Freethought Almanac

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The Russian Threat


June 20

Дорогой Борис,

I read the quip from Robert Farley and I imagine he might even believe “The Russian military remains extraordinarily dangerous.” Farley writes sometimes for The National Interest (TNI), a bimonthly American ‘conservative’ international affairs magazine published by the Center for the National Interest – a Richard Nixon creation from the 1990s. Farley himself is an Assistant Professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. He sounds like an old school Cold Warrior who abides by the neo-con desire to see enemies (as opposed to rivals) everywhere.

As an outgoing president (he wouldn’t dare say this while in office), Dwight Eisenhower warned us about the “military-industrial complex” on January 17, 1961: that is, corporations feeding off of federal contracts to ‘protect’ us from foreign enemies, real or imagined. This is called “socialism for the wealthy,” for which nobody in media or politics ever asks, “How are you going to pay for it?” As Congress is eagerly complicit in this warmongering, because they all have defense contractors in their congressional districts, it is more accurately known as the “military–industrial–congressional complex.”

Here is my understanding: However abusive the Soviet Union was to its satellites and its people during the Soviet era (1922–1991), and however authoritarian its successor Russian Federation, the threat of Russia to the US mainland has never been more than theoretical, in spite of the USSR/Russia possessing nuclear weapons. We must remember that only the USA has ever used nukes against an adversary. Yes, USSR/Russia is a competitor and a rival, and Russia is a threat to US interests abroad. And although in less than 70 years the Soviet system transformed a backward, third-world country into a world superpower, the economy of Russia, not to mention its military spending (in absolute numbers, if not in percentage of GDP) has never been even close to that of the USA.

The Soviet era GDP was probably never more than 20% that of the USA. The Russian economy today cannot even pretend to rival the US economy: one wag has quipped that the State of Texas has a higher GDP than Russia! Right now, according to the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database (2019), the US defense budget is $732.0 billion (3.4% of GDP). The Russian defense budget is $65.1 billion in US dollars. And while that is 3.9% of GDP, the Russian GDP itself is about 1/12 that of the US ($1.7T vs. $21.5T). Put another way, the US spending on war is greater than the next 10 nations combined, 8 of whom are allies, and nearly triple that of China, its closest competitor. The US follows Israel in military spending per capita, but neither Russia nor China even make it into the top 15 of global war-making budgets.

But what about Russian aggression? If you consider how aggressively Russia has located itself so close to Europe, and the US bases on the southern and eastern Russian borders, how aggressively Russia allowed the US to ally itself with former Soviet client states and former Warsaw Pact nations, and how negligent Russia was in permitting US militarization plans for outer space – and when you count the steadfast Russian refusal of the petrodollar (which is itself a declaration of war against the US), it’s obvious why the US thinks Russia is the global warmonger. (I am being satirical here.)

The Pentagon war-gamers had plans to totally obliterate the Soviet Union and, in the end, succeeded in obliterating the Soviet system by outspending it on “defense.” What choice had the USSR but to try to keep up, even if it meant self-destruction? The Soviet economy was going to fall apart one way or another – either through inherent unsustainability or through competition.

In reality, as opposed to military–industrial–congressional complex fantasy, no nation truly threatens the US homeland via military aggression – in spite of pitiful attempts at cyber warfare and disinformation, at which Republicans are far more adept. The USA is currently bombing or helping to bomb seven foreign countries. Only the US, China and Russia have nuclear first-strike capability, yet only the US has refused to renounce it. Only the US has an empire enforced by about 1,000 military bases.

Russia today has one or two aircraft carriers; the USA has at least seven. The Russian military has 3,454,000 men under arms, in reserve or paramilitary (24.3 per 1,000 capita); the USA has 2,205,050 (6.7 per 1,000 capita), but relies more on munitions than men. Nine nations make up the world’s nuclear club, with approximately 14,500 nuclear weapons worldwide. Russia (about 6,800 nukes) and the USA (about 6,550 nukes, not including nukes elsewhere in NATO: UK 200, France 300, Israel 90, maybe—so 7,140) have 13,350 nukes between them. By contrast, China has about 270 nukes, but an astonishing 3,205,000 men under arms, which is still only 2.3 per 1,000 capita.

Considering all of the above, I would revise Farley’s conclusion thus: “Here's What You Need To Remember: The US military remains extraordinarily dangerous.” Or, in the immortal lyrics of Team America: World Police, “America, Fuck Yeah!”

Твой мирный друг,

LETTER TO BORIS is an occasional feature of this blog in which I try to explain to Boris, to the best of my understanding and ability, American culture, current events and the American language. Boris, a former Russian national, who grew up under the Soviet Union, is real, but Boris is not his name. Also, I do not claim to read, write or speak with competence any language but English.

NB: Дорогой = [My] dear [friend]; Твой мирный друг = Your peaceful friend.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

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