In a dramatic development for the global nuclear balance of power, yesterday we reported that starting today, the United States would launch its European missile defense system dubbed Aegis Ashore at a remote airbase in the town of Deveselu, Romania, almost a decade after Washington proposed protecting NATO from Iranian rockets and despite repeated Russian warnings that the West is threatening the peace in central Europe.
As Robert Bell, a NATO-based envoy of U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter explained "we now have the capability to protect NATO in Europe. The Iranians are increasing their capabilities and we have to be ahead of that. The system is not aimed against Russia," he told reporters, adding that the system will soon be handed over to NATO command.
We also noted that the Kremlin, which for years has warned that it would have no choice than to escalate proportionally, was "incensed at such of show of force by its Cold War rival in formerly communist-ruled eastern Europe where it once held sway." Moscow said that the U.S.-led alliance is trying to encircle it close to the strategically important Black Sea, home to a Russian naval fleet and where NATO is also considering increasing patrols. Russia has good reason to be worried: the US move is a clear defection from the carefully established Game Theory equilibrium in the aftermath of the nuclear arms race, one which potentially removes a Russian first strike threat, thereby pressuring Russia.
We added that "the precarious nuclear balance of power in Europe has suddenly shifted, and quite dramatically: despite U.S. assurances, the Kremlin says the missile shield's real aim is to neutralize Moscow's nuclear arsenal long enough for the United States to make a first strike on Russia in the event of war."
In conclusion we said that "what makes this step particularly dangerous is that Russia will now be forced to retaliate and since it does not have a comparable defensive technology, Putin will have no choice but to deploy more ICBMs on Russia's borders, which in turn will exponentially escalate the threat of an "inadvertent" launch. Although considering how the "market" responds to newsflow these past few years, this may also be seen as a bullish catalyst for stocks."
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Fast forward to today when as American and allied officials celebrated the opening of a long-awaited missile defense system in Europe with a ribbon cutting and a band...
.... the reaction in Moscow on Thursday was darker: a public discussion of how nuclear war might play out in Europe and the prospect that Romania, the host nation for the United States-built system, might be reduced to “smoking ruins.”
As expected, Russia was furious. The NYT cites Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov who told reporters in a conference call that "we have been saying right from when this story started that our experts are convinced that the deployment of the ABM system poses a certain threat to the Russian Federation."
Of course, the US and NATO are well aware of this, which is why they have proceeded with this latest provocation, one which however has far more profound implications to the peace in Europe than the occasional barrel-roll in a fighter plane fly by.
"Measures are being taken to ensure the necessary level of security for Russia,” he said. “The president himself, let me remind you, has repeatedly asked who the system will work against."
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said Russian defense experts consider the site a threat. "We still view the destructive actions of the United States and its allies in the area of missile defense as a direct threat to global and regional security." She said that the Aegis Ashore launchpad was “practically identical” to a system used aboard Aegis warships that is capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles.
As the NYT adds, while the United States says it has no Tomahawk missiles at the site in Romania, the launchpad violates a 1987 treaty intended to take the superpowers off their hair-trigger nuclear alert, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, by banning land-based cruise and medium-range missiles with a range from 300 to 3,400 miles.
The problem, as we wrote yesterday, is that the short flight time of these missiles diminished to mere minutes the window Soviet leaders would have had after a warning to decide whether to launch a second strike, raising the risks of mishaps. Any redeployment of nuclear-capable missiles in Central Europe, the NYT writes, would roll the clock back to this nerve-racking 1980s status quo.
And now the ball is in Russia's court.
"We have to announce this openly, without any additional diplomatic formulations,” Zakharova said of the Russian assertion the site violates the intermediate-range missile ban. “We are talking about violation of this treaty.” Previously Putin has warned that an American antimissile deployment in Eastern Europe could prompt Russia to withdraw from the treaty. The United States last year accused Russia of violating the treaty by failing to declare the true range of two missile types.
One potential response Russia will implement, is a nuclear-armed drone submarine. Last fall, Russian security officials appeared to drop hints of this military response to the missile defense system hinting through the leak that Russia has options. The drone, according to easily decipherable text accompanying the design drawing, would be capable of carrying a large nuclear device into coastal waters and detonating it, touching off a radioactive tsunami to flood and contaminate seaside cities.
In short, the kind of stuff that unleashes new all time highs in stock markets when it all goes wrong.
The submarine would “defeat important economic objects of an enemy in coastal zones, bringing guaranteed and unacceptable losses on the country’s territory by forming a wide area of radioactive contamination incompatible with conducting military, economic or any other activities there for a long period of time,” it said.
As the NYT adds, a Russian commentator, Konstantin Bogdanov, wrote on Lenta.ru, a news portal, that the antimissile sites in Eastern Europe might even accelerate the slippery slope to nuclear war in a crisis.
This is precisely what we said yesterday as well.
Bogdanov added that the missile sites would inevitably become priority targets in the event of nuclear war, possibly even targets for preventive strikes. Countries like Romania that host American antimissile systems might be the only casualties, he wrote, whereas the United States would then reconcile with Russia “over the smoking ruins of the East European elements of the missile defense system.”
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There is, of course, a far simpler response. Recall that in November 2008, then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev made a stark warning to NATO: "Russia will deploy Iskander missile systems in its enclave in Kaliningrad to neutralize, if necessary, the anti-ballistic missile system in Europe." We also reported in 2013 that in a seeming escalation as the ballistic shield appeared on its way to completion, there were unconfirmed reports that Russia had deployed a "double-digit" amount of SS-26 mobile units within Kaliningrad.
This time, we are absolutely certain, another nuclear ICBM deployment in the proximity of central Europe is imminent as Russia has no choice but to respond and this time it will be very much confirmed.