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The United States has tremendous military power. But this power has
been compromised in recent years. In 1985, under President Reagan, the
United States Army had 27 divisions. Today, we have 10 divisions. In
1985, we had 37 Air Force wings. Today, we are down to 13 wings. In
1985, we had 546 ships in the United States Navy. Today, we have 339.
How does America’s current strength match up with Russia’s?
Despite its supposed dilapidation, Russia itself has large ground,
air, and naval forces. Since the crisis in the Balkans erupted on March
24, Russian troop strength has increased significantly. Over 169,000
Russians were recruited in a special call-up in April. In the last
twelve weeks close to 100,000 Russians have volunteered for military
service. Add this to the normal Russian draft, which inducts half a
million annually. We also know that Russia called up marine and naval
reservists, who engaged in huge naval amphibious exercises in the
Pacific and Black Seas. If this were not enough
for a dramatic reappraisal of Russia’s existing strength, it should be
noted that Moscow often extends enlistments, retaining large numbers of
soldiers who would otherwise be demobilized. As everyone knows, the
crisis in Kosovo was the perfect pretext for such extensions.
What is most fascinating, in this context, is something Col.
Stanislav Lunev told me last August. Lunev is the highest-ranking
defector from the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General
Staff. Lunev told me that Russia retains the same number of generals as
during the Cold War, even though the troop numbers are smaller. Lunev
stated that it only takes eight weeks to make a soldier, but two years
to make a division commander. Even more time was required to train corps
commanders, army commanders, and military district commanders.
Why did Russia retain so many generals? Lunev thought the Russian
generals were being kept so that Russia could put its Soviet-era armed
forces back together in a matter of weeks, while the United States would
take years to rebuild its divisions, air wings, and fleets. Thinking
back on Lunev’s statements of last August, and now looking at the huge
Russian recruitments of 1999, Lunev’s concerns have been justified.
Russia may be on the way to reestablishing its once formidable
conventional military strength.
Given the fact that U.S. intelligence underestimated the size of Serb
forces in Kosovo, and U.S. forces mistook hundreds of dummy tanks for
real tanks, Russian strength is not going to be easy to estimate. In
fact, Serb forces escaped destruction during the recent NATO air
campaign by using
Russian concealment techniques.
But more significant than the increased or hidden Russian
conventional strength is the unprecedented strength of the Chinese
People’s Liberation Army, which gives every indication of being allied
to the Russian military.
The Chinese armed forces have approximately 4.5 million men. This is
the world’s largest military establishment. In recent days the Chinese
held remarkable war exercises in Tibet, involving large numbers of
paratroops and motorized hang glider units. These troops are said to
qualities. They can cross impassable mountain terrain, making attacks
far behind enemy lines. They can strike at isolated mountain bases, or
bypass strong points.
In addition to the Chinese conventional threat, there is the North
Korean army. Approximately one million strong, the North Korean People’s
Army is currently poised to attack American and South Korean units. Add
to this the armies of other rogue states and it quickly becomes evident
America’s 10 divisions and 13 air wings are overextended.
Conventional forces, however, are only one measure of the balance of
power. Weapons of mass destruction are another measure. According to
official sources, the United States and the Russian Federation each have
approximately 7,000 strategic nuclear weapons. But this estimate of
nuclear strength assumes that American spy satellites can keep an
Giving U.S. intelligence the benefit of the doubt, strategic nuclear
weapons may be too large to hide. But tactical nuclear weapons are
another matter altogether. According to intelligence sources, the United
States cannot track Russian tactical nuclear weapons. Various means
exist for masking the distinctive radioactive signature of these
weapons. For example, tactical nuclear weapons can be stored near
nuclear waste disposal areas, nuclear power plants, or near stockpiles
of plutonium or uranium. This masks them from detection. There are
other, more sophisticated techniques for
concealing such weapons.
In this context, I had the opportunity to talk to an American
strategic missile expert. He told me that the Russians had developed the
ability to pack large numbers of tactical nuclear warheads onto
intercontinental ballistic missiles. Sixty tactical warheads might be
packed into one missile. Using special technology, these warheads would
break apart shortly before reaching an urban target area and explode at
set distances from one another, blanketing a sizable area with small
nuclear explosions. This, he explained, was more destructive than an
attack with several large nuclear weapons. Sixty tactical nukes, he
said, were more effective than 10 larger bombs. They could deliver
greater destruction to a wider area at less cost.
Since the Russians do not allow arms control inspectors to visit key
sites inside Russia (like Yamantau Mountain, a deep underground military
facility the size of metropolitan Washington), there is reason to
believe they have something to hide. Russian treaty violations are
the Russians simply state that they are unable to comply with treaties
they have signed.
The greatest Russian treaty-breaking has been in the area of chemical
and biological weapons. According to Yevgenia Albats, the courageous
Russian journalist, Russia diverted Western aid to build a chemical
weapons plant. This plant was a clear violation of a chemical warfare
agreement made with the United States. It was also discovered, in 1996,
that Russia was developing a new binary chemical weapon. “Binary” means
that the weapon consists of two elements which are harmless until
brought together in a warhead. Stored in separate locations, these
“harmless” materials can be passed off as industrial chemicals or
fertilizers. This is the ideal type of weapon for concealment.
Between 1988 and 1992, Dr. Ken Alibek was first deputy chief of
Biopreparat, the Russian state pharmaceutical agency responsible for
developing and manufacturing Russia’s biological weapons. Biopreparat is
described by Alibek as a “clandestine empire of research, testing, and
manufacturing … spread out over more than 40 sites in Russia and
In 1992, after Yeltsin came to power in Russia, Alibek defected. He
told the U.S. that Russia had been stockpiling hundreds of tons of
anthrax, dozens of tons of plague and smallpox. The ultimate target of
these illicit arms?
The United States of America.
“If I had stayed in Russia,” wrote Alibek last week, “I would have
been a major general by now and you would never have heard my name.”
Biopreparat was created about the same time Moscow signed the
Biological Weapons Convention of 1972. The Russians agreed to stop
making biological weapons. But, as Alibek’s testimony shows, Russia was
determined to develop a devastating biological warfare capability.
The Czechoslovak Communist defector Jan Sejna, who was familiar with
Soviet bloc strategy, said that Kremlin leaders always emphasized that
as the arms control process developed nuclear weapons would be reduced.
In that event Russia would rely on secret stockpiles of biological
material as a
substitute for nuclear weapons.
Reading Alibek’s work, I believe he is mistaken when he assumes that
Russia’s biological warfare program was abandoned at the time of his
defection in 1992. As it turns out, the Russians merely moved shop,
created a new cover, and kept making newer and better biological
Two years after Alibek defected to the West, The Sunday Times of
London reported that Russia had developed a new germ-warfare agent. The
article said that 440 pounds of this material could kill half a million
people, and the West had no antidote for it.
Although Alibek thought the Russians had terminated their secret
biological warfare project, The Sunday Times stated that Russia
maintained such a project in total secrecy. This secret was compromised
when two Russians associated with the project defected to England.
Russia’s deceptiveness — especially during Yeltsin’s presidency —
is well documented. Russia is way ahead of America in lethal biological
and chemical weapons.
In terms of the overall balance of power, Russia purposefully depicts
itself as weak and helpless. But the reality is very different.
America’s military superiority ought to be questioned. We are without
lethal biological weapons. We have closed down our chemical weapons
plants. Our nuclear stockpiles are seriously diminished, and we no
longer manufacture the tritium that our nuclear weapons need to maintain
their full explosive potential.
I fear that the balance of power is no longer in balance.