The United States is responding to Russia’s aggression with a huge nuclear program. Poland may again be the scene of apocalypse.
“Russia, as well as China, decided to become our competitors, not partners. We have to take that into consideration,” United States Defense Secretary James Mattis said in Congress on Tuesday.* He also introduced a modernization plan for American nuclear forces scheduled for the next 30 years. The cost is estimated at $1.2 trillion to $1.3 trillion.
“We are talking about a fundamental change regarding the previous national security strategy from 2010, when terrorism was claimed to be the greatest threat to the U.S., and the importance of nuclear power was limited. This is a reaction to many of Russia’s activities such as the annexation of the Crimea, placement of Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Oblast, and finally, validation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty from 1987,” Thomas Karako, a nuclear safety expert at the prestigious Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in Rzeczpospolita.*
For Poland, the most important matter is the announcement that the U.S. is planning to reintroduce tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. The point of that is to prevent the American president from getting into a stalemate situation. Otherwise, if the Kremlin attacked American allies from Central Europe with nuclear weapons, the U.S. president would face a tough decision: either come to terms with the Russian occupation, or use the tactical missiles, which would endanger American territory if Russia reacted with the same kind of weapons.
“We have to give the president, whoever he is, different options of execution,” explained Gen. Mattis.*
After having removed Cruise and Pershing missiles in the 1990s, America finds that its tactical nuclear weapons arsenal in Europe is very poor. It consists of bombs carried by the outdated B-52 Stratofortress, and in addition, they are located across Europe, in Belgium and Germany among other places. Before reaching their target, the American weapons would have to break through an efficient Russian anti-aircraft defense.
Now, this situation is about to change. Mattis has announced that the nuclear weapons modernization program provides for locating new submarines armed with tactical nuclear missiles along the European coast. But such an initiative does not really address the perennial concern of the Europeans, including the Poles: In the event of a nuclear conflict with Russia, will America jeopardize its own safety to defend its allies from the Old Continent?
“For the United States, the idea of developing nuclear missiles launched from under the sea is an excellent solution, because it provides the flexibility to respond to Russia’s operations. But it would be much better for Europe if Americans decided to locate the intermediate range nuclear missiles here,” Gen. Stanislaw Koziej, the former Head of the National Security Bureau, told Rzeczpospolita. “If it is not possible, Poland should consider hosting American nuclear bombers, like the Germans, Belgians, Italians and Turks do,” the general added.
In Washington, this reasoning is not being entirely rejected. Karako assures us that Poland should not doubt America’s commitment to defend Poland, as “the Article 5 of the Washington Treaty is sacred.” But he also adds that Poland can train its jet fighter pilots to carry nuclear missiles. If this kind of American weapon was placed in Poland, a Russian attack using tactical nuclear weapons would automatically lead to a conflict with American nuclear powers.
“The aim of the new security strategy is to guarantee that if Russia behaves aggressively, the deterrence will remain effective,” Karako said.
However, this is how we bring back the frightening vision of Col. Ryszard Kukliński (also known as Jack Strong) from the Cold War era: Moscow and Washington are planning a nuclear conflict which, if it happens, will take place mostly on Polish territory and turn the country into a radioactive desert.
”While reinforcing the alliance with the U.S., Poland should be aware that the country is also becoming the main target for Russian nuclear powers. America is far away, and so is its territory,” Wladimir Orlow told Rzeczpospolita. Orlow was a Russian Army colonel based in Legnica at the beginning of the 1990s.
“The new arms race has already begun. It’s different in nature than the one during the Cold War, which focused on quantity and two superpowers producing absurd numbers of weapons. Today it is focused on quality and involves several nations instead of just two. The risk for nuclear conflict today is higher than it was during the Cold War,” said former Defense Secretary William Perry in The Washington Post.
In 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan concluded an agreement on eliminating tactical weapons, as they were particularly dangerous with respect to European safety. From the moment the missiles are launched, it takes only 10 minutes to reach the target, leaving very little time for a planned reaction. However, according to U.S. intelligence, the Russians are already working on a new kind of nuclear mid-range missile in violation of the agreement from 31 years ago. Now America has decided to do the same.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, the quoted remarks could not be independently verified.
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