NATO: A DANGEROUS PAPER TIGER

(First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/11/16/nato-dangerous-paper-tiger.html)

The Chinese have a genius for pithy expressions and few are more packed with meaning, while immediately understandable, than “paper tiger”. NATO is one, but paper tigers that overestimate their powers can be dangerous.

Some Russians are concerned that there are today more hostile troops at the Russian border than at any time since 1941. While this is true, it is not, at the moment, very significant. The Germans invaded the USSR with nearly 150 divisions in 1941. Which, as it turned out, were not enough.

Today NATO has – or claims to have – a battle group in each of the three Baltic countries and one in Poland: pompously titled Enhanced Forward Presence. The USA has a brigade and talks of another. A certain amount of heavy weaponry has been moved to Europe. These constitute the bulk of the land forces at the border. They amount to, at the most optimistic assessment, assuming everything is there and ready to go, one division. Or, actually, one division equivalent (a very different thing) from 16 (!) countries with different languages, military practices and equipment sets and their soldiers ever rotating through. And, in a war, the three in the Baltics would be bypassed and become either a new Dunkirk or a new Cannae. All for the purpose, we are solemnly told, of sending “a clear message that an attack on one Ally would be met by troops from across the Alliance“. But who’s the “message” for? Moscow already has a copy of the NATO treaty and knows what Article V says.

In addition to the EFP are the national forces. But they are in a low state: “depleted armies” they’ve been called: under equipped and under manned; seldom exercised. The German parliamentary ombudsman charged with overseeing the Bundeswehr says “There are too many things missing“. In 2008 the French Army was described as “falling apart“. The British Army “can’t find enough soldiers“. The Italian army is ageing. Poland, one of the cheerleaders for the “Russian threat” meme, finds its army riven over accusations of politicisation. On paper, these five armies claim to have thirteen divisions and thirteen independent brigades. Call it, optimistically, a dozen divisions in all. The US Army (which has its own recruiting difficulties) adds another eleven or so to the list (although much of it is overseas entangled in the metastasising “war on terror”). Let’s pretend all the other NATO countries can bring another five divisions to the fight.

So, altogether, bringing everything home from the wars NATO is fighting around the world, under the most optimistic assumptions, assuming that everything is there and working (fewer than half of France’s tanks were operational, German painted broomsticks, British recruiting shortfalls), crossing your fingers and hoping, NATO could possibly cobble together two and a half dozen divisions: or one-fifth of the number Germany thought it would need. But, in truth, that number is fantasy: undermanned, under equipped, seldom exercised, no logistics tail, no munitions production backup, no time for a long logistics build up. NATO’s armies aren’t capable of a major war against a first class enemy. And no better is the principal member: “only five of the U.S. Army’s 15 armored brigade combat teams are maintained at full readiness levels“. A paper tiger.

This reality was on display – for those who could see – in the “Dragoon Ride” of 2015. Intended “to assure those allies that live closest to the Bear that we are here“, it was a parade of light armoured vehicles armed with heavy machine guns. Although breathlessly covered in the US media (“Show the world some of the firepower the United States and its NATO partners have in Eastern Europe“), it is unlikely that any watcher who had served in a Warsaw Pact army was impressed by what was in effect a couple of dozen BTR-50s. And neither was the US Army when it thought about it: a rush program was put into effect to give the vehicles a bigger weapon. The first one was delivered a year later. So now the US Army has a few lightly armoured vehicles with cannons. Something like the Soviet BTR-80 of the 1980s. Meanwhile, the Russians have the Bumerang-BM turret. Years of kicking in doors and patrolling roads hoping there are no IEDs are poor preparation for a real war.

No wonder NATO prefers to bomb defenceless targets from 15,000 feet. But there too, the record is unimpressive. Consider NATO’s last “successful” performance against Libya in 2011. No air defence, no opposition, complete freedom of movement and choice of action; and it took 226 days! Kosovo, a similar air action against a weak opponent, took 79 days. Meanwhile the years roll by in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Not, in short, a very efficient military alliance even when it is turned on against more-or-less helpless victims.

