NATO: planning to win a nuclear war

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The US and British military are planning for war with Russia, and the US Army has commissioned a report entitled ‘War with China: thinking through the unthinkable’. US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said the US must prepare for ‘a return to great power competition’ with a ‘high end enemy’, meaning Russia and China, ‘we must have – and be seen to have – the ability to impose unacceptable costs on an advanced aggressor that will either dissuade them from taking provocative action or make them deeply regret it if they do’. A NATO Review 2016 article calls for ‘increased inclusion of nuclear-capable aircraft in future NATO military exercises’ to sow doubt in Russian minds about when NATO might order a nuclear attack to counter any Russian breakthrough on NATO’s eastern front.

The British government has increased troop deployments in Central and Eastern Europe. The US has stationed missile defence systems in Poland and Romania and advanced stealth fighters in Germany. The intention is to make Russia a defenceless target.

With media focused on the war in Syria, attention has been deflected from preparations for war in Europe. However, the demonisation of Russian President Putin and propaganda barrage against Russia continues; on 25 September 2016 the US ambassador to the United Nations said, ‘What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism. It is barbarism.’ The British ambassador accused Russia of partnering the Syrian government in war crimes and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson added, ‘Putin’s regime is not just handing Assad the revolver; he is, in some instances, firing the revolver. The Russians are actually engaged.’

What concerns the US and British states are not war crimes (they have committed many themselves), but Russia’s response to the imperialist orchestrated coup in Ukraine in February 2014 and intervention in defence of the Syrian government in September 2015. The US ruling class views these as challenging its bid for global hegemony and are unacceptable to it. US military spending for 2017 is $597bn; about nine times Russia’s planned military expenditure. $71.4bn of the US budget will be on new weapons ‘to stay ahead of future threats in a changing world’, (Ash Carter). Spending will focus on upgrading nuclear weapons, stealth aircraft with nuclear bombs able to penetrate Russian air defences, plus submarines and missile destroyers to counter China in the South China Sea. Spending on US troop deployments in Europe will also increase.

In this context the British Conservative government won a vote on 18 July 2016 to renew and enhance the Trident nuclear programme with a majority of 355, backed by over half Labour MPs. 47 Labour MPs joined Jeremy Corbyn in voting against Trident and 41 were absent or abstained. British Prime Minister Theresa May said that ‘The nuclear threat has not gone away. If anything it has increased,’ and asked Parliament to approve £41bn for modernising the fleet carrying nuclear weapons. In 1979 US President Jimmy Carter had agreed with Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan that Britain should share in Trident.

British soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq have been sent to train Ukrainian government soldiers who are fighting the militias of the Donbass in eastern Ukraine. This July, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said 650 British soldiers would be sent to Eastern Europe to help NATO in its mission to ‘deter Russia from any further aggression’. A battalion of 500 troops is to be posted to Estonia and 150 soldiers will be based in Poland. Fallon said Britain’s involvement is ‘yet another example of the UK leading in NATO’. Britain will take over leadership of NATO’s Very High Readiness Task Force from next year, with 3,000 troops in Britain and Germany on standby to act with as little as five days’ notice.

Russia and China are making preparations of their own. In September 2016 Russia and China conducted a joint naval exercise in the South China Sea. This was the fifth joint Russia-China military exercise since 2012. In 2015 they held joint manoeuvres in the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Japan. In April 2016 China appointed a special envoy to Syria. The envoy praised Russia’s military role in Syria. This August, China and the Syrian government announced plans to increase military cooperation, including training and humanitarian aid. China had already deployed military advisers to Syria and provided the government forces with sniper rifles and rocket launchers. China has said that 200 Uighars, from China’s western province Xinjiang, are in Syria fighting the Syrian government. Chinese corporations have major holdings in Syrian oil fields and companies. In March 2016 Syrian President Assad said that Russia, Iran and China would have priority when post-war reconstruction contracts are allocated.

In July 2016 the US RAND Corporation published its ‘War with China’ report. The RAND Corporation is sponsored by the US Pentagon and in the 1950s proposed a strategy for the US to win a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The report assesses probable losses from a US war with China in 2015 and compares them with losses and costs of such a war fought in 2025. The report concludes that the US would suffer greater costs and losses in 2025 than in 2015; the implication being that a war is better fought sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, tensions are mounting between the European Union and the US. With the EU and US in dispute over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement (TTIP), and the EU and US clashing over penalties on banks and corporations for tax avoidance, the EU is proposing an independent European Army. Britain has always opposed such a force, saying it would conflict with NATO, but with Britain voting to leave the EU other European states are acting. In 2015 EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for a European Army. The German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen said that a ‘European army is the future’. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Bratislava on 2-3 September 2016, Frederica Mogherini, Vice-President of the EU Commission, set out a plan to create European military structures. Any such independent and integrated European Army would require a change in EU arms procurement and production policy in order to reduce dependence on US arms supplies.

The crisis of international capitalism is escalating militarism and the drive to wars. An anti-imperialist movement is now vital.

Trevor Rayne

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 253 October/November 2016