Okinawa, Crimea and Vladimir Putin’s Warning of an Irreversible Direction in Strategic Weapons Development

Okinawa, Crimea and Vladimir Putin’s Warning of an Irreversible Direction in Strategic Weapons Development

These days it takes an independent journalist to pull off the scoops that should be getting national attention. Last month Robbie Martin stumbled upon some Washington insider information that revealed rare insight into the enigma that is Barack Obama’s foreign policy, as well as some clues about what to expect from Hillary Clinton as president.

His subject was Robert Kagan and other neoconservative “thought leaders” who have heavily influenced US foreign policy in the 21st century. After the Republican Party held two disastrous presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, these neoconservatives woke up to the fact that the Democratic Party could be moved to embrace many of the same hawkish policies adopted by the Bush presidency. They now find that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be most amenable. Now that the Republican Party has imploded, and Hillary Clinton is the anointed one to be president, they are anxiously waiting for her to carry on with their plans for the new American century.

Robbie Martin wrote on his website Mediaroots:

While left leaning voters in the United States are having a conniption fit over the possibility of a Trump presidency, Hillary Clinton has been quietly building a bridge to a sect of Cold War nostalgic neoconservative policymakers in Washington, D.C., getting regular advice from the likes of Project for The New American Century (PNAC) co-founder Robert Kagan, and Center for New American Security (CNAS) member and former Cheney staff member Eric Edelman. This neocon collaboration was mostly done under the radar until recently, when Foreign Policy Magazine announced that “young foreign policy professionals” in collaboration with The Center for New American Security would be hosting an official fundraiser for Hillary.

Robbie Martin joined the fundraiser and let Robert Kagan assume that since he paid the exorbitant fee to join the exclusive event, he must be an avid supporter of everything the CNAS stands for. The short interview he was able to conduct with Mr. Kagan revealed something about Obama’s policy that has until now remained unsaid:

Robbie Martin: I wanted to know what your feeling was on Hillary’s approach to Ukraine, is she going to send the weapons to the Ukrainian army?
Robert Kagan: I mean, I’m sure, I mean the answer to that question is I don’t know. I know she cares a lot about Ukraine and certainly cares more about it than the current president does.
Robbie Martin: With arms, why do you think the president has sort of dragged his feet?
Robert Kagan: Uh, because he said to me because he doesn’t want to get into a nuclear war with Russia.
Robbie Martin: That’s literally what he said?
Robert Kagan: Yeah, I don’t think…he’s not…he’s through with his agenda with Putin, I don’t think he cares about Putin anymore at all, I think he’s hopeless–uh, he thinks Putin is hopeless, but he says, he thinks Ukraine is part of Russian sphere of influence, and it means more to them than it means to us and therefore we shouldn’t escalate in a situation like that, that’s why he doesn’t want to send arms.
Robbie Martin: He actually said he doesn’t want a nuclear war over Ukraine?
Robert Kagan: He did, ‘I don’t want to have a nuclear war over Ukraine’–my response is well who do you want to have a nuclear war over? Do you want to have a nuclear war over Estonia? I’ll go down the list, Germany? If that’s your going in position, then okay, fine. Whatever nuclear countries don’t want, we won’t do. (See the rest of this article at Mediaroots)[1]

That last statement is telling because it assumes as a matter of course that the US does whatever it wants to countries that aren’t nuclear. With a "nuclear country" they have to stop and think for a while about how to correct that country's behavior.

The insights in this short conversation about Obama’s policies should be of great interest to the American public, and it’s a wonder that the president hasn’t explained them himself. It does indeed seem that US plans for Libya, Syria and Ukraine were never followed through to the logical end that Washington seemed to want. None of these regime change operations worked out as planned, and the latter two faltered when met with Russian resistance. President Obama has already stated that Libya was a mistake, but he has said very little about his personal doctrine and aims for Syria and Ukraine, or his acceptance of Russia’s need for a sphere of influence. He seemed to be following the wishes of government institutions during the initial campaigns, but then intervening when it was necessary to avoid confrontation with Russia. For this perhaps the world has to be grateful, but then we have to wonder A) why he chose to go along with these disastrous interventions at all, and B) why he didn’t clearly articulate this policy of wanting a détente with Russia. It says a lot about where power lies in the United States when the president has to execute his foreign policy on the down-low like a passive aggressive partner in a bad marriage. And of course, the situation raises troubling questions about what lies ahead after Obama has left office.

