NATO Would Probably Lose a War Against Russia

These pieces are papers that I believe to be still relevant; they were published earlier elsewhere under a pseudonym. They have been very slightly edited and hyperlinks have been checked.

NOTE 2017: I originally wrote this in December 2014; the resolution referred to is H.Res.758 — 113th Congress (2013-2014) against Russia’s “aggression”. If anything, more recent developments make my point even more strongly: Russia is more capable now than it was three years ago.

With the hyper-aggressive resolution just passed by the US House of Representatives we move closer to open war. Thus what follows may be apposite. In short, the US and NATO, accustomed to cheap and easy victories (at least in the short term – over the long term Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Kosovo are hardly victories), will have a shattering shock should they ever fight the Russian Armed Forces.

At the beginning of my career, in the 1970s, I spent some years engaged in combat simulations. Most of these exercises were for training staff officers but some were done in-house to test out some weapon or tactic. The scenario was usually the same: we, NATO, the good guys, Blue, would be deployed, usually in Germany; that is, on the eastern edge of West Germany. There we would be attacked by the Warsaw Pact, the bad guys, Red. (The colours, by the way, date from the very first war game, Kriegspiel; nothing to do with the Communist Party’s favourite colour).

Over several years of being on the control staff I noticed two things. Naturally both Red and Blue were played by our people, however interesting it might have been to borrow some Soviet officers to play Red. What always fascinated me was how quickly the people playing Red would start getting aggressive. Their fellow officers, on the Blue side, were very risk-averse, slow and cautious. The Red players just drove down the road and didn’t mind losing a tank, let alone a tank company. What was really interesting (we tested this in the office, so to speak) was that, at the end of the day, the full speed ahead approach produced fewer casualties than the cautious approach. The other thing – rather chilling this – was that Red always won. Always. And rather quickly.

I developed a great respect for the Soviet war-fighting doctrine. I don’t know whether it was based on traditional Russian doctrine but it certainly had been perfected in the Second World War where the Soviets carried out what are probably the largest land operations ever conducted. Nothing could be farther from the truth than the casual Western idea that the Soviets sent waves of men against the Germans until they ran out of ammunition and were trampled under the next wave. Once the Soviets got going, they were very good indeed.

The Soviet war-fighting doctrine that I saw in the exercises had several characteristics. The first thing that was clear is that the Soviets knew that people are killed in wars and that there is no place for wavering; hesitation loses the war and gets more people killed in the end. Secondly, success is reinforced and failure left to itself. “Viktor Suvorov”, a Soviet defector, wrote that he used to pose a problem to NATO officers. You have four battalions, three attacking and one in reserve; the battalion on the left has broken through easily, the one in the middle can break through with a little more effort, the one on the right is stopped. Which one do you reinforce with your reserve battalion? He claimed that no NATO officer ever gave the correct answer. Which was, forget the middle and right battalions, reinforce success; the fourth battalion goes to help the lefthand one and, furthermore, you take away the artillery support from the other two and give it to the battalion on the left. Soviet war-fighting doctrine divided their forces into echelons, or waves. In the case above, not only would the fourth battalion go to support the lefthand battalion but the followup regiments would be sent there too. Breakthroughs are reinforced and exploited with stunning speed and force. General von Mellenthin speaks of this in his book Panzer Battles when he says that any Soviet river crossing must be attacked immediately with whatever the defender has; any delay brings more and more Soviet soldiers swimming, wading or floating across. They reinforce success no matter what. The third point was the tremendous amount of high explosives that Soviet artillery could drop on a position. In this respect, the BM-21 Grad was a particular standout, but they had plenty of guns as well.

An especially important point, given a common US and NATO assumption, is that the Soviets did not assume that they would always have total air superiority. The biggest hole, in my opinion, of US and NATO war-fighting doctrine is this assumption. US tactics often seem to be little more than the instruction to wait for the air to get the ground forces out of trouble (maybe that’s why US-trained forces do so poorly against determined foes). Indeed, when did the Americans ever have to fight without total air superiority other than, perhaps, their very first experience in World War II? The Western Allies in Italy, at D-day and Normandy and the subsequent fighting could operate confident that almost every aircraft in the sky was theirs. This confident arrogance has, if anything, grown stronger since then with short wars in which the aircraft all come home. The Soviets never had this luxury – they always knew they would have to fight for air superiority and would have to operate in conditions where they didn’t have it. And, see General Chuikov’s tactic at Stalingrad of “hugging the enemy”, they devised tactics that minimized the effectiveness of enemy aircraft. The Russians forces have not forgotten that lesson today and that is probably why their air defence is so good.

