Caribbean Crisis 2.0: Illusion of Permissiveness

The Caribbean crisis during the years of the first Cold War was the result of the deployment of US medium-range missiles in Turkey - in direct proximity to the USSR borders. Furthermore, the Soviet Union responded symmetrically and sent missiles to Cuba. The culmination of military preparations and threats is a well-known event, but the consequences of the Caribbean crisis proved to be more important for world history than the same fact of the conflict between leading nuclear powers. This crisis not only contributed to the fact, that the Soviet and American missiles left their deployment sites, but laid the foundation for further negotiations on limitation of strategic offensive weapons.

That time the American politicians were afraid of a war with a nuclear power, and the Soviet Union had a great desire to agree with them. Now the situation is different. Politicians do not consider a war as a reality. They are ready to go to confrontation and are ready for a long confrontation. Unlike in past times, now no one believes in a direct military conflict between Russia and the United States. And this illusion of permissiveness or self-conceit from both sides does not give prerequisites for real negotiations.

NATO brings its infrastructure closer to Russia's borders; Russia is strengthening its military presence in the European part of the country. Both sides increase the number and scale of military exercises. NATO and Russian military have intensified aerial reconnaissance against each other.

Seeing no longer threat from Russia and reacting to the emergence of the new nuclear powers, the USA in 2001 withdrew from the ABM Treaty, and later began to deploy the ABM elements in the European countries. In response, Russia launched programs to increase offensive land and sea-based missile systems, principally aimed to reduce the effectiveness of any designed defensive ABM systems of the United States. Moreover, Russia, disagreeing with the expansion of NATO's activities, withdrew from the CFE Treaty and suspended its participation in the agreement on the utilization of plutonium.

Six years after ratification of START III, no negotiations on further reductions of nuclear weapons happened. Instead, Russia and the United States are carrying out a large-scale modernization of their nuclear arsenal. And this is not just a prolongation of the life of missiles and warheads, these are planned works aimed at improving the characteristics of missile systems, their accuracy, survivability, maneuverability, etc. On this background, the force of such important international security treaties as CTBT and the FMCT remain vague.

The problem is aggravated by the fact that currently there are no talks between the military of the two countries aimed to resolve military concerns and develop transparency of each other's actions during the crisis. The probability of an incorrect interpretation of military operations and an unpredictable reaction to them still persists.

Formally, both sides say that they are ready for dialogue, but in fact there is no desire for dialogue from anyone. Nobody wants to compromise first. Everyone is waiting for concessions from the other side. And if there are no compromises, it is possible to continue military build up without looking back at the reaction. No one is afraid of war. Russia and the US act in their national interests, without looking at the opposite side, increasing the level of confrontation.

There are plenty of options which near us to the second crisis like the Caribbean one. Russia thinks about the deployment of missile systems in the Kaliningrad region and the Crimea, placement of anti-satellite weapons and orbital ballistic missiles. The United States recently accused Russia of not fulfilling the terms of the Open Skies treaty and started preparing the response steps. The absence of a dialogue is demonstrated by the situation around the INF Treaty. The United States accused Russia in developing a ground-based analog of the Caliber-NK cruise missile. Russia believes that the US missile defense systems in Europe can make a secret replacement of SM-3 interceptor missiles by Tomahawk cruise missiles, which also violates the INF Treaty. The parties are considering the possibility of getting out of the agreement, shifting the blame on each other. Termination of the INF Treaty can cause a chain reaction that will lead to the complete collapse of the nuclear weapons control system.

The international security system is collapsing, there is no dialogue. The parties do not consider negotiations, options, but prefer options for developing their military activities. Sooner or later, this may lead to a full-scale crisis similar to Cuba 1962. However, this may not be a bad thing. The Caribbean crisis has taught us to understand that the value of peace is learned in the face of war. Modern politicians, who do not know the horrors of the world war, forgot its danger. Despite all the statements, persuasion and threats nothing has changed. Perhaps, if the parties reach the red line, they will be able to realize the full danger of unilateral military actions or relative answers and sit down at the negotiating table and prevent not only the war, but also find ways to form a new, more stable and satisfactory international security system. Just like it was 55 years ago.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.