Offensive defense Ruthless Criticism

[Translation of part of article “Die amerikanische Weltmacht treibt die Entmachtung ihres russischen Rivalen voran,” from GegenStandpunkt 3-19]

Offensive defense

Trump pushes ahead with the weakening of Russia

The strategic plans of the USA receive little attention in this country. When Trump terminated the INF treaty, fears were briefly expressed that something might have gone out of control and a new arms race might be starting – as if the USA had ever slackened in its arms buildup. It is well known that year after year it has spent astronomical sums on its defense. Trump’s repeated messages to Putin, that he need not even try to keep up with America’s arms buildup, was also reported. But such announcements have done nothing to raise concerns in the opinion columns here. Most of them believe that Russia should be put in its place; meanwhile, they even doubt the reliability of this president, because he has shown himself to be all too naive about his alleged friend, Putin. On the other hand, some concerns are raised by Trump’s accusations in regards to the financing of the arms buildups, that the NATO partners, especially Germany, are sparing their budgets at the expense of the USA and criminally ignoring the financial commitments they have entered into. In contrast, the question of what is actually being financed with all the financial resources and why the United States is acting so decisively on this front is hardly of public interest. The answer to these questions does not require a great deal of investigative effort, as the official US security policy documents speak for themselves.

Enemy image and enmity

The four military doctrines [1] commissioned by the Trump administration to evaluate threats to US national security and to define the necessary countermeasures differ in one essential respect from those of the previous administration: terrorism, Barack Obama’s main threat to peace, has receded into the background in the current threat scenario, as has the threat from the “rogue states” Iran and North Korea; this has been replaced by strategic competition from the major powers China and Russia:

“The central challenge to US prosperity and security is the reappearance of long-term strategic competition from revisionist powers, as classified in the National Security Strategy. It is becoming increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world that is consistent with their authoritarian model - and thus gain the authority to veto the economic, diplomatic and security decisions of other nations.” (NDS, p. 2)

These programmatic definitions indicate a new situation: the return to a state of affairs that was believed to have been overcome with the end of the Soviet Union. The vital interests of the USA – “prosperity and security” – are regarded as threatened by the (re-)emergence of powers that want to “shape the world” in their own way and thus confront the USA as a competitor on the strategic level at which issues of world order are raised and decided. The latter, the fact that these powers appear as competitors at all – that they make policies on the same level at which the USA acts as a world power, as if it were the most natural thing in the world – is enough for the accusation against China and Russia, backing up the crime called “revisionism.”

The accusation is based on the idea that these powers want to reshape a world that is well-ordered, in which each state has its well-defined place and whose order is to be respected by the members of the family of nations because they are unwilling to accept the status assigned to them in this world. Conversely, the status that the USA attained after the end of the Soviet Union – that of the “only remaining superpower” – is claimed as a legitimate vested right of the USA, which must be protected by all means from unlawful interference by this very world of states. The balance of power in the world of states which the USA decisively established in two successfully waged world wars, a cold war against the real socialist leading power and its “block,” as well as through its continued efforts to further disempower its still far too potent successor state, are regarded as the legal basis for the claim practiced by the USA to exercise a regime over the rest of the world of states that comes pretty close to a global monopoly on the use of violence.

The absoluteness of this claim, which calls on America to control the global balance of violence and to defend it against others’ lack of respect for it and the world order it stands for, is justified on the one hand by reference to the fact that the “prosperity and security” of the USA stand and fall with the security of this status. But the strategic doctrine also lists other good reasons: America acts not only in its own interests, but in the interests of the entire family of nations, on which the “revisionists” want to impose the evil “authoritarian model” that they practice at home.

China and Russia are characterized as powers whose foreign policy agenda is to oppress other nations and disregard their sovereignty. Only the negative side of their politics remains; the use of violence both internally and externally is declared to be the content and purpose of their politics, and the “model” – to a certain extent, the current ideological substitute for the old conflict between systems – emphasizes the fundamental and far-reaching nature of their reprehensible activities. In the case of these two states, nobody wants to know anything about political interests which, in the relationship between sovereign states, constantly provides the reasons for ignoring or rejecting the “economic, diplomatic and security decisions of other nations.” For them, prosperity and security are nothing from which they could derive any legitimate need for action; these powers, as they are characterized, have no interests worthy of recognition at all.

This is how the official enemy image reads like an enmity that has other reasons than those presented by the enemy image; the enemy image, conversely, is based on the enmity declared against the “revisionist powers”: it is the fact that these two states elude subordination to American supremacy that makes America hostile to them; the right that America claims to something like a global monopoly on the use of force makes states that do not bow to this claim into revisionists and violators of the law.

