U.S. Strategic Command chief calls for nuclear upgrade aimed at China and Russia
On April 20 Admiral Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee alongside his colleague General James Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM), in both open and closed hearings.
Richard described his command, which consists of 150,000 service members from all branches of the armed forces, as a “global warfighting command.” The ultimate global warfighting command as it is in charge of all U.S. nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.
His sales pitch to the Senate committee, as that of other top commanders appearing lately before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees, is to secure funding for the expansion and upgrading of military programs and weapons. The weapons he’s promoting are capable of ending life on earth if employed broadly.
Barely was his microphone turned on than he, like practically all Pentagon (here and here and here), State Department, National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency officials this year, launched into a tirade against the two-headed threat to peace, security, democracy and human rights and transparency and the rules-based international order and the American way (however one defines it): China-Russia. When discussing that alleged threat he stated, “Russia pursued a strategic partnership with China through bilateral and multi-lateral military exercises…focused primarily on improved military-to-military relations at the highest levels.” To be clear, the Pentagon and its seventy NATO allies and partners treat China and Russia as one monolithic global threat, much as they attempted to portray China and the Soviet Union during the 1950s.
In his own words:
“China and Russia are challenging our strength through a wide array of activities that warrant a concerted and integrated whole of government response. For the first time in our history, the nation is on a trajectory to face two nuclear-capable, strategic peer adversaries at the same time, who must be deterred differently. We can no longer assume the risk of strategic deterrence failure in conflict will always remain low.”
That is not only a stark appraisal, implicitly at least a threat, but it is so specific as to its targets as to leave no doubt whom his global warfighting command is poised to confront. Identifying China and Russia each as “a near-peer, nuclear-armed adversary,” he reiterated the ominous assessment that with them “the risk of a strategic deterrence failure increases.” If that means anything other than if China and Russia, or better yet China-Russia, fail to honor whichever “red line” the U.S. and its allies unilaterally choose to threaten them with the result could prove a nuclear catastrophe; though of course admiral Richard in his testimony only raised the “hypothetical” of Russia and China being the first to use nuclear weapons. Of course.
While forced to acknowledge that the Chinese nuclear arsenal is smaller than those of the U.S. and Russia, nonetheless he said that “Under a veil of secrecy” (file under insidious, inscrutable Oriental stereotype right out of Sax Rohmer; see the Russian equivalent, below) Beijing is upgrading its military and modernizing its nuclear forces – the very measures Richard was appearing before the Senate to demand the U.S. adopt – in furtherance of such furtive and pernicious designs as pursuing “longstanding goals to establish regional hegemony, deny U.S. power projection in the Indo-Pacific region, and supplant the United States as the security partner of choice.” That is, China may want to be the dominant power in its own neighborhood as the U.S. is and for centuries has been in the entire Western Hemisphere, the Pacific region and after World War II most of the world; it may desire to limit “power projection” by the mightiest military machine in history off its coast, a military that waged major land wars in Korea and Vietnam within recent memory; China may prefer that every other nation in the Asia-Pacific region not remain or become a military partner of a hostile U.S. and a growing NATO network in the area. Richard’s comment is imperial hubris to a degree that traditionally leads to the gods settling the offender’s hash in short order.
He also claimed that “China is already capable of executing any plausible nuclear employment strategy,” whatever that is meant to communicate – “within their region and will soon be able to do so at intercontinental ranges as well.” Again, much of Richard’s testimony after identifying the China-Russia threat dealt with the demand that the U.S. maintain and modernize what he termed its Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, that is, intercontinental ballistic missiles (as well as its air-based and sea-based counterparts in the nuclear triad), even stating “without U.S. ICBMs China becomes a strategic nuclear peer” (the bold print is his). Yet China cannot be allowed to develop parity with the U.S. and its allies in that sphere.
While conceding that China keeps most of its military on a peacetime status, Richard warned that it it has elevated sectors of its military to launch-on-warning and even high alert duty status. With all the denunciations and threats leveled against the nation by the Pentagon, the State Department and NATO in recent weeks – including President Joe Biden assuring Japan that the U.S. would honor its treaty obligation to assist it up to and including with nuclear weapons in a conflict with China – Beijing would be foolhardy not to do so.
His anti-China screed would not have been complete without the de rigueur demand for the full force of the Pentagon’s lethal array of forces and weaponry to be used against “Chinese policies or actions that threaten the international rules-based order or undermine regional and global stability.”
After describing the need for the U.S. to position its nuclear triad against perceived Chinese threats, Richard turned his attention to the other half of the diabolical dyad, Russia.
The general assessment of that nation’s malign influence (in Pentagonese and State Departmentese) is this:
“Russia continues to seek ways to enhance and reinforce its great power status through actions designed to polarize and erode U.S. leadership in international affairs. It continues to pursue a sphere of influence over and beyond its periphery and interfere with regional states’sovereignty, especially in matters of military security and economics.”
A perfect parallel to the above-examined list of alleged Chinese transgressions. The phrase “polarize and erode U.S. leadership in international affairs” is clumsy and ambiguous. Perhaps it was meant to express Russian efforts to polarize third countries in relation to the U.S. and itself and to erode – that is, challenge – uncontested American economic, political, cultural and military dominance throughout the world. Not only will Russia not be permitted to rival Washington on a global scale, but like China it will not be allowed to seek “regional hegemony”; won’t be able to maintain a local sphere of influence or even to share America’s influence with its closest neighbors. (See Ukraine in 2014.)
The Russians, “who typically, are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique,” as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper delicately phrased it, are accused of compounding their enormities by perpetrating them in league with China. In regard to which dual threat Richard advocated, as “Prudence dictates,” that “military planners consider and account for the complex threat environment, enabled by the strategic cooperation of these two nuclear-armed States with global military reach and shared multi-domain offensive capabilities.”
The problematical, indeed speculative, capacities he attributes to China and Russia, individually and combined, fall far short of what the U.S. itself indisputably possesses and has possessed since the middle of the last century: the ability to separately and simultaneously reduce Moscow, Beijing and every other capital in the world to a smoldering Hiroshima. The threat, as Richard put it, is that another nation may gain overall nuclear, military, political and diplomatic parity with the U.S. That principle of parity has traditionally been the very hallmark of an effective policy of deterrence.
The admiral testified that Russia has upgraded its nuclear arsenal and that the U.S. needs to keep pace. He said, “our nuclear forces must include a sufficient range of capabilities and attributes” so that Russia never contemplates the use of tactical, theater nuclear weapons in the event of what it views as an overwhelming conventional attack on it by the U.S. and NATO (not his words, of course); a distinct possibility given the encirclement of Russia through NATO expansion over the past twenty-two years.
Lastly, perhaps so as not to be too entirely transparent in identifying China and Russia being in the Pentagon’s nuclear gunsights, he made reference to threats ascribed to Iran and North Korea, neither of whom was alluded to as a “near-peer nuclear-armed adversary” or a regional and international threat to American global dominance. In doing which he reflected the sentiment expressed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his March 24 address at NATO headquarters when he placed China, Russia, Iran and North Korea in the same category: the Biden administration’s new Nuclear Axis of Evil.