NATO commanders will be in for a shattering shock when their aircraft start falling in quantity and the casualties swiftly mount into the thousands and thousands. After all, we are told that the Kiev forces lost two thirds of their military equipment against fighters with a fraction of Russia’s assets, but with the same fighting style.

But, getting back to the scenarios of the Cold War. Defending NATO forces would be hit by an unimaginably savage artillery attack, with, through the dust, a huge force of attackers pushing on. The NATO units that repelled their attackers would find a momentary peace on their part of the battlefield while the ones pushed back would immediately be attacked by fresh forces three times the size of the first ones and even heavier bombardments. The situation would become desperate very quickly.

No wonder they always won and no wonder the NATO officer playing Red, following the simple instructions of push ahead resolutely, reinforce success, use all your artillery all the time, would win the day.

I don’t wish to be thought to be saying that the Soviets would have “got to the the English Channel in 48 hours” as the naysayers were fond of warning. In fact, the Soviets had a significant Achilles Heel. In the rear of all this would have been an unimaginably large traffic jam. Follow-up echelons running their engines while commanders tried to figure out where they should be sent, thousands of trucks carrying fuel and ammunition waiting to cross bridges, giant artillery parks, concentrations of engineering equipment never quite in the right place at the right time. And more arriving every moment. A ground-attack pilot’s dream. The NATO Air-Land Battle doctrine being developed would have gone some distance to even things up again. But it would have been a tremendously destructive war, even forgetting the nuclear weapons (which would also be somewhere in the traffic jam).

As for the Soviets on the defence, (something we didn’t game because NATO, in those days, was a defensive alliance) the Battle of Kursk is probably the model still taught today: hold the attack with layer after layer of defences, then, at the right moment, the overwhelming attack at the weak spot. The classic attack model is probably Autumn Storm.

All of this rugged and battle proven doctrine and methodology is somewhere in the Russian Army today. We didn’t see it in the first Chechen War – only overconfidence and incompetence. Some of it in the Second Chechen War. More of it in the Ossetia War. They’re getting it back. And they are exercising it all the time.

Light-hearted people in NATO or elsewhere should never forget that it’s a war-fighting doctrine that does not require absolute air superiority to succeed and knows that there are no cheap victories. It’s also a very, very successful one with many victories to its credit. (Yes, they lost in Afghanistan but the West didn’t do any better.)

I seriously doubt that NATO has anything to compare: quick air campaigns against third-rate enemies yes. This sort of thing, not so much.

Even if, somehow, the nukes are kept in the box.

To quote Field Marshal Montgomery “Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: ‘Do not march on Moscow’. Various people have tried it, Napoleon and Hitler, and it is no good. That is the first rule.”

(His second rule, by the way, was: “Do not go fighting with your land armies in China.” As Washington’s policy drives Moscow and Beijing closer together…. But that is another subject).

Rotating on Your Tanks

(A question from Sputnik: what do I make of the US Army forces moved to Europe and what do I think US President-elect Trump will do about it.)

The first thing to do is calm down: I’ve seen headlines with “thousands”, “hundreds” or “scores” of tanks. What we are actually talking about, according to the US Army in Europe, is the “3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division” of “3,500 personnel, 87 tanks, 18 Paladins; 419 multi-purpose Humvees and 144 Bradley tanks”. (And why are they in desert tan and not European green, by the way?) In other words 87 actual tanks (120mm gun), 18 self propelled guns (155mm gun), 419 of the most expensive Jeeps ever made and 144 infantry fighting vehicles (not “tanks”) (25mm gun, two anti-tank missiles). These troops are the first of “back-to-back rotations of armored brigades in Europe as part of Atlantic Resolve” – “rotations” gets NATO out of its 1997 pledge against “additional permanent stationing“. NATO is also planning to place a (rotating) battalion group in each of the three Baltic countries and Poland. In short, rounding everything way up: a maximum total of 10K soldiers, 100 tanks, 40 serious artillery pieces and 250 IFVs. That’s the high end. The actual reality will be smaller, under-equipped, very multi-national, always re-learning the ropes and therefore not very effective. In return Russia has reactivated the First Guards Tank Army. This Russian formation will have much more modern and more powerful kit than NATO’s and would brush aside the US brigade without pausing and ignore the battalion groups.