When the neocons try to claim that Russia will eventually take over the Baltics, or Germany, they are conjuring up a scenario that is based on no evidence and is beyond belief. They might as well say Iran or China is going to invade Germany. The real danger to the world was spelled out by Vladimir Putin himself in a speech to journalists in June 2016. He explained in very grave terms that since the Bush administration abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, then proceeded to develop a new anti-missile offense system, the world has come to a point where it is being pulled in an irreversible direction while they [the United States] pretend that nothing is going on.” Russia believes that the best guarantee of peace is for the two nuclear powers to be strategically balanced so that one side will never see an advantage in a first strike. Putin stated that Russia has now recovered from the devastation of its military-industrial complex and has restored strategic parity, but he warns that still the Americans push on with plans to gain advantage.

Putin stated that he didn’t expect these journalists, or the companies they work for, to report accurately what he said, and now over a month has passed and it seems no major media company in the West has covered this speech even briefly. Unfortunately, the task falls to alternative media, social networks and bloggers. The captioned video of the speech (translated into English and possibly other languages by now) has circulated widely, and here below is a transcript of the speech. It makes for an interesting contrast with the words spoken by Robert Kagan.


Vladimir Putin speaking to journalists of the world’s leading news agencies on the sidelines of the 20th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF 2016) June 17, 2016.

Listen to me. We are all adults at this table, and experienced professionals at that, but I am not even going to hope that you are going to relay everything, exactly how I said it, in your publications. Neither will you attempt to influence your media outlets. I just want to tell you this on a personal level. I must remind you, though you already know this, that major global conflicts have been avoided in the past few decades due to the geostrategic balance of power, which used to exist. The two super-nuclear powers essentially agreed to stop producing both offensive weaponry as well as defensive weaponry. It’s simple how it works—where one side becomes dominant in their military potential, they are more likely to want to be the first to be able to use such power. This is the absolute linchpin to international security: in the anti-missile defense system that was previously prohibited in international law, and all of the surrounding agreements that used to exist. It’s not in my nature to scold someone—but when [in 2002] the United States unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 ABM Treaty, they delivered a colossal blow to the entire system of international security.

That was the first blow, when it comes to assessing the strategic balance of power in the world. At that time [2002] I said that we will not be developing such systems either because A) it is very expensive, and we aren’t going to burn our money and B) we aren’t yet sure how they will work [for the Americans]. We were going to take a different option, and develop offensive weaponry in order to retain said geostrategic balance. That was all. Not to threaten someone else. They said, “Fine. Our defense system is not against you, and we assume that your weaponry is not against us. Do what you like.” As I already mentioned, this conversation took place in the early 2000s. Russia was in a very difficult state at that time: economic collapse, civil war, and the fight against terrorism in our Caucasus region, complete destruction of our military-industrial complex. They wouldn’t have been able to imagine that Russia could ever again be a military power. My guess is that they assumed that even that which was left over from the Soviet Union would eventually deteriorate. So they said, “Sure, do what you like.”

But we told them about the reactionary measures we were going to take, and that is what we did. And I assure you that today we have had every success in that area. I’m not going to list everything. All that matters is we have modernized our military-industrial complex, and we continue to prepare for new-generation warfare. I’m not even going to mention systems against the missile-defense system.

No matter what we said to our American partners [to curb the production of weaponry] they refused to cooperate with us. They rejected our offers and continued to do their own thing. Some things I cannot tell you right now publicly. I think that would be rude of me. And whether or not you believe me, we offered real solutions to stop this [arms race]. They rejected everything we had to offer.

