For those too young to remember the Cold War or who simply didn't bother to retain marginal information for three decades, let me give you a quick run-down on nuclear arms reduction deals. This is important, because the minute he gets into office Trump has announced his intention to cancel economic sanctions on Russia in exchange for reductions in the Russian nuclear stockpile.

If you don't want to read the long version, the short one is that arms reduction deals are a charade. And this one, being essentially a cash-for-arms swap rather than each side decommissioning nuclear weapons in kind, is even worse than most.

There are three reasons why such a deal is terrible even though (by design) it sounds good if you don't understand it. You can already hear him braying about his colossal deal-making skills; Look! I got the Russians to reduce their nuclear stockpile! What a hero I am! Don't be deceived.

1. Arms reduction deals simply reduce the orders of magnitude on a spreadsheet. If Russia has sufficient nuclear warheads to kill every living thing on Earth 30 times over and they agree to reduce that to 20 times over, are we safer? On the far margins, yes. Fewer warheads in the stockpile means fewer that could accidentally go off, be stolen, get lost, and so on. But there is no benefit in the grand scheme. Russia will retain a stockpile of staggering size.

2. Arms reduction deals are to the military what the donation bin is to your wardrobe. They will volunteer to give up the oldest, most obsolete stuff. The things that are more trouble (and more cost) than they're worth in upkeep. A cash-for-arms swap essentially pays them for their old garbage they were probably going to throw out sooner rather than later.

3. When you put your old boots in the donation bin, what's your goal? Is it to help the poor? No, it's to clear out the space occupied by something you no longer want or use. And the best part is that once you've gotten rid of a bunch of old clothes…you can justify buying new ones! History has shown that arms reduction talks are followed immediately by generals lining up, hat in hand, intoning gravely that the nation has a fundamental weakness that needs to be addressed promptly and at staggering cost. "We no longer have (whatever was scrapped)! We are now vulnerable. To fill that gap in our strategic doctrine, we must move full speed ahead on Project Fuck the Taxpayer led by our good friends at Raytheon." Politicians and the public are a pushover for this argument. The arms reductions create the perfect opportunity to warn of Weakness and Vulnerability, the fear of which then easily justifies a new spending spree.

So, in essence, Donald Trump wants to pay the Russians billions of dollars to throw out the obsolete nuclear weapons they no longer want and then, shortly down the road, replace their on-paper strategic value with something new and expensive. Because when you really want a new winter coat, the best way to rationalize it is to donate your oldest coats to the Salvation Army bin and then replace the space they occupied. You're turning old, used coats into a shiny new one. Now imagine that as you're about to dump them in the bin, someone offers you several billion dollars for them. That person is Donald Trump.

But relax, that talk of him being the Kremlin's stooge is just liberal claptrap.

50 thoughts on “THREE CARD MONTE”

  • Do the de-commissioned nuclear duds get buried in an aquifer that supplies Florida?

    Or do they get sold on the second-hand nuclear arms black market?

  • Wait! Wait! I know! They're taking out the guts and giving the shells to Donnie so he can feel powerful playing Army!

  • How is lifting sanctions "paying" Russia? Shouldn't paying actually involve paying?
    The one bright spot in this fuckwit being president is ending the saber rattling towards Russia.

  • Putin wins because he can decommission old nukes and (maybe, but why?) build new ones?

    I say we outsmart Putin by reducing our own supply of doomsday weapons to only being able to kill everything on earth ten times. Or even five times. That'd show him! Sucker!

  • "Fewer warheads in the stockpile means fewer that could accidentally go off, be stolen, get lost, and so on. But there is no benefit in the grand scheme."
    I dunno, that seems like a pretty big benefit to me? From what I've read, there seems to be much larger chance that bored, undertrained missile forces (on either side) will accidentally lose track of a nuke, than of an actual intentional nuclear war.

  • Yep… This was pretty much exactly my assessment of the situation.

    Because Russia funds much of its federal budget (including the military) on the profits of their state-owned companies, Obama's sanctions on them have forced them to put many of their military modernization plans on hold due to budget shortfalls.

