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Trump and Putin Change the U.S. – Russia Conversation

by John Brian Shannon

Q: What could be worse than another Cold War between the United States and Russia?

A: Nothing. There isn’t anything that could be worse than another Cold War breaking out between nuclear armed superpowers that could conceivably destroy all life on the planet many times over. At the push of a button.

Boom! In an instant we’d be blinded by a flash and our bodies would heat up to 3 million degrees within seconds and everyone on Earth would end up floating around as carbon dust at 100,000 feet before finally settling down on top of the nuclear-winter snow that would cover the entire planet for about 40-years. (Nuclear weapons experts call that snow/radioactive carbon dust mixture, ‘grey goo’)

It’s a miracle it didn’t happen during the 40-year long Cold War, but we came within seconds of such annihilation many times over the course of those perilous four decades.


What the Helsinki Meeting Represents

For some people, the meeting between America’s President Trump and Russia’s President Putin represents an opportunity to catch either president in some sort of verbal gaffe, or to capture a sound-bite and milk it for all it’s worth — while for others, a meeting between the two major nuclear powers represents the best opportunity in the 21st-century to reverse the downward spiral in relations between the two nuclear hyperpowers.

That’s what is at stake here.

Anything else (and that means everything else!) just isn’t important when you’re playing at that level.

Whether 12 or 13 Russians may or may not have interfered in the 2016 U.S. election is orders of magnitude less important than the chance of nuclear war breaking out between the nuclear superpowers.

Also orders of magnitude less important is the purported (but not proven) collusion between Trump’s people and certain Russian citizens who may, or may not be spies or some kind of fixers or operators, and also orders of magnitude less important is Hillary’s purported carelessness in using a non-government (and therefore, non-secure) server to send or receive classified emails that Russian agents (purportedly) were able to hack and read. (That’s a lot of ‘purportedly’s’ — but everyone in America is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law)

And yes, those are all very interesting stories that will probably have a long shelf life and keep reporters buzzing until a bigger story replaces them.

But let’s not get distracted by sensational headlines, nor should we be complacent and forget what’s really at stake.

The leaders of two nuclear powers met, apparently had a businesslike and friendly meeting, and important matters were discussed. That in itself was almost a miracle after the goings-on between the two superpowers over the past decade, which between them, possess over 13,300 nuclear warheads, while the rest of the declared nuclear powers in the world account for a total of 1065 nuclear weapons.

G7 comparison: Estimated Nuclear Warhead Inventories, 2018. Federation of American Scientists

Estimated Nuclear Warhead Inventories, 2018. Federation of American Scientists


Building On A Successful Helsinki Meeting

Rather than let the present momentum lapse, President Trump and President Putin must ‘strike while the iron is hot’ and schedule some arms control talks.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” — President John F. Kennedy

In 1963, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which banned atmospheric atomic and nuclear bomb testing) was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union and in 1996 was passed by the UN General Assembly.

The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) was signed and ratified by both sides in 1972 which paved the way for SALT II in 1979 which was signed by both parties in 1979 but not ratified due to unrelenting bad press in the United States. However, both sides decided to adhere to the terms of SALT II even though it was never ratified. Which is the only reason we see near-parity in nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles between the United States and Russia today.

To keep the present momentum going, SALT II could be re-signed and ratified to pave the way for a SALT III treaty to be created — as per the original plan.

The logic of the SALT agreements is clear: The SALT I treaty limited Anti-Ballistic Missile sites and froze the number of missiles each side could possess, while SALT II established numerical equality in nuclear weapon delivery systems and also limited the number of Multiple, Independent Re-entry Vehicles (bombs) per missile, while the proposed SALT III was designed to draw down and place firm and verifiable caps on the nuclear bomb arsenals of both the United States and the Soviet Union to around 2400 each.

Before the present momentum between the two leaders fade, both men should push their respective administrations to re-commit to SALT II (as a formality) and ratify it before the end of 2018.

That would allow the necessary time to author a fresh SALT III agreement and schedule a signing ceremony for both SALT II and SALT III at the same time.

It’s not rocket science, it’s politics. But previous leaders just couldn’t get it done. Both sides have wanted to do this for almost 40-years, but (very suspiciously) something always cropped-up at the last minute to prevent forward progress on this most important of geopolitical issues.

“Things don’t happen, things are made to happen.” — President John F. Kennedy


Turning Nuclear Bombs into Electricity

At the end of the Cold War a deal was struck between the United States and Russia whereby excess nuclear bombs (remember; any number of nuclear bombs higher than 2400 for the United States and for Russia is complete overkill from a strategic defense perspective) were sold-off to nuclear power plants and used to produce many years worth of high grade, clean electricity.

