Have U.S. President Donald Trump’s missile strikes brought us closer to nuclear war?
Could Syria Spark a Nuclear War Between Russia and America?, National Interest, Geoff Wilson Will Saetren, 12 Apr 17, On April 6, 2017, the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I, American warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at regime targets in Syria. The base that absorbed the attack, Al Shayrat air base in Homs province, houses both Russian and Syrian troops, who are allies in Syria’s bloody civil war.
It was a flawless military operation, popular with American politicians, media and the public. And it is a serious problem.
Syria’s war: Who is fighting and why
Much like the geopolitical environment in Europe preceding World War I, Syria is home to a complex web of alliances and support structures. More than a century ago, the assassination of an archduke in Bosnia ignited a chain reaction that saw two blocks of alliances explode into a devastating global world war. The realities in Syria are even more complex and the stakes have never been higher.
Among the myriad of opposing factions in Syria, there are two goliaths. Russia, allied with the Assad regime and provider of troops, warplanes and sophisticated equipment to the pro-Syrian effort — and the United States, which has sided firmly with rebel and Kurdish factions committed to Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s ouster. Between them, they possess 94 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
It is in this environment that U.S. president Donald Trump’s missile strikes have brought us one step closer to a scenario in which two nuclear superpowers could engage in direct combat operations against each other.
U.S. commandos have been carrying out missions in Syria since at least 2014, and over the past year, the United States has been steadily ratcheting up its involvement in the Syrian civil war……..
Keeping news of U.S. troop deployments in Syria from the Russians might sound good to Trump’s chest-thumping style of military planning, but it is vital that the Russians have at least a somewhat clear picture of where U.S. forces are operating.
If they don’t, the prospect of U.S.-Russian violence becomes very real.
Without proper channels of communication in place, it is entirely possible that U.S. and Russian forces could find themselves in a firefight. With both sides rapidly increasing their presence and commitment to the Syrian conflict, the situation could quickly escalate beyond either party’s control.
This is already happening. Hours after the strike, Russia announced that it is withdrawing from a 2015 memorandum that has significantly decreased the risk of in-flight incidents between U.S. and Russian aircraft operating in Syrian airspace. The Russian withdrawal comes as a direct result of the U.S. missile strikes on its ally, which Russia sees as a “grave violation of the memorandum.” The only reason that Russian troops weren’t killed in the attack on Al Shayrat is that the United States notified Russia in advance, using a hotline that was part of the now-defunct memorandum.
The danger should be readily apparent. With U.S. and Russian forces operating on opposing sides of a very contentious and complicated struggle, the risk of a catastrophic mishap is alarmingly high.
Sleepwalking toward nuclear war………
….with a combined active military stockpile of some 8,300 thermonuclear weapons, this is not a guessing game that anyone should want to play.
Official Russian military doctrine calls for the use of tactical nuclear weapons to control the escalation of a conventional conflict. In other words, if Russia finds itself in a fight that it can’t win, a real nuclear option is on the table. Some in the U.S. have mirrored this first-use strategy.
Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition chief told Congress in 2014, that low-yield nuclear weapons provide the President with “uniquely flexible options in an extreme crisis, particularly the ability to signal intent and control escalation.”
This is becoming a trend. Just this year, the Pentagon’s defense science board issued a report urging, “the president to consider altering existing and planned U.S. armaments to achieve a greater number of lower-yield weapons that could provide a ‘tailored nuclear option for limited use.’” But those weapons already exist, and some are already deployed in theater.
Some 50 B61 gravity bombs are based at the Incirlik air force base in Turkey, just 68 miles north of the Syrian border. Each one is fitted with a “dial-a-yield” nuclear warhead that can be set to explode with a force anywhere between 300 and 50,000 tons of TNT. It could be set to be 3 times more powerful than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, or 98 percent less powerful than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
These weapons go beyond deterrence. These are weapons that are tailored for use on a battlefield. And they are right next-door.
In 1914 Europe’s monarchs thought they understood battlefield strategy. They quickly lost control of the situation, resulting in a war that lasted 4 years and killed close to 20 million people.
Miscalculating in Syria could have far greater consequences.
Geoff Wilson is a policy associate at The Ploughshares Fund, where he focuses on U.S. nuclear and military strategy, and is a co-editor of the report “Ten Big Nuclear Ideas for the Next President.” Will Saetren is the author of Ghosts of the Cold War: Rethinking the Need for a New Cruise Missile, and is an alumnus of the Roger L. Hale Fellowship at The Ploughshares Fund.
This first appeared in WarIsBoring here. http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/could-syria-spark-nuclear-war-between-russia-america-20137
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