But there is one obvious question: does NATO take all its Russian threat rhetoric seriously, or is it just an advertising campaign? A campaign to bring in £240 million from the Baltics, an extra eighty billion for the US military-industrial complex, US$28 billion for Poland, Patriot missiles for Sweden, billions for F-35s for Norway (but no hangars for them), spending increases in the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Czech Republic and so on. A Russian threat is good for business: there’s poor money in a threat made of IEDs, bomb vests and small arms. Big profits require big threats. As I have written elsewhere, Russia was thought to be the right size of threat – big enough, but not too big. And they thought it was a safe target too – remember Obama in 2015 and his confidence that Russia didn’t amount to much?

Or so they thought then. What is amusing is that NATO is starting to worry about what it has awoken: “aerial denial zones“, British army wiped out in an afternoon, NATO loses quickly in the Baltics, unstoppable carrier-killer missile, “eye-watering” EW capabilities, “black hole” submarines, generational lead in tanks, “devastating” air defence system, “totally outmatched“. Russian actions, both diplomatic and military, in Syria gave NATO a taste: the Russian military is far more capable than they imagined. And far better wielded. The phantom conjured up to justify arms sales and NATO expansion now frightens its creators. A particularly striking example comes from General Breedlove, former NATO Supreme Commander who did much to poke Russia: he now fears that a war “would leave Europe helpless, cut off from reinforcements, and at the mercy of the Russian Federation.” Not as negligible as they thought.

To what should we compare this weak, incompetent but endlessly boastful and belligerent alliance? In the past I have suggested that NATO is a drunk that drinks to cure the effects of its last bender. Is it a child in an endless tantrum, frightening itself with the stories it tells itself? Like the Warsaw Pact it is frightened of contradicting information or opinion and insists they be blocked. Certainly it is an exemplar of complacent self delusion: “Projecting Stability Beyond Our Borders” boasts about the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. The unicorns roam free in NATOland.

There is no reason to bother to read anything that comes out of NATO Headquarters: it’s only wind. There is one response. And that is Libya. When they say stability, respond Libya. When they say terrorism, respond Libya. When they say peace, respond Libya. When they say dialogue, respond Libya. When they say values, respond Libya. NATO is dangerous in the way that the stupid and deluded can be. But, when its principal member starts demanding its members “pay their share”, and the people of five members see Washington a greater threat than Moscow, maybe its final days are upon us.

But incessant repetition becomes reality and that’s where the danger lies. Hysteria has reached absurd proportions: 2014’s “gas station masquerading as a country” decides who sits in the White House; directs referendums in Europe; rules men’s minds through RT and Sputnik; dominates social media; every Russian exercise brings panic. This would all be amusing enough except for the fact that Moscow doesn’t get the joke. While the NATO forces on their border may be insignificant at the moment, they can grow and all armies must prepare for the worst. The First Guards Tank Army is being re-created. I discuss the significance of that here. When it is ready – and Moscow moves much faster than NATO – it will be more than a match, offensively or defensively, for NATO’s paper armies. And, if Moscow thinks it needs more, more will come. And there will be no cost-free bombing operations at 15,000 feet against Russia. NATO’s naval strength, which is still real, is pretty irrelevant to operations against Russia. And still the paper tiger bares its paper teeth.

In other words – and I never tire of quoting him on this – “We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way”. NATO has been kiting cheques for years. And rather than soberly examine its bank account, it writes another, listening to the applause in the echo chamber of its mind.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” We can only hope that NATO’s coming destruction does not destroy us too.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 16 NOVEMBER 2017

WESTERN VALUES™. So now RT America is a “foreign agent“. (Remember all the faux outrage about Russia’s FARA imitation law? No? But it was only a year ago: “Russia: Four years of Putin’s ‘Foreign Agents’ law to shackle and silence NGOs“. Hard to keep up, isn’t it?) In case you think this reflects poorly on the “champion for free speech and free press”, John McCain, channelling Brezhnev, explains why it doesn’t. In the Cold War they blocked us but we didn’t bother to block them. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out: the side that mostly lies wants to stop its population hearing the side that mostly tells the truth. One reason is that telling (mostly) the truth is just easier. For example, Russian propaganda for the home audience lets the Western side say whatever it wants as long as it wants. Why? “the Russians have no need to lie, their propaganda is fundamentally truthful, fact based and logical…. unlike their American counterparts, the Russians are not engaging in policies which they cannot justify before their own public opinion or before the public opinion of the rest of the planet”. In Syria the Russians are doing what they say they are doing; no need to explain why Russian troops supposedly in Ukraine can’t be seen; there are no Pokemon stories in Russia. In short, Russian propaganda is all made in the West and every idiotic story is re-played. “So yes, the Russians are using the immense arrogance and poorly-concealed hatred for Russia of some of the more pompous and least intelligent representatives of the West to paint an absolutely fair and accurate representation of the western ruling elites”.

