I suspect a lot of you might prefer that I posted on research related to the political assassinations of the 1960’s – especially that of JFK. Certainly it’s a subject that still involved with – even doing new research as the opportunity presents. I will post on some of that following the Dallas conference. But I have to say, the ongoing studies that led me first into deniable and covert warfare and larger questions of warnings intelligence, national command authority and military confrontations tend to hold my attention these days. That’s because after researching some 60 years of those activities, it’s clear there are lessons that are not being learned from even our most recent history.
Surprise Attack examines the Cold War in considerable detail but more than that, it looks at how domestic politics and political campaigns are far more important – and potentially dangerous – in bringing about strategic confrontation than we acknowledge. As an example, Nixon’s campaign promises on Vietnam let him into an extremely dangerous gambit, secretly threatening nuclear warfare to force a conclusion. These days that is known as the Nixon/Kissinger “madman” strategy. Less discussed is that Ronald Reagan’s aggressive campaigning and remarks about a Soviet “evil empire” were translated either with his knowledge (or as it increasingly seems, without) into a series of military actions which we now know almost drove the Soviets into a panicked, preemptive nuclear strike. In examining Soviet correspondence now available, they quite openly stated that they did not understand if comments made during Reagans election campaign were for political effect, or deadly serious.
With the end of the Soviet regime and the Cold War, we might have thought such a political risk had ended. Unfortunately the same political tactics that can win elections and garner public support are now being used in the Russian Federation – and its working. Actually it’s amazing how frequently Mr. Putin has been threatening (with measures beyond those of the Cold War) and invoking the nuclear card. I explore that in the last chapter of Surprise Attack; I think most have failed to follow the news of some of the most outrageous Russia threats. And it continues. This week a Russian media broadcast included a remotely guided submarine weapon capable of creating “wide areas of radioactive contamination, rendering them unusable for military, economic or other activity for a long time”. The weapon is in the continental destruction class of cobalt enhanced nuclear devices – something not even discussed since around 1960.
Later Russian remarks that the broadcast was a mistake are nonsense, the Russian military does not make that sort of mistake with the media, never has. The fundamental problem is that Putin is very successfully reviving an assertive strategic military projection and with it elements of the MAD man strategy. It is a tool that seems to be working extremely well for him and his domestic popularity. However it is a tactic that brings back the very worst elements of the Cold War – and as usual, is fueling American politics and the positions taken in current presidential debates.
So, you might want to set your calendar back to 1970, or 1980 …just to be current.