Letter from Washington — From the December 2016 issue

The New Red Scare

Reviving the art of threat inflation

Download Pdf
Read Online
( 6 of 6 )

There would seem to be one major difference between the fine art of threat inflation as practiced during the Cold War and the current approach. In the old days, taxpayers at least got quite a lot for their money, albeit at inflated prices: the 900 ships, the 15,000 planes, and so forth. Things are different today. The so-called global war on terror, though costing more than any American conflict apart from World War II, has been a comparatively lackadaisical affair. Iraq at its height absorbed one fifth the number of troops sent to Vietnam, while Air Force sorties ran at one eighth the earlier level. Though the weapons cost more and more, we produce fewer and fewer of them. For example, the Air Force originally told us they were buying 749 F-22 fighters at a cost of $35 million each. They ended up with 187 planes at $412 million apiece. The trend persists across the services — and sometimes, as in the case of the Army’s Future Combat Systems, no weapons are produced at all.

This may be of comfort to those who worry at the prospect of war. Yet the threat inflation that keeps the wheels turning can carry us toward catastrophe. Among the token vessels deployed to reassure Eastern European NATO countries have been one or two Aegis Destroyers, sent to patrol the Baltic and Black Seas. The missiles they carry are for air defense. Yet the launchers can just as easily carry nuclear or conventional cruise missiles, without any observer being able to tell the difference.

Bruce Blair, who spent years deep underground waiting to launch nuclear missiles and now works to abolish them, foresees frightening consequences. As he told me, “Those destroyers could launch quite a few Tomahawk cruise missiles that can reach all the way to Moscow. You could lay down a pretty severe attack on Russian command-and-control from just a couple of destroyers.” This, he explained, is why the Russians have been aggressively shadowing the ships and buzzing them with fighter planes at very close quarters.

“Now the Russians are putting in a group of attack submarines in order to neutralize those destroyers,” Blair continued. “And we’re putting in a group of P-8 antisubmarine airplanes in the area in order to neutralize the submarines.” Quite apart from the destroyers, he continued, “are the B-2 and B-52 missions we fly over the Poles, which looks like we’re practicing a strategic attack. We fly them into Europe as shows of reassurance. We’re in a low-grade nuclear escalation that’s not even necessarily apparent to ourselves.” Excepting a few scattered individuals in intelligence and the State Department, he continued, “so few people are aware of what we’re getting into with the Russians.” Nobody is paying attention on the National Security Council, Blair said, and he added: “No one at Defense.”

Previous Page Next Page
6 of 6

You are currently viewing this article as a guest. If you are a subscriber, please sign in. If you aren't, please subscribe below and get access to the entire Harper's archive for only $45.99/year. Or purchase this issue on your iOS or Android devices for $6.99.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Download Pdf
Share
Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine and the author, most recently, of Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins.

More from Andrew Cockburn:

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

THE CURRENT ISSUE

April 2017

Defender of the Community

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Echt Deutsch

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Boy Without a Country

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Behind the Fig Leaf

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

You Can Run …

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Never Would I Ever

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content
Close

Please enjoy this free article from Harper’s Magazine.