Why Mitt Romney is more right than wrong regarding Russia as a top-foe for US National Security concerns. By American Sentry.
Last month, Republican presidential hopeful and presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney, came under withering attack from Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, many democratic pundits and strategists, Main Stream Media Obama enablers, and the Russian President himself for his “Cold War” mentality comments regarding Russia as “our number one geo-strategic foe.”
Election year rhetoric notwithstanding, how accurate might Mitt Romney actually be? If we listen to the Obama administration heavies, Biden and Clinton, or the President’s campaign advisors, or even the Russian leaders themselves, we would be led to believe Romney is “out of touch”, “tethered to Cold War legacy constructs”, “naïve”, etc…However, there is clear historical precedent, recent and current events unfolding, and future Russian aspirations and geo-strategic equities that provide ample evidence for a more cogent, lucid, and less naïve grasp of just how perceptible Mitt Romney might be on Russia.
With this kind of hyperbole and surface “pop”-resistance to Mr. Romney’s comments, the Democrats perhaps again expose their apparently continued and long-held image of naivety and ignorance vis-à-vis their Internationalist and “collective security” approach to American National Security. If Mr. Romney crafts this correctly, and can articulate it for the pundits and wonks to digest beyond their 24 hour news cycle “sugar-high”, he can lever this apparent resistance to his position regarding Russia’s formidability on the world stage and its increasing path as a existing top threat and strategic-competitor for the United States in his favor.
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 was perhaps one of the most unique geo-political transitions in modern history. In nearly every central and eastern European state within the former Warsaw Pact, we witnessed a wholesale revulsion to the old communist system, its structures, organizations, security services and police-state constructs. There was immediate, broad, and deep cleansing of the old Socialist pillars of power from Estonia to the north, to Bulgaria in the south. In the case of Romania, we watched as the longtime Stalinist dictator, Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wife were summarily executed by the leaders of the uprising there. Yet, within the former Soviet Union (FSU), we didn’t see a sweeping rejection of Communism or the pillars of socialist political power or its cultural trappings. Lest we forget; the Soviet Anthem has been adopted by post-Soviet Russia, and many of the Russian military vehicles, aircraft, and naval vessels still sport the Soviet Red Star. Even the standard for the Russian Black Sea Fleet still bears the socialist Hammer and Sickle. This is twenty plus years later. Can we imagine if Germany insisted keeping the Swastika or the Waffen SS Death’s Head insignia, regardless how they might argue its “historical and cultural” significance? What we saw in Russia was an eventual outcry and demand for the political elites and the Soviet government to disband. Though there was a feign attempt to regain power by the hardliners when then Premier Mikhail Gorbachev was placed under house arrest in Crimea, the actual rejection of the Soviet-style power institutions and the need for a strong-man figure and “order” in the streets didn’t truly subside. Nor was there a fervent embrace by the government itself of economic, political, jurisprudential, or media reform as was witnessed and celebrated in the states of the former Warsaw Pact, let alone an internal demand, or international objection, to retaining Soviet regalia and symbols of socialist pageantry. As we saw the Russian version of “Robber Barons” surface as entire swaths of the once centralized economy were being “scarfed” up by emerging and ultra-powerful oligarchs, what we clearly didn’t see was a complete and societal-wide denunciation and disgust (opposed to state-sponsored “regrets”) for 70 years of Soviet institutional indiscretion and lingering crimes against its people, its “allies” or its state-sponsored, Marxist-Leninist philosophy-driven immorality and political depravity.