SPEAKING OF THINGS HARD TO JUSTIFY before the Western public. “Raqqa’s dirty secret…. a secret deal that let hundreds of IS fighters…. escape from Raqqa, under the gaze of the US and British-led coalition…“. “Some of the U.S.-made weapons available on these markets likely first entered Syria as part of an ill-fated Pentagon program to train and equip fighters in northern Syria to take on the Islamic State.” Are these bugs or features? Either way, the West isn’t doing what it says it is doing.

RELIGION. I found this video interesting: Putin and most of the Russian religious establishment (named here, but not the RC Ordinary for some reason) honour Minim and Pozharsky. That’s diversity.

RUSSIA INC. Inflation fell to 2.7% in October; this is a post USSR record low. Slowly but surely.

BOMB SCARES. There have been a series of hoax bomb scares across Russia lately. Phoned in from abroad we are told. Wondered that myself: I’m not suggesting it was governments but the panic is constantly pumped higher and there are a lot of excitable people out there.

REMITTANCES. A study shows that all FUSSR states except Russia and Kazakhstan are “intensely dependent” on remittances. Author’s summary: “a new system of transnational, cross-border dependency, unprecedented in its intensity”. The two “magnets” are the EU and Russia. An interesting take on the post-Soviet reality; at the end of the day, you’re either a dependent of one or of the other.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Best summary of the story so far: “The two sources that originated the allegations claiming that Russia meddled in the 2016 election… were both paid for by the Democratic National Committee…“. Even the MSM is starting to notice (WSJ): “The Clinton campaign commissioned a foreign ex-spy to gin up rumors, which made it to U.S. intelligence agencies, and then got reporters to cite it as government-sourced.” Crowdstrike and Fusion GPS are the ur-sources. We get closer: a Fusion GPS exec spent seven hours with the House Committee on Tuesday. Bershidsky, no friend to Putin & Co, points out how ludicrous the theories have become. This was never expected to become public; it was supposed to stay in the background of her march to the White House.

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. Spreading fast. “How the Russian meddling machine won the online battle of the illegal referendum” (El Pais). “Putin’s lying machine: Revealed, how Russia’s spewing out ruthless propaganda… “. Enjoy the map which shows how the Kremlin is “stoking discord” around the world. Again we see that lying takes more effort. And a constant effort too: always plugging holes in the narrative which gets ever more preposterous. (But read the comments: the story isn’t selling well).

MAYBE FILE. “American” LNG delivered to Europe is actually purchased in Russia. Same source said “American” coal for Ukraine also came from Russia. It wouldn’t surprise me, but I await confirmation.

SYRIA. The Syrians have liberated Abu Kamal, the last urban hold of Daesh in Syria; 25 months after Russia intervened. Some American talking heads are still in denial (more convolution).

UKRAINE. Maidan II continues but the WMSM doesn’t see it. On Sunday Saakashvili led a march demanding Poroshenko’s impeachment. Couldn’t make this stuff up.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

THE RIDDLE OF THE POTOMAC

(Inspired by questions from Sputnik asking my thoughts about US involvement in Syria: what it wants, what it’s doing and what will happen. My answer grew so large that it turned into this essay. Sputnik version https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201710311058699400-us-syria-strategy-failure/)

First published https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/11/02/riddle-of-potomac.html

These questions are rather like asking someone to Unveil the Mysteries of the Universe and answer the Riddle of the Sphinx all in one go. I cannot: Washington is a mystery today and it has been since the early Obama days. At the heart of the mystery are two questions:

Who is in charge?

What do they want?

The United States of America is de-laminating: when even so solemn an outlet as Foreign Policy magazine wonders “Is America a Failing State?” it starts to become a commonplace.

