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The Ukrainian attack on global security

by Hans-Peter Waldrich Monday, Jun. 10, 2024 at 7:04 AM

Ukraine's attack on modules of the Russian early warning system not least endangers our own security. Leo Ensel, conflict researcher and journalist, calls for a “Copernican revolution in security policy”. “In the nuclear age, security is only possible together with, but never against, the ‘opponent’!” he says.

The Ukrainian attack on global security

by Hans-Peter Waldrich

[This article posted on 6/1/2024 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Ukraine's attack on modules of the Russian early warning system not least endangers our own security. Leo Ensel, conflict researcher and journalist, calls for a “Copernican revolution in security policy”. “In the nuclear age, security is only possible together with, but never against, the ‘opponent’!” he says. The interview was conducted by Hans-Peter Waldrich. With kind permission of Globalbridge.

Hans-Peter Waldrich: Mr. Ensel, on May 23, Ukraine attacked parts of the Russian nuclear missile early warning system with drones in Armavir in the North Caucasus and on May 26 in Orenburg in Siberia. The radars are used to detect a possible first nuclear strike by NATO. You are a member of an initiative of computer scientists, AI specialists and political scientists that warns that such attacks could trigger a nuclear war. What is so dangerous about that?

Leo Ensel: First of all, although I am a member of the initiative against an “accidental nuclear war” launched by computer scientists, I am not a computer scientist myself, but a conflict researcher. However, you don't have to be a computer scientist to recognize the implications of the Ukrainian attacks on modules of the Russian missile defense system:

The global “security structure” – if it can be called that – between the nuclear powers of the USA and Russia is still based, as in the first Cold War, on the “principle of assured second-strike capability”. In other words, whoever shoots first dies second! If Russia's second-strike capability – for example, through targeted attacks on modules of the Russian missile defense system, whose task it is to identify approaching US intercontinental ballistic missiles in time – is eliminated or even just limited, Russia would be “blinded”. It would no longer be able to react in time in a crisis or emergency. (By the way: in the logic of mutual deterrence, it would be enough for Russia to feel blinded!) This would eliminate the extremely shaky logic on which the “security” of our entire planet has been based for decades, and the likelihood that Russia would act irrationally in an acute “perceived crisis”, possibly with nuclear weapons, would increase astronomically.

In this respect, the Ukrainian attack on the modules of the Russian missile defense system was also an attack on our, no: on global security! It is, incidentally, difficult to imagine that these attacks could have taken place without consultation with the most important Ukrainian ally. Perhaps there was an order...

The objection is that we must prevent Putin from achieving long-term success in Ukraine, because otherwise there is a danger that he will soon advance his dreams of becoming a great power by attacking the Baltic states, for example. Is not every attack on Russian military structures justified as part of the Ukrainian defense strategy?

As was recently convincingly demonstrated, the modules of the Russian missile defense system (“Voronezh radar”) were not used to attack any Russian attack potential, but rather a system whose purpose is to identify a possible nuclear first strike by the USA or NATO in good time. This system plays no role whatsoever in the current Russian war against Ukraine, but attacks on it – see above – damage global security as a whole!

Regarding your first comment, which is the background melody in an endless loop in the current media coverage: The claim that Putin is allegedly planning to attack Poland or the Baltic states after a victory over Ukraine, that Russian tanks will be rolling through the Brandenburg Gate again the day after tomorrow, is a completely unfounded assertion by Western propagandists whose goal is to prolong the war in Ukraine, which must be ended as quickly as possible by diplomatic means, ad infinitum and to draw the USA, NATO and the EU ever deeper into the war – with the war aims remaining completely nebulous. According to various calculations, NATO's military expenditure is between 15 and 20 times that of Russia. NATO has a total of 3.6 times as many soldiers under arms. In terms of heavy conventional weapons, NATO is vastly superior. In contrast, Russia could not even 'swallow' the whole of Ukraine, let alone 'digest' it. After all, parts of the nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) waged a stubborn partisan war against the Soviet occupiers in western Ukraine until the early 1950s.

Regarding your comment that “any attack on Russian military structures” is “justified”: all actors have a responsibility to ensure that this war does not spread further: to a European, and ultimately even to a third world war, which would sooner or later be fought with thermonuclear bombs and could mean the end of humanity, indeed of all life on this planet! This is why Joe Biden had refused to supply Ukraine with weapons systems capable of attacking Russian territory from the depths since the beginning of the war.

But this red line is increasingly being eroded, which in turn means that we are getting closer to the thermonuclear abyss every minute... There are risks that must not be taken!

I'm coming back to the fact that the initiative you belong to is warning against nuclear war by mistake. What kind of mistakes, for example, could lead to a nuclear conflict purely by chance?