Often we see understandably empathetic and meticulously documented academic treatises underscoring the horrors and inherent evil of the nearly 13 year reign of Nazi Germany. No sensible, reasoned or compassioned human being could deny the impact, devastation, or maleficent legacy that Hitler and the Nazis scorched onto the world’s psyche during that ghastly period. Yet, Soviet Russia, starting with the Revolution of 1917 until its long awaited demise in 1991, wreaked severe havoc on hundreds of millions of people, denied even the most basic human rights to its own citizens and the people of scores of surrounding nation-states, institutionally and systematically brutalized and annihilated tens of millions of its own citizens through forced and deliberate starvation and mass deportation policies and orders, needlessly condemned and executed hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of political undesirables in the forms of military officers, dissidents, artists, authors, clergy, and professors, and implemented and maintained its massive and sinister police-state specter over its own people for seven decades. The sheer amount of human despair and its duration wrought by the Soviets throughout this period is perhaps unprecedented in modern world history (one could also argue the impact Communist China has had on its own people during the Cultural Revolution and the massive reported and yet unreported deaths it has produced is comparable in scope and societal impact)
Given this, would anyone have considered former Nazis running for political office immediately following the signing of their surrender in 1945 or the verdicts of the Nuremberg Trials? Of course not; yet, we see an arguably equally, if not more, horrendous Soviet regime, where hundreds of thousands of former Soviet officials within the Communist Party, the colossal security and secret-services, and the military still exist, where no Nuremberg-style justice was applied. Nor was there any UN or Hague-type internationally led effort charged to seek out and apply justice to any existing ex-Soviet officials. What we do see is the presidential re-inauguration of an ex-KGB Colonel, who continues his anti-American rhetoric whenever his political and diplomatic ends justify, who will head the one single nation that possesses the unilateral ability to wipe the United States of America off the face of the earth. Would the US, or Europe, or Israel for that matter, be willing to “reset” relations with a Germany that “elected” a former SS or Gestapo Colonel? Or for that matter a nuclear Germany with a former SS or Gestapo Colonel? That single fact alone might make any nation at least tacitly concerned as to what might be the geo-strategic intentions of a post-Soviet Russia toward the United States under Vladimir Putin.
Hyperbole? Unwarranted fear? Locked in a Cold War construct?
Hardly. It is not simply that the existing officials throughout much of the central and regional political governance, security, and military leadership in Russia were in fact firmly ensconced within the Soviet Union’s Marxist-Leninist hierarchy (many were Communist Party members) and benefitted from the actions, policies, and philosophy of the regime even after twenty years. The existing senior Russian Federal intelligence officials and military flag officer corps within Russia were members of the Soviet intelligence and the military services establishment. This includes the Internal Security Services such as the MVD, Border Guards, and municipal law-enforcement and investigative branches. Many within the Duma, the Russian Parliament, were also former military, intelligence, or party officials in the former Soviet regime. Many within the Duma still espouse and aspire for a return of Soviet Communism, and even identify as Communists for political election purposes. In summary, we still have thousands of former members of a regime now within the Russian hierarchy whose sole stated purpose was the eventual destruction, through violent revolution, of all free-market and democratic societies as emblemized by the Constitution of the United States of America and the spreading, through political subversion and violent radicalization of nations and their governing systems, of Marxist-Leninist ideology and the establishment of the Proletariat in the form of Communist political dominance. That is a fact, and it is irrefutable.
If this little tidbit, as pesky as it is, is not ominous enough as to the history, outlook, and therefore potential friction permeating throughout large segments of present-day Russian leadership with regards to its geo-political outlook and goals, we only need to look at other significant indicators that bode well for Mitt Romney’s position on Russia as our number one foe. We briefly touched on the stubborn fact that Russia is the only single nation on the earth that could destroy instantly the United States as we know it. Certainly, we can argue whether they would prescribe to their own mutually assured destruction (MAD), since the converse is also quite true; the US is the only country in the world capable of unilaterally destroying Russia. The fact remains; Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, specifically strategic platforms for intercontinental targeting, in the world. This is particularly striking given this is the single lingering attribute Russia possesses that still makes it a “world power.” Though it is formidable on a number of fronts regionally, Russia doesn’t possess the unilateral economic, diplomatic, or conventional military prowess to extend its desperate and predictable hegemonic ambitions on a global stage. This, however, does not curtail Russian aspirations to gain former Soviet glory, create immense regional tension in perceived spheres of influence, or continue to block or mitigate US collective desires within the UN, G-20, or other international security or economic fora. Perhaps the only thing worse than a regional power seeking global dominance, is a former global power, with nuclear weapons, seeking to reacquire it.
Additionally, the United States should not underestimate the absolute and avid desires of Russia on the international stage regarding its perceived historical and regional hegemony. I believe Mitt Romney hasn’t underestimated this in the least. From Russia’s numerous and continued threats and selfish and petty levering of much-needed energy supplies in the form of natural gas from Russia to the EU, or ongoing, concerted, and widespread economic, political, social, cultural, and diplomatic pressures and arm-twisting by Russia on its former Soviet states, Russia is still drawn, and perhaps empowered by a perceived weak US national security posture, to fulfill its hegemonic aspirations that transcend the Soviet era and are steeped in the former glory from Tsarist times of Ivan the Terrible and Catherine the Great. We have even seen a re-emergence of Russian military activity and expansion in the form of joint-naval exercises with Venezuela throughout Latin America and Mexico, and establishing further episodic naval presence in the Caribbean, to provocative aerial maneuvering and threating “probing” runs by its strategic bomber forces against US Carrier Strike Groups in the Pacific. These are actions by a country that clearly sees the US as a potential military obstacle to some of its strategic overtures. We can see how some of these overtures and regional “concerns” can manifest, prospectively leading to military intervention, and even all out war, as we plainly saw in the case of the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2006.