So here we are today, and they’ve placed their missile defense system in Romania, always saying, “We must protect ourselves from the Iranian nuclear threat.” Where’s the threat? There is no Iranian nuclear threat. You even have an agreement with them, and the US was the instigator of this agreement, where we helped. But if not for the US then this agreement would not exist, which I consider Obama’s achievement. I agree with the agreement because it eased tensions in the area. So President Obama can put this in his list of achievements. But missile defense systems are continuing to be positioned. That means we were right when we said that they are lying to us. 

So the “Iranian threat” does not exist, but the NATO Missile Defense System is being positioned in Europe. That means we were right when we said that their reasons are not genuine in reference to the “Iranian nuclear threat.” Once again they lied to us. Now the system is functioning and being loaded with missiles. As you journalists should know, these missiles are put into capsules which are used in the sea-based mid-range Tomahawk rocket launchers. So these are being loaded with “anti-missile missiles” that can penetrate territories within a 500-km range. But we know that technologies advance, and we even know in which year the US will accomplish the next missile. This missile will be able to penetrate distances up to 1,000 km and even farther. And from that moment on, they will start to directly threaten Russia’s nuclear potential. We know year by year what’s going to happen, and they know that we know. It’s only you journalists that they tell tall tales to, and you buy them and spread them to the citizens of your countries. Your people in turn do not feel a sense of the impending danger. This is what worries me. How can you not understand that the world is being pulled in an irreversible direction while they pretend that nothing is going on? I don’t know how to get through to you anymore.”

And they justify this as a “defense” system, not weaponry that is used for the purposes of offense, but as systems that “prevent aggression.” A missile defense system is one element of the whole system of offensive military potential. It works as part of a whole that includes offensive missile launchers. One complex blocks, the other launches a high-precision weapon, the third blocks a potential nuclear strike, and the fourth sends out its own nuclear weapon in response. This is all designed to be part of one system. This is how it works in current, non-nuclear, but high-precision missile defense systems.

Well, OK, let’s put aside the actual missile “defense” issue, but those capsules into which “anti-missile missiles” are inserted, as I’ve mentioned, are sea-based, on warships which carry the Tomahawk subsonic cruise missile system. One could deploy it to position in a matter of hours, and then what kind of “anti-missile” system is that? How do we know what kind of missile is in there? All you have to do is change the program (from non-nuclear to nuclear). That’s all it would take. This would happen very quickly, and even the Romanian government itself wouldn’t know what’s going on. Do you think they let the Romanians call any of the shots? Nobody is going to know what is being done—not the Romanians, and the Polish won’t either. Do you think I am not familiar with their strategies?

From what I can see, we are in grave danger. We had a conversation once with our American partners where they said they’d like to develop ballistic missiles without a nuclear warhead. And we asked, “Do you actually understand what that might entail?” So you’re going to have missiles launching from submarines, or ground territories—this is a ballistic missile. How would we know whether or not it has a nuclear warhead? Can you even imagine what kind of scenario you can create? But as far as I am aware, they did not go through with developing these weapons. They have paused for now. But the other one they continue to implement. I don’t know how this is all going to end. What I do know is that we will need to defend ourselves. And even I know they will package this as “Russian aggression” again. But this is simply our response to your actions. Is it not obvious that I must guarantee the safety of our people?

And not only that but we must attempt to retain the necessary strategic balance of power, which is the point that I began with. Let me return to it in order to finish my response. It was precisely this balance of power that guaranteed the safety of humanity from major conflict over the past seventy years. It was a blessing rooted in “mutual threat” but this mutual threat is what guaranteed mutual peace on a global scale. How they could so easily tear it down, I simply don’t know. I think this is gravely dangerous. I not only think that. I am assured of it. [2]


In another public exchange that Vladimir Putin had a few months earlier, the last American ambassador to the USSR, Jack Matlock, told him he had been personally in favor of keeping the ABM Treaty, but he also added nonchalantly that Russians should not worry. None of this military hardware is directed at Russia. This is just how America creates jobs. Putin responded by asking, "Why would you create jobs in a sphere that has the potential to put the entire human race in danger?" [3]

