While the attention of the American people and their government was focused elsewhere, a new Cold War between Russia and the West has begun. In many ways it has been a replay of how the last Cold War came about. Disagreements over “spheres of influence” in Eastern Europe led to efforts by Moscow to expand its control through subversion, coups and outright military aggression. Anyone remember their history? Czechoslovakia, 1948? Ukrainian separatists aren’t just being armed and trained by the Russian military, they are being controlled from Moscow. Now Russian forces are poised to move into eastern Ukraine to prevent the government in Kiev from reasserting control over rebellious provinces. President Vladimir Putin has responded to Western economic sanctions with some of his own, intended not just to send a message but also to reduce his economy’s dependence on Western goods. Moscow also is expanding economic and military ties with China, much as Stalinist Russia did in the late 1940s and early 1950s with the Chinese Communists in order to open a second front against the West. In addition, it is now reported that Russia has for several years been violating a vital nuclear arms treaty. Can a new arms race be far behind?
The handwriting is on the wall. Russia is not backing down from its campaign to dominate Ukraine and from there much of Eastern Europe. Nor can it back down. To do so would be disastrous for President Putin’s regime domestically, particularly once tougher Western sanctions begin to hurt his country’s economy. Moreover, Russia minus Ukraine is a declining power, demographically as well as economically and militarily. If you believe, as Putin apparently does, that the West, in general, but the United States, in particular, is trying to undermine your political system, then you need all the resources, territory and leverage you can get for the struggle to come.
With a new Cold War looming, it is madness to be dependent on Russia for critical resources, contracts and technologies. Western Europe must begin now to reduce its dependence on Russian energy. NATO has to bite the bullet, so to speak, and increase defense spending as well as redeploy forces to ensure the security of its eastern frontier with Russia. France must be saved from itself by being encouraged (bribed?) to cancel the sale of a Mistral amphibious assault ship to Russia.
Today, the U.S. military is critically dependent on Russian rocket engine technology for its access to space. One of the two launch vehicles the Air Force uses to put early warning and other military satellites in orbit, the Atlas V, uses a first stage engine, the RD-180, which it must buy from a Russian company. While there is a two year supply of Russian engines in the hands of the United Launch Alliance, the company with the contract to launch Air Force payloads, after that the fate of the Atlas V will be in Moscow’s hands. In May, when the U.S. last imposed sanctions on Russia, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, a close associate of President Putin and on the list of individuals sanctioned by the United States and the European Union, announced that his country would no longer provide U.S. astronauts with rides to the International Space Station. In addition, Rogozin declared that his country would no longer sell U.S. companies the RD-180.
The Obama Administration needs to free this country’s national security from dependence on Russia while at the same time sending Moscow a message. In the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate Armed Services Committee has asked the Air Force to draw up a plan leading to the production of a U.S. liquid rocket engine by 2019. This is eminently doable. Aerojet Rocketdyne has committed to developing and producing a new, modern, high-performance first-stage rocket motor for about the same price as the RD-180. The company has already spent about $300 million to develop technologies that would flow into the AR-1. It will take about four years and $1 billion to finish development and begin production in the United States of a more advanced engine. This would end also a system which, in effect, has the Department of Defense sending money to the Russian oligarchs. Not to do so would be madness.
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