Months of disquieting and needless escalation between the United States and Russia over Syria and the Asia-Pacific theater quickened feverishly to near outright hostility over the past 48 hours, and — considering semantics from both ends suggestive of antebellum blame-casting — it’s past time to pay attention.
Indeed, though a few analysts still dismissively liken the tensions to so much blustery rhetoric, a growing number contend obstinate U.S. posturing about Russian aggression hasn’t been taken so lightly by President Vladimir Putin and his rapidly amassing allies.
Additionally, it now seems the U.S. has backed its incessant finger-pointing with the subtle language necessary to undertake what could best, if ironically, be termed a ‘defensive first strike.’
While full-scale nuclear war might indeed be an outside possibility at this early date, the specter of full military engagement is quickly materializing on several fronts. To understand how we arrived so near this precipice, a series of events and statements over the previous month should be considered contextually with those of the last two days.
After officially accusing the Russian government on Friday of attempting to influence the presidential election by hacking into and leaking documents from the Democratic National Committee servers — which, despite fast efforts to save face, undoubtedly tarnished the reputations of party members and nominee Hillary Clinton — President Obama offered an alarming statement Tuesday giving that accusation sharp teeth.
“There are a range of responses that are available to the president and he will consider a response that is proportional,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest, quoted by Reuters, told media aboard Air Force One. “It is certainly possible that the president can choose response options that we never announce.”
Speculation on an unnamed option largely centered around some form of cyber response, given the original accusation of hacking — however, it must be noted, two years ago the Obama administration deemed hacking an act of cyberterrorism and an utmost security priority — ‘terrorism’ being of critical relevance given the ongoing war against it.
Notably, U.S. officials have previously asserted cyber attacks, in some cases, could elicit a military response.
Without unassailable proof the Russian government hacked the DNC, any putative ‘response’ by the U.S. — proportional or not, cyber-oriented or not — would inherently be an aggressive first strike. Given the dispute over definitive evidence tracing the hack to Russia, any follow-through could conceivably be considered an act of war and/or terrorism.
As such, an actual response of any nature has been posited unlikely — however, in consideration of last week’s belligerent remarks by U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, downplaying the potential for a response could be foolhardy.
“The strategic resolve of our nation, the United States, is being challenged and our alliances tested in ways that we haven’t faced in many, many decades,” Milley told attendees of an annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army.
“I want to be clear to those who wish to do us harm … the United States military — despite all of our challenges, despite our [operational] tempo, despite everything we have been doing — we will stop you and we will beat you harder than you have ever been beaten before. Make no mistake about that.”
Milley went on to note Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran have “revised their own doctrines” and “are rapidly modernizing their military today to avoid our strengths in hopes of defeating us at some point in the future.”
Quoting an unnamed senior Russian official, Milley advised “Russia can now fight a conventional war in Europe and win.”