Mark Chagall I and the village 1911
My good friend Wayne brings up some interesting questions about weapons, in the view of the current Ukraine conflict. Are nuclear weapons the most terrifying ones we know? Or have hypersonic precision weapons taken that “crown”? The answer is not all that obvious.
There is a persistent rumor that sometime in March, Russia hit a secret NATO base deep underground near Kiev with a hypersonic Kinzhal missile and took out some 300 people, including a bunch of high-placed NATO commanders. I have neither seen this confirmed nor, perhaps more importantly, denied. But Russia has no reason to boast about it, and the US has even less reason to acknowledge it happened.
What we do know is that US/NATO (or even China) doesn’t have these weapons, and Russia does. And that, from what I’ve read, partly has to do with the fact that since the missiles move at speeds of up to Mach 15 (15x speed of sound), they need a special heat resistant coating that only Russia has been able to develop. Moreover, these hypersonic missiles are not just much faster than any other missile, they are also far better at hitting precision targets. Try hitting a bunker 60 meters or more underground.
Here’s Wayne for some philosophy:
The 1980s were the decade of the Non-aligned Anti-Nuclear Weapons Movement. The Non-aligned movement’s political line differed from that of the Communist-Party controlled anti-nuclear movements, which took their lead from Soviet diplomacy. The Non-aligned current had some party-political cover from Eurocommunist parties. It said “there are no good and bad nuclear weapons”. Implication: Soviet nuclear weapons are bad. To be consistent the movement should have called for Soviet nuclear disarmament when the USSR disintegrated, particularly because it was not clear at first whether Yeltsin would be better or worse than Gorbachev. Some of us did indeed call for unilateral Soviet nuclear disarmament.
NATO policy was for removal of Soviet nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine. But not from Russia. Why not from Russia? Well, for a start, that would mean abolition of the Russian nuclear bogy. What justification could there then be for NATO’s nuclear weapons? The Non-Aligned Anti-Nuclear Weapons Movement was clearly confused. Why were they not raising the demand for nuclear disarmament of Russia? They had spent the nineteen eighties ridiculing ideas of “nuclear deterrence”.
Yeltsin turned out to be (or at least to appear) even more open to ideas of nuclear disarmament of Russia than Gorbachev had been. The Non-Aligned Anti-Nuclear Weapons Movement called out NATO for fraud. Even official spokespersons acknowledged that nuclear weapons were “more of political than of military utility”. In other words they were useless, except for politicians (and journalists). The Swedes had recognized the uselessness when the nuclear hawk Olof Palme changed his stripes and became an anti-nuclear activist, presiding over unilateral nuclear disarmament of Sweden.
A demand for unilateral nuclear disarmament of Russia would have been a brilliant poke in the eye for the Tory smartypants who were always jeering: “If you want unilateral nuclear disarmament, recommend it to the Soviets!” Instead of raising the demand, some anti-nuclear activists simply started pointing out to each other that the Cold War is over and this should be recognized. Others didn’t do even that.
Since March 2023, the unnecessary character of Russian nuclear weapons has been confirmed. In March a provocation was staged inside Russia (by Ukraine? By NATO?) with civilians including children being killed and injured. Putin declared that there would be retaliation, and indeed, there was, within days. A command bunker in Ukraine four hundred feet underground (too deep then for run-of-the-mill bunker-busting technology) was hit by a Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missile and hundreds of dignitaries and high-ranking NATO personnel were allegedly killed. The media were pretty silent about it. And pretty soon the gaslighting started.
If this Kinzhal strike typifies the code of ethics that Russia intends to follow in its war making, the superfluous character of Russian nuclear weapons is confirmed. Attacks on civilians are punished by attacks on the top leadership of the side that resorts to them. The media propaganda machine is now bending over backwards to scream that the Kinzhals are “nuclear capable”. So what? Is a nuclear weapon needed to wipe out political leadership in a bunker? It is said that the United States has begun testing its own hypersonic missiles but the tests so far have failed. Will this failure be the prelude to a new arms race, or to abandonment of the 20th century mode of conducting wars particularly from 1914 onwards? The twentieth century mode of mass politics and mass slaughter of civilians?
When one studies the ideas of Hitler apologists it is easy to come to the conclusion that Hitler’s key intellectual mistake was to assume that the category “white people” includes Germans. The Boers had to learn the same lesson in South Africa, I suppose. Given this and given the assumptions of “nuclear deterrence”, which is an acceptable doctrine for the white people of NATO but not for the white people of Russia unless they face the “fact” that they too require to be “deterred” from destroying all life on planet earth, WOKE notions that “only white people can be racist” become comprehensible and the Hitlerian misreadings of the Coudenhove-Kalergi prediction/recommendation(?) of a world of mulattos following the extinction of “white people”, elevatable into a praiseworthy program for the future of this world.
If racism cannot be overcome intellectually there is obviously no alternative to overcoming it, or “trying to”, biologically. Is there? It seems to me that the logic of Russia’s development of hypersonic missiles, particularly given the way they appear to be using them, is the opposite of the motives according to which nuclear weapons were initially developed: i.e. elaboration of a mass “shock and awe” effect. Hypersonic missiles apparently aim at introducing military precision: graduated retaliation, which so far has been used to retaliate for attacks on the civilians of one’s own side. But the retaliation has been strikingly disproportionate, suggesting that one is planning to really stigmatize cowardly attacks on unarmed civilians. In effect stigmatize modern mass destruction warfare.
If it is true that “the West” is behind in this hypersonic missiles technology, how is it going to respond? Through embarking on a hypersonic missiles arms race? If it does to Russia what Russia has just done to it in Ukraine, there is a widespread view that this will trigger generalized nuclear war, which “the West” claims not to want. So what would be the purpose of getting ahead in hypersonic missiles technology? Public relations? Being first for the sake of being able to say that one is first?
It is said that nuclear weapons serve political more than military purposes, but those political purposes have to do with the “shock and awe” effect, not the ability to launch a precision strike at the nerve centre of the enemy (and so trigger the nuclear war one supposedly seeks to avoid). Will “the West” think this through or will it just go ahead anyway and “try to catch up and overtake”? Is “the West” thinking coherently about nuclear weapons?
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