by Ruben Bauer Naveira
Originally published in Portuguese in Jornal GGN – https://jornalggn.com.br/noticia/as-novas-armas-da-russia-5-implicacoes-para-o-brasil
What impact will Putin’s announcement of Russia’s new weapons have on Brazil?
That impact will be considerable, because, more than ever, our country is tied to the United States.
Unlike the coups of 1964 and 1969, when the military had a plan for governing Brazil, the 2016 takeover can best be described as anomic (chaotic). The “plan” of those behind the coup can be reduced to two principles:
– hold onto power and, at all cost, prevent a return of the left; and
– each group will look out for itself and further its interests as best it can.
Also striking is the coup leaders’ identification with United States’ interests:
– they have hacked off one of the five branches of the BRICS (which used to be Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), weakening this alliance as an alternative to the hegemonic capitalism headed by the United States;
– remember that the United States has always regarded Latin America as its “backyard”, whose countries were deprived any real sovereignty? Well, the upstarts have aborted a sovereignty-building project for Brazil, which was to have been achieved by applying Brazil’s pre-salt oil wealth in robust industrial development, healthier public finances, a stronger geopolitical presence and education for its population. Instead of which, Brazil’s oil wealth is now being surrendered at derisory prices to large multinational oil corporations;
– other strategic sectors of the economy (civil construction, meat etc.), which until now were internationally competitive (Embraer, for example, is being handed over to Boeing), are being dismantled;
– projects that are strategic to the armed forces are either being starved (nuclear submarine) or placed under United States’ control (Alcântara launch base). The wildly disproportionate 43-year prison sentence handed to Admiral Othon Pinheiro, father of Brazil’s military nuclear programme, bears the imprint of United States interference, to “serve as an example” to the rest of the local top brass;
– a pubic asset privatisation spree, following the neoliberal handbook to the letter;
– in addition to oil reserves, other natural resources, such as fresh water (the Guarani and Alter do Chão aquifers) and strategic minerals, are being offered for foreign exploitation;
– there is a deep-seated cultural identification with the United States among Brazil’s dominant class (I refuse to call that pack an “elite”). These people went to Orlando as teenagers, to Miami as young adults and, now as they mature, head for New York or California, with a fervour not unlike that of any Muslim on route to Mecca;
– the judges and prosecutors heading what is now known as Operation Carwash had a significant part of their academic education funded by United States government institutions, and several of them were ultimately co-opted by US intelligence agencies, for which they have gone on to work as US agents within the Brazilian judiciary.
In short, the mentors of the 2016 coup are viscerally tied to the United States. If the continued existence of the United States favours that of the coup government, then any downfall of the United States will necessarily mean the downfall of the coup.
The USA in crisis with no exit strategy
The United States has been in severe existential crisis since even before the election of Donald Trump. Its economy has been made to depend on a permanent state of war, which evidently upsets the countries it attacks, but also displeases countries such as Russia and China, which depend on having peace around them in order to develop.
In addition, the disjoint between the United States’ financial institutions and the fundamentals of the real economy is now even more critical than just before the great crisis of 2008.
As if that were not enough, the United States’ multi-trillion-dollar debt (due largely to wars) is simply unpayable and depends on its continuously issuing currency in order to go on rolling the debt over, which in turn depends of the rest of the world’s needing dollars, which depends in turn on international trade being backed worldwide by the US dollar.
Then China and Russia ditched the dollar, especially for their dealings in oil (the commodity to which the dollar is most sensitive), a move being followed by leading oil countries, such as Venezuela and Iran.
The United States economy has become a ticking time-bomb that, sooner or later, is going to explode.
When Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya stopped accepting dollars in payment for their oil, they brought the sky down (literally) on their heads. But Russia and China are nuclear powers. The USA simply do not have the means to prevent them from abandoning the dollar – unless…
Preparing a first-strike capability
If you shoot a bear, try to kill it; if you only wound it, the bear may kill you.
Roughly, for the United States to maintain their status quo (read “the existing world order”), they must keep Russia and China down. In principle, this should be achieved by applying soft power (as was done in Brazil by the 2016 coup). In Russia, they managed this during the 1990s, but lost the edge not only with the rise to power of the group led by Vladimir Putin (which includes astute minds like Vladislav Surkov), but mainly as a result of the United States’ own complacency and negligence.