A huge nuclear weapons arsenal

More specifically, as far as Russia is concerned, the US military doctrines flesh out that nation’s revisionism with a register of sins that list, and put into perspective, everything it is doing to further its interests in its near and distant vicinities:

“Russia seeks veto authority over nations on its periphery in terms of their governmental, economic, and diplomatic decisions, to shatter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and change European and Middle East security and economic structures to its favor. The use of emerging technologies to discredit and subvert democratic processes in Georgia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine is concern enough, but when coupled with its expanding and modernizing nuclear arsenal the challenge is clear.” (NDS, p. 2)

American military strategists assume that the USA has every right to claim the entire world as its sphere of influence, so that it is therefore also completely legitimate when, together with its strategic partners in NATO and the EU, it ensures “on Russia’s periphery” that states are established there and governments are in charge that orient their reason of state toward NATO and the EU. Therefore, in their analysis, Russia’s efforts to secure its surroundings as its sphere of influence appear per se as an illegitimate use of power and Russia itself as a power whose “striving for power” is incompatible with the legitimate interests of its neighbors.

The way the cards are stacked in their analysis, Russia would have to accept the peaceful conquest of its surroundings by NATO and the EU, i.e. its strategic encirclement, without challenge. If it doesn’t, it asserts a “veto authority” which it is not entitled to. Because, from the perspective of US strategists, it is only right and proper for NATO to pursue its expansion as a self-contained bloc of states committed to restricting Russian power, Russia’s efforts to improve or even maintain its relations with members of this alliance appear to be an attempt to “shatter NATO.” If it opposes the NATO and EU program of breaking Ukraine from its longstanding ties and joining the EU; if, by annexing Crimea, it prevents the base of its Black Sea fleet from becoming untenable after Ukraine has been transferred to the western camp; if it militarily intervenes to prevent the fall of its only remaining ally in the Middle East – then it is Russia that is tampering with the established “structures” on which security and economic prosperity in Europe and the Middle East are based; then Russia opposes anonymous “processes” that – namely, “in Georgia,” “in Crimea,” and “in Eastern Ukraine” – advance the good of democracy.

All this is already “concern enough” for the US national security experts. What makes Russia, in their eyes, the ultimate challenge for America, what sets Russia apart from the handful of larger and smaller rogue states that America has on its to-do list, is the fact that this state still has a nuclear arsenal, which it even expands and modernizes, and which enable it to command respect from the USA. American military doctrines are working on this as a unique selling point that makes Russia the unacceptable rival in the world:

“The ICBM force is highly survivable against any but a large-scale nuclear attack. To destroy U.S. ICBMs on the ground, an adversary would need to launch a precisely coordinated attack with hundreds of high-yield and accurate warheads. This is an insurmountable challenge for any potential adversary today, with the exception of Russia.” (NPR, p. 46)

Russia is the only power in the world that has the ability to counter the destructive potential in the missile silos of the USA. This poses an unacceptable threat to the deterrent power of the Land of the Free, with which it acts as a world power and makes policies towards the rest of the world. Russia, for its part, possesses and procures with its nuclear arsenal the deterrent power that enables it to assert itself, to exert influence on its periphery against the will of the USA, and to restrict the ability of America and its allies to act there:

“Moscow is fielding an increasingly advanced and diverse range of nuclear-capable regional offensive missile systems, including missiles with unprecedented characteristics of altitude, speed, propulsion type, and range. These missile systems are a critical enabler of Russia’s coercive escalation strategy and nuclear threats to U.S. allies and partners. It is developing a new generation of advanced regional ballistic and cruise missiles that support its anti- access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy intended to defeat U.S. and allied will and capability in regional crises or conflicts. Since 2015, Russia has demonstrated its advanced cruise missile capability by repeatedly conducting long-range precision strikes into Syria.” (MDR, p. 18)

The US leaves no doubt that it is doing everything it can to meet this challenge. This is its “top priority.”

Strategic reorientation

Missile defense is of paramount importance in the strategic planning of the USA. Since Reagan’s officially announced “Strategic Defense Initiative” (SDI) in 1983, nothing has changed with regard to its reason and purpose. The missile defense shield as planned in those days was aimed at overcoming the stalemate in which the leading power of the capitalist west and the Soviet power, both armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons with x-fold overkill capacities, faced each other for decades. The condition that was made known to humankind under the title “balance of terror” and grotesquely interpreted as an institution for preventing war and securing world peace, represented something completely different for US strategists, namely a dilemma that it was necessary to get out of: The fact that both sides could threaten each other with devastating retaliatory strikes in the event that the other party used its nuclear weapons, that is, that the use of these weapons for both sides was associated with the prospect of their own annihilation, was seen by the strategic thinkers of the USA as a restriction of their own war capability which had to be eliminated at all costs. At that time, the Americans envisaged the development and construction of a missile defense system which would give them the ability to neutralize enemy missile attacks, to take the brunt of the threat of annihilation into space, and thus put themselves in a position to freely use their own nuclear weapons.

