I will be coming forward in time for the next couple of posts, dealing with issues which demonstrate that we really should learn from history, but probably won’t. After exploring the subjects of defense and command and control in Surprise Attack, I concluded the book with a chapter on lessons learned. One of those lessons has to do with the concept of deterrence. There are several aspects of deterrence, including how frequently military deterrence is co-opted for use as a political tool.
One of the most contemporary examples of that is occurring within the Russian Federation and I discussed the power of that tactic, as currently adapted by Vladimir Putin. To get quickly to the point, I predicted that the Putin’s decision to leverage national security and deterrence as a strategy for increasing his popular approval would require massive government military spending. Given the dependence of the Russian economy on energy production, that strategy could easily be undermined by any significant downturn in oil prices. My speculation was that, given Russian cultural history, Putin would likely pursue that course, even in the face of such a risk.
Oil prices have indeed fallen – some three times below the level needed to sustain Putin’s new military spending programs. Beyond that, the massive decline in Russian oil revenues is indeed being felt within the Russian public sector:
That pain will be magnified by general reductions in Russian government spending, on the order of at least ten percent.
Yet there is no sign those same cuts will be applied to the surge in Russian military spending. All indications are that Russia is reinvesting in and reinvigorating its entire military on a scale totally independent of its overall financial condition. I’ve posted on some of those investments previously; it’s not something that is often covered in general news headlines and it’s not much discussed in this year’s election campaigning.
The Russian spending is not on the relatively “tactical” weapons and resources that the United States has focused on during the last couple of decades – special forces, tactical air support, intelligence/ISR, battlefield management, highly targeted weapons – that we routinely see show up in news from Syria, Somalia or Libya. Instead Russia is spending according to its core military values, investing in assets which project brute, overwhelming strength. We have recently seen a taste of that brute force approach in Syria, where Russia uses carpet bombing and massive strikes with “dumb” bombs rather than the extremely expensive, remotely targeted weapons the United States employs.
I’ve posted before on Putin’s constant references to Russian nuclear strength and the deployment of new mobile and submarine launched ICBM’s, but his spending is going far beyond that, restoring some of the largest and most threatening of the Soviet era weapons platforms:
In a sane world, one would really question why a nation as financially pressed as the Russian Federation would be refitting, rearming and redeploying such large and costly systems – or surging nuclear submarines on a scale hardly seen during the Cold War. Exactly who is the Russian Navy preparing to engage at sea? In earlier decades, when an American president talked of sailing the American fleet right into Vladivostok, perhaps it made some sense. In 2016 it is clearly meaningless – other than in support of Putin’s personality campaign – which links him directly to Russian military strength, associating him with a national resurgence.
All of which brings me to certain questions I’ll pursue in a following post. Historically, whenever one major power makes the sorts of investments Putin is making it results in a “mirrored” expenditure by the other “side” – triggering an arms race. During the Cold War, Russian defense initiatives were most frequently triggered by the United States (if you don’t believe that read Surprise Attack and we can talk). It’s widely agreed that Soviet spending in response to the Reagan administration military initiatives essentially broke the Soviet system.
The questions I pose relate to the extent to which the United States will respond to the Putin’s military spending spree – assuming that his public continues to support it and accepts the financial pain. To what extent is American “mirroring” already occurring and what does it imply for the next administration? To date most election dialog has been about balancing the budget, trade issues, immigration, lowering taxes and dealing with social issues. The political debates have not seen questions referring to the end of sequestration or the two year bipartisan budget deal – one can only imagine candidates responses if such questions had been raised.
There is an elephant waiting in the wings for the next administration and it’s not a political elephant, its Vladimir Putin and Russian rearmament. You may be surprised at the effect that’s already having on American military spending, especially since Congress has become extremely clever at shielding new weapon systems commitments, and obscuring military spending within the separate AUMF budget. That’s worked up to this point but the real spending, on major new weapons systems, has yet to begin. I’ll have some information and thoughts on those sorts of questions in the next post.


About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

2 responses »

  1. DConway says:

    Forwarded to Facebook and Twitter!

    Hope people vote for a rational person for prez.

    Deb Debra Conway debraconway@jfklancer.com

    • Thanks Deb, I hope this series of posts helps underscore the need for a Commander in Chief who displays the sort of open mindedness and pragmatism which JFK epitomized. If our next president goes in with preconceived notions about defense, and does not ask some truly probing questions we are going to end up in a world of hurt. JFK became very good at differentiating real threats from hyped threats (which is tricky when both the potential adversary and your own military industrial complex are both trying to get inside your head). The evolution of his questioning and decision during the Cuban missile crisis is a perfect example of what we need. Actually Ronald Reagan provides another example of open mindedness although it took him a bit longer and his campaign rhetoric almost scared the Soviets into a preemptive nuclear strike. Reagan was able to open himself up to a reality he did not initially see and it led us to the first stage of nuclear arms reductions…exactly the opposite of what might of happened if he had stuck to his original positions. Other nations get really scared during our political campaigns due to the outrageous and thoughtless remarks made in search of votes. In early decades at least some of the winners had sufficient character to overcome that and return to rational behavior. I won’t go political but when folks cast their vote I really hope they think about how open minded, pragmatic and rational their candidate will be if elected. Or maybe just ask yourself, if something like the Cuban missile crisis comes up during their first year or two in office, how will they handle it. Pick your congressperson as someone who can do the nation’s business, pick your president as someone who will become commander in chief – acting in the nation’s best interests, under immense stress.

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