In the USA, the penny that their soft power had petered out in Russia finally dropped in 2008, in view of the Russians’ swagger in the military confrontation with Georgia, a former Soviet republic made over into an ally of the USA. As soft domination was no longer feasible, all that remained was to resort to hard power (war). Ever since then, the USA has been tightening its chokehold on Russia and readying itself to be in a position to launch a “first-strike” nuclear attack, supposedly the only kind able to lead to victory in a nuclear war.
A first strike consists in a massive surprise attack that leads to the extermination of the enemy’s leadership and the instant destruction (in a question of minutes) of its nuclear arsenal, along with its command and control centres.
For a first strike against Russia, the hundreds of Minuteman missiles in underground silos in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming are useless, because the Russians would detect the launches in time to react. For a first strike, the most powerful component of the United States’ nuclear triad (missiles launched from land, sea and air) are Trident missiles on Ohio-class submarines circling Russian waters (they could hit Moscow in fifteen minutes, but that may still be considered a long time for a first strike). In any case, there are too few Tridents to deny the Russians of any chance of retaliating – which is the final objective of a first strike.
The United States also have Tomahawk cruise missiles that are much harder to detect, but whose range is limited to about two thousand kilometres, so that they would have to be positioned at Russia’s borders (and could reach Moscow in under ten minutes). There is no way they could be deployed in secret, though, and that could end up forcing the Russians to attack first, before they are even attacked.
The solution the USA has encountered is to install an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) shield “against Iran” at the NATO bases of Deveselu in Romania (ABM operational in 2016) and Redzikowo in Poland (to become operational in 2018). Remember the names of these cities; they may be the first to be wiped off the map. Now, its Mk-41 model ABM launchers can be converted quickly (in a question of minutes) into Tomahawk launchers. The “antimissile shield against Iran” is thus no more than a pretext in preparation for a first strike – something that Moscow sees clearly. What the US certainly have managed to do is to provide the Russians with evidence that they are preparing to attack.
Then, on 26 April 2017, Lieutenant-General Viktor Poznihir, First Deputy Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the Russian General Staff, declared that the Russian military command had come to the conclusion that the United States were preparing a first-strike attack on Russia.
What might it then be reasonable to expect? That some senior United States authority address President Putin publicly, in an endeavour to deny that conclusion or at least, in a situation of such gravity, to call on the Russians to sit down and talk about it? Of course – but what actually did happen? Nothing. Silence.
Military analysts estimate that it would still take several years for the USA to deploy enough missiles on Russia’s borders for a successful first strike. Nonetheless, as of now, the Russians are raging.
The fact is that, to date, a first strike has never been feasible for either the United States or Russia. Both have warheads in numbers far in excess of what would be necessary to destroy the Earth more than once and so, however extensive the first strike, each would be left with significant retaliatory capacity.
The possible effects of Putin’s announcement: war in sight?
Fifty years ago, the streets of Leningrad taught me one thing: If a fight is inevitable, you must strike first.
What Putin wanted – and got – by announcing the new weapons was to make it absolutely clear to the United States that they will not be able to carry out a first strike, neither now nor ever. On the contrary, within a few more years, it is the Russians who will be in a position to do so – providing that, together with these new attack weapons, they also develop (besides their exceptional S-500, which is already in production) other technologically advanced defensive missiles (see here) that would make up an effective protective shield with the capacity to neutralise any United States retaliation.
The timing of Putin’s announcement reveals a problem, however: of the six new weapons announced, three are still at the final trials stage (the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, the Mach 10 Kinzhal hypersonic missile and the nuclear-powered intercontinental underwater drone), two (the Avangard Mach 20 glide vehicle and the nuclear-powered intercontinental cruise missile) have just finished trials and now entered the production stage, but thus far only the laser weapons (about which no details were released) are being distributed to military units.
Now how much longer will it take before these weapons are produced in sufficient quantity to supply Russia’s military fully? One year, two, three? Making this announcement now would appear merely to prod the enemy towards attacking as soon as possible – before the new weapons are available in sufficient quantity to crush the United States. In response to Putin’s announcement, US Secretary of Defence, General James Mattis, declared – not without some reason – that these new weapons “are still years away” from threatening the United States (my emphasis).