The program was called the Megatons to Megawatts program and was called one of the greatest diplomatic achievements ever by Harvard’s Matthew Bunn.

The problem is that it had just begun to hit its stride when President Barack Obama cancelled the program unilaterally, and after not much fanfare (only one NPR article) M2M ended.

Assuming both superpowers want to pare-down their nuclear arsenals to 2400 each, that leaves them with 4050 bombs (United States) and 4450 (Russia) to dispose-of. That’s 8500 bombs-worth of clean nuclear power, folks! For example, that’s enough nuclear fuel to power America until the year 2100 at present rates of nuclear fuel usage.

It’s a shame that this noble program was ended long before the most amount of good could be obtained from the Megatons to Megawatts program.

Right now, President Trump could phone President Putin and offer to resume this super-successful program — and he might find a willing partner in Putin who seemed fine with M2M until it was suddenly cancelled in 2013.

Building on success is so much better than re-inventing the wheel, as the saying goes.


A Plug for the Big 5 – as Opposed to the G7

The trouble with the G7 is that the United States GDP, military, number of nuclear bombs, and balance of trade (and in many other metrics) is bigger than all the other G7 nations combined! The U.S. is just too big! It’s the proverbial elephant in the room. The other countries just can’t relate, so they overcompensate.

The recent problems between the U.S. and other G7 members at the recent Charlevoix G7 summit are systemic — the fault isn’t with any of the members. Whatsoever.

And now is as good a time as any for the United States to champion the creation of a new organization, an organization dedicated to superpowers and near-superpowers like Russia, China, Japan, and the EU. Alternatively, if one of those countries or blocs didn’t want to join, The Commonwealth of Nations bloc could join instead.

In such an organization, members would find that the problems that superpowers and near-superpowers encounter would be similar problems and that solutions might also be found to be similar. At best, the world’s major powers could work together on their common problems, while middle powers could create the middle-power ‘Next-20’ Group, or N20.

In that way, superpowers and near-superpowers would be grouped together (logical) and middle powers would be grouped together (also logical) and the previously noted systemic problems would disappear, allowing politicians to roll up their sleeves and get to work on common issues instead of struggling with one giant stuck in a group of middle powers.

Read about the astonishing differences between the U.S. and the other G7 powers here.


Geopolitical Momentum is Vital and Precious – It Must Never Be Wasted

Now that the two presidents have had their first major meeting that seemed to go very well, it’s time to capitalize on the goodwill before events sweep away those good feelings and opportunities bigger than the sky are (again) allowed to slip away!

Whether the next phone call between the two men is about restarting the highly-successful Megatons to Megawatts program, or plans to meet with President Xi Jinping to discuss the Big 5 organization, or build onto the world-changing SALT treaties — or to discuss some other plan the two presidents discussed — now is the time to build on the initial meeting success and thereby positively change the conversation between superpowers and change the entire conversation that is happening in the global media because no other, better story appears to replace all that sniping.

One of the ways leaders lead effectively is to know when it’s time to change the conversation the media is having with itself and with its viewers.

I respectfully suggest, that time is NOW.

Syria: The Roots of Civil War

by John Brian Shannon | October 1, 2015

All war is brutal. Whether civil war, insurgency, guerrilla war, conventional or nuclear, all are brutal. And in war, no one weapon is worse than another. If you die or are injured by being blown to fragments by artillery, mines, barrel bombs or conventional bombs dropped by aircraft — you’re just as dead or injured as by machine-gun fire.

Too many commentators are trying to make negative political points about the Assad regime by citing Syria’s use of ‘barrel bombs’ — to convince us that those are the ultimate in inhuman and horrific weapons. As if getting killed by a ‘barrel bomb’ is somehow much worse than getting killed by a mine or by machine-gun fire.

Characterizing some bombs as ‘worse’ than other bombs, etc. takes our focus away from the underlying reasons for the conflict and how we might solve it.

Demonstrators chant slogans to support ISIS. Image by NBC News (AP File photo from June 16, 2014)

In this June 16, 2014 file photo, demonstrators chant slogans to support the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they carry al-Qaida flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, Iraq. The al-Qaida breakaway group has seized much of northern Syria and huge tracts of neighboring Iraq formally declaring the creation of an Islamic state on Sunday, June 29, 2014 in the territory under its control. (AP Photo, File)

What we should be concentrating on is how many innocent people are getting killed or maimed, how many refugees are being created, and how many months will it take to solve the Syrian conflict

And as is always the case, military people are well supported by their organizations and get paid to engage in warfighting, while civilians are (obviously) vastly unprepared to deal with war.