Another definitive strategy embraced by the Russians that is of concern for US security planners is Russia’s claim to amorphous “security” concerns of ethnic Russians within former Soviet states. Russia threatens to use this “national security imperative” as a geo-strategic maneuvering lever for political, economic, diplomatic, and even military influence and outcomes. As mentioned, we watched the military intervention in Georgia. However, there are virtually a dozen other “hot spots” throughout the FSU where territorial, demographic, and economic, even customs-related, tensions have the prospect of dispute and armed conflict. Some of these have a greater probability and remain regionally high-strung even more than the situation in Georgia.
One thing a prospective President Romney could be considering in his claim of Russia as the US’s number one foe is Russia as the ever-present spoiler for most everything related to an American advantage on the international stage. This can best be explained by the story of The Bean.
I have often relayed the story of “the Bean” when describing dealing with or negotiating with former Soviet officials; A delegation of Americans and a delegation of Russians meet in a room to discuss the future of a “bean” and how each delegation may plan on moving forward with its potential. The American team leads off. The team lead begins to appoint tasks for each team member on how they can best lever the opportunity the bean presents. He begins to lay out in detail which members will be responsible for various phases where the bean can be cultivated, the soil brought in, the water irrigated, the sunlight maintained at the optimum temperature and exposure level, even gesturing in good faith how the Russian team can benefit and assist in distribution channels, and sales, and if successful, can take the “profit” from the resulting beans yielded from the crop from the original bean, thus multiplying the opportunity for all participants. A bountiful Horn of Plenty is the American vision.
During this same period, the ex-Soviet delegation is sitting across from the Americans as they perceive them jabbering away needlessly. They are stoic, non-emotional, and appear calm and patient as the Americans wind up their apparent manic brainstorming and seem quite pleased and energetic about the future of this project. Why are the Russians so reserved in this manner? It is simple; each Russian has already determined that he, and he alone, will wait for all the Americans to leave for a bathroom or coffee break, and attempt to wait his own team members out while he relishes the unpretentious notion that when everyone is gone, he will snatch the bean, boil it, and eat it as quickly as possible. For many Russians, there is a notion that if the other side is “winning” then you must be “losing.” I do not say this out of blind ignorance or prejudiced generalities. I say it because in the nearly twenty years of studying, living amongst, working, negotiating, planning with, and even befriending ex-Soviets, I find this mentality and outlook on the world around them and their destiny and place in it to be nearly one hundred percent accurate. As renowned journalist and Russophile, Hendrick Smith, alludes in his classic book, The Russians, Russians are predisposed to a fatalistic and dire worldview. This is predicated on several factors, however none more prevalent than their vast history replete with horror, famine, despair, war, and perpetual harsh living conditions as compared to her European neighbors and other “civilized” societies. Theirs is an arduous plight, which molds and hardens the Russian soul to expect the worst, while knowing there isn’t much hope for a better or brighter opportunity. This same outlook is captured in much of classic Russian literature from Tolstoy to Dostoyevsky. These two key issues in the Russian psyche, the “zero-sum” gain, distributive-negotiation viewpoint, coupled with a fatalistic, “little-chance-for-a-better tomorrow, better take what I can now” attitude, constitute a thrust to the worldview Russia has had, and continues to have, toward the US.
I do not know factually, but it seems plausible that some Russian Policy wonks from the International Security School of Realism may have shared this with the former Governor. And he was wise to have listened. There is no doubt in many observers of Russia that the US is without question Russia’s number one foe. This leads to yet another reason why Mr. Romney was astute in his security concerns for present-day Russia; espionage.
A few years back, the FBI was successful in identifying and breaking up a Russian spy ring in New York City. It was tabloid-fodder as one of the Russian spies was a young beautiful bombshell Russian woman by the name of Anna Chapman. She was right out of Central Casting for any schlocky-spy thriller movie as the starring Russian agent provocateur. There was much debate as to the operational viability of the alleged spy ring, but it raised the question…”what are the Russians doing cultivating Russian nationals posing as third country immigrants in a non-official cover status, or NOCs, in the US in this day and age?” Many Americans see the Anna Chapman case and might for a moment wonder what was it all about, but in the end, many Americans don’t see a need for concern regarding Russian foreign intelligence operations directed toward the US. After all, the Cold War is over, and Russia isn’t the “bad guy” any more. Right?
