11 March 2019   1 comment

Caitlin Talmadge has written an essay for the Brookings Institution on the question of whether nuclear weapons have prevented India and Pakistan from escalating their conflict over Kashmir. The world has had nuclear powers since 1949 (the US and the Soviet Union) and there are now nine nuclear powers. None of the nuclear powers has gone to an open conflict even though the ideological divides among them are similar to those in the past which have spawned brutal wars. She describes the underlying logic that supports deterrence:

“The traditional school of thought is that once two countries establish secure nuclear arsenals that can withstand attack and still hit back, they enter a state of mutually assured destruction, or MAD. Even the loser in a war can devastate the other’s civilians, making military victory and relative military power all but meaningless.

“The result, according to this logic, is that nuclear-armed adversaries will behave quite differently from countries without nuclear weapons. Afraid of nuclear escalation, such rivals will avoid arms races, stay out of wars, deescalate crises, refrain from threatening one another’s core interests, and generally maintain the status quo. “

India and Pakistan fought three wars before both developed nuclear weapons (in 1947, 1965, and 1971) but they also fought a brief war in Kargil in Indian controlled Kashmir in 1999. The logic of deterrence does not rule out war–it only suggests that war may not yield preferred results. Bur preferences are ambiguous and rationality is not always guaranteed.

William Burns served in the US State Department in many US Administrations and has a deep understanding of US-Russia relations both before and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He has written an essay for The Atlantic that outlines the many missteps that US Administrations made in not understanding how the collapse of the Soviet Union affected the Russian worldview. The perspective is important because some Americans tend to blame Russia for the current nasty state of relations. Burns summarizes that perspective:

“Who lost Russia? It’s an old argument, and it misses the point. Russia was never ours to lose. Russians lost trust and confidence in themselves after the Cold War, and only they could remake their state and their economy. In the 1990s, the country was in the midst of three simultaneous historical transformations: the collapse of Communism and the transition to a market economy and democracy; the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the security it had provided to historically insecure Russia; and the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, and with it an empire built over several centuries. None of that could be resolved in a single generation, let alone a few years. And none of it could be fixed by outsiders; greater American involvement would not have been tolerated.

“The sense of loss and indignity that came with defeat in the Cold War was unavoidable, no matter how many times we and the Russians had told each other that the outcome had no losers, only winners. From that humiliation, and from the disorder of Yeltsin’s Russia, grew the deep distrust and smoldering aggressiveness of Putin’s.”

There is no way the US and Russia can repair their relations unless the US appreciates the sense of loss that Russians feel. I highly recommend this essay to those who wish to understand Russian foreign policy.

Posted March 11, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

One response to “11 March 2019

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  1. If only I could get some of these “stable genius” Trumpsters to read this article…


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