What were the motives or aims of US involvement in trying to overthrow Assad in Syria? I can think of the following:

  1. Build a gas pipeline from Qatar into Europe.

  2. Weaken Russia by striking at an ally and cutting its gas sales.

  3. Obey orders from Jerusalem and Riyadh to weaken Syria/Iran.

  4. Arrogance, ignorance, overconfidence, “exceptionalism” and other delusions.

  5. Create chaos so the USA will still be king of the hill even if the hill is smaller.

  6. Something I haven’t thought of.

  7. Some or all of the above.

But trying to work out Washington’s policy is, to quote an alleged Churchillism about the USSR, like watching bulldogs fighting under a rug. You see that something is happening, you hear growls, but you don’t know who is doing what to whom or why. For example, last year then US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov spent days negotiating a truce in Syria; within a few days the US military attacked the Syrian Army at Deir ez Zor. Who was in charge then? And what was the purpose of either of these actions? No wonder the Russians have concluded that Washington is недоговороспособны: no agreement is possible either because it can’t make one or it won’t keep it.

But what we can say is: whatever Washington, in whole or parts thereof, its sponsors or controllers, was or were trying to do in Syria, they have failed. The momentum, which seemed to be swinging against Assad two years ago, has reversed since Russia’s intervention and been replaced with the mockery of the “Assad must go curse“. Assad remains in power and supported by the population; Iran has gained power and influence; Jerusalem and Riyadh are nervous and unhappy; Russia is more influential and – most consequentially – shown to be reliable and effective; no gas pipeline will be built without the agreement of the Syrian government. Chaos has been reduced, order increased. Syria is the Thermopylae of the new New World Order. Every day the USA loses its position in the neighbourhood in proportion as Russia, Iran, Syria and Turkey increase theirs. Failure. Defeat.

Washington isn’t good at admitting defeat and it always comes up with another gimcrack scheme to postpone the day. But the Kurdish surrogates aren’t doing well and the latest bright idea in Afghanistan is a loser too. So we have to contemplate the shape of The End.

US wars end in one of three ways:

  1. A surrender ceremony on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

  2. Destruction, overthrow, walk away, amnesia; the proclaimed success is never connected to the consequent chaos. (This is today’s prevailing pattern – see Kosovo, Somalia or Libya).

  3. Helicopters lifting off the Embassy roof in Saigon.

It won’t be number one, it’s probably too late for number two so I guess we must look forward to helicopters on American Embassy roofs.

Unless President Trump can break the habit. Which brings us to another unanswerable question. When campaigning, his rhetoric suggested that he had the beginnings of understanding. His slogan, “Make America Great” had the important addition “Again”. Which suggested that it wasn’t “Great” any more. It seemed to me that he understood that the endless (and unsuccessful) wars were a cause of that loss of “greatness”. This was encouraging to those of us who hoped for an end to the wars. His Inauguration Address continued the theme that Washington should mind its own business.

But, since his election he has been hobbled by the accusation that he is Putin’s poodle. The US media, the US intelligence agencies (or, more correctly, “hand-picked, seasoned” members of same) have banged this drum since the DNC, caught fixing the nomination, blamed Russia. This hysteria has crippled his attempts to have better relations with Russia and move away from the neocon and humanitarian bomber catastrophes of the past. No one could have foreseen this month-in-month-out shrieking. Nor predict how loudly stupid it would become: “Catalonia held a referendum. Russia won”, Pokemon and cute puppies. Trump has been under constraints he could never have expected. Maybe the lunacy will turn on its creators with the new revelations about Uranium One and the Steele dossier, maybe it won’t: I’ve given up trying to predict the craziness.

So we must add the Trump Mystery to the other Mysteries. Although there may be a clue. He has had four foreign affairs issues to deal with so far: Russia, North Korea, Iran and Syria. He is very constrained on the first, loud and boorish on the second and third but interestingly quiet on the fourth. There was the cruise missile strike but I was and still am convinced that that was a theatrical production. What we do have is his decree ending CIA support for anti-Assad rebels. That is an action, the rest is talk. Maybe we should watch what he does, not what he says.

But still: we don’t know. We don’t know what Washington was trying to do in Syria. We don’t know whether all Washington was agreed on what it was trying to do in Syria. We don’t know if any agency in Washington had a plan in Syria. We don’t know who was making decisions in Washington then. We don’t know who’s making decisions in Washington now. We don’t know whether there is any unified position in Washington on Syria. Or anything else. We don’t know what Trump wants. We don’t know what Trump can do. We don’t know who’s running the place. Or whether anyone is.