Wrong. In 2000, then Russian KGB Colonel, Sergei Tretykov, defected to the US. At that time, he was the head of all Russian Foreign Intelligence Service operations in the US. As a high ranking operative in the former KGB, now called the FSB, he worked in the branch that is specifically charged with conducting espionage intelligence operations against the US, known now as the SVR. In his very revealing 2008 book, Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy In America After the Cold War, Tretykov outlines and details his charge and its operations against the US long after the Cold War was over. In an interview that same year, Tretykov discloses to NPR’s Robert Siegel that the US is still the number one intelligence target for Russia, followed by NATO, and then China. Earlier in 2007, then US Counter Intelligence Chief, Joel Brenner, reported that the Russians have reconstituted espionage within the US reaching Cold War levels, and that Russia has an “unprecedented” number of intelligence officers operating in the US. In another interview on All Things Considered on NPR, Brenner attributes the increase to the policies and priorities of then Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
Now we await Putin version 2.0.
All of this evidence of increased Russian espionage activity leads one to ask, “why?” I believe it may be precisely the “why” that Mitt Romney concludes Russia still remains our number one foe. There are several reasons as to the “why”, and here are some of the main drivers that can or should keep US security planners focused on Russia as a definitive foe:
1. US-sponsored European Missile Defense– We want it, the Europeans want it, the Russians hate it. They hate it because it has the potential to act as an anti-missile system against Russia’s main power-thruster, its nuclear arsenal. Though it is not designed for that purpose, and anyone remotely familiar with the nuclear capability of Russia knows Moscow possesses a massive warhead advantage that this particular system would not be able to overcome. This is all part of the nuclear strategy of both the US and Russia. However, the system is specifically designed to thwart a potential lone-missile launch from a nuclear capable Iran toward Europe and against US military facilities there. This is a linchpin to US nuclear strategy against rogue nation missile and radiological proliferation; a serious and vital US national security concern. Its capabilities, deployment, facilities locations, etc. are all top-drawer intelligence details that Russian operatives would strive very hard to acquire. This is why so many observers were shocked and confused as to why President Obama would have intonated its hindrance, and thus diminishing US national security in a significant and dangerous way, when he made the now infamous comment regarding “having more flexibility [with the system] after the [US presidential] elections” in his supposed private discussions with then Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. What caught my attention, and perhaps that of the Romney security advisors, was the urgency and apparent glee on the face of Medvedev as he promised to relay this vital and encouraging news to “Vladimir” on behalf of President Obama.
- US Research and Development– Russia still maintains a formidable conventional force, albeit it is considerably dilapidated and diminished over the years. This is more in the realm of sheer Order of Battle numbers opposed to lethality of individual weapons systems. Russians have extremely deadly weapons systems. Having said that, Russia continues to be the premier adversary in the realm of sophisticated modern weapons systems, electronic measures and counter-measures, 4th generation fighter radar, avionics, missile, and increasing stealth technologies, main battle tank reactive armor and firing systems, counter-battery radar-guided artillery, undersea & submarine warfare, mines and counter mines, state-of-the-art torpedo and naval and air launched cruise missile systems, air-to air, surface-to-air missile radars and launch and guidance systems, and signal, optical, and measurements surveillance and detection technologies. The Russians, based on decades of Soviet advancements, capitalized on utilizing US R&D by stealing the technology via espionage, or pieces of it, and exploiting that technology for their own weapons designs. Why spend an inordinate amount on R&D when the Americans can do it, and Russians can steal it? This is yet another intelligence and espionage collection driver for Russia to continue to infiltrate and procure US military and dual use technology for their own purposes. This is certainly not unique to Russia, and China has made remarkable and dangerous strides in this department against the US. However Russia has a robust technological and R&D base from which to expand and improve on its accuracy, range, operational viability and lethality against US technology and interests. It is their number one aim for espionage. Additionally, Russia has a robust and prolific arms export industry and are responsible for proliferating advanced weapons systems and technologies to countries that do not care for the US very much. China too is guilty of this, but Russia also sells some technologies to China as well. Russia sold a Kiev-Class aircraft carrier to China several years back. China is in the final stages of operationalizing the carrier for trials at sea. This is a direct threat to US naval forces in the Pacific.
