Russian President Vladimir Putin is warning this week of a new arms race and threatening to target European nations that may host U.S. midrange nukes, in response to National Security Adviser John R. Bolton’s trip to Moscow this week where he confirmed President Trump’s intention to pull out of the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
Speaking at a news conference Wednesday in Moscow after the American adviser departed, Mr. Putin promised a “very fast and very effective” response if Mr. Bolton and Mr. Trump follow through on their threat.
“If the United States does withdraw from the INF treaty, the main question is, ‘What they will do with these [intermediate-range] missiles that will once again appear? …” Mr. Putin said. “If they will deliver them to Europe, naturally our response will have to mirror this, and European countries that agree to host them, if things go that far, must understand that they are putting their own territory at risk of a possible counterstrike.”
We know how this story ends.
The Russian economy is limping along, propped up only to a resurgence in global oil prices. How long this will last is anyone’s guess. The U.S. is now the world’s energy leader and no longer relies on Middle East oil to survive. As production from the Permian Basin continues to grow, cheered on by a pro-energy White House, OPEC and Russia will lose the ability to set global energy pricing rates.
Closer to home for Mr. Putin, entrepreneurship in Russia is shackled by an oligarchy that takes for itself anything that grows too big. The Kremlin’s reported desire to acquire 30 percent of Yandex, Russia’s biggest internet company, and secure veto rights over important corporate decisions, is a prime example. Although the story was shot down by the state-run media, the denials ring hollow. As the world knows, the American economy is going gangbusters, even with the short-term — and much-needed — correction in the stock market this week.
As for a new arms race, Mr. Trump eloquently noted, “We have all the money. We’ll just keep building weapons until they stop what they are doing.”
The simplicity of that statement — and its undeniability — are simply beautiful.
The best outcome, of course, would be for the Russians to come back into compliance with their INF obligations. Even then, however, as Mr. Bolton noted in Moscow, China would remain an outlier, not a party to the treaty and not constrained in its ability to build the very class of weapons that the agreement was supposed to abolish.
The American economy is deep, wide and incredibly resilient. With the Trump administration having taken the gloves off, the sky really is the limit in terms of growth. Neither Russia nor China will be able to keep up. Mr. Putin’s Russia needs to shackle the U.S. through arms deals to avoid the fate of the Soviet Union, whose breakup the Russian president famously described as a “geopolitical disaster.”
The danger that lies in this economic thesis is, of course, on the military side of the equation. If Beijing and Moscow feel too threatened by America’s rise (a rise Mr. Trump has accelerated with his willingness to take on China over trade), then they could look to some type of military solution to balance the scales.
And here is where America is vulnerable. Due to the Obama years, the U.S. military’s shortcomings are there for all the world to see. Even with Mr. Trump’s increased military budgets, it will take years for the new capabilities to come online. Taiwan, the South China Sea, eastern Ukraine, the Baltics, the Russian “Near Abroad” — all could become flashpoints. Asymmetric warfare is also an option.
The Pentagon will be seriously challenged to wage low-intensity conflicts in Central Asia and the Middle East while preparing to wage a global war against two near-peer adversaries.
But I guess that is why they earn the big bucks.
• L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.