It is likely that billions of people around the world view the conflict in Ukraine as a proxy war being waged by the U.S. against Russia. US President Joe Biden has pledged to aid Ukraine’s pursuit of victory “for as long as it takes,” without defining what the end state might be. Russian President Vladimir Putin has interpreted U.S. intentions to mean a fight “to the last Ukrainian.”
Anyone with a discernible pulse is aware of the danger that the conflict could escalate into a conflagration large and destructive enough to morph into World War III. The threshold would likely be crossed once nuclear weapons were unleashed. The military doctrines of all nuclear powers stipulate that such an attack would justify an in-kind response, though without always ruling out the same for lesser provocations of a potentially existential nature.
President Biden has said “the world faces the biggest risk of nuclear Armageddon since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.” The context of Biden’s statement came a month earlier on September 21, 2022, when Putin warned the West he was not bluffing when he said he would be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia against what he said was “nuclear blackmail.” Earlier, in an April 21, 2021, speech, Putin said:
We really do not want to burn bridges. But if someone mistakes our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intends to burn or even blow up these bridges, they must know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift, and tough. Those behind provocations that threaten the core interests of our security will regret what they have done in a way they have not regretted anything for a long time.
Another to speak of nuclear war has been former Russian president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy head of the Russian Security Council and one of Putin’s top advisers. Commenting on Ukraine’s highly touted but now failed 2023 “spring offensive,” Medvedev said in July 2023 that if Ukraine succeeded in taking Russian sovereign territory—including Crimea plus the four Donbass oblasts (regions) annexed by Russia last year—Russia “would have to use nuclear weapons by virtue of the Russian Presidential Decree.” This decree stated that any assault on Russian territory justified a nuclear response.
On Hiroshima Day, August 6, 2023, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “The drums of nuclear war are beating once again. Mistrust and division are on the rise. The nuclear shadow that loomed over the Cold War has re-emerged.” One who has predicted world war has been UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace. On May 19, 2023, he warned “that the UK could enter a direct conflict with Russian and China in the next seven years and has called for an increase in military spending to counter the potential threat.” Speaking to London’s Financial Times, Wallace said “a conflict is coming with a range of adversaries around the world.”
More recently, independent commentator Tucker Carlson, who has said the U.S. is intentionally seeking war with Russia, remarked in a September 2023 interview on The Adam Corolla Show that the Biden administration would attempt to stay in power by starting a “hot war” with Russia before the 2024 election. Carlson argued that the U.S. was “already at war” with Russia in Ukraine. He added, “I don’t think we’ll win it.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s new generation of Sarmat ballistic missiles, capable of carrying ten or more nuclear warheads, have been deployed for combat duty.
Of course we now must wait and see if recent action by House Republicans to launch an impeachment inquiry against Biden, along with his worsening senility, put enough of a crimp in his style to force a postponement of any irretrievable decisions.
But feeding into Carlson’s fears are statements by U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in a September video clip supporting Ukrainian strikes against Russian territory. Nuland said that one “axis” of U.S. strategy is to “put some of Russia’s most precious assets at risk.”
This comes as the U.S. is planning to send long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to Ukraine, with Germany promising Jupiter missiles, and as the UK plans to send RAF fighters to the Black Sea. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said in June 2023 that use of Western-supplied weapons to launch such attacks” would mean the full involvement of the United States and the United Kingdom in the conflict.”
So was Biden correct? Is nuclear Armageddon looming? Or is “brinkmanship” today merely “bluffmanship?”
75 Years of Conflict
Of course, potential nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia, especially in its previous iteration as the Soviet Union, is nothing new. World War II was scarcely over before figures like Winston Churchill and U.S. banker Bernard Baruch began raising alarms about the existence of an “Iron Curtain” across Europe and the start of a “Cold War.”
But even before World War II began, the Roosevelt administration accepted the recommendation of studies by the Council of Foreign Relations, financed by the Rockefeller Foundation, that the U.S. should aim for postwar global military domination. Note that there was nothing in the U.S. Constitution that even remotely supports such a goal. The closest the U.S. might have come was the myth of “Manifest Destiny” that once supplied the ideology for coast-to-coast expansion; i.e., “from sea to shining sea.”
