The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate

spread-of-nuclear-weaponsThis book written by Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth N. Waltz is interesting because the two authors, as is indicated by the title, take radically different positions on the threat from the spread of nuclear weapons. I’ll let the authors explain further from the Preface. “What are the likely consequences of the spread of nuclear weapons? The answer is by no means certain or simple. Indeed, the readers will discover we disagree about the central issue. Kenneth Walsh argues that the fear of the spread of nuclear weapons is exaggerated: ‘More may be better’ since new nuclear states will use their weapons to deter other countries from attacking them. Scott Sagan argues that the spread of nuclear weapons will make the world less stable. ‘More will be worse’ since some new nuclear states will engage in preventive wars, fail to build survivable forces, or have serious nuclear weapons accidents.” That’s a good summary of what they say in the book, although I didn’t find out what the “fail to build survivable forces” has to do with the debate.

Kenneth Walsh takes the lead with his proposal that “More May be Better.” He points out that the world had “…enjoyed more years of peace since 1945 than had been known in modern history, if peace is defined as the absence of general war among the major states of the world.” He argues that, “War becomes less likely as the costs of war rise in relation to possible gains.” The incentive for the major nuclear powers to begin an exchange makes it clear to even the most insane leader that there will be little to gain since each side has sufficient nuclear stockpiles to destroy the other. That easy to understand fact has prevented World War III for seventy years while there have been nuclear weapon stockpiles in the many tens of thousands of weapons. “Deterrence is achieved not through the ability to defend but through the ability to punish.” Walsh writes, “Early in the Cold War, the United States deterred the Soviet Union, and in due course, the Soviet Union deterred the United States.” He observes that he believes “The presence of nuclear weapons makes war less likely…Nuclear weapons have not been fired in anger in a world in which more than one country has them.” Continue reading

Russian Adoption Politics

The posting last week was about Russian politicians retaliating against a U.S. law imposing human rights requirements on Russia. The Russian law, which would include banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans, is moving closer to reality. The law has been passed and Vladimir Putin has indicated he will approve it. A Reuters article by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya and Alissa de Carbonnel reports the law would cancel the placement of 46 Russian orphans in U.S. homes. There were 956 Russian Children adopted by Americans last year. An Associated Press article by Nataliya Vasilyeva and Mansur Mirovalev  on Yahoo reports that more than 60,000 Russian children were adopted by Americans in the past 20 years.  

The Russian law has sparked outrage in both Russia and the U.S. because the children “…aren’t offered to foreigners until they get a certain number of (adoption) refusals from Russians…” Many of them have difficulty being adopted because they have severe health problems or disabilities. There are “…about 740,000 children without parental care in Russia…” and many live in severely overcrowded orphanages.

It would seem the willingness of Americans to adopt Russian children, especially those with disabilities, would be welcomed. However, it is more complicated than just a political spat. The new Russian law is named Dima Ykolevlaw  “…after a Russian-born toddler who died of heat stroke after his American adoptive father left him locked in a sweltering car.” There was another disturbing case of a Russian-born child being raped by the American pedophile adoptive father. Continue reading

Another Reset in Russia and U.S. Relations

Diplomats had a good time three years ago when Hillary Clinton gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a “mock reset button” to symbolize U.S. hopes to improve relations with Moscow. The big news at that time was that the “peregruzka” label on the button that was intended to mean “reset” instead translated to “overcharged” or “overloaded.” The presentation of the button was said to have been in response to one of Vice President Biden’s gaffes. This one had something to do with the new administration wanting to reset ties with Russia after years of friction.

The recent termination of a U.S. aid organization’s activities by the Kremlin represents an ominous reset in relations. The September 20, 2012 English version of Pravda by Oleg Artyukov reported that the “…decision to terminate the activity of the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, in Russia has expectedly caused a great deal of noise. Human rights advocates are in shock…” The Russian Foreign Minister said the decision to shut down the agency was made “…due to attempts of the agency to influence political processes, civil society institutions, and elections…”

The agency had distributed $2.7 billion in Russia since 1992.  A State Department spokeswoman said, “…not very confidently…” that a third of the money went to “…development of democracy.”  A New York Times article by David M. Heszenhorn published in the September 23, 2012 Denver Post said the money funded “…programs touching nearly every facet of society in the former communist state — fighting the spread of tuberculosis and HIV, developing judicial systems and training lawyers and judges, promoting child welfare, job readiness, youth engagement, human rights and democracy, even helping modernize the electric grid.”

It is apparent there is justification for the Russian accusation that the agency was being used to meddle in Russia’s internal affairs in addition to all the positive activities. An association that monitors elections in Russia called “The Voice” put out a statement that “The hastiness and sudden nature of this decision is apparently related to the elections on October 14.” There are continuing protests about that election, and Vladimir Putin has sent another warning to the protestors.

The U.S. media coverage of the story is perhaps as interesting as the story itself. The story was published on page 23A of the Sunday Denver Post, and I found little else about it except on the English Pravda site.  Senator John McCain described the closure of the USAID mission as “an insult to the United States and a finger in the eye of the Obama Administration.”  Is it possible the U.S. media doesn’t want to publish news of a major setback to Mr. Obama’s foreign policies when there is an election coming up?