- US Military, Diplomatic, and Commercial Intentions– Though nearly every nation that is a first or second tier player on the international scene does this, Russia is particularly interested in US military deployments, diplomatic overtures and intentions, and commercial and market ventures. As we showcased earlier, any perceived “win” by the US on the strategic, diplomatic, or commercial front is often perceived as a potential “loss” to Russian intentions, aspirations, and goals. This is one of the reasons Russia loathes NATO as much as it does. The stated reason is the question of why there is a NATO, now that the Soviet Union is “disbanded”. Of course, the many new eastern and central European NATO members that made up the former Warsaw Pact know all too well through their own respective histories and brutal experiences why they choose to maintain a NATO structure to counter any re-emerging Russian regional or hegemonic ambitions. With Putin back in the seat of overt power in Russia, and the recent invasion of Georgia still fresh in the minds of former republics and satellites of the Soviet Union, coupled with tension building from the US-European Missile Defense System, and numerous “hot spots” brewing on the Russian periphery as previously mentioned, many nations will be on a heightened, albeit discreet, state of security alertness vis-à-vis their Russian neighbor with Putin’s return. In turn, Russia will continue to monitor US military deployments in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and exercises and standard training maneuvers here at home to find weakness and/or to exploit US vulnerabilities. In places such as San Diego, Norfolk, San Antonio, Ft Irwin Training Center, and numerous other training and testing facilities, we can be assured that Russian intelligence assets in the form of sophisticated monitoring systems, or old fashion human sources and use of espionage tradecraft will be there to catch the proverbial “play-by-play.” Also, commercial, economic, political, and social developments will continue to occupy the Russian intelligence services dockets as they have impact on US domestic and policy decisions that can affect overall US prosperity, economic growth, and thus impact defense and security related spending and the US populace’s will to resource and procure systems or programs in defense of the US. These aspects are of considerable interest to Russia. As the US debates and struggles with its internal political bodies and public opinion to support ongoing security and defense programs either tacitly or directly against or in opposition to Russian intentions, Russia will quietly, surreptitiously, and patiently gather as much intelligence as it can to better poise itself to take advantage if and when a moment arises to do so.
As we dissect the nature of present-day Russia, and its geo-strategic aims, we clearly recognize that our foe is not the Soviet Union of old. Rather it is a new emerging power in the form and guise of a “reformed, improved, more transparent, and democratic” Russia. However, the stark and crude reality is the “New Russia” is littered with former socialists and fervent communists embedded in the pretense of a “free and democratic state.” Putin is a strongman out of the classic Soviet/Tsarist mold, a former communist intelligence official, and has stated publically on more than one occasion his distain for America, her policies, and her place on the world stage. Russia still maintains both nuclear and conventional weapons systems with severe lethality aimed explicitly at US assets, interests, and territory. From Russia’s perspective, the US often is the only thing standing between their hegemonic goals and Russian national stagnation and degradation. Even when the world is universally condemning an action or event, presently the actions of the Syrian President and his tyrannical regime, Russia is delaying, placating, and excusing atrocities and immoral actions on the part of some cutthroat regime. There is no geo-strategic prize gained by this sort of ludicrous and petty backing of the Syrian regime, except to thwart US humanitarian overtures and diplomatic advances in the sanctimonious chambers of the feckless UN and to demonstrate to an internal Russian populace the persistent ability to “challenge” the Americans and advance Russian international prowess and return to greatness.
I am convinced Mitt Romney knew precisely what he was talking about and exactly what he meant when he said “Russia is our number one geo-strategic foe.” I also believe the Russians know it as well. That is why they would absolutely prefer President Obama to have a second term. For the Russians, it is easier to deal with an enemy who naïvely thinks of himself as a potential “friend” then it is a false “friend “who surely knows you think of him as the enemy.
The author is a former military officer of twenty years. He is a designated Joint PME- qualified Foreign Area Officer specializing in the former Soviet Union and Western Europe. While assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency, he was detailed to the US Embassy, Kiev, Ukraine and worked as a military attaché in a diplomatic assignment. He was responsible for Foreign Material Acquisition, Military-to-Military Contact programs, and Security Assistance. Additionally, he was selected as USMC Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, and Harvard College’s Kennedy School of Government, receiving a Master’s Degree in International Security Affairs. He has lived, worked, and travelled throughout the former Soviet Union and speaks Russian, Ukrainian, and German.