Sunday, September 18, 2016

Size Matters

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un are both heads of countries with nuclear weapons and the missiles to carry them increasingly farther. They also have directed so much of their policies very against their most traditional enemy, the United States of America, a nation with the largest military and nuclear arsenal on earth. Size matters.
The Korean War (1950-53) did not end with a victory for either side; the resulting armistice is pretty much nothing more than a long-standing, negotiated ceasefire. The United States and North Korea are still technically at war. Kim Jong-un is such a pariah that even the People’s Republic of China has joined in international sanctions against the North. But Kim Jong-un’s rebellious rabble-rousing and weapons testing continues without much more in the way of PRC containment efforts.
Kim is deeply resentful of China’s abandonment of traditional totalitarian communism to embrace a more market-driven (“Western”) economy and wants the PRC to know that. He is also deeply aware that if his regime falls, the possibility of a take-over by South Korea – a staunch American ally with lots of US troops and weapons on their soil – is completely intolerable to the People’s Republic. So, Kim really knows China is not about to threaten the North with anything that remotely troubles him. This makes his effort to 
“show them” that his nuclear weapons program is ultimately capable of containing US influence in the region… and the world. He is expected to be able to field at least 20 completely viable nuclear weapons within a year. Size matters.
But the bigger nuclear power, Russia, has used anti-Americanism as the driving force behind his foreign policy, one that seems to be a thinly-veiled effort to restore Moscow’s control over the CIS countries and perhaps over the Eastern Bloc nations who once marched lockstep with the Soviet Union’s directives. Whatever America wants, Russia seems to oppose. Their recent willingness, jointly with the United States, to broker a ceasefire in Syria to allow humanitarian missions to save lives might look like detente. Russia, however, needed the global public relations boost, and the U.S. had been on the losing end of most of what was happening on the region. Humanitarian aid had trouble reaching much of anyone, and the guns began blazing again.
But make no mistake about Mr. Putin’s intentions. Anything America wants, he pretty much opposes. Remember Putin’s roots in the Soviet Union’s KGB – a merciless intelligence agency infamous for torture, murder, famed for turning people into informers and well-known as masters of manipulation and disingenuous promises. 
Does anyone believe that his seeming sense of admiration for Donald Trump is either genuine or remotely intended to create a strong positive relationship with the United States in a Trump-presidency? Can you picture Vladimir Putin giving up his aggressive regional and global ambitions to create a better world side-by-side with the United States? Let’s look at what Putin said a few years ago when his statements were less guarded. “In December 2011, then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was positioned to reclaim his role as the president of Russia after the formalities of the March 2012 elections.
“Fittingly, Putin hosted a lavish banquet at New Century, Moscow's richest equestrian club, for members of the Valdai Club and distinguished academics and journalists from around the world…Putin addressed his guests on topics ranging from the ‘Russian government's loss of public trust to his own indispensable leadership.’
“He later directed his focus on the US and addressed the Americans in attendance, ‘You ask me whether we are going to change,’ he said… ‘The ball is in your court. Will you change?’
“He went on to express his disapproval of US plans to build a missile-defense system that he believed would pose a deliberate threat to Russia's national security… Putin then added that the only reason the US had any interest in relations with Moscow was that Russia was the only country that could ‘destroy America in half an hour or less.’”, September 18th (emphasis added). Putin has gone on to modernize his array of nuclear weapons – something that has been de-prioritized in the United States – and continues to upgrade Russian missiles, fleet, tanks and aircraft (from stealth fighters and bombers to drones) to the highest contemporary standards.
He’s expanded Russian land mass with the annexation of Crimea, and his exploits in Georgia and Ukraine reflect his intensions to restore Moscow’s control over, if not direct annexation of, increasing levels of CIS territories. Virtually all of those former CIS nations are looking nervously over their shoulders at Putin’s territorial ambitions. Putin has also made claims to the riches under the North Pole as well as the entire Northwest Passage. Russia is the only nation committed to building significant numbers of large, militarily-compatible ice breakers to enforce these claims. There are even utterings within the Putin administration that the former Tsar Alexander II’s 1867 sale of Alaska to the United States (for $7.2 million) was flatly illegal.
Look at what he’s doing to us today, acts aimed at destabilizing even our election process. “Putin is seeking revenge and respect, and trying to reassert Russia’s lost superpower status at a time of waning economic clout and an upcoming Russian election, according to interviews with specialists here and in Washington, with a senior U.S. intelligence official, recently retired CIA operations officers in charge of Russia, and the last three national intelligence officers for Russia and Eurasia analysis in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“‘He’s saying, if you think you have the chops to do this — well, we do, too!’ said Fiona Hill, a national intelligence officer for Russia during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations who is now at the Brookings Institution.
“First came the electronic break-ins of senior U.S. officials’ emails, followed by the Democratic National Committee’s email server just before the convention, then a few state election records. And this week, the medical files of celebrated American Olympians marked tit-for-tat revenge against the ouster of Russian athletes found to be illegally doping from this year’s Olympics.
“‘He’s giving us the finger ... and the hacks are meant to intimidate the hell out of us,’ said Hill, who went through five troubled iPhones in six months after the release of her 2015 book, ‘Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.’” Washington Post, September 16th.
This  is all in addition to Putin’s willingness to take military risks and make outrageous territorial expansionist claims. Despite a fragile and failing economy, Putin has used this nationalist rhetoric to rally his own constituency to very solid support. And to be the biggest and the baddest boy on the block, you have to take on the other biggest and baddest boy on the block: the United States of America. Russia remains a major threat to us at every level. Size matters.
I’m Peter Dekom, and it’s time to understand that Vladimir Putin’s survival as Russia’s strongman rests most significantly on maintaining intense animosity against the United States in any political configuration.

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