'The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,' Yet Again

“The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming” was the title of Norman Jewison’s 1966 hit comedy about a Russian sub going aground off a small Massachusetts island. In the film, the Soviet guys just wanted help from the locals to be pulled back to sea, but the naturally wary Americans felt it was the beginning of the end.  

Are the Russians coming to our shores once again? The answer appears to be yes, although there’s no humor in this.

“I don’t think they’ve put two first-line nuclear subs off the U.S. coast in about 15 years,” Norman Polmar, a naval historian and submarine warfare expert, said recently.

The Cold War supposedly has been over for at least fifteen years and the demise of the Russian Navy, along with the demise of the Soviet Union was thought by most to mean we were headed to happier, more peaceful times.

But just last week, the Pentagon was tracking a pair of Russian subs roaming just outside our territorial waters about 200 miles off the east coast of the United States. According to our military sources, the submarines are of the Akula Class, a counterpart to the Los Angeles class attack subs of the United States Navy, and not one of the larger submarines that can launch intercontinental nuclear missiles.

Nevertheless, the Akulas carry nuclear-armed cruise missiles with a range of about 1800 miles.  So Russian subs with nukes that close to us is hardly a pleasant thought. Does it really change anything in the basic equation of the world’s “super-powers” uneasy peace? Perhaps not, but the placement of these enemy war machines so close to our major eastern cities is hardly comforting.

It is no secret that the modern day Russians are having a hard time demonstrating their once thought almost invincible power. Indeed the submarine patrols seem to come as Moscow tries to rectify the obvious embarrassment of its most recent disastrous test of the Bulava missile, a long-range weapon that was test fired from a submarine in the Arctic on July 15. That was their sixth failed missile test since 2005, causing some of our military experts to see Russia’s latest moves as a bid to show that they are still a power to be dealt with and that they are really still relevant.

Our own tracking equipment may be a bit suspect as well, as we seem to have formed two separate and contradictory conclusions as to the exact whereabouts of one of the Russian subs. One spokesman said it had headed away from us and to the North, another said it appeared to be headed toward Cuba. In this day and age of global tracking devices and satellite imagery, that divergence in opinions is also not comforting.

What should be obvious to all however is not the Russians are acting tough and showing the U.S. once again that we are quite vulnerable to attack at any moment, but that these guys make a ton of mistakes. The fact that there hasn’t been a nuclear mistake – so far – isn’t a conclusive comfort.

Actually, it is amazing over the years that both the Soviets and the Americans have not tripped into World War III through some traceable accident and not through actual unilateral government orders on one side or another.

We know from reading the now de-classified documents surrounding the 1983 Russians downing Korean Airlines # 007, which inadvertently strayed into their airspace on a commercial flight, that they contemplated a first strike against us because they were convinced that we would see the loss of so many innocent lives, including U.S. Congressman Larry MacDonald (D-GA), as no accident but a deliberate Soviet act of war.

The Military Research and Development Subcommittee of our U.S. Congress held hearings in October, 1999 around the concept of Russia’s threat perceptions and their plans for sabotage against America to relieve their paranoia and wipe us off the face of the globe. At that time Committee Chairman The Honorable Curt Weldon (R-PA) said:

“The protracted war scare in Moscow made East-West relations potentially far more explosive than was appreciated in Washington at the time. In fact, our Professional Staff Member here at this hearing, Peter Pry, during his capacity as a CIA agent compiled extensive documentation, just recently published in (the) book called “War Scare,“ where he goes into great detail about five incidents that almost caused war between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union…For example, unknown to the West the NATO theater nuclear exercise Able Archer conducted in November, 1983, was misconstrued by the Soviets as possible preparations for a surprise nuclear attack and nearly triggered a Soviet preemptive nuclear strike.

How is all of this relevant today? Well, it appears that once again the Russians are almost in our backyard in an effort to prove a point or, to use their favorite phrase, be “provocative.” The Russians have shown by their actions in the past that they can be pushed to the breaking point and that they can and have actually — albeit rarely — given serious thought to a first strike.

Contrary to the Obama administration’s basic instincts, we must do what the Reagan Administration was not afraid to do: seek peace at all times, but continue to show the Soviets and indeed the world that we are perfectly capable of retaliating so completely and so horrifically that no nation would want to risk any strikes against us whatsoever.

Our national symbol, the Eagle, holds in one talon the olive branch of peace, but in the other are the arrows. As the remainder of 2009 and beyond looks now like a replay of the 1980’s, we should let go of neither.