Precisely why then did Putin make the announcement now? Only the Russians know the answer, but I think they felt a need to intimidate the United States, and quickly. Were the United States on the point of attacking Russia this spring of 2018? (For reasons of climate, Russia has always been attacked in the late spring, once the mud resulting from the thaw of the previous winter has dried and before the next winter snow has arrived; Napoleon invaded Russia on 24 June 1812, and Hitler’s armies invaded on 22 June 1941; this year, the northern hemisphere summer starts on 21 June).
The United States aspire to more than mere survival; they need to conserve their identity. That identity rests on the permanent accumulation of wealth, which in practice means plundering the rest of the world. For the United States to be able to coexist with Russia and China in a world managed in common (a multipolar world), they would need to relinquish this identity of theirs and encounter a new one able to assimilate their loss of power and their impoverishment (USA debt rollover would become unworkable, meaning the demise of the dollar and the pulverisation of all dollar deposits) – not to mention other crucial developments, such as the end of the United States’ unconditional support for Israel. That kind of thing cannot happen peacefully, especially because the United States are accustomed to believing themselves militarily unbeatable.
For a process of identity realignment to take place, whether for an individual person (psychological renewal) or for an entire society (cultural renewal), there must first be discomfort (in a comfortable situation there is no need to question identity). The discomfort will always be met, on an “automatic pilot” basis, in manners that safeguard identity, unless a point is reached where this stops working. In that situation, three outcomes can then ensue: a willing, reflective, opening up to a realigned identity; reluctant acceptance of a traumatic identity realignment; or, at the limit, a blind clinging to identity, in denial of the realities – which risks leading ultimately to death.
Paradoxically, the only sure path for the United States to conserve their superpower status would come from some process of willing renovation of their national identity, in acceptance of the reality of a multipolar world and, jointly with Russia and China, the building of a new world order. If, however, the United States persists in an endeavour to subdue Russia and China militarily, a defeat –thence the importance of the new Russian weapons – will mean the end of its vast apparatus, the dismantling of its hundreds of military bases spread around the globe.
The problem is that the United States are too attached to their identity (the USA are “the one indispensable nation”), and accordingly I see any willing renewal of that identity as impracticable.
Thus far, Russia’s strategy has been to buy time (for a detailed account of this strategy, see here): sooner or later, the United States economy will begin to disintegrate under its own weight (with a little push from China, of course); if war can be avoided until then, so much the better. Russia has thus adopted evasive tactics, swallowing its pride and avoiding being drawn into military provocations by the USA or else responding in self-contained manners, so as to avoid any escalation of conflict. Time is on Russia’ side, as it waits patiently for the inevitable collapse of the USA, while producing greater volumes of new weapons in case war does come.
I suspect, however, that the United States will eventually end up going to war even against a nuclear Russia, for the sake of preserving their status quo and their identity. Whatever intimidation is achieved by Putin’s speech may even reduce the risk of all-out nuclear war, but in no way will it suffice to compel the United states into updating their dysfunctional identity peacefully.
The question that remains open is whether any eventual confrontation between the USA and Russia will escalate into all-out nuclear war or end with one side’s capitulating (even if a few nuclear bombs have to be detonated in the process).
I consider it rather unlikely that Russia will capitulate. With its S-500s, S-400s and other defensive systems, Russia is in a position to protect itself quite well against conventional attack or even a limited nuclear strike, while its new weapons, even though they have only just gone into production, will be able to inflict considerably greater damage on United States soil (especially if used in a limited nuclear strike).
In any case, if Russia were to lose (for “Russia”, read “Russia plus China”, because the two are militarily allied against the United States, although not openly), that would mean a world under United States tyranny, George Orwell’s 1984 on steroids – but it’s not going to happen.
The United States, meanwhile, would surrender only if they are badly hurt, and that is possibly the Russians’ “plan B” (“plan A” would be for the United States to disintegrate in a spontaneous process, without it coming to war).
The problem with “plan B” is the high risk of escalation into all-out nuclear war.
Chances of war becoming nuclear
Reporter: – Mr. Einstein, now that the atom bomb has been invented, what do you think World War III will be like?
Albert Einstein: – I don’t know about World War III, but I do know how World War IV will be fought…
R: – World War IV?