Protests against military bases on Okinawa, Spring 2016
I know that many readers would pause after taking all this in and ask, “But what about that ‘Russian aggression’ in Ukraine and Crimea?” This question has been covered thoroughly, and the reasons Russia found it necessary to intervene can be found easily enough on Russia Today and other sources that have examined the issue seriously. Russia looks at its military bases in Crimea as America regards its own in Okinawa and other strategic locations outside of US territory. When Crimea was part of Ukraine, the Russian forces were there under treaty agreements, but when the pro-American, American-backed coup occurred in Kiev, Russia saw clear indications that Russian minorities and the status of the military bases were being threatened by the new regimea regime that had been installed with the assistance of foreign intervention that went against international law. Ultimately, who is responsible for this general state of international lawlessness?

Instead of rehashing the argument about whether Russia's actions conform with international law, I’ll finish with a compare and contrast that illustrates how the US reacts, with utter disregard for international law, when a place within its own sphere of influence is threatened. The co-author of the HBO documentary and book The Untold History of the United States, Peter Kuznick, recently discussed the strong local opposition to American military bases on Okinawa:

When Hatoyama got elected in 2009: a great victory for the Japanese people. The Japan Democratic Party finally overthrew the rule of the LDP, the conservatives, the right wingers, and one of the things that Hatoyama pledged to do during that campaign was stop the base relocation in Okinawa, from Futenma, where the big base is now, to Henoko in northern Okinawa, this pristine beautiful area where they want to relocate the military base, and at least 80% or so of the Japanese people have come out against this repeatedly, and so Hatoyama tried to block the base relocation. Obama basically smashed him. Obama, you would think that Hatoyama, a progressive ally–Obama would embrace him. Just the opposite. Obama cut his feet out from under him, forced Hatoyama to back down on his effort to block the base relocation and basically eroded the popularity and the legitimacy of the Hatoyama government. The Hatoyama regime collapsed, replaced by Kan. They had three JDP prime ministers. They couldn’t function. They couldn’t rule after that, and the JDP was replaced by Abe and the LDP, and we’ve seen this nightmare of militarization going on… When I met with Al Magleby, who was the US Consul General, the highest American official in Okinawa, Al said no other piece of real estate is so strategically important as Okinawa, and he said it was crucial to America’s vision and the Asia pivot and American Empire, American forces throughout the Pacific. So he said we’re going to fight. We’re going to hold this. The Japanese government is supporting the US base relocation. Okinawa reverted officially from American control to Japanese control in 1972, but it has never been able to exercise its democratic rights.

To contrast the case of Okinawa with what happened in Ukraine and Crimea in 2014, one just has to imagine how America would have reacted if the Hatoyama administration had come to power not in a legitimate election but in a coup that arose out of street demonstrations financed and encouraged by Russian diplomats and “NGOs” that were there ostensibly to "promote democracy." Imagine Russian diplomats in Tokyo coming out to encourage protesters, or the Russian president counseling the Japanese government to show restraint while people were being killed in the streets. Under threat of having its military bases entirely ejected from Japanese territory, how would America rationalize its sudden need to seize Okinawa? Like Crimea is for Russia, Okinawa is considered an indispensable strategic military asset, but unlike Crimea is for Russia, Okinawa has no majority ethnic American population that would vote to join America in a referendum, no cultural heritage or linguistic heritage connected to America, and it is 10,000 kilometers away from the nearest American city (which, by the way, is not Honolulu, but that’s a topic for another day.)


[1] Robbie Martin, “Neocons for Hillary: Obama ‘Doesn’t Want Nuclear War,’” Mediaroots.org, July 24, 2016.

[2] Putin’s Warning: Full Speech. Vladimir Putin speaking to journalists of the world’s leading news agencies on the sidelines of the 20th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF 2016), June 17, 2016.

[3] America Relies on War for Jobs? Valdai Discussion Club, October 19-22, 2015. The ambassador is identified speculatively here from his photo on the Wikipedia list of American ambassadors to Russia and the USSR. He was not identified in the video clip.

[4] Abby Martin (interviewer, creator), “Imperial Japan, the Bomb & the Pacific Powder Keg,” The Empire Files, Episode 30, June 27, 2016.

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