To better understand the current situation, let's take a look back at the time of the first Cold War, which was already dangerous enough. At that time, we essentially had two actors who kept each other in check with the threat of possible nuclear annihilation. Even in that era, there were repeated so-called critical incidents where the world was on the brink of nuclear war. I recall the Cuban missile crisis, which was resolved just in time thanks to the prudent diplomacy of the then heads of state, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev – both of whom, incidentally, bypassed their respective military and intelligence services.

But I would like to remind you of the numerous accidents and false alarms that have brought the world to the brink of a nuclear disaster. The most famous of these is the false alarm at the Russian missile defense center near Moscow on September 26, 1983, when the world probably only escaped a third world war thanks to the courageous and level-headed actions of the commanding officer, the Russian Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov. (I visited Petrov in his prefabricated apartment in Frjasino near Moscow nine months before his death and thanked him.) The well-known statement by Leon Wieseltier is relevant here: nuclear deterrence is “probably the only political concept that fails completely if it is only 99.9 percent successful.”

Today, we are once again in a new and even more dangerous Cold War: we no longer live in a bipolar world, but in a multipolar one – whether the USA likes it or not! The number of nuclear powers has now grown to a total of nine, and the trend is rising. At the same time, the delivery systems for nuclear warheads are becoming increasingly accurate and difficult to locate. Launchers that do not follow a ballistic trajectory, such as cruise missiles or hypersonic missiles, can practically no longer be eliminated during the approach. The closer these systems get to the enemy's territory, the shorter the warning times become. In addition, the line between nuclear weapons and so-called “conventional weapons” is becoming increasingly blurred. It is not possible to tell whether approaching carrier systems are equipped with conventional or nuclear weapons. With the development of comparatively “small” nuclear warheads, the temptation to actually use nuclear weapons is growing. And the military always acts according to the worst-case principle, which, in the sense of a self-fulfilling prophecy, makes this worst case even more likely...

In a nutshell: the amount of information to be processed is constantly increasing, while the warning time, if you think it through, tends towards zero. In this situation, more and more partial decisions have to be outsourced to so-called artificial intelligence, which in turn is prone to error. On the horizon, nothing less than the eerie vision of the decision on the existence or non-existence of our entire planet by artificial intelligence, i.e. by machines! Idyllic times, when a man like Petrow still had at least eight minutes to make a decision as a human being made of flesh and blood.

Everything sounds as if the security of a single country, such as Germany, is closely linked to the security of all other countries. Doesn't that mean that in the Ukraine war, too, we must always consider what effects its defense will have on the rest of the world? Is it therefore expedient to encourage Ukraine to adopt an increasingly offensive attitude towards Russia?

As already indicated: In a situation that could escalate into a third world war at any time, all actors have a duty to prevent exactly that! Which ultimately can only mean ending this war as quickly as possible, and which would also be the only way to save the battered Ukraine, which is currently being defended to death, i.e. bled dry – the average age of the fighting men is now 43 years – and in which more and more areas are being made uninhabitable for years, even decades, with Western weapons such as mines, uranium and cluster munitions.

The basic rule is that when one of the warring parties feels definitively cornered – which is already the case with Ukraine – the probability of irrational behavior increases dramatically. (I would classify the current Ukrainian attacks on modules of the Russian missile defense system as falling precisely into this logic.) In the – less likely – event that Russia were to find itself in this situation, it would definitely prove to the world that it is a nuclear power...! (There are already influential political advisors there who are openly advocating so-called “preventive nuclear retaliation.”) So the longer the war goes on, the more radicalized all the actors will become, and the risks for the entire planet will increase immeasurably.

The relevant actors have apparently all forgotten this. Yet men like Willy Brandt, Olof Palme and Mikhail Gorbachev had already summed it up decades ago: in the nuclear age, security is only possible together with, but never against, the 'opponent'! In this sense, therefore, everyone is a 'security partner' today, whether we like it or not. It is high time to start thinking and acting again according to this principle of “common security”! Mikhail Gorbachev called this “new thinking”.

But isn't security possible through good technology? After all, we now also have artificial intelligence, which, together with surveillance from space, can at least currently guarantee security much better than it could a few years ago.

The same applies to technology, as mentioned above: no matter how sophisticated the technology or artificial intelligence, it will not be able to save us, because the deepest root of the entire malaise is not a lack of technology or imperfect technology, but the abysmal mistrust that all rival geopolitical actors have for each other! We therefore really do need a “Copernican revolution in thinking and acting”, in which all relevant military and political actors – across all differences and enmities – once again find the strength to adopt a policy of “new thinking”: To diplomacy, to negotiations, to a policy of de-escalation and the gradual reconstruction of trust towards a new European security order based on the principles of the “Charter of Paris” of November 1990, the central sentence of which reads:

“Security is indivisible, and the security of each participating State is inseparably linked to that of all others.”

Mr. Ensel, thank you for this interview.

About the authors:

Hans-Peter Waldrich is a well-known German political scientist and journalist.

Leo Ensel is a conflict researcher specializing in the post-Soviet space and Central and Eastern Europe.

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