Putin Raises Nuclear Stakes

In December's Standard, we commented on the decision by the US Senate not to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the promise by the more hawkish Republicans to scupper the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which outlawed 'Star Wars' defence programmes, and suggested that such steps, at the dawn of a new millennium dampened any hopes the more optimistic workers held for the 21st Century.

We did not have to wait long for further confirmation of the troubled century that awaits us. Two weeks into the new millennium, The Guardian reported on Moscow's newly published security strategy doctrine which aims to raise the nuclear stakes by lowering the threshold at which Russia can resort to the use of nuclear weapons:

'Mr Yeltsin's strategy, decreed in December 1997, declared that nuclear weapons could only be used "in the case of a threat to the very existence of the Russian Federation as a sovereign state". The new document states that the use of nuclear weapons is necessary "to repel armed aggression if all other means of resolving a crisis situation have been exhausted or turn out to be ineffective"' (14th Jan.2000)

With the nuclear button already in his possession, acting Russian president Vladimir Putin has overnight not only given himself greater opportunity to press it, but has signalled to his country that the West is a force for reaction which must be opposed. What crisis situations necessitate the downward thrust of Putin's index finger can only be guessed at, but it's fair comment that the latest decision is rooted not only in Russia's inability to bring the Chechen rebels to their knees by conventional methods - humiliating for Moscovites in the wake of NATO's utter annihalation of Serbian resistance in the Kosovo conflict - but also directly linked to the US decision not to ratify the CBTT.

Indeed, back in October, Putin, on hearing of the Senate's decision over in Washington, and coming to terms with what he perceived as a growing internal and external threat to Moscow's interests, announced plans to increase military spending this year by 54 percent to $4 billion. Responding to Republican threats that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty would be wrecked, the RussianDefence Minister, Nikolai Mikalov further announced that the only way Russia could realistically counter the technology the US was capable of setting up to counter nuclear attacks, was to deploy more weapons with increased warheads, thus overwhelming US defence systems.

At the peak of the Cold War, the former Soviet Union had a force of 5 million under arms and was an acknowledged superpower. Since 1989, it has seen its armed forces shrink to almost a fifth of that number and has suffered humiliation after humiliation - the withdraw from Afganistan in 1989 and the first botched war in Chechenia, for instance. As well as morale in the armed forces being low, their combat readiness, according to Putin himself, is in a critical condition, with training and maintenance reported as being grossly inadequate. While a contingent of 300 Russian soldiers serving in Kosovo as part of the peace keeping force have been returned home because of alleged drunkenness, drug-taking and a general inadequateness, the higher ranks are becoming notorious for their infighting, with the defence minister constantly arguing with his generals.

With the above in mind, one can well see the method in Putin's madness. He has after all the job of protecting the interests of Russia's capitalist elite with faulty tools. Moreover, he is faced with the stark realisation that he exists in a unipolar world increasingly dominated by the US. Putin's attempt to make the world once again bi-polar can also be seen a response to NATOs New Strategic Concept which, like Putin's proposals in his 21 page document, suggests the early recourse to the use of nuclear weapons.

That the world's leaders are still prepared to carry their nuclear logic into another century, that they are continually prepared to wipe out millions of their fellow humans to further the interests of a minority at the end of a century that witnessed the deaths of 220 million in conflict, should shatter any illusions we have that this century will proceed on a different course to the one we have stepped out of. While we contemplate the wars, the conflicts and the horrors our masters have in store for us this coming century, it is also important to remember that we as a class hold the power to prevent the same from coming about.

We are not ruled by force or coercion, but by consent. The Putins and Clintons of this world can only do the things they do because we vote them in, thus legitimising their actions, however detrimental they may be to our interests. War and conflict and all the terrors we dare to imagine only come to pass because we refuse to join together as a class to express our class interests.

Once we recognise that as a class we have shared basic needs and desires, suffering the same privations because of our less privileged position in the relations of production, and unite in defiance of that minority intent on maintaining the status quo and its nuclear insanity, we need never fear the horror of war again.

While you muse on the aforementioned, remember the argument is not that complicated. This is your world as much as anybody's and requires your active involvement to protect it. Are you for socialism or against it? Don't take too long to make up your mind - we may not have that much time.