Within the past week, not only has the Russian government released the “dad of all bombs” in a long and overdue response to our American “mother of all bombs,” but the Russians seem to be joining in the election fervor as well, with President Putin dissolving his cabinet and appointing a new prime minister, Viktor Zubkov. A close ally of Putin, Zubkov was chosen despite numerous predictions that the nomination would fall to Sergei Ivanov, former defense minister, current first deputy Prime minister, and seemingly the 2008 presidential election frontrunner. This appointment of a lesser known figure as prime minister is being seen as crucial to Putin’s political game-leaving opponents guessing and keeping his power from stagnating, which could happen if he were to appoint a true candidate for succession too early. As if there was any fear of Putin letting go of his executive control before the end of his term, he quickly dismissed this notion by referencing the Russian past time of hockey and stating that he intends to play as “real professionals” play-right until the buzzer.
If the Russians can play hockey, then we can play chicken. Last week, a U.S. Air Force bomber flew over several states in our country, apparently not knowing that they were carrying six cruise missiles with nuclear warheads attached. The fallout from this mistake was enormous-the base commander from where the flight originated from was fired, Democratic members of Congress spouted off about the lack of military safety, and a general panic spread across America at the notion that we may not have any idea where all of our thousands of nuclear weapons are at any given moment. Despite these concerns, the media frenzy over this story can only be good for U.S. national security.
Russia may be testing new weapons and resuming strategic bomber flights over NATO and American airspace, but then again it is not them that we should be worried about. The problems are smaller states that threaten stability for both the U.S. and Russia: Iran and their deteriorating relationship with the IAEA, Pakistan and General Musharraf’s weakening grip on power after re-deporting a political rival, and the recent Israel-Syria spat over airspace violations. Centered in the Middle East, these problems are destabilizing for everyone-especially the U.S. and Russia. The reshuffling of Putin’s government shows that he has complete control over his country’s political future, and his recent visit to the UAE illustrates a growing desire to reach out to a broader range of Middle Eastern countries. For U.S. policymakers, our troops are staying in Iraq for the time being, and there is even the proposal for a future military base near Iraq’s border with Iran. Nothing is unrelated.
We are not playing chicken with the Russians, and they are not playing hockey against us. What is occurring is a combined sense of international control that will ensure localized conflicts do not spread to the rest of the world. We may not be dense-packing nuclear weapons in search of a new Cold War, but those in Iran and other countries may now think twice about their actions, knowing now that any cruise missile that could come their way may pack a little extra punch, accidentally. And this Russian bomb invention? It is designed, much like our MOAB, to destroy heavily protected installations-much like those that Iran has for its uranium enrichment program.
This is not a new arms race, and this is not a signal that international communication or peaceful problem solving has broken down. These are signs that the U.S. and Russia are trying to solidify their international respect by rattling sabers and flashing guns. Only under this regime of enforced stability can successful dialogue be made successful in any situation, and neither the U.S. nor Russia are in any way going to let this chance for persuasion slip through their fingers.