Posturing before the deal: Russia and nuclear weapons

The Davy Crockett Nuclear Munition, from Wikipedia

Amid the chaos in the news was an announcement that President Putin signed an updated nuclear deterrent policy for Russia, which expanded the use of nuclear weapons as a response against conventional attacks on Russia’s critical government and military infrastructure.

I haven’t found a translated copy yet (the original Russian is linked in this article), but if you were to ask me if this is a surprise…its not. We need to view this through Russia’s eyes and see what nuclear weapons mean to them, why they would change policy now, and what is their desired end state.

First, when we talk nuclear weapons, realize that Russia has always had a pretty wide range of weapons. When we hear nuclear, we think giant missiles with multiple warheads, and for the current U.S. stockpile, that’s pretty true. But we forget that the U.S. had an interest in tactical nuclear weapons, right down to the man portable “Davy Crockett,” a man-portable nuclear bazooka that you can still see on display in the Army Ordnance Museum. Russia has never lost its taste for tactical nuclear weapons, even going so far as to look at suitcase (really, backpack sized, ~70 pound) warheads that could be smuggled and detonated inside the U.S. Russia’s Navy has always viewed nuclear weapons as a viable option in naval warfare against U.S. Carrier Strike Groups.

A Special Atomic Demolition Munition with a W54 warhead…essentially, a backpack nuke.
Image from Wikipedia

For Russia, using tactical nuclear weapons doesn’t mean we will go to full-on nuclear conflict. It’s not in Russia’s best interest to have a full nuclear exchange with the U.S. or NATO. Think about it. Russia loses in a full exchange: they have less people, less ability to rebuild, and will likely lose all military forces (and thus ability to defend) in any full exchange. Russia doesn’t want to own the whole world, but to simply dominate the parts that were the former USSR.

Because the U.S. views nuclear exchange as an “all or nothing” game, Russia uses this to its advantage. It’s always viewed theater war as a limited exchange that could allow tactical nuclear weapons to be used without escalation, so long as they achieved a specific objective. In this sense, Russia is OK with an “escalate to deescalate” policy with nuclear weapons.

So given that, why the policy change now? It’s part technology, part negotiation. On the technology side, conventional weapons are becoming incredibly accurate and more lethal. Russia fears a decapitating strike by the U.S. using advanced weapons like the Tomahawk cruise missile. Russia has watched the U.S. strike country after country with these weapons to great effect. Nuclear policy, specifically Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), was written before conventional weapons were this accurate. Does MAD work when I can hit decision makers in under an hour (like the program Prompt Global Strike was pursuing)? Doubtful. The technology has simply changed too much.

It’s also a negotiating move. Withdrawing from the INF treaty means the last nuclear treaty is the START treaty, set to expire in February 2021. Russia can’t afford an arms race with the U.S. The Russian economy is tanking due to COVID-19 and sanctions. If European nations stay in NATO and allied with the U.S., this situation is unlikely to change. Plus, Russia is shrinking as its population gets older and more sick due to the poor healthcare in the country. If START doesn’t get re-upped, Russia is in trouble, as it can’t compete with U.S. and European manufacturing of nuclear weapons.

So, as Russians are fond of doing, its striking hard. It’s trying to get people scared that it might pull a “Crazy Ivan.” That’s a possibility, but an unlikely one. Its big hope is for the U.S. to blink and negotiate on their terms. Given the current administration, that’s unlikely too. In fact, the DoD is practicing against just such a thing, much to Russia’s ire.

In the next six months, expect the Russian’s to run drills and emphasize their use of tactical nuclear weapons. Russia could even find a way to test a nuclear weapon underground as part of these drills. RT and Sputnik news will play this up, bringing in images of the Cold War, with kids under their desks and mushroom clouds in the background. We’ll probably “find” a nuclear-like device in the U.S., or uncover a plot to transport one. All this is to get the U.S. to give them the nuclear deal that they want.

All this will be done with the hope of persuading the American people and sitting President to negotiate. Whether it works will depend on how willing we are to look past the fluff.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Keith Ellison and My Plan of Action for Riots Part 2

When I woke up on Thursday (when I wrote this post at first) I thought of my friend Hanna who had escaped from Iraq and now lives in Worcester MA.