    For example, Russia originally planned to buy roughly 200 of the 5th generation T-50 "PAK FA" fighters that they are building as a response to our F-22 "Raptors". Their current order for the T-50 has been cut to 12 aircraft since the sanctions went into effect. This is basically just enough funding to keep the production team employed for the next few years so they don't all go get jobs elsewhere, thus killing the program completely, before Russia can come up with the money to re-fund the program.

    Give them back their profits before that development team disintegrates, and we're giving them back their 5th generation fighters.

    Similar cuts and cancellations have been seen in Russia's new nuclear sub development programs and in the advanced T-14 "Armata" tank development program since the sanctions went into effect.

    So, as it stands, it appears that Trump's grand strategy to "make America safe again" appears to require funding Russia's military buildup in exchange for Russia doing something that they have already stared doing, such as dismantling old nuclear missiles that are currently being replaced with newer updated versions.

    At least we don't have to worry about Clinton's e-mail though, right?

  • Trump cannot wait to turn the US into Russia-lite. Look at what he is trying to do with the White House Press Corp. He wants to move them into a bigger location so he can plant useful idiots and take questions from the people who will ask the easiest softballs and give the slobberiest blowjobs to his tiny cock. Putin has been doing this shit for years.

  • Trump's deal is already dead in the water because almost immediately the Russian side said it expects the sanctions to be lifted unconditionally and they will not concede anything. This is "negotiating" with the Kremlin. You give them everything you want, and at best you might get a ceasefire or some guarantee about borders that they won't even follow. Meanwhile you lift the sanctions and in come more corrupt Russian officials buying up luxury real estate and hiding their stolen wealth in your banks.

    And please let's dispense with this "sabre rattling against Russia bullshit." Russia's been sabre-rattling against its neighbors since the 90's. That's why some nations elected to join NATO in the first place. Now it has invaded Ukraine and is constantly holding snap drills or redeploying forces with the aim of intimidating the Baltic states or Poland.

    Please take a look at NATO forces in Europe prior to 2015 and tell me what right Russia had to feel threatened.

    The reality is that Russia's corrupt leadership adheres to an outdated, 19th century imperialist view of the world where it's entitled to have its own "sphere of influence" because it's a "great power" (with an economy the size of Italy).

  • Bear in mind that while the core of a nuclear device might be viable for over a century, the electronics and plastic explosives have a shelf life that is not helped by sitting next to a lump of plutonium. Periodically, they must be taken out of service and scrapped, the plutonium recovered for storage and eventual use in a new device, or as a fuel component in a reactor. As was explained above, it would happen anyway, BFD.

  • Damn, Ed, I'm gonna have to disagree with you on at least part of this (like point 2). Arms control/ reduction treaties do not necessarily just pave the way for more better nuclear delivery systems.

    "In October 2002 United States began one-sided withdrawal of MIRV (including complete deactivation of Peacekeeper missiles) and completed it by 19 September 2005. The Minuteman III is, as of 2011, the only United States operational ICBM. It can potentially carry up to 3 RVs." (wikipedia)

    So the unratified START II led to the retirement of the MX "Peacekeeper" (ha), and kept the very old ('70s) Minuteman IIIs in service. Wikipedia says there are 450(!!) of them left. Anybody who's read Eric Schlosser's "Command And Control" knows that you can blow one of those babies up by simply dropping a fucking wrench down the silo. We probably should get rid of the damn things?

  • And yes, the guy's a goddamned Giant Evil Baby, but I can't really argue with his "why the hell would we want to have a military confrontation with a nuclear power over the fucking Baltic Republics?" stance. Seriously, I think he's going to do a lot of bad stuff, but trying to demonize Trump for at least SAYING we need to get along with Russia is just crazy. (Not that you're necessarily doing that, Ed.)

    OTOH, there's this:

    The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes
    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016

  • It all comes down to Donnie Putinobitch being pathetically desperate to "succeed", no matter how bad the deal and how ludicrous the price.He's adding strategic bankruptcy to corporate and moral bankruptcy and no doubt we shall soon hear cries of triumph because he's finally completed the set.