We don’t know.

An unknown number of bulldogs fighting under a rug of unknown size.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 2 NOVEMBER 2017

BOOK PLUG. Phil Butler’s “Putin’s Praetorians”. A number of us explain how we came to our present views on Putin and Russia. Many simply couldn’t believe the absurdly one-sided accounts of, especially, the Sochi Olympics and Ukraine. A little digging uncovered the lies and they’ve never gone back.

REMINDER. A big nuclear forces exercise last week with an ICBM and 3 SLBMs fired. Dramatic night sky effects in Siberia: they saw their tax rubles at work.

GOLD. The Central Bank of Russia holds 1800 tonnes of gold. China (the world’s largest gold producer – Russia is number three) holds a similar amount. Many connect this with the coming “petroyuan“.

RUSSIA INC. Russia continues its climb up the World Bank’s rankings for ease of doing business.

ELECTION. There’s no real opposition to Putin. And why would there be? Sneering as much as it can, even the Guardian gets it.

PROPAGANDA. Putin attends the opening of a prominently-placed monument to the victims of the Soviet repressions. The monument. Paul Robinson catalogues how the lügenpresse spun this into an attack on Putin for supporting Stalin or being repressive or something. I read the Soviet media back then and it was non-stop lies, belittling, twisting of everything in the West: a complete reversal today.

SYRIA REVELATIONS. Perhaps not coincidentally with revelations on “Russiagate” and Hollywood, come revelations about Syria. First, Washington admits (quietly) that the Syrian “rebels” have used chemical weapons. Second, a senior Qatari official reveals that Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the USA began shipping weapons to jihadists in Syria in 2011. The Syrian army has found stocks of Western and Israeli weaponry in captured Daesh areas. Everything, Dear Readers, your governments and media have told you about Syria has been a lie. (BTW, how many US troops in Syria? Anybody know?).

WHAT NOW? Washington wants genetic material from Russians? Bio war? No, no, only a paranoid Russian would suggest that: for benign, even laudable, reasons. Of the US Air Force. More.

WESTERN VALUES™. RT says Twitter approached it with a scheme to sell ads during the election but RT turned it down. Twitter has banned ads from RT because of “election interference”. We learn today that Twitter actually interfered by burying things harmful to Clinton.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. It’s rare that the alternative media and the MSM report the same thing on the same date, but it just happened. Philip Giraldi notes that, now that we know that the Clinton campaign paid for most of the Steele dossier, “Russiagate began within the Clinton Campaign headquarters”. The WSJ says the same but still thinks that it was “Russia” that dunnit; but it dunnit to the other side. Jatras marvels that, despite the collapse of Version A, they still blame Russia. But not so fast, we’re not there yet: the Steele dossier is 99% fake – enough money was spend to manufacture the wanted stories – “Russia”, as in the government, had nothing to do with it even if individual Russians did. (But why bother to get actual Russians when you’re making it up? We only have Steele’s word for it that he did). One hopes we are only a few weeks away from the contrived mess exploding. Meanwhile, in what may be the very last idiocy, we are informed that Russia Is Using Marxist Strategies, and So Is US President US President Trump“. The suicide of American soft power, Andrew Korybko perceptively calls it.

HUNGARY CLEARS ITS THROAT. Ukraine’s neighbours remember the OUN and its deeds. Poland put out the movie Volyn, for example. Now it’s Hungary’s turn. Kiev just passed a law insisting on Ukrainian instruction, there are a lot of Hungarian speakers (many of whom have Hungarian passports), Budapest has just announced it will block Kiev’s efforts to gain greater connection to NATO. (More) The most likely future of Ukraine is that parts break off the edges.

A NEW CHERNOBYL? Not at all, merely the utterance of “information terrorists working in the interests of Russian propaganda.” All will be well; better than well, even. (Read November 1, 2017 Update.) (Information terrorists – that’s a good one, eh?)

UKRAINE. Another tent city in Kiev. Saakashvili has a plan. Crooks, clowns and nazis. Ten thousand casualties from non-military causes – morale is terrible. Life in Kherson. Ukraine continues to test the limits of Adam Smith’s apophthegm that there is much ruin in a nation.

NEW NWO. Russia and the Philippines take another step in their courtship.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer