Why does Rand fear a nuclear war?

Por • 22 ago, 2022 • Sección: Política

Katehon think tank

17.08.2022. The US think tank RAND published a report in July suggesting the possibility of direct fighting between Russia and NATO forces in Ukraine.

Content of the report

According to RAND analysts, Moscow would presumably use nuclear weapons if:

1.Moscow views increased anti-Russian propaganda in NATO as preparing public opinion for war

2.It interprets a military buildup on NATO’s eastern flank as evidence of preparations for a direct attack on Russia.

3.It finds that NATO is already directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine (in the form of volunteers, military advisers).

The think tank also considers three other scenarios of escalation of military confrontation between Russia and the West:

1. A continuation of existing trends of covert exchange of blows (sanctions, cyber-attacks) in which «the sides will take increasingly decisive actions, which could eventually lead to a kinetic confrontation.»

2. Russia’s sabotage of NATO facilities from which weapons are supplied to Ukraine, followed by a NATO response and the unfolding of a spiral of violence that could eventually lead to direct confrontation.

3. Instability and protests in Russia could be seen as interference from abroad. The consequence would be a counterattack by Moscow, which could lead to military conflict.

Interestingly, RAND analysts do not call on the West to de-escalate. Their recommendations are mainly to make the actions and statements of Western politicians more cautious:

1.Continue to say that they have no intention of going to war with Russia directly – through public and diplomatic channels.

2.Strengthen NATO’s defensive capabilities in the East, but take a cautious approach to the deployment of long-range hit-and-run weapons.

3.Deploy the new forces on the eastern flank in a phased manner so as not to create a false impression of preparation for offensive action.

4.Disperse and conceal weapons storage sites in Ukraine so that Moscow does not have a chance to hit them with multiple strikes.

5.Not to make statements about a change of power in Russia.

6. Prolonging the conflict in Ukraine carries the risk of activating several of the described scenarios of starting a war between Russia and NATO at once.

Although RAND acknowledges at the end of the report that escalation and direct conflict between Russia and NATO could arise as a result of the actions of the United States and its allies, as well as Russia, the observation can be considered formal. The rest of the document is unequivocal, with U.S. analysts seeking to blame Moscow for the escalation and possible conflict.


Falsehood or misunderstanding?

The report by RAND, a think-tank that serves as a strategic research center for the U.S. government and the Pentagon, echoes statements by U.S. officials, albeit more cautious. In May 2022, for example, Avril Haines, director of U.S. National Intelligence, stated that «President Putin is likely to authorize the use of nuclear weapons only if he believes there is an existential threat to the Russian state or regime”.

«We see … no practical evidence that Russia is planning the deployment or potential use of tactical nuclear weapons,» CIA Director William Burns said in May. But, he added, «given the saber rattling we have heard from the Russian leadership, we cannot take such possibilities lightly«.

In recent months Western experts and media have been actively discussing this «possibility». Even critics of American policy in Eastern Europe, such as Professor John Mearsheimer, do not deny it.

In general, however, arguments for Russia’s possible use of tactical nuclear weapons are based on flawed arguments. For example, John Mearsheimer argues that Russia’s use of nuclear weapons is possible because «NATO planned the use of nuclear weapons under similar circumstances during the Cold War». That is, he attributes to Russia a pattern of thinking peculiar to the Americans and their allies.

The same is true for other analysts. For example, the Royal United Institute for Defense Studies (RUSI) interprets the content of the Russian Presidential Decree of June 2, 2020 on the Basis of State Policy in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence) a priori, believing that it refers to «non-strategic» nuclear weapons. However, the decree contains no such wording, nor does it mention tactical nuclear weapons. On the contrary, the edict itself clearly defines that it is a «strategic planning document«.

The text of the edict «The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with conventional weapons, when the very existence of the state is threatened» must be understood as written. It says nothing about tactical nuclear weapons.

RAND’s statement «Russian military doctrine and training have long been prepared for the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons as a means of combat» is false and misleading. In no document has Russia said that it is prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons or conduct such exercises».

Fighting the Mirror

In contrast, since 2010 the United States has been engaged in the development of a new modification of the B-61-12 hydrogen bomb, which can be used by both strategic and tactical aircraft. In December 2021, the Federation of American Scientists stated that the country will build 480 such bombs by 2025. In 2019, General Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces, stated that the U.S. needs more tactical nuclear warheads (reduced-yield warheads) to deal with Russia. Such warheads are mentioned in the 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review. In January 2019, the U.S. began production of W76-2 reduced-yield warheads.

Russia has never held a military exercise in which it openly declared that it was practicing a nuclear strike against the United States. The U.S. Department of Defense conducted just such war games in 2020. The Pentagon conducted an exercise in which it simulated a nuclear exchange with Russia, National Defense Magazine reported.

«They attacked us with a low-powered [warhead] and during the exercise we simulated a nuclear retaliation,» an official told the magazine on condition of anonymity.

Therefore, all fears of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine or against NATO countries are a projection of aggressive American attitudes transferred to a geopolitical adversary.

RAND and other American analysts either do not really understand Russia’s strategic thinking, where the use of nuclear weapons has always been conceived as a means of defense, or they pretend not to understand it, producing a propaganda product that demonizes Moscow. In either case, such analyses serve the very escalation they ostensibly seek to prevent.

The real goals of the report

It is likely that the RAND report has several purposes besides its stated and public one:

1.To continue to demonize and isolate Russia, viewing it as an irresponsible power capable of triggering World War III.

2.To show Russian experts and power circles that the United States is not ready for escalation, but neither is it ready to retreat. A veiled offer of surrender.
3. Support Pentagon funding requests for nuclear rearmament, emphasizing the importance of nuclear deterrence. The U.S. Congress is debating next year’s military budget.

A real detente between Russia and the United States could be achieved through negotiations and direct concessions, which the United States, as the report shows, is not ready for. In addition, the report shows that U.S. analysts believe the intensification of anti-Russian propaganda justifying war, foreign interference in Russian affairs, including sabotage of senior officials, increased arms supply to Ukraine, and direct participation in the conflict by NATO troops disguised as volunteers is likely. RAND’s concern is not what it will be, but how it will be perceived. The recommendations are all about perception and recommend doing things the same way, but in a tacit and gradual way.

Such an approach clearly does not reduce the threat of nuclear conflict among the great powers. Undoubtedly Russia takes the risks of such developments seriously and takes Washington’s irresponsible behavior into account in its plans, but so far it is the United States that is doing so.

Translation by Costantino Ceoldo




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