Who threatens us – the nuclear-armed states? I return to this question because an external threat is the politician’s fallback position, justifying possession and possible use of atomic bombs.

There is a clear and present danger that a nuclear weapon could be launched by accident, by any state which possesses such weapons and has the means to hurl them into the air. But which of the nuclear powers is threatened by a potential foreign invader – England? France? The United States? The US is the largest military power in the world. Its two neighbors, Canada and Mexico, cannot threaten the USA. No “rival” power masses troops or military equipment on America’s borders. Britain and France, for all their disastrous colonial adventures, remain at peace. Perfidious Albion has made enemies in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, in Ireland, and many other places. But none of these countries is in a position to invade or militarily threaten London.

Okay, the politician might reply, but if we had no nuclear weapons, nuclear powers could dominate us. Yet other powers already dominate us. Multinational corporations are richer and more influential than most nations. Germany determines the economic policy of the EU and the Eurozone. The Americans tell the rest of us what to do. Big nations dominate smaller ones.

Step forward, then, the squirrely politician’s last respite: Russia. Russia is a threat! For many years Americans were encouraged to fear the Soviet Union, which followed the malicious creed of Communism. The Cold War dragged on for decades. Many people in the US and Western Europe made careers out of it – in “intelligence”, in academia, in journalism. It was a War with comparatively few casualties as each side formed a “defensive” alliance against the other, conducted witch-hunts, and stockpiled tens of thousands of nuclear bombs.

In 1990, the Cold War ended with victory for the Americans and their allies in NATO: the Soviet Union fragmented into various countries, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, and the Russians renounced communism. Americans assisted in securing the Russian nuclear weapons stock. Progress was made at reducing the enormous inventory. In the early twentieth century disarmament by the nuclear superpowers slowed, halted, and then reversed.

What does the United States have to fear from Russia? That Russia is its “rival” as a major power? CIA claims that Russian agents “hacked” the election? That its leader is a cold-looking character like out of a James Bond film? That people will prefer Russian cars and cilvil aircraft rather than American ones? That the Russians don’t automatically do what we say?

None of these fears is worth anything. Certainly not worth going to war over. The only fear that has any validity is that Russia has giant arsenal of nuclear bombs, many on high alert, waiting to be unleashed on us at any moment. That is something worth worrying about.

No doubt the Russians are equally fearful of the Americans’ and Europeans’ giant inventory of nuclear bombs. That would make sense. But do they, I wonder, have any other reason to be fearful, or to distrust the Americans?

Historically, they do — from the continuation of the First World War, which the Western powers dragged on for two more years in an effort to beat the Bolsheviks; through the creation of NATO – an American-led, anti-Soviet alliance which has now grown to Russia’s borders; via the nuclear arms race; the disastrous Yeltsin years; radar inferiority which leaves the Russian Pacific open to an American First Strike; to the US trillion-dollar nuclear upgrade, and the Pentagon’s development of insanely unnecessary and destabilizing weapons like the CPGS – “Conventional Prompt Global Strike” missile — the Russians have a number of reasons to fear the United States, and to distrust its intentions.

Right now, after the latest round of NATO expansion, in Estonia there are 800 English, Danish and French NATO troops and four German Typhoon military jets. In Latvia is a NATO battalion of 1,200 troops from Canada, Albania, Italy, Poland, Spain and Slovenia. In Lithuania is a German-led NATO battalion of 1,200 troops from Belgium, Croatia, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Norway, supported by four Dutch F-16 fighter jets. In Poland, there is a NATO battalion of 4,000 US troops, with heavy armor including 25 tanks, and Bradley fighting vehicles. 300 US marines are on rotation in Norway. As of this summer, four RAF Typhoon jets will be based in Romania to support NATO.

NewSTART is a diplomatic measure to somewhat reduce the US and Russian operational nuclear inventory. Instead of about 2,000 weapons, each side would have only 1,550 ready-to-go nukes. This is what the two Presidents discussed last week on the telephone. It is something, and almost nothing at the same time. Even if NewSTART is implemented, the numbers of nukes remain obscenely excessive, a genuine existential threat to both “sides”.

After his conversation about NewSTART with Mr. Putin, President Trump held a press conference and remarked,

By the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia.
Just so you understand that. Tomorrow, you will say, “Donald Trump
wants to get along with Russia; this is terrible.” It is not terrible.

Nuclear holocaust would be like no other. They’re a very powerful
nuclear country, and so are we.

If Russia and the United States actually got together and got along —
and don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they.
There’s no upside. We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so
are they. I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a
briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read
the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other.

They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a
good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing,
not a bad thing.

The President’s words were reported by Vox, under the headline “9 things it’s hard to believe the president of the United States just said.” (Jeff Stein, Feb 16, 2017)

The reporter is not a fan of President Trump, and presumably disapproves of these sentiments. It is, indeed, unusual for an American politician to discard the pious bombast and tell the press that Russia deserves respect and that a nuclear war between the US and Russia would be an inconceivable “holocaust”.

This portion of the President’s press conference was not widely reported.