Since the 1980s, the USA has been resolutely pushing ahead with the development of such a missile defense system, regardless of all political conjunctures and systemic issues. Four decades and trillions of dollars later, it has an anti-missile system which can achieve interception rates of around 50 percent in tests. Even in this condition, this already undermines the calculation basis of the enemy’s strategic plans: it no longer knows how much its ultimate means of war is (still) worth in the event of an emergency.

However, this does not satisfy the USA at all. President Trump is giving his military groundbreaking guidelines:

“Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States – anywhere, anytime, any place.” (Trump presenting the Missile Defense Review, January 17, 2019)

And his administration’s Missile Defense Review, published in 2019, presents the program for the future shape of missile defense, which takes these ambitious targets as its yardstick:

“The United States will field, maintain, and integrate three different means of missile defense to identify and exploit every practical opportunity to detect, disrupt, and destroy a threatening missile prior to and after its launch. These include: first, active missile defense to intercept adversary missiles in all phases of flight; second, passive defense to mitigate the potential effects of offensive missiles; and third, if deterrence fails, attack operations to defeat offensive missiles prior to launch.” (MDR, p. x)

The previously active missile defense against attacks on the homeland is based on a “Ground Based Midcourse Defense System” (GBMDS) which destroys enemy missiles in the middle phase of flight: infrared satellites detect the launch of the missile, ground radar stations track the trajectory, interceptor missiles transport a kill vehicle into space that eliminates the missile carrier and/or the warhead through the kinetic energy of the impact.

In order to increase the success rate achieved with this system, the responsible Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is renewing its interceptor missiles, improving their effectiveness by increasing their speed, equipping them with a new Multi-Object Kill Vehicle (MOKV), and introducing a new strategy of destruction, increasing their number by half, and considering the construction of a new interception station on the east coast of the USA.

The US Navy commands a second system of active missile defense in the form of a huge fleet of “Aegis” guided missile cruisers and destroyers. This fleet forms a powerful floating complement to the GBMDS on the world’s oceans, consolidates the GBMDS defense shield, and is able to erect a regional defense shield at any time in any corner of the world, either alone or in conjunction with the identical ships of its allies in Spain, Norway, South Korea, Japan, and Australia, as well as land-based “Aegis” bases in Romania, Japan, and, no later than 2020, also in Poland, ensuring the operational freedom of the US military. A third defense system called the “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense” (THAAD) system, stationed in its homeland, South Korea, Guam, Germany, and soon, according to the MDA plans, with allies worldwide, attacks enemy projectiles in the final phase of their flight and supplements the network for monitoring the global war zone with its thousand miles-reaching radar. Fourth, there is the “Patriot” defense system, which is deployed in large numbers in many countries and has a much shorter range than the other systems and operates primarily against enemy aircraft, cruise missiles, and tactical missiles.

Passive defense includes measures to fortify missile silos and command bunkers and to strengthen the resilience of military and other infrastructure. It serves to reduce the vulnerability of its own arsenal of nuclear weapons to nuclear strikes.

From the point of view of absolute invulnerability, all the active missile defense systems set up so far suffer from the fact that they only target enemy missiles as a threat to be combated once they have been launched, so that the threat may then no longer be fully combat able – especially in the case of ICBMs equipped with ten or more independently steerable warheads (MIRV, MARV) and dummy warheads – and that combating them causes damage on its own territory if the missile is shot down in the final phase of its flight. Furthermore, American military planners take into account the advances Russia has made in missile development:

“Moscow is fielding an increasingly advanced and diverse range of nuclear-capable regional offensive missile systems, including missiles with unprecedented characteristics of altitude, speed, propulsion type, and range.” (MDR, p. 18)

The talk here is of rockets and cruise missiles with hypersonic speeds, non-ballistic, i.e. difficult to unpredictable trajectories, etc. The Missile Defense Review of 2019 therefore announces a reorientation of the defense strategy: in the future, the focus of active missile defense will be on “attack operations to destroy offensive missiles prior to launch.” The plan is to perfect the defensive side through a previously thought unfeasible “forward defense” on the enemy’s launch pads which nip not only its traditional but also its very latest potential in the bud – and thus ensures that Moscow will make a sure-fire calculation if strategic advantages are taken into account with the introduction of a new generation of offensive weapons.


[1] National Security Strategy (NSS); National Defense Strategy (NDS); Nuclear Posture Review (NPR); Missile Defense Review (MDR)