AE: – Yes, with sticks and stones.
The United States are aware that, even if they do launch a first strike against Russia, ultimately they too will be destroyed. The Russians are aware that, even if they do launch a first strike against United States, ultimately they too will be destroyed. No first strike, even in the unlikely event that it comes as a complete surprise, could prevent the enemy from retaliating.
If that is so, then whether for reasons of intelligence, reasonableness, morality, dignity or even common decency, wholesale nuclear war should be the least likely of all scenarios. Tragically, it is not.
On 2 February 2018 the Pentagon released the United States’ new Nuclear Posture Review, which stipulates production of new “tactical” (lower yield) nuclear warheads, to be used in the United States’ “retail” wars. Note that, all the same, any “tactical” nuclear bomb would be more powerful than the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This new doctrine states that the United States may make use of nuclear weapons to respond to any “attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population…” (which could mean even a terrorist attack) “… or infrastructure” (which could include even a cyberattack).
Putin’s response came in his speech on 1 March:
Our nuclear doctrine says Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack or an attack with other weapons of mass destruction against her or her allies, or a conventional attack against us that threatens the very existence of the state (…) It is my duty to state this: Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, be it small-scale, medium-scale or any other scale, will be treated as a nuclear attack on our country. The response will be instant and with all the relevant consequences.
By “Russia’s allies”, read Syria and Iran (in a message extensive to Israel).
There is also a difference in kind: while the Russian and Chinese leaderships are reasonably homogeneous, to the point that they can be personified in a single leader (Putin and Xi Jinping), the United States leadership could be described (to put it mildly) as cats in a sack. The various spheres of power (the White House, Pentagon, Department of State, the intelligence agencies and so on) find it enormously difficult to act in a coherently and coordinated fashion (for an analysis of this phenomenon, see here), and all are lacking in even internal cohesion, to the point where military personnel in the field (in Syria, for instance) “interpret” orders from their superiors in Washington in their own way (putting it mildly again).
In a highly unstable context, where a single over-abrupt act could unleash a massive nuclear response, that kind of fragmentation increases the risks exponentially.
In Russia, meanwhile, it is cohesive power that enables Putin, for example, to declare (and, in so doing, secure obedience throughout the chain of command) the obvious fact that things cannot reach the point of all-out nuclear war, because that would mean (also) the destruction of Russia. On the United States’ side, there is nothing remotely similar to be heard – in itself a declaration that they are collectively and certifiably out of touch with reality.
On the same occasion, Putin came out with the following catchphrase (on video here): “As a citizen of Russia and the head of the Russian state I must ask myself: Why would we want a world without Russia?”. A word to the wise…
One quite reliable measure of how each country rates the risk of there being nuclear war is given by what steps it takes to protect its population from that eventuality.
On the eve of a civil defence exercise – lasting four consecutive days (4 to 7 October 2016), with the entire country coming to a standstill, as forty million people were each trained in how to access their respective nuclear shelter and remain in it for a long period of time – the Russian authorities revealed that they had just finished building new nuclear shelters for another twelve million people, in addition to the stock of shelters inherited from the Soviet era.
Even Sweden, a traditionally neutral country that is not even a member of NATO, has also decided to embark on a massive programme of building nuclear shelters for its population.
In the United States though, not a word is heard about the risk of the country’s suffering a nuclear strike. Let’s be clear about this: not one word is heard by the 99% (there is no real interest in protecting them), because the so-called 1%, whom the information reaches loud and clear, have long been frantically building their own shelters (luxury shelters, of course), preferably at remote sites, sparsely inhabited by white people, such as Canada, Argentina (Patagonia) and New Zealand (see, for example, here and here).
In an attempt to draw the attention of these 99% to what they will be the last to know (perhaps only when the missiles are being launched), but which the 1% has already known for a long time, Eric Zuesse wrote an article listing no fewer than eleven other references (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven) to the fact that the wealthy are preparing their own shelters. He challenges readers to type the line – billionaires moving to “New Zealand” – into a Google search (which I did and was astounded).
Shifting to a different example on the same subject, the powerful United States pharmaceutical industry has been researching and developing new medications to… treat the effects of radiation poisoning.
