion in nuclear weapons development. It intends to buy Columbia-class strategic nuclear-powered submarines and improve nuclear command, control, and communication systems, as well as early warning systems.
One Borei-A nuclear-powered submarine, two Tu-160M strategic bombers, and 21 sets of new ballistic missile systems will be ordered by Russia. And its strategic nuclear arsenal is anticipated to be modernized at a pace of more than 90%. This year, the United Kingdom and France will both beef up their nuclear arsenals. They aspire to improve their nuclear forces by constructing new strategic nuclear-powered submarines, increasing the quantity of nuclear warheads, and testing new ballistic missiles.
Russia will commission the Zircon sea-based hypersonic cruise missiles this year and continue to develop new hypersonic missiles as a leader in hypersonic weapon technology. To catch up with Russia, the US will invest USD 3.8 billion this year in the development of hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons are also being researched and developed in France, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
Surviving contemporary warfare is the cornerstone of the military competition between major countries, and keeping the cutting edge of conventional weapons and equipment is a necessary condition for victory. In 2022, major nations including as Russia and the United States will speed up the upgrade of primary war equipment.
The United States will concentrate on improving the Navy and Air Force’s weaponry and equipment. As planned, the US Navy will accelerate the upgrade and commissioning of weapons and equipment such as Ford-class aircraft carriers, Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines, and F-15EX fighter jets, as well as develop a high-end sea and air equipment system that includes new aircraft carrier platforms and fifth-generation fighter jets.
Russian military equipment improvements are in full swing, with the army receiving additional T-14 tanks, the navy receiving 16 major vessels, and the aerospace force and navy receiving over 200 new or better aircraft. The commissioning of a new generation of Boxer armored vehicles in the United Kingdom will be accelerated. India will continue to push for the deployment of its first homegrown aircraft carrier in combat. Japan will also continue to buy F-35B fighter jets and improve the Izumo, a quasi-aircraft carrier.
The US military’s aim this year in the domain of electromagnetic spectrum is to push the Air Force’s Project Kaiju electronic warfare program and the Navy’s next generation jammer low band (NGJ-LB) program, as well as better enhance the electronic warfare process via exercises. Pole-21, Krasukha, and other new electronic warfare systems will be sent to Russia in order to increase the automation of electronic warfare systems. The electronic warfare systems of the Type 45 destroyers, as well as the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates, will be upgraded by the United Kingdom. To build combat power, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces will continue to develop the newly formed 301st Electronic Warfare Company.
Around the world, a new cycle of scientific, technical, and military upheaval is gaining traction, and conflict is swiftly shifting towards a more intelligent form. Russia, the United States, and other major countries have boosted their investment in scientific research in order to win future battles, with a concentration on intelligent technology, unmanned equipment, and human-machine coordinated tactics.
This year, the US military intends to spend USD 874 million on research and development to boost the use of intelligent technologies in domains such as information, command and control, logistics, network defense, and others. More than 150 artificial intelligence (AI) projects are presently being developed in Russia.
This year, it will concentrate on adapting intelligent software for various weapon platforms in order to improve combat effectiveness. France, the United Kingdom, India, and other countries have also stepped up their AI research and attempted to use it broadly in areas such as intelligence reconnaissance, auxiliary decision-making, and network security.
In the scope of human coordinated operations, the United States was the first to investigate and has a distinct edge. The US intends to conduct the first combat test of company-level unmanned armored forces, investigate ways for fifth-generation fighter jets to coordinate with unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and drone swarms, and promote manned and unmanned warships working together on reconnaissance, anti-submarine, and mine-sweeping missions.
Russia will work to integrate unmanned equipment into manned combat systems as quickly as feasible, while also promoting the methodical development of drones and unmanned vehicles. Furthermore, France and the United Kingdom are actively investigating human-machine coordinated techniques in military operations, such as large urban areas.
Spotlight on the Russia-Ukraine situation
The United States of America and Russia have recently been at loggerheads over the issue of Ukraine.
