The election is over and I can stop looking obsessively at the statistics of who is projected to win. I can, I thought, go to bed without the agitation of a wild election cycle. And then I read – and realized– that all the election noise was drowning out the rest of my life, and we are moving toward what appears to be an armed crises.
I am old enough to remember Pearl Harbor and the heated political discussions in my home prior to the US being drawn into the war with the December 7 bombing. The war in Europe started in 1939, the Maginot Line became a myth and Hitler invaded France in the spring of 1940; the battle in the air over London was on every news reel in every movie theatre, and then Hitler turned somewhat unexpectedly on the Soviet Union. There were mixed feelings in the United States with that turn of events. The two nations Russia and the United States were not on the best political terms and one could describe their relationship as less than friendly and tense. They needed each other though in the fight against German/Italy and to a much lesser degree Japan.
The Russian leader, Joseph Stalin, was an openly oppressive, dictatorial leader who regularly used violence and deadly purges against his own people, the army he commanded and his perceived political opponents. The Russians, for their part had no great liking of America, its leaders and its refusal to accept the Soviet Union into the international community. The United States viewed the Soviet Union and its leaders as an ongoing threat to democracy. In addition, prior to 1941, both the Nazis and communists had a loud and prominent presence on the American scene. I recall one photograph, taken in the late 30s in the old Madison Square Garden. It looked more like a scene of a Hitler rally in Berlin, with the hanging swastika and the hundreds standing with Nazi straight arm salute, than a massive event in mid-town Manhattan. Pearl Harbor changed the dynamics.
Toward the end of the war in Europe, we witnessed the rush to occupy Berlin by the Allies on one side and the Russian army from the east, both moving as quickly as possible on the German capital. These onetime allies at war were at the same moment political adversaries– that only deepened with time. The Berlin blockade by the Soviets and the American airlift to the besieged city only hastened and deepened the animosity. Words became deeds. What was clear to the least politically motivated person was the Soviet’s intent to place Eastern Europe under its domain and to spread of communism worldwide. Underneath all that was the Soviet anger that simmered for years. They claimed we did not enter the war earlier enough by not creating a second battle front against Hitler, which they attributed to the death of tens of thousands of Russians.
When the physical hostilities ended against Germany ended with the bitterly divided Berlin and Germany, the political hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union began in earnest. As Russia became the Soviet Union (and expanded its political and geographic boarders), the United States responded by being more aggressive internationally. With both side facing off, a natural product was the arms race. We called that long period the “Cold War”. When in 1949 the Soviets developed their own nuclear capability and produced their own atomic bomb, the hostility between the two escalated, impacting the comfort zone of all nations to a new low of fear.
There was another element to the arms race and the cold war and that was its economic drain on national and economic resource. This was especially true in the Soviet Union. In December 1991, after a failed August coup that was featured on the front pages of every newspaper and television news broadcast, Boris Yeltsin (the first “freely” elected president of the USSR) began the task of dissolving the USSR, and later in that month Mikael Gorbachev acknowledged its total economic collapse and the final dissolution of the empire. The Cold War came to an end.
Then two years ago we began to see a significant change in United States policy and tone along with an emboldened ex-KGB Putin, who takes no prisoners. Both countries engaged in threatening, bellicose and confrontational posture. Then words lead to an increase in military spending and expansion of military hardware.
The pentagon has green lighted a new generation of steerable smart tactical nuclear weapons. We have entered into a new arms race with China and Russia. These particular weapons are designed to support naval, land and air forces in areas close to friendly forces, and can penetrate fortified structures many feet below ground. Unlike those weapons that produce mass destruction, these bombs are designed to be carried by high-speed stealth fighter jets to hit targets precisely with limited peripheral damage. Then during the last 8 weeks, the United States Air Force in the European theatre received its largest shipment of military hardware in over 20 years. This followed the President’s 54 Billion dollars request from Congress to be spent by the military establishment, which far exceeds the present Russian spending on weapons. The United States signed off on arms exports worth $192.3 billion over the past year, a full 13 percent increase from the previous year.
Several points are clear and unmistakably strategically and tactically wrong in the President’s approach of saber rattling, arms buildup and an overt desire for a Red Square display of military might. Although the ongoing, decades old, war in the mid-East is with rockets, bombs and street to street fighting, with about the same number of US troops that the President wants on our Mexican border, the main battlefront is far different and more complex. Even though we witness how close and aggressive a Russian fighter jet came to an American surveillance plane in international airspace ; no matter how aggressive the Chinese navy has been in the South China Sea, there will be no on the ground warfare in Europe or in the Pacific.
Neither Russia nor China can match our military spending. And the battlefield has changed. We have moved from more and more bombs and jet fighters to a new and dangerous battlefront. The psychological war perfected by Putin and his hackers, espionage agents, cyber invasions and the propaganda experts of the Russian intelligence corps. Their aim is your mind, your emotional and intellectual responses. One need only look to the Russian interference in our own election of 2016 and their success in control of the mindset of a vast number of Americans.
Counter-intelligence is a cheaper form of warfare, less obvious than a new multi-million dollar plane, and in the short and longtime more effective and with real-time results. Our national dollars would be more prudently utilized in beefing-up not only our own counter-intelligence ability but those of our NATO allies. As one commentator wrote, our defense funds would be more wisely expended in place like “the Czech Republic, where Russian embassies are filled with more spies than they can count”.
We have, with the election of this president, entered into a new era of diplomacy and international confrontation. There is no public launching or fanfare with the advent of a counter-intelligence probe. There is no photograph of a new stealth bomber or aircraft carrier being launched with a counter-intelligence operation. If you want national security against an advisory as committed and proficient as China or Russia, then you meet them on their cyberspace turf and reach for the best possible form of proactive counter-intelligence security and not a paper tiger! There is no medal for second place.