  • Re-defining the word "success" to mean "accomplishing whatever I did" is so much easier than actually succeeding. So. Much. Easier.

  • Wasn't it Ike who said we should keep an eye on the conjoining of capitalism and bombs? I think he meant it was a dating arrangement we might want to discourage; most of his successors have been arranging swankier and costlier engagement parties. Now the wedding itself is finally here! Should be a blowout!

  • The lifting of trade sanctions would be worth billions.

    Exploration of oil and gas in Russia would likewise bet worth billions to a company like Exxon.

    The START reductions also worth billions.

    Referring to him as a stooge mostly misses the point. The presidency is just another brand in the Trump portfolio. This is just another money making opportunity.

  • The way to figure out if you're the mark in the Gropenfuhrer's con game is by noticing whether you listen to what he says.

    If it's not obvious to you by now that he'll say anything to get what he wants, you're definitely the mark.

    What he does, which is what matters to us holding up his gold-plated pyramid, can be perfectly predicted by three rules.

    1) His business empire is one of those rolling credit schemes where he always has to get more credit to stay afloat. There's every indication (see the Economist and TalkingPointsMemo for the reporting) that he's worth less than a billion. If he had to divest, he couldn't pay off his debts and he'd be bankrupt. The Presidency, on the other hand, is a golden opportunity for graft that will finally put him ahead. He'll make whatever international agreements refill his accounts. If we knew what was — and was not — in his accounts we could predict perfectly what his foreign "policy" will be.

    2) Putin has him by the aorta. Whether it's because of money, blackmail, hero worship, all of the above, really doesn't matter to those of us who'll suffer the consequences. He's got him. Putin is the only person the Gropenfuhrer hasn't insulted or tried to dump on in some 30 years. This will continue so long as that orange stain has any power.

    3) When the above two conditions are satisfied, there's only one other thing that motivates him. Self-aggrandizement at any cost.

    Can good come from that? Even accidentally? I don't see how, but there are lots of things I don't see.

    To those saying it's smart not to get all worked up over some tiny countries in NE Europe, it reminds me of that famous poem about "First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out" and so on. Is it also smart not to get worked up over a bunch of Syrians? How about immigrants? Women? How about when your pension fund collapses? Is that worth something? How about air pollution? Is being unable to go outside like the people in Beijing also not something to get worked up over?

    I'd say it's pretty important to be clear now on at what point it's no longer smart to let it slide because this is how bullies work. It's always easier not to fight him now, until you wake up one day and he's taken everything.

  • So, basically the arms deal is like the "gun buy-back" programs that cities run and that gets tons of publicity. The sad truth is that the guns are never sold back by people who would actually use them. For many people, they're like that treadmill you bought when you planned to get into shape, but which has since become nothing but a clothes rack. There are a lot of people who bought a gun when they were going to be a badass, but now, they're just a fatass. Or they belonged to a family member who is deceased or incarcerated (wrongly, of course). Why not make a few bucks turning it in?

    Meanwhile, you don't see Bloods and Crips lining up to sell their guns.

  • @quixote, Chris:

    Exactly. Trump has always been a con man, a grifter, etc. He's always gotten away with stiffing everyone else with the bill after he spent all the money on himself. His whole "empire" is all real estate and it's all leveraged and he owes money to everyone. He's literally one margin call away from being broke, and has been for years. Why else would he do TV or charge gobs of money to his campaign for "rent"? It's all about the grift. And he and his people are going to loot taxpayer money until they fuck up, which they will, and then will get tossed out.

  • @Khaled

    For thirty years now, Trump's game has been running fast enough and shouting loud enough to stay ahead of the debt-collectors after his latest fraud has collapsed. There's nothing more there. He has no ideas of consequence and that's why he'll listen to anyone who looks halfway convincing and why a poisonous fuckwit like Steve Bannon and the Breitbart arselings have managed to get as much of his limited attention span as they did.

  • @geoff

    "…but I can't really argue with his "why the hell would we want to have a military confrontation with a nuclear power over the fucking Baltic Republics?" stance."