Consequently, many of them do the intelligent thing and leave the conflict region when they are able. This puts huge strain on neighbouring nations as they struggle to accept millions of refugees. Turkey is on track to surpass 2 million by January, 2016 and other nations in the region have accepted hundreds of thousands.

Syria: The Path to Civil War

By using deductive reasoning, we can safely assume the civil war now raging inside Syria is due to the many anti-coalition fighters who fled the 2003-2011 Iraq War, once they realized they couldn’t beat the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Such fighters were then able to live and operate virtually ignored in Syria (and Lebanon) as anti-coalition sentiment was running high in the region in the aftermath of the Shock and Awe invasion due to the Syrian people seeing only the results of, and hearing the accounts of, the Iraq War from fleeing Iraqi civilians.

A similar situation on a smaller scale occurred during the Arab Spring months.

Ergo, both the Iraq War and Arab Spring added to anti-Western sentiments in the region

This created a robust ISIS force practically out of thin air — with tacit support from Syrian citizens and the citizens of other nearby nations.

Reality Check:

  • Was there an ISIS before the Iraq War? No.
  • Was there an ISIS during the Iraq War from 2003-2011? No.
  • Was there an ISIS before the Arab Spring of 2010? No.
  • Was there an ISIS during the Arab Spring? No.

Therefore, the ISIS entity was born in ‘the Arab Street’ which is the name for the collage of meeting places where Arab peoples meet, sometime after the Iraq War of 2003-2011 and after the 2010 Arab Spring.

Religion has nothing to do with it

Just as religion had nothing to do with WWI, WWII, or any recent war, this isn’t a religious war although various sides will always try to employ religion (the Crusaders, Osama Bin Laden) or the occult (Hitler) to serve their own interests.

We should ignore the cant and focus on clear examples of criminal and terrorist behavior. Murkiness isn’t our ally in the fight against terrorism

Trying to charge a person in court for being too ‘religious’ is impossible — as there is no such criminal charge.

However, if a person kills 25 people in a criminal act (whatever their political or religious views) we can deal with it in the courts in a very clear manner, and it becomes a clearer ‘sell’ to citizens in the court of public opinion — who after all are the ones footing the bill for our military operations in Syria.

Focusing so much attention on such things as the types of bombs employed by any side and by overly focusing on the religious aspect, we remove our focus from the criminality of what ISIS or other fighters are actually doing in Syria, Iraq, and in the Kurdish territories.

(Although it must be said that the Kurds have their own terrorists and they too must be careful when pointing fingers at ISIS, as some Kurds have been at the terrorism game for decades)

I’ll grant you that the Syrian response to ISIS and other groups has been heavy-handed

But no more than Shock and Awe was to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein.

We the West, created the conditions necessary for the creation of ISIS and other similar groups that left Iraq and the Arab Spring nations for Syria and Lebanon upon realizing they couldn’t match coalition firepower.

Now we are picking away at them piecemeal from the air, while the Russians have partnered with President Bashar Al-Assad to preserve the Syrian government with both the Russians and Syrians taking the fight to any group threatening the peace inside Syria until a sustainable cease-fire can be agreed.

If we attempt to exterminate all the ISIS fighters in Syria (with the Russians helping in regions of the country that we can’t access) we will simply drive ISIS fighters to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Egypt and into other Arab nations

Which will allow the West to claim that we’ve ‘won’ in Syria — in the same way we claim to have ‘won’ in Iraq.

Does anyone really think, for an instant, that Iraq is better off now than under Saddam Hussein?

It certainly isn’t. If you believe otherwise, I dare you to travel to any Iraqi city and proclaim it loudly in any public square. (And, by the way, it was nice knowing you)

If a massive (Iraq War style invasion) occurred in Syria today, many ISIS fighters would leave Syria, taking their tales to the people of each country in the region thereby gathering evermore pro-ISIS support and congealing centres of power across the MENA region.

Using military power to exterminate ISIS in Iraq and Syria means that we will set up a paradigm of continual ISIS movement and evermore ISIS recruiting in more countries

Therefore, although we can paint an “X” on certain ISIS members or groups, once we begin to ‘win’ against ISIS in Syria, they will just melt away to other nations gathering evermore support in every city they visit. Just as they did during the Iraq War.

That is not the path to victory against ISIS

In the case of highly mobile fighters and an ideology that we ‘enabled’ by attempting to exterminate ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we will simply help to grow the anti-Western sentiment throughout the Middle East.

The only path to solve the ISIS question is to use diplomacy to convince ISIS of the need for an ISIS homeland (a piece of very northwestern Iraq and very northeastern Syria) and that we are willing to help make that happen in exchange for laying down their arms.

ISIS presents a case where the more we fight (an ideology) the more members it will attract. And that is something the world doesn’t need.