On January 21 2018 we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Battle for Khe Sanh Village and the beginning of the 77 day siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. In coming weeks I will be writing more about this battle that was the turning point in the Vietnam War—in spite of what Burns and crew said in their not so accurate 7 volume minisery about the War in Vietnam.
Is a new cold war on the horizon?
I have recently been reading the Dagger Brigade posts (2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, which the author once commanded) as it moves around Eastern Europe training with allies as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve—a program to demonstrate NATO resolve to deter the Russians for dramatic attacks and conquest of its previous kingdom (satellite countries).
Atlantic Resolve and other NATO activities in Eastern Europe and the pledged increase in force capabilities seem to assume a conventional force attack by the Russians. This approach is called into question by current Russian activities.
Russia is aggressively building up its nuclear forces and is expected to deploy a total force of 8,000 warheads by 2026 along while modernizing its deep underground bunkers, according to reports citing Pentagon officials.
The Russian force build up implies several aspects of its view of future warfare. The 8,000 warheads will include both large strategic warheads and thousands of new low-yield and very low-yield warheads. These will circumvent arms treaty limits. Russia’s new doctrine is one of using nuclear arms early in any conflict.
This new doctrine as it evolves seems to combine the use of low and very low yield nuclear weapons in conjunction with attacks by tactical ground forces. Simultaneous it seeks to maintain strategic deterrence by having a modernized mobile strategic arsenal. The mobility of the strategic forces enhances their survivability. Part of this deterrence effort includes fortification of underground facilities for command and control during such a nuclear conflict.
The United States and NATO are watching this alarming expansion as to determine if Russia is preparing to break out of current nuclear forces constraints under arms treaties, including the 2010 New START and 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaties. Russia has already violated the INF accord by testing an illegal ground-launched cruise missile.
This Russian nuclear arms buildup is among the activities being studied by the ongoing Pentagon major review of US nuclear forces called the Nuclear Posture Review. The conclusions of the review are expected to be disclosed early next year—possibly coinciding with state of the union address by the president: He is on the record as saying: “I want modernization and rehabilitation… It’s got to be in tip top shape,”
The current posture review reverses the views of the Obama administration which called for reducing the role of nuclear weapons and the size of the arsenal. The cut back in nuclear forces by Obama was based on assessments—now considered false by many officials—that nuclear threats posed by Russia and other states had been lowered significantly, and that Moscow and Washington were no longer considered enemies.
The Obama administration based its strategic nuclear deterrence and warfare policies on the incorrect and outdated assumption that the prospects of US.-Russia military confrontation had been reduced sharply. However many have noted that since 2010 Russia, China, and North Korea have been engaged in steadily building up their forces with new nuclear arms and delivery systems, while Iran remains an outlier that many experts believe will eventually decide to build a nuclear arsenal. The Obama administration did not react to this changing strategic situation.
The Pentagon’s new posture review is based in part on a reversal of the outdated Obama-era assessment. Most likely it will include:
- Recognition of an increased global nuclear threat
- Recommendations on increasing the US nuclear force modernization—warheads and delivery vehicles
- A recommendation to revise US and NATO warfighting doctrine, tactics and techniques.
To many this may result in a modernized version of the Reagan era capability gap and a cry for almost drastic efforts to close the gap. This will be a major fight for resources that President Trump could lose based upon liberal intransigence and an unwillingness to accept the threat. Will the US and NATO react in time and with appropriate responses?
Is NATO’s Atlantic Resolve soon to be an inappropriate activity when the Russian nuclear threat is considered? OR can it or should it be modified to include the artillery battalion in the deployed brigade combat teams (BCTs) have nuclear warheads available? Should the deployed artillery battalions train for the conduct of nuclear operations? Should the ground forces train for operations in a nuclear environment? Should additional nuclear capable systems be deployed with the BCTs? These are all questions that NATO and the US need to consider as the efforts to deter Russian aggression continue.
Is the cold war returning?