The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin

This book by Masha Gessen describes how Vladimir Putin rose from low-ranking member of the KGB to “…absolute—and absolutly corrupt—power…” as the leader of the Russian Federation. I was eager to read the book and post this review because the latest statistics on this web site indicated large numbers of readers in the Russian Federation and the Ukraine.

The story of Putin’s childhood is murky. His parents were a disabled man and a woman who had almost starved to death and had lost another son. They had a larger apartment and more amenities than neighbors. The apparent advantages of the parent’s living arrangement created rumors about what the father might have done to serve the KGB. There also are rumors that Putin was adopted. The author says what is indisputable is that he “…by the standards of his time, was a miracle child.”

The KGB expected new recruits to be skilled in hand-to hand combat, and Putin studied Sambo, a Soviet martial art. He was assigned to a unit created to fight dissidents and later trained as a spy. He was assigned to Dresden where there were few spying opportunities. Mikhail Gorbachev began the policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, and dissidents in Leningrad had been emboldened by the time Putin and his wife and family returned from Dresden.

The demolition of the Angleterre Hotel, a Leningrad historic site, spawned a revolution. Dissidents calling themselves “Informals” began gathering and giving speech in front of the site, which they called “Information Point.” Glasnost had released the power of freedom and brought about the rapid collapse of the Soviet system.

Putin claimed he resigned from the KGB when the Soviet Union was collapsing. A man named Sobchak worked himself into being chairman of the Leningrad City Council and hired Putin as an assistant. One theory was that Sobchak was said to know “…that it is wiser to pick your KGB handler yourself than to have one picked for you.” Putin convinced one after another higher ranking officials he could be both trusted and controlled amongst all the political intrigue.

Oligarchs became incredibly wealthy as the country lurched to corrupt enterprise. Russia defaulted on its debts in 1998 amidst hyperinflation. The turmoil opened opportunities for the nondescript Putin. He worked his way into the trust of Boris Yeltsin, who had launched democracy in the Russian Federation with great hope, but Russians quickly became disillusioned amidst terrible economic conditions. Yeltsin resigned and named Vladimir Putin prime minster of Russia August 9, 1999. Yeltsin probably picked him because he believed Putin would not prosecute or persecute him.

The date of Putin’s appointment was intended to make him the “…instant incumbent…” The Russian people and world leaders were “…relieved that unpredictable, embarrassing Yeltsin was gone …” Few understood Putin believed a “…country is as great as the fear it inspires, and the media should be loyal.” The American media was focused on the Bush-Gore election and paid no attention to the turmoil in Russia or Putin’s immediate moves to transform the country back to a Soviet-style government.

There is a story about a tobacco riot  that gives insight into the kind of desperation that led to the collapse of democracy. People were constantly forced to search for food and other commodities, and the stores were often empty. Several thousand people gathered in central Leningrad to demand cigarettes. City council members arrived to prevent violence. It was well after dark when a stash of cigarettes was located and delivered. The protestors lit up and dispersed. However, “…it seemed the city would run out of everything.”

Putin used state control of the media and, according to the author, intimidation, corruption, murder, and terrorism against Russian citizens to solidify his power. The book presents many chilling stories about his actions and how he used corruption to make himself an incredibly wealthy man. The most disturbing accusation is that the FSB, the replacement for the KGB, set off bombs in apartment buildings that killed hundreds of men, women and children. Sacks of the explosive hexogen labeled “sugar” that were used to demolish the apartment buildings were found in a FSB warehouse. It is speculated the bombings were intended to make people want stricter state control; Putin used them to justify canceling gubernatorial elections. The bombings were officially blamed on an Islamic terrorist group. The official response to terrorist attacks was to “…maximize bloodshed…aimed to multiply the fear and the horror.”

There are disturbing stories of Putin’s willingness to punish critics. Wealthy people and powerful public figures who decided to publically oppose Putin’s abandonment of democracy and development of a “tyranny of bureaucracy” paid with their freedom or their lives if they didn’t first escape the country. Some critics died of mysterious poisons such as the radioactive element polonium which could not be obtained by anyone other than a central government. Some critics were convicted of invented crimes and imprisoned by Putin’s imposition of the Stalin theory that the courts existed to “…do the bidding of the head of state and dole out punishment…” He didn’t just apply his “don’t mess with me” policy domestically. He also officially abandoned the “no first nuclear strike” policy against foreign foes. Disasters such as the failure to rescue men on the nuclear submarine Kursh and the slaughter of more than 300 people, mostly women and children, at a school in Breslan by terrorists seemed to cause Putin little concern.

Putin also apparently can’t resist taking things. He pocketed the diamond Super Bowl ring shown to him by New England Patriot owner Robert Kraft. Kraft later ended the embarrassment by saying the ring was a gift. Putin took a glass replica of a Kalashnikov filled with vodka shown to him at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The author calls him a pleonexia, which is a person who has “…the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others.”

Dmitry Medvedev (who is around five feet tall, although his height is classified) served as the stand-in when Putin had to leave office because of term limits. Medvedev publically admitted in 2011 that he and Putin had made arrangements for Medvedev to hold the office for Putin until Putin was once again eligible to be president.