The purpose one assumes (if we ignore standard NATO-issue boiler plate about “security” “stability” “aggressor” and so on) is to emplace a “trip wire” – if you attack Estonia, you will be attacking us all. But that’s the point of the NATO alliance already: “an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.” In theory that is. But there are plenty of polls showing that “NATO’s European Allies Won’t Fight for Article 5“. So I guess it’s supposed to be a reassurance to the little ones that NATO really really means it. So in that sense, it’s thought to be a deterrence.

But the assumption is quite idiotic. Moscow knows full well what the NATO Treaty means. The only circumstances under which it would attack any NATO country would be if it feared an attack on itself by all NATO countries. And then there would be no holding back: Moscow would know who it was fighting and why it was fighting and would go full out from the beginning.

This move – in the waning days of the Obama Administration – violates two Trumpian principles. First it is calculated to irritate Moscow and hobble US President-elect Trump in his stated intention to repair relations. Second it contradicts his ideas that NATO members should pay more for their own defence. (And a third: better relations with Russia obtained through diplomacy would eliminate the “threat” this deployment is supposed to be countering). Thus it is very probable that the whole thing will be reversed on the 21st. It should be remembered that Trump not only has a number of senior generals on his team but that there is plenty of evidence – “After 15 years of war, America’s military has about had it with ‘nation building’– that the US military are tired of endless wars. He’s not flying blind. And he’s not flying alone.

Living the Dream – Latvia, NATO and the EU

This essay is an attempt to discuss the consequences of Latvia’s membership in both NATO and the EU. I chose Latvia simply because I found data for it. Membership in either standard bearer of Atlanticism, let alone both, would have been unimaginable for any citizen of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic and, for many, a glorious dream.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

Because Latvia joined it first, I will consider the NATO half of the dream first. Latvia became a full member in April 2004 (“From now on, 26 Allies will be joined in a commitment to defend each others’ security and territorial integrity. This is the strongest, most solemn commitment nations can undertake“).

There is a widespread meme that the new NATO members eagerly sought membership because of popular concerns about Russia but the truth, in Latvia at any rate, is that public opinion required some time (and lots of American GONGOs) to develop the preference. And while EU membership followed a referendum, NATO’s did not. In an opinion poll in 1998 we find a slight preference for neutrality “In Latvia, the larger group of population believe that the neutrality best guarantees Latvian security and stability (29%). The second option – NATO and EU membership together (26%) while NATO membership is the third option (15%). 10% of Latvian population believe that EU membership alone can guarantee stability and security for Latvia.” The same poll found that if there were to be a referendum on joining NATO in the three Baltic states “Latvia has the lowest number of the supporters for the country’s membership in alliance: 37% would vote for, 29% against, while 34% of Latvian population has not decided yet.” Not much enthusiasm there.

But Latvia has been a member for a decade now and one has to wonder whether Latvians feel secure. One would think that Article 5 of the NATO treaty gave as indisputable a security assurance as could be wanted. “Collective defence means that an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.” So, if Russia were to attack Latvia it would be the same as if it had attacked the USA, Canada or Germany; there would be no need for American, Canadian or German troops to actually be there. And yet there are always calls for more money to be spent and more troops to be stationed. And the recent NATO summit agreed to do so. Outsiders with weapons to sell Latvia have their interests in playing this up as when a BBC program in February 2016 had Russia invading Latvia. Propagandists keep the pot boiling: “Counting Down to a Russian Invasion of the Baltics“, “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics“, “If Russia Started a War in the Baltics, NATO Would Lose — Quickly“, “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is part of a broader, and more dangerous, confrontation with the West“; War games show NATO’s eastern flank is vulnerable. To deter Moscow, the United States will need to deploy heavy armor on a large scale, a new study says.” And so on. There are sceptics, to be sure: “Why on Earth Would Russia Attack the Baltics?“, but the subject is omnipresent and the Warsaw communiqué is full of Russian “aggression”, “destabilising actions”, ” military intervention”, “provocative military activities near NATO borders” and so forth. (And, lest we forget profits: “We welcome Allied efforts to address, as appropriate, existing dependencies on Russian-sourced legacy military equipment”). Indeed, NATO is back in business at the old stand.

All this scare-mongering is having its effect. A recent Gallup poll finds 42% of Latvians seeing Russia as a potential threat. A 2015 poll finds 69% of Latvian speakers seeing a threat from Russia. We see these op-eds: “The society has fear“. “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Bear?“, “Latvians fear elections could let Kremlin in by back door“, “Panic in Latvia: Trump Will Hand Ukraine, Syria and the Baltics to Putin“. “Russia’s Annexation Of Crimea Worries Baltic Nation Of Latvia“. “Baltic Russians could be the next pawns in new cold war“. In short, Latvians are becoming nervous.