    You can and you should. Remember, Putin knows that he's not the only one with nuclear weapons, so he needs to be wary of pushing America's buttons too. The Baltics look small and relatively powerless, but they are our allies and have generally been good ones, which is more than you can say for Putin's semi-organized crime empire. If you discard the Baltics, the rest of the allies will lose all faith in us, will start to make their own security arrangements, possibly triggering a new arms race and we may find ourselves back in a nastier version of the Cold War rather quickly, as Putin rushes to snap up whatever he thinks he can steal. This is not a path we should go down and certainly not on the assumption that yielding to any and all blackmail by a reactionary, corrupt KGB thug perched atop a B-grade economy will do us any good in the short, middle or long term. We can gain nothing but insecurity and danger that way.

  • @NickT

    Winner, winner, Chicken Kiev dinner.

    The Baltics are allies and members of NATO. An attack on one member of NATO is an attack on ALL members of NATO. It's the basis for peace and stability in Europe post WWII. If we allow Russia to "reclaim" those parts of their Empire (as Putin "makes Russia an Empire again") NATO collapses and the EU suddenly has to re-arm themselves, which they will do in spades and the US loses whatever hard power they have as the rest of the world starts a cycle of brinkmanship that eventually leads to "hot" spots like Vietnam. Sounds awful.

  • It would be very constructive if congress passed a resolution in the form of "NATO is a legally binding obligation, and there will be consequences for any president that disregards his obligations as commader-in-chief."

    I'm not sure whether Trump would pay any attention, but I'm suspect Putin would.

  • Yes, Khaled, they are NATO members, but that itself is the root of the problem. That alliance has long outlived it's usefulness and gone job shopping in places like Afghanistan and Libya. How many of you remember that GHWB agreed, in exchange for a unified Germany, that NATO would not expand east of that? Our reneging on the deal has been making the Russians nervous since the 90's.

    Like it or not, spheres of influence still do and will continue to exist because power is the only coin that states deal in.

  • @Mojrim

    "That alliance has long outlived it's[sic] usefulness"

    Alliances with significant players in the global economy tend not to lose their usefulness. Unless, of course, you think that America would be much better off trying to do everything alone in the face of a rising China and a bellicose Russia. As for the idea of "job-shopping" in Afghanistan, that was a war begun by the US and NATO troops were there because the US wanted them there. Hardly "job-shopping".

  • "This is "negotiating" with the Kremlin."

    Nah, they're just used to negotiating with Obama. They'll get over it once they realize they're not dealing with someone who defines himself as "not one of those unreasonable ones".

  • @NickT

    Actually, that fits my definition of job shopping perfectly. NATO was formed exclusively to defend western europe from a soviet invasion, and it did that well. Going outside that, whatever the reason, call the question of its purpose in a post soviet world.

    NATO is a military alliance, nothing more, regardless of the economic output of its member states. Like all alliances it was based on a common interest and lost function when that interest dissolved. Remember our alliance against Nazi Germany? Remember how fast that fell apart after their defeat? All victorious alliances break down the morning after the celebration because the members are now the most powerful states, which must now oppose one another and form new alliances to do so.

    What can NATO, on the opposite side of the world, do about China? If that's your current concern then we need to form an alliance of Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, ROK, ROP, and Russia.

  • @mojrim

    You seem not to understand that alliances often have more than one interest and role to play. If NATO chooses to redefine its role and aims, that's a perfectly legitimate thing to do – and a sign of an organization with a degree of ongoing viability. Furthermore, defending Europe against Russian aggression is an ongoing and legitimate mission even within the oddly limited parameters that your understanding of NATO wishes to assign to that alliance. NATO exists and will continue to exist for perfectly valid reasons, no matter what you or Donnie Putinobitch may wish to believe.

  • Well hell, I'd argue that the expansion of NATO up to Russia's borders, which George Bush (the senior, and former CIA Director) promised would not happen in the wake of Germany's reunification, is extremely provocative. Especially given that 75 years ago the German invasion cost the Soviets (largely Russians) at least 25 million dead.

