Posted on March 21, 2018
If wonder missiles exist, why tell us?
If the Russians are as adept at corrupting America’s electoral system as they are at playing nuclear poker, our republic has little to fear.
In his annual State of the Nation Address, Russian president Vladimir Putin boasted that his country has developed “the next generation of missiles,” which would leave our defenses “completely useless.” Just to prove he was serious, he showed a cartoon. Not just any cartoon, but an image of a new wonder missile swimming around American defenses before striking, and presumably blowing up, Florida.
Putin had boasted of such weapons for years, and it turns out the video – depicting “hypersonic missiles” that travel at higher speeds and lower trajectories than ballistic missiles – had been produced back in 2007. His address therefore contained no news, Newsweek’s credulous report that he’d “revealed new nuclear-capable weapons” notwithstanding.
Nevertheless, Jeffrey Lewis of the authoritatively-titled Foreign Policy magazine has written a piece whose title gloats, “Putin’s Nuclear-Powered Cruise Missile Is Bigger Than Trump’s.” Its subtitle, “There’s no point in competing with Russia’s new trove of bizarre doomsday devices,” summarizes the position that FP held throughout the Cold War. Victory is Russia’s. Resistance is futile. Fighting back will only make them mad.
The fact that Putin blames the alleged existence of these new weapons on former president George W. Bush for withdrawing from the ABM Treaty must have been too much for Lewis, a professor in “nonproliferation studies,” to resist. Ditto that for his publication, FP, which for 30 years had been owned by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, before being purchased by the somewhat less loopy Washington Post in 2008. Even so, one would hope that foreign policy analysts would be willing to be a little more … oh … analytical?
For example, the ABM Treaty severely curtailed the development of defensive missile systems, in an attempt to deter an attack by either side through the theory of mutually assured destruction. It did not prohibit a nation from producing superior offensive weapons, which have the potential to tip the balance of power all the same.
To wit, Putin now claims that our destruction is not so mutually assured, but that Russia now has a decisive upperhand. If that’s true, then why does he continue to rail against the events he says created that circumstance? If his wonder weapons have been in development for over a decade, then why has he angrily opposed the deployment of our missile defenses throughout that time? Why did he bother bullying President Obama into withdrawing our missiles and radar system from Poland and the Czech Republic, if they’d have done us so little good anyway?
If our investments in missile defense had gone for naught because of these new offensive weapons, the former KGB chief would have no trouble keeping it a secret. He and his neo-Soviet henchmen would simply sit back and watch us pour billions of dollars a year into a defense system they’ve already rendered obsolete, while they laughed their furry Russian posteriors off. Instead, Putin explains how our defenses supposedly enable him to destroy us, like some geek who’s watched the Star Trek episode “The Corbomite Maneuver” a few times too many.
It’s hard to imagine what good that does him, until one considers that he’s been in need of a superficial demonstration of strength. It can’t be coincidental that this display so closely follows the killing of more than 200 Russian soldiers in a failed attack on an American position in Syria. Putin disavowed the action, instead portraying the Russian dead as mercenaries, fighting on behalf of an unspecified faction. That implausible denial was an unmistakable show of weakness from the shirtless poseur, and he surely knows it.
Putin might as well have kept his decade-old missile cartoon in a container marked, “In case of national humiliation, break glass.” Just like that, the narrative changed from one of Russian weakness and inferiority to one of Russian dominance. The fact that this latter narrative is heavily embellished is of secondary importance.
Our government has known of Russia’s intention to create hypersonic missiles and other “doomsday devices” for many years now. The belief that it has already succeeded, and the assumption that we are neither working on the same kinds of weapons ourselves, nor studying defenses against them, is based simply on the fact that Putin is talking about it, and we’re not.
… Well, that, and the usual help that our enemies can expect from experts at liberal foreign policy think tanks.
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