In a recent address to the Russian people, President Putin promoted a new class of nuclear weapons that are designed to bypass US anti-ballistic missile defense systems. These new weapons have been in development over the last 15 years, since the US unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and dotted Europe with missile shields, while rapidly expanding NATO eastward. The Russians say its new upgraded arsenal, which includes both ballistic and anti-ballistic systems, is meant to restore nuclear parity and strategic balance with Washington. By focusing on the new Russian systems while failing to mention prior US military expansion, public discourse in the US obscures the United States’ role in starting this new arms race.
The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty was a critical arms control agreement that aimed to prevent the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) that would have ensued if either country had launched a ballistic nuclear missile at the other. ABM systems undermined the guiding doctrine for deterring nuclear conflict between the US the Soviet Union. US ABM systems were deployed in Poland, Romania, and Turkey, as well as aboard US Navy vessels.
While the Russian nuclear arsenal has been widely covered in the establishment press, that coverage lacks the proper context. US administration officials’ statements are prioritized over third-party analysis and the historic facts are obscured by Cold War rhetoric. News stories about the Russian arms advances were recently published in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. However, none of these stories mentioned the US withdrawal from the 1972 ABM treaty or NATO expansion as the first aggressive acts in this military escalation.
When corporate media reports did analyze the role of ABM deployments, they repeated the Pentagon line that ABM systems are not targeted toward Russia. These news stories included multiple quotations from current and former Defense and State Department officials, but none from the Russian Defense or Foreign Ministries. Other scholars were cited, such as Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, or Russian independent military analysts Ivan Konovalov and Aleksandr Golts. However, each only had a one-line quotation, which was used to support the official narrative rather than question it.
Aaron Maté, “Who Will Stop the U.S.-Russia Arms Race?” Real News, March 25, 2018, http://therealnews.com/t2/story:21428:Who-Will-Stop-the-US-Russia-Arms-Race?.
“Putin’s Message Couldn’t Be Clearer: The West Needs to Stop Provoking a War We Don’t Want & Which No One Can Win,” Off Guardian, March 1, 2018, https://off-guardian.org/2018/03/01/putins-message-couldnt-be-clearer-we-need-to-stop-provoking-a-war-we-dont-want-which-no-one-can-win.
“Restoring Strategic Balance: The History of Why Russia Needs Those Scary Missiles” RT, March 27, 2018, https://www.rt.com/news/422419-hypersonic-weapons-nuclear-parity-russia-us/.
Student Researcher: James Gooler-Rogers (SF State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (SF State University)