WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- When the top military commanders who run the U.S. and Russian armed forces on a daily basis met for important but very low-profile talks outside Helsinki, Finland, in October, the range of issues they discussed covered the whole world.
The immediate main subject of importance for Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs, and four-star Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the Russian General Staff, was the dispute over U.S. plans to build ballistic missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. The top soldiers were also concerned over escalating U.S.-Russian tensions following Moscow's invasion in August of the former Soviet republic of Georgia in the Caucasus and U.S. and NATO shows of naval force in the Black Sea following the conflict.
However, the sweep of subjects around the world that merited Mullen and Makarov's attention was far broader than that.
As Russian military analyst Nikolai Petrov noted in a report for RIA Novosti after the meeting, Makarov and Mullen were believed to also have reviewed the scheduled Nov. 24-30 visit of a powerful Russian naval squadron comprising the missile battle cruiser Pyotr Veliki ("Peter the Great") and the anti-submarine warfare vessel Admiral Chabanenko to Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, for a week.
They also would have reviewed the visit to Venezuela in September of two supersonic, Mach-2 Russian Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO designation Blackjack) nuclear bombers, each capable of carrying 12 mach-2.8 air-launched cruise missiles with a range of 2,000 miles each.
And the talks likely also focused on scheduled joint exercises between the U.S. 7th Fleet in the northwest Pacific Ocean and Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force close to Russia's Far East.
Underlying the talks was a profound and much overlooked reality. No other nation in the world can come close to rivaling either the United States or Russia in its capability to deploy strategic nuclear, air force, naval or powerful, heavily armored and fast-moving ground forces across such a widespread proportion of the Earth's surface.
In terms of global conventional and space-based power, Russia still falls far behind the United States. But it remains far ahead of everyone else.
Neither rising China nor economically super-prosperous Japan can dream of projecting surface sea power around the world the way the United States -- and, to a much lesser degree, Russia -- can. The United States operates 11 super-carrier task forces. Britain, Spain and Italy each deploy only two carriers, and none of them is a super-carrier.
No other nation in the world, not even the United States, has a supersonic bomber that can remotely rival the Russian Tu-160 Blackjack.
Ever since the beginnings of detente under U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev nearly 40 years ago, successive generations of leaders in Moscow and Washington have recognized the importance of doing business to prevent their unparalleled global military machines from coming into potentially dangerous conflicts around the world.
That was the real significance of the "business as usual" meeting between Mullen and Makarov in Helsinki on Oct. 21.
As Petrov wrote, "It does not matter that the unscheduled Helsinki meeting between Makarov and Mullen was kept under wraps and that it took place in a neutral country. Nor does it matter who initiated the meeting. Most important, both the United States and the Russian Federation continue to negotiate despite their diametrically opposite assessments of global developments."
After President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January, the frequency of those kinds of talks can be expected to increase.
(Part 3: Why no one else can build MIRV-ed missiles and other weapons)