Weeks ago the leaders of the two superpowers behind the Ukrainian situation convened a meeting on the crisis. Although they both drew a clear line between them during the meeting, they made no political commitment, thus showing that the political chess game surrounding Ukraine has only just begun.
In what was seen as a “frank and pragmatic” conversation by both sides, President Putin made it clear to President Biden that he was not satisfied with the implementation of the February 11, 2015 Minsk-2 Agreement (which, besides establishing ceasefire conditions, also reaffirmed arrangements for the future autonomy of pro-Russian separatists), as NATO continues to expand eastward. President Biden, in turn, noted that if Russia dared to invade Ukraine, the United States of America and its allies would impose strong “economic sanctions and other measures” to counterattack, although no US troop deployments to Ukraine were considered.
Although they both played their cards right and agreed that they would continue to negotiate in the future, the talks did not calm down the situation on the Ukrainian border and, after the two sides issued mutual civilian and military warnings, the future development on the Ukrainian border is still very uncertain.
Since November 2020 Russia has had thousands of soldiers stationed on Ukraine’s border. The size of the combat forces deployed has made the neighbouring State rather nervous.
The current crisis in Ukraine has deepened since the beginning of November 2021. Russia, however, has denied any speculation that it is about to invade Ukraine, stressing that the deployment of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border is purely for defensive purposes and that no one should point the finger at such a deployment of forces on the territory of Russia itself.
It is obvious that such a statement cannot convince Ukraine: after the 2014 crisis, any problems on the border between the two sides attract attention and Ukraine still has sporadic conflicts with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Firstly, the fundamental reason why the US-Russian dispute over Ukraine is hard to resolve is that there is no reasonable position or room in the US-led European security architecture that matches Russian strength and status.
Over the past thirty-two years, the United States of America has forcibly excluded any reasonable proposal to establish broad and inclusive security in Europe and has built a post-Cold War European security framework that has crushed and expelled Russia, much as NATO did when it contained the Soviet Union in Europe in 1949-1990.
Moreover, Russia’s long cherished desire to integrate into the “European family” and even into the “Western community” through cooperation with the United States of America – which, in the days of the impotent Yeltsin, looked upon it not as an equal partner but as a semi-colony – has been overshadowed by the resolute actions of NATO, which has expanded eastward to further elevate its status as the sole superpower, at least in Europe, after its recent failure in Afghanistan.
Maintaining a lasting peace after the great wars (including the Cold War) in the 20th century was based on treating the defeated side with tolerance and equality at the negotiating table. Facts have shown that this has not been taken on board by the policy of the United States of America and its Western fawners and sycophants. Treating Russia as the loser in the Cold War is tantamount to frustrating it severely and ruthlessly, thus depriving it of the most important constituent feature of the post-short century European security order.
Unless Russia reacts with stronger means, it will always be in a position of defence and never of equality. Russia will not accept any legitimacy for the persistence of a European security order that deprives it of vital security interests, wanting to make it a kind of protectorate surrounded by US-made nuclear bombs. The long-lasting Ukrainian crisis is the last barrier and the most crucial link in the confrontation between Russia, the United States of America and the West. It is a warning to those European countries that over the past decades have been deprived of a foreign policy of their own, not just obeying the White House’s orders.
Secondly, the Ukrainian issue is an important structural problem that affects the direction of European security construction and no one can afford to lose in this crisis.
While Europe can achieve unity, integrity and lasting peace, the key challenge is whether it can truly incorporate Russia. This depends crucially on whether NATO’s eastward expansion will stop and whether Ukraine will be able to resolve these two key factors on its own and permanently. NATO, which has continued to expand in history and reality, is the most lethal threat to security for Russia. NATO continues to weaken Russia and deprive it of its European statehood, and mocks its status as a great power. Preventing NATO from continuing its eastward expansion is probably the most important security interest not only of Russia, but also of European countries with no foreign policies of their own, but with peoples and public that do not certainly want to be dragged into a conventional war on the continent, on behalf of a country that has an ocean between Europe and itself as a safety belt.