Nonetheless, the cynic who really thinks about it understands that the foreign troops are wanted not because of some perceived immediate Russian threat, but because of a lack of confidence that, when it came to it, the NATO allies would stand up. Indeed, we have a poll that suggests just that: “NATO’s European Allies Won’t Fight for Article 5“. Another poll finds that not even Americans are very willing to fight for Latvia. So, the deployments probably owe less to the “Russian threat” than to the “indifference threat”. We are reminded of George Kennan’s prescient remark: “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“.

It has to be said that the comparison between Crimea and Latvia (or the other two Baltic states) is rather forced. A thousand years ago, Crimea was clearly part of the Byzantine/Rus culture – indeed Vladimir the Great, ruler of Novgorod and later of Kiev, was baptised in Khersones in Crimea. Conquered by the Mongols in the 1200s, it became an appanage of the Ottoman Empire and was reconquered by Russia in 1783. The Russian Black Sea Fleet was then founded and has been based there ever since. In 1954 Khrushchev transferred Crimea from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR (illegally it appears). When the USSR broke up, the Black Sea Fleet remained under treaty between Moscow and Kiev together with up to 25,000 Russian soldiers and sailors. In the 2014 referendum well over 90% voted to (re)join Russia and the Russian troops provided security; there was no “invasion”. As to the Donbass: when the president you voted for is ousted, the party you voted for is declared an enemy, the central government sends the army at you and your home is renamed the “Anti-Terror Operation Zone“, there’s no need to invent a “Russian invasion”. Latvia’s history is quite different: it has been ruled by Germans, Poles, Lithuanians and Swedes until absorbed by the Russian Empire about the same time Crimea was reacquired. Despite a substantial Russian minority, it has never been considered part of the “Russian lands” and there are no Russian troops there. So the parallels are very contrived – propagandisticly contrived – indeed. And, if Latvians are really concerned that a crafty Moscow may use the Russians inside Latvia as some sort of lever, then they might consider giving them full citizenship. (An idea, it is interesting to note, that seldom occurs to the reporters who write pieces like this one: “Latvia, with a large minority of Russians, worries about Putin’s goals“).

So, one could make the case that one part of the Latvian dream – NATO membership – has not in fact given the Latvian population a greater sense of security. Indeed, an effect of the non-stop anti-Russia campaign may be that Latvians feel less secure today than they did when they were neutral.

And, as a further irony, Latvian soldiers are back in Afghanistan: under a different flag this time but with much the same results.

European Union

Latvia became a full member of the EU in May 2004 after a referendum (“We welcome a country that naturally belongs to us and we trust, that Latvia as the others future Member States, will enrich and strengthen the European Union. Welcome home, Latvia!”) . It joined the Eurozone in January 2014 (no referendum then: support only about 20%).The source for most of what follows is “Latvia in the EU – Ten Years Later. A Different Latvia?” which is a fairly detailed assessment of the first decade’s experience. The purpose of the authors is described: “We intend to take a snapshot of the moment when Latvia joined the EU, and compare it with a snapshot of the country taken today”. It was published in May 2014, too early to show any effects of Eurozone membership; neither had the refugee criss bitten. A very quick summary of the various tables follows.

In the period defence expenditure declined and the armed forces became smaller. (We’ll see what effect the Russia scare will have on them). The unemployment rate improved, got a lot worse and is now about where it started. The service sector is larger, the industrial sector smaller, labour productivity significantly up, applications for high-tech patents down. The crime rate is much improved across the board with the exception of drug offences. The population has decreased (the authors don’t tell us how much). There are significantly fewer non-citizens, more foreigners live in Latvia, tourism is up quite a bit, the proportions of native Latvian speakers (73%-71%) and native Russian speakers (27%-27%) unchanged. The number of students is down, but those studying abroad is up, the proportion of the population with higher education has increased. The average net salary has better than doubled and GDP per capita has increased from about half the EU average to about two-thirds, the poverty rate is significantly down, agricultural production is significantly up. The population is a little more satisfied with the “quality of democracy” but trust in governmental institutions (including the EU) is down a bit, electoral participation is down nearly ten percentage points but the traffic police expect bribes significantly less. Life expectancy is up about 3 years, infant mortality is down, generally speaking health seems to be better (but a significant increase is reported for malignant tumours) although both doctors and hospital beds are down. Latvia is either “greener” or it isn’t, depending on what indicator you choose to emphasise. The authors sum it up as “in the course of ten years Latvia has become more secure and prosperous.”