Implications for Brazil
I said that I refuse to call Brazil’s dominant class an elite because, first of all, an elite in any country develops its own identity (even if for purposes of domination), which in part comprises some degree of identification with the country and its destinies.
Not here. For a long time, this dominant class has shown no identification with Brazil whatsoever. It lives abroad, keeps and spends its money abroad, educates its children abroad and the only relation it maintains with Brazil is to source its wealth here. For that purpose, of course, it needs to have its agents working locally, particularly those embedded in the three powers of State.
Brazil’s dominant class has voluntarily abdicated from any emotional ties to Brazil, and has thus abdicated from maintaining an identity of its own, which would have derived from any such (now extinct) ties. It has preferred to allow itself to be assimilated by its host country, the United States. It has preferred to take on a United States identity. It has adopted the United States outlook, culture, values, economic models and even the United States’ instruments of domination (“meritocracy” and the like).
That is why the 2016 coup has no plan for Brazil; it has no need of one.
Had it preferred to continue Brazilian, as it always was until about the 1980s, the dominant class might now look forward to some chance of survival – but, bound as it is to the United States, to the roots of its hair, its downfall will come in the wake of the United States’ downfall.
Putin’s announcement of the new weapons was designed to present to the world a new reality, hitherto known, or sensed, in only quite narrow circles: the United States no longer commands planet-wide military supremacy and, accordingly, its superpower days are counted – just as the Brazilian dominant class’s days of dominating the population here are counted.
And, of course, this cannot happen peacefully – but it is inexorable.
What if there is a nuclear war, though?
Well, in that case, forget the Brazilian dominant class, because it will simply cease to exist as such – just as everything else that is established today will also no longer exist.
But how is that so, if Brazil hasn’t been attacked?
In contemporary capitalism, which includes Brazil, the greater part of the economy (finance) is fictitious, as opposed to the real portion (industry, services, agriculture). Not only that, but this real portion is subordinate to (and dependent on) the fictitious part. Finances are a fiction that works only because people believe them to be material: while the real economy is backed by physical wealth (machinery, buildings, stocks of products and raw materials, land and so on), finances are backed only by people’s credulity (in more technical terms, they are a social convention – something that people comply with only because they accept it.
None of which will withstand a nuclear war that devastates the northern hemisphere, neither in Brazil nor anywhere else. What moves the world, what gives it sense, is economic activity, far more than its institutions (whose main reason for being is to keep the world the way it is). If the economy collapses, institutions will collapse with it. Of course, a lot of people will believe they can go on living just as they always have and so will try to maintain the world in its established form, but that will no longer be possible.
What remains of humankind – if anything survives a nuclear winter – will have to reinvent itself. Much existing technology will be reusable, but institutionally, practically everything will have to be recreated: Humankind 2.0.
As in the Morrissey song, “because if it’s not love then it’s the bomb that will bring us together”.
Moreover, there is nothing to guarantee that Brazil will not be attacked. If it is already obvious to everyone that little will remain after a nuclear war except South America, those same thinking heads that have decided to build luxury nuclear shelters for the 1% while not giving a second thought to the fate of the 99% may also want to depopulate this continent of ours before moving here (given that South America’s urban population is massively concentrated in metropolitan regions). Neutron bombs were invented for that very purpose: using a kind of radioactivity that disssipates in a question of days after having condemned to death all those within its reach, they kill people, but spare the buildings. You can expect absolutely anything from sociopaths.
Even if Brazil is not attacked, there is one recommendation to be made to everyone: each and every one should have somewhere to go, the more uninhabited, the better. If the economy and society collapse, everyone will go into shock at the same time, and the worst place to be will be a major metropolis or large city teeming with thousands or millions of people, all coming unstuck.
Few of us may be aware of this, but whether or not there is a nuclear war, we are all living the most fantastic – and at the same time most terrible – times in the whole history of Humankind. We will all be actors, or at least witnesses, of the most extraordinary events. May each one find courage, endurance, wisdom, and good luck.
Translated by Peter Lenny MCIL
- Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, world market leader in medium-size aircraft. ↑
- Rocket launch base, located advantageously on the equator. ↑
- Related to the context of the witch-hunt by Brazil’s judiciary, whose primary target is former president Lula. ↑
- The two largest fresh water reserves on the planet. ↑
- The core effort of the judicial witch-hunt