Over the past six months, the world has edged closer to nuclear war than it has been since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Doomsday Clock is ticking toward midnight. The global power balance has been dramatically reshuffled, and the potential for disastrous miscalculation hasn't been so high in 80 years. The match and fuse for this is instability — an exaggerated sense of U.S. weakness and lack of capability and resolve — that could lead to huge, aggressive military miscalculations and mistakes by our enemies. The Biden administration has set the table for such a catastrophe.
The timing could not be more dangerous. China has changed strategic direction and has been building its nuclear stockpile and delivery systems. China also has continued to develop hypersonic weapons, including stand-off “carrier killers,” space weapons and cyber capabilities to blind opponents’ strategic and conventional systems. Russia has been advertising (mostly for domestic consumption, but nonetheless worrying) its “unstoppable” delivery systems, and has a very capable nuclear stockpile and military. Iran will continue to move forward with building nuclear weapons. Pakistan and India both have significant nuclear capability in an increasingly unstable part of the world. Nuclear-armed North Korea is again assuming a more belligerent posture. Israel has a full nuclear triad (land, air, subs) to respond to existential aggression. The U.K. and France have significant nuclear deterrents. The world is a powder keg.
In Hollywood terms, today’s capacity for nuclear holocaust is thousands of times greater than the era portrayed in the Armageddon films “On the Beach,” “Fail Safe,” or “Dr. Strangelove.” There would not be anything left for “Mad Max.” Climate disasters may be unfolding over the next hundred years. Nuclear disaster is unfolding now. COVID-19 has killed more Americans than the flu typically does. Nuclear war could kill us all. Our leaders must get their priorities straight.
The danger lies in the growing global perception of weakness and incompetence in the Biden administration, combined with claims of the politicized weakening of the FBI, CIA, State Department and Defense Department. This has crystallized in Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenWHO looks to revive probe into COVID-19 origins: report Defense policy bill would require 'forever chemical' testing at military sites Biden criticizes treatment of Haitians as 'embarrassment' MORE’s unsure Anchorage meeting with the Chinese, Biden’s wooden Geneva summit with Russia’s Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinErdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system EU 'denounces' Russian malicious cyber activity aimed at member states Navalny knocks Apple, Google for removing voting app MORE, the colossal failure of the Afghan withdrawal, which may devolve into a humiliating hostage crisis for America, and the budget- and inflation-based defunding of Defense. In addition, the fully politicized Intelligence and Armed Services committees on Capitol Hill add to the danger. Our enemies may decide that now is the time to move.
It would be a huge miscalculation.
Catastrophic mistakes at this scale often unfold when isolated events light powder kegs, which then inexorably explode into global conflict.
An incident in Sarajevo lit a powder keg of nationalistic, economic and ambitious personality struggles in Europe to unleash World War I. A century later, possible “Sarajevos” are numerous: China’s overly aggressive and self-confident People’s Liberation Army pushing for the use of military force against Taiwan, calculating a weak and ineffective U.S. response, leading to the sinking of a U.S. carrier and a potential march toward nuclear exchange. Major North Korean aggression against South Korea, or an off-course North Korean missile hitting a Japanese city. A successful Iranian (Hamas, Hezbollah) terrorist attack against an Israeli city. The seizure of one or more Pakistani nuclear weapons systems by a Taliban or another terrorist-linked group. Overt aggression or a “misunderstanding” between Pakistan and India. A “Crimson Tide” communications error. Proof that a devastating bioterror attack was intentional. The list of potential doomsday scenarios is endless.
The one powerful factor holding back such miscalculations has been coherent U.S. foreign policy and resolve, combined with pragmatists in Moscow and Beijing. But in the past six months, the world’s confidence in the U.S. leadership has begun to slip. An agonizing hostage crisis would make it even more dangerous. Added to that is the potential that a stubborn and wounded U.S. administration might overreact to try to show its strength. The U.S. has devastating countermeasures for all enemy strategies, and an enemy underestimating that power, combined with a White House trying to prove itself, could be disastrous.
Some will say it started with Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE. That may be true, but it’s irrelevant, and there is some evidence from China, Russia and North Korea that Trump’s loud, unpredictable behavior kept things far more in check than Joe BidenJoe BidenPelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Pressure grows to cut diplomatic red tape for Afghans left behind President Biden is making the world a more dangerous place MORE’s overt weakness and blunders.
In addition, there is no room for “disarmament,” “peace movement” or “the squad” nonsense politics. Today, “treaties” are useful but cannot prevent disaster. The return to safe global strategic balance will require America regaining the world’s respect, and our enemies’ fear. That is the only course to create the strategic balance to avert Armageddon. And it requires full bipartisan support — recent patterns of cynical opportunism have no place when facing these threats.
The only way forward is to fully recognize the growing danger and for this administration to immediately replace the inept National Security Council, State Department, Defense and perhaps intelligence teams with truly capable, first-class, experienced leaders. Most of the current team should go. Global security demands an immediate leadership, strategy, organization and process reset.
Grady Means is a writer (GradyMeans.com) and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @gradymeans1.