At the end of World War II, with the British Empire crumbling and Europe in ruins, there were two clear victors: the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The accepted logic of U.S. planners now dictated that the latter must go.
Stalin is said to have asked to join the newly-formed NATO but was rebuffed. He responded by forming the Warsaw Pact. The post-war standoff had begun and, 75 years later, has not ended. With the Soviets being accused of fomenting leftist revolutions around the world, the U.S. military has been laying plans for a U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange ever since. While the military sought an advantage favorable to a nuclear first strike, the everyday working objective toward the Soviets was “containment.” Meanwhile, the U.S. began its own long history of generating coups friendly to its interests with the CIA’s overthrow of governments in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954.
In 1956, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles proclaimed a U.S. policy of “brinkmanship.” Speaking of the potential for nuclear war in a Life magazine interview, he said, “If you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost.” In 1961, President John F. Kennedy seemed to have stared down Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev over the planned installation of nuclear weapons in Cuba. Unknown publicly, JFK had already pulled U.S. nukes out of Turkey.
Nor are proxy wars anything new. They began with the Korean War. Of course, there were U.S. “boots on the ground,” but North and South Korea also fought against each other with Russia/China and the U.S./UN having the backs of each respectively. The Vietnam War was fought with U.S. troops and weapons aiding the South Vietnamese against the Russian-backed Hanoi regime and its ally, South Vietnam’s Viet Cong. The Korean conflict became a stalemate; Vietnam, a debacle.
But change was in the wind. JFK moved to revolutionize the discourse with his now-famous proposal for world peace delivered at American University on June 10, 1963. In the Soviet Union, Khrushchev denounced Stalin and proposed a new era of “Peaceful Coexistence” with the West. In the early 1970s, President Richard M. Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger sought détente with the Soviets along with their epochal opening to China.
Rapprochement with the Soviets was sabotaged by the Reagan military build-up in the 1980s and the lies of Soviet supremacy promulgated by the Committee on the Present Danger. The U.S. was also creating the Mujahedeen to attack the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan. This was part of Reagan’s engagement in his own proxy wars—called the “Reagan Doctrine”—against leftist regimes in Asia, Africa, and Central America, with U.S.-supported “death squads” in El Salvador and elsewhere.
It was under Reagan that the faction known as the “Neocons” began their infiltration of the national security apparatus. These included “Trotskyite” intellectuals from New York like Irving Kristol; alumni of Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s staff like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle; “Team B” CIA analysts empowered by short-term Director George H.W. Bush, leading to the future prominence of Bob Gates; icons of the military-industrial complex like “Father of the H-Bomb” Edward Teller; Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who’d been joined at the hip to each other and to President Gerald Ford; Reagan’s Director of Central Intelligence William Casey; and many future dark personages like John Bolton.
It was Casey who famously said at one of Reagan’s early staff meetings, “We will know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American people believes is false.” This statement defined perfectly the future program of what we call today the “Deep State” and its mass media megaphone, especially outlets like The New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN.
One of the first major Neocon projects—Iran-Contra—devolved into scandal, with Reagan and Vice-President Bush both claiming ignorance under the “plausible deniability” fiction. Another was Reagan’s pet project—the Strategic Defense Initiative—lampooned as “Star Wars.”
Purporting to be offended by the U.S.-Soviet nuclear standoff, whereby peace was assured only by the logic of “Mutually-Assured Destruction,” Reagan proposed an armada of “defensive” weapons in space. The military-industrial complex seized on Star Wars as a cornucopia of lucrative research and development projects that ended when space shuttle Challenger blew up. The space shuttle was being converted to a testing platform for space weaponry, as I saw personally at NASA when I worked there in 1985-1986. One of the war planners’ bright ideas was to send the president to orbit in the space shuttle, from which he could safely direct military operations.
But the Star Wars project, which was not revived until the 21st century, nevertheless witnessed vast planning of space battle stations, nifty theoretical space weaponry like the X-ray laser and devices later called “rods from God,” and cost-benefit studies that included calculations of how many tens of millions of Americans could die in a space-based nuclear war against the Soviets while still allowing the U.S. to claim victory.