All of this leads to the Epilogue, which gives a day-by-day description of the events immediately before and during the Russian Federation election in December 2011. Putin was announced to have been the winner, although the margin was narrow despite the suspected corruption of the election. Mikhail Gorbachev called for a re-vote. There was a Facebook posting “The Snow Revolution, or a Clean Slate.” Large numbers of people (the author estimates 150,000) arrived wearing white armbands or other white articles. I haven’t noticed U.S. coverage of what has happened since, but I intend to research the subject for a blog posting at that link.

Vladimir Putin and the Snow Revolution

The “Snow Revolution” part of the title comes from the Epilogue of the book “The Man Without a Face:  The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin,” by Masha Gessen. A dissident put up a Facebook post asking people to wear white ribbons on their arms to show they protested the announced election of Putin to be president of the Russian Federation in December 2011. The author estimated as many as 150,000 people arrived at the protest wearing white armbands or some other white article. The Russian people deserve better if only a few of the allegations and speculations put forward by the author about Putin are true.

Gessen was interviewed by John Williams of The New York Times, and he said she had cataloged disastrous events “…and lay much of it at Putin’s feet. How much of this is concretely provable?” Gessen’s response was that conclusive evidence would have to be obtained by law enforcement, and “None of the murders or acts of terror that have occurred in the last 12 years have been properly investigated.”

How many people arrived to join the Snow Revolution protest? The estimates vary widely, but are significantly lower that what the author predicts. An article on by Julia Ioffe says the protestors claimed 85,000, the police estimated 25,000, and the media said 50,000. There no dispute that there were thousands of people all over Russia who protested the “…rudely falsified elections.” There is an article with photos of thousands of people in the the streets, and many are holding white ballons. What is important now is what happens with the protest movement. An article titled, “Russia’s Revolutionaries Ponder Next Move” includes a photo of many people carrying white balloons. The protestors are said to face the challenge of creating a unified front.

Russian protest leaders have never pretended that things would be easy. “One peaceful march will not change our country,” protest organizer Boris Nemtsov said on the eve of one rally. “We are in for a long, hard struggle.”

I’ll give a brief review Gessen’s book, which gives background for why there is a Snow Revolution. The book details how Putin made it from being a self-described thug in his youth to becoming the brutal leader of the Russian Federation. He was a bureaucrat in the KGB, and claimed he resigned from that secret police organization when the Soviet Union was collapsing. A man named Sobchak worked himself into being chairman of the Leningrad City Council. He hired Putin as an assistant, because he was said to know “…that it is wiser to pick your KGB handler yourself than to have one picked for you.” There were several steps from there to leadership, and apparently one high level person after another picked Putin as the person to be beside them believing he could be trusted and controlled amongst all the political intrigue. The last in this chain was Boris Yeltsin, who had launched democracy in the Russian Federation with great hope but was forced to resign.

Putin immediately began to transform Russia back into the USSR. He is said to have used state control of the media, murder, corruption, and perhaps even terrorism to retain power. The book discusses how he took control of the government while making himself an incredibly wealthy man. Critics were beaten, imprisoned, or murdered. Some critics died of mysterious poisons which could not be obtained by anyone other than a central government.

The accounts reminded me of a book I reviewed titled “Spy Catcher” by former senior British intelligence officer Peter Wright. There is a description of a container of antidotes for all the known Soviet poisons that was kept with Soviet agents who had escaped the USSR to turn themselves in to British authorities. I believe Wright would also have said that Putin was following the advice of Lenin in keeping control of the country. “Lenin understood better than anyone how to gain control of a country, and, just as important, how to keep it. Lenin believed the political class had to control the men with the guns, and the intelligence service, and by these means could ensure that neither the Army nor another political class could challenge power.

I fear for the author. She is obviously at risk of violence if only a fraction of what she writes about Vladimir Putin is true. She writes in the Prologue that she worked as a journalist in war zones “…but this was the most frightening story I ever had to write:  never before had I been forced to describe a reality so emotionless and cruel, so clear and so merciless, so corrupt and so utterly devoid of remorse.” She lives in Moscow, and told The New York Times interviewer that she had thought of leaving, but “I love my home, my friends, my life. And if Putin doesn’t like me he can leave.”

Recent statistics on this web site indicate there are large numbers of readers in the Russian Republic and Ukrainia. I thought of those readers as I was reading Gessen’s book and prepared the review and this post and wondered how many Russian readers would be Putin supporters and how many would be protestors.

To readers in the United States, I think we should all renew our appreciation of the freedoms we have. I read a joke said to have been told quietly within the Soviet Union. The joke isn’t all that funny, but I think it is pertinent. An American and Russian were arguing about which country was best. The American said, “We are so free that I could stand on a street corner in New York and shout ‘Reagan is an idiot’, and nothing bad would happen to me, although some might stop to argue with me.” The Russian replied, “That’s nothing. I could stand on a street corner of Moscow and shout ‘Reagan is an idiot’, and nothing bad would happen to me, and no one would even argue with me.”