Absent context (1) struggle for Eurasia
Absent from WMM coverage overall was a mature appreciation that the Ukraine conflict implicated hostility between the two largest nuclear powers. The MIT missile expert, Theodore Postol, detected a sophisticated effort to ready US nuclear forces for direct confrontation with Russia. Postol (cited by Deutsch 2015) judged that technical disparities increased the danger of nuclear war. The Russians lacked a working, space-based, early warning system that could detect incoming missiles below the earth’s horizon. They had six minutes to decide whether to counter-attack with nuclear weapons. The veteran foreign policy consultant and Kennedy adviser during the Cuban missile crisis, William Polk, worried about the escalation of nuclear tensions and the multiple possibilities of technical error that could ignite all-out war amidst likely fallibility of decisionmaking, especially in times of crisis (Polk 2015). In 2015, the two countries each engaged in military exercises of a scale that could precipitate actual conflict. Russia launched a “snap exercise” in March involving 80,000 troops, extending from northern Russia heading southward. NATO’s “Allied Shield” exercises in June involved 15,000 troops on naval vessels in the Baltic Sea, on the ground in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland, and in warplanes over the whole region. US-NATO forces had conducted 162 exercises in 2014, double the number originally planned. The following February, NATO member states in Europe conducted an additional forty exercises in Narva, a town on the Estonian-Russian border, involving “the presence of armored vehicles from the US Army’s Second Cavalry Regiment, as well as British, Dutch, Spanish, Lithuanian and Latvian troops at a military parade commemorating Estonia’s Independence Day” (Martin 2015, citing a report of the European Leadership Network). In September, NATO opened “NATO force integration units,” each manned by some forty staff in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Romania, in the alliance’s largest reinforcement of collective defense since the end of the Cold War (Dapkus and Keyton 2015). Moscow expressed concern that month at US plans to modernize twenty nuclear weapons stationed at a German airbase – representing the newest upgrade to the B61 air-dropped nuclear bomb. The USA was modernizing the B61 arsenal with a $1.2 billion allocation from the US defense budget, part of a nuclear modernization policy first outlined in the 2010 US Nuclear Posture Review. The Moscow Times
reporter, Matthew Bodner, cited the Russian spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as calling the move a potential “violation of the strategic balance in Europe,” that would demand a Russian response. Expert sources considered the response might be the redeployment of Iskander-M tactical missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave in Eastern Europe bordering Poland and Lithuania. Neither the Iskander-M nor the US B61 bombs were governed by arms control treaties. The USA continued to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in NATO countries such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey. Russia was pursuing a fully-fledged overhaul of its nuclear forces (Bodner 2015c). NATO’s opening of new offices in Eastern European countries added to the perception of a NATO intent on encircling Russia. Ukraine fed this perception by participating in NATO war games. Such escalation confirmed the perils of the Ukraine dispute and called for heightened sensitivity by WMM publishers to the inadvisability of standard war reporting frames oriented towards displays of war and violence, elite interests, and the prospects for victory (zero-sum), as against alternative approaches to conflict coverage that emphasize multiple perspectives, the interests of nonelites, and efforts towards peaceful conflict resolution (Lynch and McGoldrick 2005). Boardman summarized the Western contribution to an escalation of tensions with Russia as follows:
Poland, Norway, and the Netherlands (all NATO members) are expanding their submarine fleets, continuing the militarization reaction to Crimea. The US Navy has increased its presence in the Black Sea as an anti-Russian move. On September 1, the US Navy started operation Sea Breeze, joint operations with the Ukraine Navy (which lost more than half its ships in Crimea) and nine other countries [. . .] Ukraine has used internationallybanned cluster bombs against the separatists in the Donbass, one of five countries in the world where they have been used this year (the others are Yemen, Syria, Sudan, and Libya). The US, which has not signed the treaty banning cluster bombs, continues to make and distribute these antipersonnel weapons that take a heavy toll on civilians [. . .] Ukraine has renewed its bid to join NATO.