As the relationship between Russia and the United States deteriorates, the chances of war at some point in the future continues to increase. And the increasing tension in the Ukraine underlines the potential for escalation between the two nations. The stand-off between Russia and the EU / NATO establishment in the Ukraine has demonstrated, and increased, the possibility of this unsavory prospect developing in the future.
Vast military forces
Although many political and military analysts will not entertain the possibility of a war between the United States and Russia at present, the fact that such large numbers of military forces are operating in proximity to one another will undoubtedly keep this possibility alive. All that would be required would be some unfortunate form of miscommunication, and the situation between the United States and Russia could become terminal very rapidly.
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While many people would not wish to contemplate such an eventuality, it is notable that there is a historical precedent for this occurrence. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a by now infamous period in US history, Russia and the United States came extremely close to a conflict that could have had phenomenally deadly consequences.
On October 27, 1962, a group of eleven United States Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph nearly prompted an international incident from which it would have been almost impossible to recover. It was only the intervention of Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, stationed on the Soviet submarine B-59, that prevented soviet submarines from firing nuclear weapons. Had this occurred, a full-scale nuclear conflict was almost inevitable, and indeed former US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara has since recognised that Arkhipov played a major role in saving the world, stating that “we came very close” to nuclear war, “closer than we knew at the time”.
This underlines how feasible it is for conflict between nations to get out of hand, and also how misguided the policy of mutually assured destruction has proved to be. The notion proffered by the authorities of the time, that a nuclear arms race would prevent a war between Russia and the United States owing to the fact that it would result in the inevitable destruction of both nations, has turned out to be somewhat ill-founded.
Immense nuclear powers
It is perhaps somewhat alarming then that the number of nuclear weapons possessed by the United States and Russia remains extremely large in number. As the two nations continue to have a somewhat strained relationship, it is sobering to reflect on the fact that they collectively possess around 15,000 nuclear warheads. Russia has slightly more nuclear weapons than the United States, and could be considered to be legitimately the strongest nuclear power on the planet. But the 7,200 nuclear warheads located in the United States are also capable of doing almost incalculable damage.
It is also informative to consider the nuclear technology utilized by the two superpowers. Both Russia and the United States have mounted nuclear weapons on intercontinental ballistic missiles in protected silos, and also onboard submarines. Both can also utilize weapons by outfitting them via strategic bombers. Although both Russia and the United States have indicated the intention to comply with nuclear disarmament treaties, and the 15,000 figure includes warheads either held in reserve or waiting to be dismantled, it is still an insight into the chillingly destructive capacity of the two nations.
The figure involved was sourced by the Federation of American Scientists in 2015, and suggests that both the United States and Russia have the capabilities to launch tactical nuclear strikes on the battlefield, as well as utilizing strategic nuclear weapons against other cities and larger targets. Despite the protests from both the Russian and American governments that they are phasing out such deadly technology, it is clear that both countries easily have the weaponry required to destroy one another. This naturally brings the recent tensions between Russia and the United States into sharper focus.
Baltic Sea incident
Aside from nuclear tensions, accidents have also occurred in the recent past that have helped spark dysfunction in the relationship between Russia and the United States. One such incident occurred in April, when a Russian SU-27 fighter jet flew within approximately 5 m of a U.S. military surveillance plane over the Baltic Sea.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular incident, it is indicative of the intransigent relationship between the two nations that neither was able to accept the point of view of the other. The US government made an official complaint to Russia about the aggressive behavior of the pilot, but the Russians simply countered by stating that the United States spy plane was flying towards the border with its identification transponder turned off. This succinctly symbolizes the lack of trust between the two nations, and the suspicious relationship between the two superpowers.
If one doubts that the relationship between the United States and Russia is less than rosy, then it is important to note the comments of Latvian Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rinkevic. Earlier this year, Rinkevics stated that the relationship between Russia and the West had plummeted to its lowest level since the aforementioned Cuban Missile Crisis. Considering the consequences of this International stand-off that occurred in the 1960s, one can only hope that a more peaceful and acquiescent solution is found on this occasion.
But certainly the activities of NATO suggest that there are concerns on both sides regarding the other’s conduct. NATO vessels regularly patrol the Black Sea region, with Russia closely monitoring their activity. There are a huge amount of United States, Canadian and other NATO troops mssing and training on Russia’s doorstep. It has been reported that in October, NATO will run one of the biggest exercises in years, with around 36,000 military personnel involved in wargames inended to communicate the fact that this military alliance is ready to respond to Russian threats if required.
The well-documented history of relations between Russia and the United States suggests that the relationship between the two nations will always be tense. Unfortunately, recent indicators suggest that a physical conflict between these two nuclear powers cannot be discounted completely.