  • @geoff

    Are you really defending Putin by arguing that NATO is even remotely comparable to the Nazi regime of 75 years ago? If we are going to consider the events of 75 years ago, Stalin (and his predecessors) did quite a bit of ethnic cleansing/mass murder/deportation/dispatching of opponents to the gulag in precisely the areas that now border Putin's Russia – and are now, extremely reasonably, not eager to be ruled by Vladimir the not so Great and his retro-stylings.

  • Again more whining about "NATO expansion." First of all, please look at a map- THREE tiny NATO members border Russia, not counting Kaliningrad oblast, in which case there's a fourth.

    All of those countries are sovereign states, with the right to conduct their own foreign policy as they see fit. These rights were affirmed by the USSR with the Helsinki Accords and reaffirmed by the Russian Federation.

    Until 2015, over a year after Putin invaded Ukraine and began holding all sorts of provocative snap drills in the Baltics, basically trying to get attention, the US and other NATO powers had no permanent garrisons in those new members states. There was no heavy armor or artillery either. The US was getting out of Europe and then Putin brought it back in.

    After seeing firsthand what this regime does, both at home and in Ukraine, I have no patience for this "Oh but look how NATO expanded! The Russians are scared!" Maybe once consider why the Baltic nations wanted to join NATO in the first place.

    Contrary to common belief, Russia didn't just give up imperialism in 1991. In order to maintain the ability to project force and keep military forces abroad it intervened in several conflicts which are now frozen, i.e. Transnistria and the Abkhaz/Ossetian Georgian war. The Crimean issue was also a major sticking point all throughout the 90's. This might lead one to recognize the Russian majority in Crimea, until you remember that the majority was largely helped by the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars and other groups in 1944.

    What many people fail to understand is that in Baltic states you have large Russian populations who watch Russian media telling them that these little states aren't really sovereign, that their independence is a joke, etc., etc. In Ukraine it's even worse. They say Ukraine was "invented" by the Poles, the Austrians, the Americans, Lenin, etc. Many Putin supporters simply can't understand that these are sovereign nations and nobody wants to be part of their empire of corruption and thievery. Every neighbor of Russia that can escape its orbit does so. Even Belarus is constantly trying to push Westward in its relations. Central Asian republics largely prefer China, because China gets results.

    So no, NATO didn't provoke Russia. In fact, Russia had a very good working relationship with NATO in the 2000's, and Putin nearly opened a NATO logistical base in Ulyanovsk back in 2010. Does that sound like something you do when you're so afraid of Operation Barbarossa II?

    There is one man responsible for all these recent NATO deployments and the sanctions, and that man is Vladimir Putin.

  • @NickT @Kovpakistan

    What additional interest and role would that be? So far, it appears to be dragging member states into one imperialist debacle after another. The east-west conflict was the product of a set of conditions which no longer exist, i.e. the US and USSR being the most powerful states to emerge from the rubble in 1945. The soviets were able to maintain a pretense of economic output for decades but, now that the curtain has been pulled back, can't pretend to be a real competitor any more.

    That means the next contest is US v PRC, in which Russia is our natural ally. All we have to do is stop drinking the cold war cool-aid and agree on spheres of influence. Having subordinate buffer states is a normal and natural thing for great powers, no one should get freaked out and start crying about imperialism.

    It's of exactly zero importance what the baltic micro-states wanted, the great powers make the rules in this world. When two immensely powerful states agree on the division of clients, that's pretty much the end of the conversation. Those places bring nothing to the table unless your goal is to reach the Russian frontier and only a fool welcomes an opposing military alliance to the house next door. Between states there is only power.

  • @mojrim

    You lost all your small remaining credibility when you began yapping about imperialism. You clearly have no understanding of NATO, much less the realities of geopolitics.

    "the next contest is US v PRC, in which Russia is our natural ally"

    Russia is a third-rate economy bolted to a military it cannot afford, governed by a gang of incompetent and corrupt oligarchs. They are the Donald Trump of geopolitics – big on talk but incapable of actually achieving anything. They are as far from being our natural allies as pigs are from flying through the air to the sound of trumpets.