Meanwhile, it was after the horrendous exposures of CIA assassinations, media subversion, poisoning of subjects with LSD, and other misdeeds arising from the Church Committee hearings in 1975, that the CIA began to retreat into the shadows. Under Reagan came authorization of the National Endowment on Democracy, whose signature mission became “color revolutions” and later the “Arab Spring.” Amid the horrors, though, Reagan was yet able to sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, rolling back the number of nuclear weapons for the first time.
But things took a decided turn for the worse under President George H.W. Bush with the 1992 Wolfowitz Doctrine that reformulated the old CFR plans for global U.S. military dominance and contained the ominous warning that Russia was the only nation on earth with the power to destroy the U.S. By now, the U.S. had begun its next phase of global conquest with Bush’s war against Iraq—Desert Storm. The goal was total military colonization of the Middle East, with the “Greater Israel” project so near and dear to the hearts of the Neocons an obvious beneficiary. The Iran-Iraq War of 1980-6, with the U.S. arming both sides, doubtless had the same underlying purposes.
The oddity in the designation of Russia as the worst of enemies named in the Wolfowitz Doctrine was that a year earlier, the Soviet Union had collapsed, ceasing to exist in 1991, with U.S. hawks declaring that the Cold War was over and that the U.S. had won. Their corollary was that the Reagan military build-up had forced the Soviet economy into receivership because they couldn’t keep up with U.S. military spending.
But in a December 17, 2022, interview on the online news platform, The Duran, Jack F. Matlock, former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, said that “the idea that we spent them to defeat was absolutely wrong.” He said the U.S. “did not win the Cold War.” He said the Soviet Union broke up because the Cold War was over by 1989 and that it was local nationalism that tore it apart. He added that the end of the Cold War was “negotiated as equals.”
But here was the rub: the Wolfowitz Doctrine proved that it wasn’t “communism” that the U.S. wanted to defeat, as Russia was no longer a communist state. Matlock said that Gorbachev had abandoned communism in his UN speech of December 7, 1988. Nor was the U.S. really pushing for “democracy.” Overnight Russia had become more democratic than many of the authoritarian regimes the U.S. had been supporting around the world for decades, such as those in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Rather it was Russia as a geopolitical enemy that the U.S. was targeting; meaning, in Russia’s eyes, its very existence as a territory, a state, and a civilization.
In order to promote peace with the West, Gorbachev had agreed to the reunification of East and West Germany as one nation and part of NATO, given U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s agreement that NATO would not advance “one inch eastward” from the German border. This pledge was violated by the next three presidents—Clinton, Bush II, and Obama. Veteran U.S. statesman George Kennan opposed the expansion of NATO, while Ambassador Matlock called it “a great tragedy.”
Meanwhile, 9/11, the Neocons’ “new Pearl Harbor,” produced the “War on Terror,” the Patriot Act, the Department of Homeland Security, the military doctrine of Full-Spectrum Dominance, and the assaults on Afghanistan, Iraq, and later Libya. The ideological focal point was demonization of all things Islam. The rationale? “They hate our freedoms.”
But the 9/11 Truth Movement began to poke holes in the official conspiracy theory of terrorists with box cutters that over time became gaping abysses. The anti-Islam narrative began to wear thin when stacked up against U.S. military overkill, the CIA’s torture chambers, the useless expenditure of trillions of dollars shooting at goat herders, the absence of any evidence of WMDs in Iraq or co-conspirators anywhere, and Israel’s endless strife with the Palestinians.
Now Russia itself had begun to make a stand. At the 2007 Munich Security Conference, Putin challenged the attempt by the U.S. to achieve hegemony through creation of a “unipolar” world “in which there is one master, one sovereign.” He said, “at the end of the day this is pernicious.”
There was never any indication that Putin, in making his Munich declaration or afterwards, had any intention of restoring the Soviet “empire.” But he was absolutely determined to preserve Russia’s sovereignty and security despite the declared intention of factions in the West to break up Russia’s territory and gain control of its resources. He had also lamented the fact that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, 25 million ethnic Russians had been left out of what was now a unified and strengthening nation-state, blending a multiplicity of races, languages, and religions.