I interviewed her for my interviews with immigrants series a while back and thought how familiar the violent scenes that she thought she had escaped must be and how she is reacting.

But it also hit me that she must also have experience in prep for these matters so as long as she and her family kept her head they were likely do better than Americans not experienced with this kind of thing and while there is tragically a lot of experience in my family defending one’s home and business from people trying to harm or kill us, most of it happened before I was born so I had to come up with a plan which I wrote it this post below. I thought of mothballing it but now it’s Saturday and I’ve read this:

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is reportedly taking further steps in the murder case of George Floyd. Ellison is expected to up the charge against Officer Derek Chauvin to murder in the second degree. Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he audibly said that he could not breathe, which ultimately led to his death on the scene; he was originally arrested on a charge of third-degree murder and manslaughter last week.

and realized this is a recipe for disaster. He is upping the charges to a level that requires intent to kill rather that reckless action the chances are excellent that a good lawyer can win this case meaning the chances are even better for a 2nd round of rioting (if that was the goal of his move is a post for another day) given that possibility I think it’s worth publishing my plan of action post for others future reference after all. Here it is. (note that 1, 2, 4-7 & 11 are good for any natural disaster)

  1. Have a bag packed with two days of clothing and some toiletries. If you are forced to flee you have more to wear than the clothes on your back. If the worst doesn’t happen go on an overnight with family sometime in the month so you can use the clothes and get them washed.
  2. Get a credit card count that you never plan to use and keep that card in that bag (if anyone charges you know it’s fraud) and if you have to flee and need cash or credit you have your full line to use.
  3. Make sure anything that can be used as a weapon against you is put away. No gas or oil for the mower or combustibles in view of a passing “protest” no cobblestones or other items to be thrown through your windows in easy reach of the yard.
  4. Have an escape route planned. If you are not planning to defend your property or even if you are and reach the point where such a defense is untenable know how you are leaving and by what route. If you get any news that said route is about to or has the potential to be cut off leave at once.
  5. Arrange at least two “bolt holes” in advance to hold up with family and / or friends. If at all possible choose definable locations & people who you know are well armed.
  6. Plan for contingencies. Will you lose power, will you lose internet? Will a lot of people be fleeing in one directly.
  7. Make sure you have key data on a SD card and at least one device “laptop, phone, etc ready to go. Make sure you have spare cables and chargers packed.
  8. Remember that if you are planning to defend your property make sure your loved ones are safe and gone. If they are nearby you will be distracted worrying about their safety which will get you hurt or killed.
  9. Know the lay of the land. What route are potential attackers coming from? Are there choke points where they can be stopped before reaching your home (bridges etc) that are more defensible?
  10. Base any defense on the weapons you have at hand. If the only weapons you have are for close quarters don’t get in a situation where you can be overwhelmed. If they are ranged then keep your distance and your advantage.
  11. Adjust to developing situations. It’s axiomatic that no plan survives contact with an enemy. Keep an eye on what is happening and adjust your strategy accordingly. Being signed on to some kind of police band is useful here.
  12. REMEMBER THE GOAL IS THE SAFETY OF YOUR HOME AND YOURSELF! You are not there to “punish” anyone you are there to keep yours safe. Be ready to defend an attack but don’t invite one or taunt those going by if they choose to go by even if they are taunting you. Choose the hill you’re going to die carefully because you may end up doing so and one rock through one window isn’t it.
  13. If there is no chance to save your home, BUG OUT. This isn’t the Alamo and you’re not Jim Bowie. If you can’t save your property get to safety.
  14. FINALLY. Lethal force is the absolute last resort to be used when every other option is gone but once you decide to use it USE IT. If you’re at the point where it is do or die DO! But be damn sure before you do that you are ready for the consequences of that choice physical and legal.

Postscript: Know yourself! If you are not capable either physically or temperamentally or mentally to defend your property or family calmly and rationally or make life or death decisions in a crisis follow steps one to seven, ignore the rest and get the hell out.