    "Having subordinate buffer states is a normal and natural thing for great powers"

    Possibly, but Russia is not and never will be a great power again. It's a collection of bandits with a big military that they can't afford, trying to bluff the world into taking them seriously. They can't manage their economy – and without that, there is no power worth knowing about.

  • @NickT – What, then, would you call Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, "seven countries in five years," and bases in 38 countries?

    You're making the same mistake the Clinton administration made. It may never be the USSR again, but it's still big, paranoid, stuffed with resources, and paranoid.

  • I'm gonna let this go, but please don't confuse my thinking that Russia has some very reasonable fears of western expansion (forgot Napoleon!) with a defense of Putin. Not a fan! Kovpakistan, cool blog! (Seriously!)

    @Mojrim, you forgot stuffed with nuclear weapons, which I think is where we came in : )

  • @geoff – Certainly true, and quite important here and now. My argument with NickT is more about its overall potential and place in the world.

  • What quixote said. I will add that as ill-advised as it is, Trump's floated plan of starting another arms race would be quite good for my local economy, which needs a shot in the arm. Also might boost us right up to the top five of high-value targets in the U.S., which is okey dokey with me. Don't want to survive a nuclear war.

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    So let me get this straight:

    Lifting sanctions on Iran to keep them from getting nuclear weapons in the first place is a treasonous betrayal that will inevitably lead to their developing nuclear weapons.

    Lifting sanctions on Russia to get them to decommission some of their oldest nukes, while ensuring that they're still armed to the teeth, is a brilliant, shrewd deal by a master negotiator.

    It's going to be a long fucking four years.

  • There was a really eye-opening interview this morning on BBC radio; the interviewer was discussing the (then-) upcoming inauguration of Trump and what it would mean around the world. The journalist from an Arabic-language newspaper (didn't catch the name) was justifiably worried given Trump's anti-Muslim sentiments. The Russian journalist…spent all his talking time bashing Hillary Clinton. The Muslim journalist pointed out that she wasn't the one being inaugurated, but it didn't slow the Russian down. Anyone who has any doubts that Russia did it's damndest to discredit Hillary Clinton needs to listen to this.

  • @Bitter – So, what if I'm in favor of both? I've known a lot of DNN folks and so far as I can tell it's always money well spent.

  • I'm fine with removing stale Russian nukes. The Minuteman III is basically the rotary phone of nuclear weapons (i.e. it can possibly be hacked with a noise emitted at a certain frequency, just like phreaking). Given that Soviet technology was always a bit more analog than US equivalents, I can't imagine what old Russian nukes are susceptible to. One aspect to avoiding nuclear annihilation is the predictability of world leaders and the predictability of the technology that they rely on. That said, painting this tiny move towards modernization and therefore safety as some sort of ejaculation of statesmanship would be hilarious. /drunk post

  • In the immediate short term, any movement toward American-Russian detente is wonderful. The present military ops in eastern Europe are 1983 levels of scary craziness.

    Past the short term, it's a disaster. Trump's McGlasnost is predicated on fossil fuel mega-deals that are going to make the odds of a deadly global ecological collapse sky-high.

    Note that with a POTUS who's the Kremlin's wet dream come to life Putin is virtually guaranteed to secretly enlarge Russia's arsenal no matter what rosy arms treaties he's a signatory to.

  • Maj. Kong HAS nailed it, but…

    I'm sure that Trumpligula's exhortations on PATRIOTISMMMMMMM last week was meant to ensure that people would be willing to pay the same, or more, for their enersmack*, regardless the market being flooded with less costly stuff–Russki or otherwise.

    * Yes, fossil fuels are addictive!

  • @ mojrim:

    I see the price of gas going up, somewhat steadily, over the last year or so. I remember when it was about $1.50/Gal (something, something/leeter for our measuring system challenged european, asian and well nearly everywhere else readers), it's now about $2.50/Gal. I notice this more than some folks because my broke ass truck keeps me from driving except when I rent a car for the weekend @ $10/day.

    If the markets are flooded with cheap dead dinosaur drippings (more plant materials, IIRC) I don't see the prices immediately retreating, not with a majority scum congress.

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