The “War on Terror” ended up being a tragic failure. So now the Western mainstream media jumped at their next big chance by depicting Putin as the bad guy du jour, even more “authoritarian,” and “evil” than either Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. But they would have done the same had Donald Duck been president of Russia—a nasty, duck-billed, feathered tyrant who was attacking democracy, freedom, human rights, and, yes, the “New American Century” the Neocons had dreamt up.
Ukraine — The Crossroads
Now the U.S., with the Neocons firmly entrenched in the State Department and elsewhere, surrounded Russia with military bases and attacked its perimeter with color revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, following on the dismemberment of Yugoslavia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. President Barack Obama then situated the Aegis Missile Defense System in Poland and Romania with the potential to activate missiles that could reach Moscow with nuclear warheads in six minutes. Talk was current of a possible “decapitation” strike against the Russian leadership.
Finally, in 2014, with “cookies” Victoria Nuland and Vice President Joe “Burisma” Biden in charge, the U.S. fomented a coup in Ukraine with the aid of paid snipers to drive out a president friendly toward Russia and his replacement with a NeoNazi junta that put Ukraine on a war footing. In response, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, where Sevastopol is the home of its Black Sea fleet, with 85 percent popular approval, while the eastern Ukrainian Donbass provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk, ethnically-Russian, declared independence.
Finally, after eight years of Ukrainian provocations, the death from Ukrainian shelling of more than 10,000 Donbass civilians, and the treachery of Germany and France in failing to uphold the Minsk agreements they had guaranteed, Russia entered Ukraine with its military forces in February 2022. The conflict was on, a conflict that Russia is winning. U.S.-led sanctions against Russia failed to bring down its economy or force regime change against Putin. But each Ukrainian setback on the battlefield has been followed by more weapons and money supplied to the Volodymyr Zelensky regime by the U.S., UK, Germany, France, and other NATO members.
But who was calling the shots? In March 2022, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators reached agreement on a tentative settlement at meetings in Istanbul. UK prime minister Boris Johnson then rushed to Kiev to induce Zelensky to tear up the agreement and continue the war. Western escalation has included billions of dollars worth of heavy tanks and other weapons to Ukraine, along with cluster munitions and depleted uranium projectiles. There have been drone attacks on Russia itself and on Crimea. But the Ukrainian counteroffensive has collapsed, with speculation increasing of a major Russian counterattack, possibly even cutting Ukraine off from the Black Sea.
We have now come full circle. Warnings from Washington continue that Putin had better not go nuclear, which can be read as inviting him to do so. This is obviously a new phase of brinkmanship that could give the U.S. a pretext for themselves moving to nuclear war. Meanwhile, the U.S. understands that it could in no way challenge Russia in a conventional war even with the entire NATO alliance being activated. Even then, divisiveness within NATO and the absence of sufficient military force anywhere in Europe make this impossible at present. Veteran military analyst Scott Ritter writes in Sputnik News on September 21, 2023, that even were the U.S. to activate its entire military force stationed in Europe against Russia, it would be defeated within one to two weeks of intensive combat. The only alternative would then be to activate a gigantic airlift of additional forces into Europe with U.S. cargo planes sitting ducks for destruction en route. Impossible.
There are now signs that the U.S. may be pressuring Ukraine to agree to a cease-fire, with a “freeze” along the lines of the decades-old Korean settlement. But all this would do would be to “kick the can down the road”—possibly until after the 2024 U.S. presidential election, likely to be preceded by elections in Ukraine in March. There are no signs that the U.S. is ready to concede a Russian victory involving the redrawing of the European security apparatus with Russia a respected party. The Ukrainian government speaks of a “long-term” conflict lasting decades. So there is no way to aver that the war in Ukraine is ending or to speculate about the next phase.
So, is a nuclear World War III a possibility?
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Richard C. Cook is a retired US government analyst and a former whistleblower. His new book, Our Country, Then and Now will soon be published by Clarity Press.