The Pentagon’s energetic generals are beating their war drums and the President has as yet done nothing to rein them in, Brian Cloughley writes.
Some senior generals and admirals in and around Washington have been very busy recently, and their activities, while aggressive, have not been associated with directing current combat operations. Rather, they have been directed at attempting to influence the Administration of newly-elected President Joe Biden to restructure military forces, expand the nuclear arsenal and magnify specific warfighting capabilities. All of this is what might be expected of those whose business and dispositions are aimed at organising destruction and death, but the manner in which their aspirations are expressed are not consistent with what is expected of military personnel in a democracy.
The U.S. Department of Defence is now headed by a Biden-appointed retired general who has not voided the directive concerning “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces” which notes that “members on active duty should not engage in partisan political activity.”
This long-standing instruction was last reiterated in 2008 but it cannot be said that generals and admirals have followed its letter or spirit, and the present echelons of senior officers appear determined to flout it by wide publication of their personal points of view concerning the military posture of their country. This, by any interpretation, is “partisan political activity.” No government should tolerate meddling by the military.
On February 2 the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, General Charles Q Brown, and the Commandant of the Marines Corps, General David H Berger, had an opinion piece published in the Washington Post in which they expressed overall support for the 2018 National Defense Strategy but complained that “it has not changed defence investment priorities at the scale or scope necessary to prepare the U.S. military for great power competition.” In other words, they consider their enormous armed forces, on which some 740 billion dollars are to be spent this year, are not ready for war in spite of that allocation of taxpayers’ money being 11 times that of Russia and three times that of China.
Not to be outdone in public pronouncements, the following day the commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe and Africa, General Christopher Cavoli gave a speech in which he said that “the U.S. military needs more long-range artillery and other advanced weaponry in Europe to be able to take on enemy forces . . .”, and it is reasonable to ask if this sort of policy indicator is approved by the new President.
Then the head of Strategic Command, the element responsible, among other things, for “strategic deterrence; nuclear operations and space operations”, Admiral Charles Richard, published his personal take on the future use of nuclear weapons. In the February edition of the Naval Institute’s magazine Admiral Richard wrote that Russia and China “have begun to aggressively challenge international norms and global peace using instruments of power and threats of force in ways not seen since the height of the Cold War.” This person accountable for employment of nuclear weapons holds that “There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state…”
It could hardly have been a coincidence that in early February the Pentagon ordered two U.S. carrier strike groups, led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Nimitz, to conduct manoeuvres in the South China Sea.
Navy Times reported that “the Roosevelt’s carrier strike group includes Carrier Air Wing 11, guided-missile cruiser Bunker Hill, Destroyer Squadron 23 [six ships], and guided-missile destroyers Russell and John Finn. The Nimitz’s carrier strike group includes Carrier Air Wing 17, guided-missile cruiser Princeton, guided-missile destroyer Sterett, and staff from Destroyer Squadron 9 and Carrier Strike Group 11.”
The mission of this enormous force (which has a total of 120 attack aircraft), according to Admiral James Kirk, commanding the Nimitz Strike Group, was to ensure “the lawful use of the sea that all nations enjoy under international law,” and he was echoed by his colleague, Admiral Douglas Verissimo of the Roosevelt Strike Group, saying “we are committed to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.” Obviously neither of them is aware that the United States refuses to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which is considered “the ‘constitution of the oceans’ and represents the result of an unprecedented, and so far never replicated, effort at codification and progressive development of international law.” But this does not prevent Strike Group admirals holding forth about their missions of provocation in the South China Sea that appear intended to push China to react.
In this context it is disturbing that the head of U.S. Strategic Command declared “There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state…”
U.S. forces are threatening China in the South China Sea and confronting Russia all round its borders — and most recently in the Black Sea where the U.S. Navy deployed two guided missile destroyers in January. According to U.S. European Command, these ships are from the Sixth Fleet which is based in the Mediterranean “in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.” These same interests are being furthered by the Pentagon’s “China Task Force” whose establishment President Biden announced on 10 February. The mission of this war-planning body is to conduct a review of U.S. “strategy and operational concepts, technology, and force posture” in line with Biden’s declaration that “That’s how we’ll meet the China challenge and ensure the American people win the competition of the future.”
So Uncle Joe has apparently joined the generals in their never-ending pursuit of global military ascendancy. Further, it seems he has accepted the new “Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent” or GBSD, which the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists described on 8 February as “a new weapon of mass destruction, a nuclear missile the length of a bowling lane. It will be able to travel some 6,000 miles, carrying a warhead more than 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It will be able to kill hundreds of thousands of people in a single shot. The U.S. Air Force plans to order more than 600 of them.”
This imminent leap towards global catastrophe is consistent with the declaration of Strategic Command’s Admiral Richard that “the U.S. military must shift its principal assumption from ‘nuclear employment is not possible’ to ‘nuclear employment is a very real possibility,’ and act to meet and deter that reality.”
The country’s senior military officers are preparing citizens for a terminal nuclear holocaust — for there can be no such thing as a limited nuclear war — and Uncle Joe Biden is permitting them to convey their personal policies directly to the people. This is endorsement of “partisan political activity”, because there are many millions of Americans who, for example, disagree with the GBSD programme and, indeed, a very large number who support their elimination of all nuclear weapons.
The Pentagon’s energetic generals are beating their war drums and the President has as yet done nothing to rein them in. Will he take action to stop this relentless drive towards nuclear war?