The Cold War was so called because there was no better name for it. The military aggressions against the USSR ended in 1945 and no conventional wars broke out between the two great superpowers for an obvious reason: both had nuclear weapons.
In turn, nuclear weapons are called “strategic” because they are designed to be used outside the battles of a conventional war. They are not designed to cut off an adversary’s hands, but to cut off his head. Soviet nuclear weaponry was aimed at Washington and U.S. nuclear weaponry was aimed at Moscow.
Just as in a conventional war there is a margin for improvisation, which depends on the course of the war, its battles and its multiple situations, nuclear weapons are predisposed in advance to be used only in certain very specific conditions.
Each side has its own, so the strategy of some (USA) and others (USSR, Russia) are different.
Moreover, each side knows the strategy of the other, which makes nuclear war a most predictable phenomenon. Even the ballistic trajectories of missiles are predictable, like trains that always run on the same track.
They are easily detectable because anti-aircraft defenses have evolved much more rapidly than strike missiles. Every power has shields far superior to swords, and the improvement of military equipment has focused on those weapons that are capable of overcoming the adversary’s defenses.
Hence, nuclear arms reduction negotiations turned to missile defenses, such as the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) treaty, signed in 1972. The United States withdrew from that treaty in 2002.
One of the ways to overcome a missile defense is to place the launchers as close to the adversary as possible, so that it has no ability to react. In 1962 the United States placed its Jupiter missiles in Turkey and the USSR responded in the same way, placing its own in Cuba.
Thus began the missile crisis, in which it was once again demonstrated that negotiations are part of nuclear war itself; they are a way of waging that kind of war, and if there are no more disarmament negotiations and if the commitments signed have become a dead letter, it is because they are obsolete, exactly like nuclear weapons themselves.
Strategic weapons are the bodybuilders of wrestling: they show a lot of muscle but could not challenge any moderately trained boxer. They are the exhibitionism of war; they are based on the fear of the opponent, on the permanent intimidation of the biceps, as North Korea does on a regular basis. Nuclear weapons have been tested many times but have never appeared in a real war.
Nuclear war uncovered its shame with the Star Wars that Reagan launched in the eighties of the last century. Then the exhibitionism was purely rhetorical: there never was such a war, not even a beginning of deployment of weapons in space. The United States was bluffing because, as card players know, bluffing is a fundamental part of a strategy and, therefore, of a war.
The USSR naively caved in; it dropped its pants. The United States accessed its most hidden strategic weapons and forced the scrapping of many of them. Gorbachev signed treaties such as the 1987 INF, on Intermediate Range missiles (which NATO broke in 2019).
With the subsequent demise of the USSR, the United States believed it had won the Cold War. The bluff had worked out well; it no longer needed to flex its muscles. When Star Wars proved to be an operetta, the USSR no longer existed and Washington believed that an era of omnipotent hegemony had arrived without the need to fire a shot.
Russia found it hard to break out of the self-absorption that had brought the USSR to its knees. The concessions made on all fronts had been to no avail, not even the dismantling of the USSR and the establishment of NATO bases in the former Soviet and Eastern European countries. The treaties signed since the end of the Second World War are a dead letter.
Like North Korea, since then Russia has been able to survive thanks to the development of productive forces and military technology, whose only precedents are Goelro, the Soviet electrification plan, and the five-year plans. Just as a century ago, in the end Russia has not only emerged from the quagmire but has far surpassed the United States.
Now almost the entire Russian arsenal is new, while the United States has not tested new weapons systems for more than 30 years. As if that were not enough, in less than a year they have exhausted old military hardware, as the Ukrainian War demonstrates. The U.S. manufactures only those weapons it can sell to third parties. In the United States, arms are a market for private companies, while in Russia they are part of the state apparatus itself, which could not survive without them, just like North Korea.
Although it exports arms, in Russia the military factories do not stand out for forming an industry, for pursuing private profit, but for being part of the State, the same as the police stations. Arms sales finance part of Russia’s military budgets. But their production is not at the service of any market but of war, and by themselves these factories are capable of producing more weapons than the 30 NATO countries combined.
Therefore, Russian military factories produce more and better weaponry than Western ones. They produce conventional and nuclear weapons in gigantic quantities, but above all they produce sophisticated weapons, far superior to those of any other country, perhaps with the sole exception of China. Moreover, they are not experimental. They have tested their new weaponry, both in Syria and in Ukraine.
There is no doubt that the United States has sufficient technical capability to catch up with Russia, although it would need quite a few years to do so. What it does not have is economic capacity. It would not be enough for it to get rid of its old arsenals, selling them to third countries, to finance a new and even bigger military budget. It would have to go even further into debt, in a situation of galloping crisis.
The world arms market capitalized by the United States is the closest thing to an old junkyard full of rust. But the goods destined for scrap are a very profitable business, which is what matters in the end, because there are buyers who are able to make a great profit out of the junk. If you don’t believe it, you can take a walk through the Rastro in Madrid on a Sunday morning.
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