The current feasible solution to ensure lasting security in Europe is for Ukraine not to join NATO, but to maintain a permanent status of neutrality, like Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, etc. This is a prerequisite for Ukraine to preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty to the fullest extent possible, and it is also the only reasonable solution for settling the deep conflict between Russia and the United States of America.
To this end, Russia signed the aforementioned Minsk-2 Agreement of 2015. Looking at the evolution of NATO over the past decades, however, we can see that it has absolutely no chance of changing a well-established “open door” membership policy.
The United States of America and NATO will not accept the option of a neutral Ukraine, and the current level of political decision-making in the country is other-directed. For these reasons, Ukraine now appears morally dismembered, and bears a striking resemblance to the divided Berlin and the two pre-1989 Germanies. It can be said that the division of Ukraine is a sign of the new split in Europe after Cold War I, and the construction of the so-called European security – or rather US hegemony – ends with the reality of a Cold War II between NATO and Russia. It must be said that this is a tragedy, as the devastating consequences of a war will be paid by the peoples of Europe, and certainly not by those from New England to California.
Thirdly, the misleading and deceptive nature of US-Russian diplomacy and the short-sightedness of the EU, with no foreign policy of its own regarding the construction of its own security, are the main reasons for the current lack of mutual trust between the United States of America – which relies on the servility of the aforementioned EU – and Russia, terrified by the nuclear encirclement on its borders.
The United States took advantage of the deep problems of the Soviet Union and of Russia’s zeal and policies for the self-inflicted change in the 1990s – indeed, a turning point – at the expense of “verbal commitment” diplomacy.
In 1990, on behalf of President George H. W. Bush’s Administration, US Secretary of State Baker made a verbal promise to the then Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, that “upon reunification, after Germany remaining within NATO, the organisation would not expand eastward”. President Clinton’s Administration rejected that promise on the grounds that it was its predecessor’s decision and that verbal promises were not valid, but in the meantime George H. W. Bush had incorporated the Baltic States into NATO.
In the mid-1990s, President Clinton indirectly made a verbal commitment to Russia’s then leader, the faint-hearted Yeltsin, to respect the red line whereby NATO should not cross the eastern borders of the Baltic States. Nevertheless, as already stated above, President George H. W. Bush’s Administration had already broken that promise by crossing their Western borders. It stands to reason that, in the eyes of Russia, the “verbal commitment diplomacy” is rightly synonymous with fraud and hypocrisy that the United States of America is accustomed to implementing with Russia. This is exactly the reason why Russia is currently insisting that the United States and NATO must sign a treaty with it on Ukraine’s neutrality and a ban on the deployment of offensive (i.e. nuclear) weapons in Ukraine.
Equally important is the fact that after Cold War I, the United States of America, with its mentality of rushing to grab the fruits of victory, lured 14 small and medium-sized countries into the process of expansion, causing crises in Europe’s peripheral regions and artfully creating Russophobia in the Central, Balkan and Eastern European countries.
This complete disregard for the “concert of great powers” – a centuries-old principle fundamental to ensuring lasting security in Europe – and the practice of “being penny wise and pound foolish” have artificially led to a prolonged confrontation between Russia and the European countries, in the same way as between the United States of America and Russia. The age-old trend of emphasising the global primacy of the United States of America by creating crises and inventing enemies reaffirms the tragic reality of its own emergence as a danger to world peace.
All in all, the Ukraine crisis is a key issue for the direction of European security. The United States will not stop its eastward expansion. Russia, forced into a corner, has no other way but to react with all its might and strength. This heralds Cold War II in Europe, and lasting turmoil and the possible partition of Ukraine will be its immutable destiny.
The worst-case scenario will be a conventional war on the continent between NATO troops and Russian forces, causing millions and millions dead, as well as destroying cities. The war will be conventional because the United States would never use nuclear weapons – but not out of the goodness of its heart, but out of fear of a Russian response that would remove the US territory from the NBC security level.
To the point that that we will miss the good old days of Covid-19.
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