So, altogether in the decade, there have been improvements in Latvia’s economic situation, health and crime. But these are not dramatic and, of course, there is no way of telling what the numbers would be if Latvia had taken some other course (cf Belarus, for example). The declining esteem in which institutions are held (trust in government down from 28% to 20%, parliament 20% to 15%, EU itself 39% to 36%) and drop in electoral participation (national from 72% to 59%, municipal 53% to 46%) argues a certain lack of enthusiasm for present circumstances.

The authors mention the population decline but don’t give the numbers. Wikipedia tells us the population in the EU decade dropped from 2.277 million to 1.995 million. It was 2.651 million in 1991. That’s a drop of a quarter; a significant decline indeed. “Demographic disaster” some say, “We are dying out“. If I were Latvian, I’d worry about that a lot more than about imaginary Russian invasions: at this rate, if they really wanted Latvia’s beaches, all the Russians have to do is wait fifty years or so to peacefully occupy an old folks’ home surrounded by vacant real estate.


It would appear that there are good reasons to argue that NATO membership has made Latvians feel less secure because they have been sucked into the NATO anti-Russia hysteria. In the ten years of EU membership there have been real gains albeit none very dramatic. There is no way of knowing where Latvia would be today had it adopted a different membership package.

So, it while it would certainly be wrong to call the dream a nightmare, it’s not proved as happy a dream as was no doubt expected. Improvements to be sure, but none of them dramatic and all overshadowed by depopulation (Latvia and Bulgaria are the only countries in the world with a smaller population today than in 1950.)

The downstream costs of the Euro and refugees – both direct consequences of EU membership – as well as pressures for greater defence expenditure from NATO are as yet uncalculated.

So, a bit of a wash altogether.




Thoughts on the Coup Attempt in Turkey

There is still a lot that is murky about it, the most murky being US involvement and foreknowledge, but I believe some conclusions can be drawn.

  1. There was a real, home-grown coup being plotted against Erdoğan. It probably combined Gülenist and Kemalist elements. While these two seem unlikely allies, coup alliances – especially ones planning to assassinate the leader – are animated more by what they are against than by what they are for. The plotters often cannot think past The Deed: Brutus and Cassius expected that with Caesar gone, the “republic” would re-appear; the killers of Sadat imagined that with “Pharaoh” gone, all would be well. But all they got was another Caesar and another “Pharaoh”. Thus a temporary coming together of Gülenists and Kemalists to overthrow the “Sultan” is not impossible.
  2. This coup had been in preparation for some time and Turkish security got wind of it (“received information” is the phrase being used) in time to warn Erdoğan to get out just ahead of the assassins. The story that Russian intelligence had picked up the clues and forewarned him is very believable. Russian signals intelligence has always been very good and Moscow would have been monitoring communications in Turkey because of the fighter plane shoot-down. It is very plausible – especially if, as Ankara now says, the shoot-down was orchestrated by the plotters – that Russian intelligence would have come across the plot. If so, it would immediately be wondered – and I’m sure is being wondered in what we should probably get used to calling the Sublime Porte again – whether US intelligence had also got wind of it but didn’t warn Erdoğan.
  3. Despite earlier speculation, this coup was much more serious and came much closer to success than was thought at the time. If Erdoğan had been killed and if the people had not come out in the streets, we’d today be looking at something completely different. (It is time to abandon the speculation that Erdoğan orchestrated it himself.)
  4. Washington and the coup. I said that this question was murky and I expect that it will remain so. And the principal reason for this is simply “which Washington”? The CIA? Some faction inside the CIA? The neocon cabal that infests the State Department? The humanitarian bombers who populate Obama’s retinue? Some faction in the US military? Somebody in the US staff at the İncirlik airbase? The US Ambassador? Would these/some/other American officials have given active encouragement to the coup plotters or a (deniable) misstatement that was taken as encouragement? Did US intelligence get wind of it and not pass the message on? Did they pass it up to the political level and it didn’t pass it on? I strongly suspect that neither President Obama nor US Secretary of State Kerry could answer the question either: nobody seems to be in charge in today’s USA. So, the extent of US involvement at some level or other to some degree of activity or encouragement will probably not be know for decades. But see below.
  5. Whatever the reality may be, Erdoğan and his people are blaming Washington. There have been enough direct and indirect statements to make that plain. The demand – and demand it is – to hand over Gülen is being presented as a test. I expect Washington to “fail” the test if for no other reason than the fact that decision-making is too fractured. Evidence of US involvement will be looked for and will be found or invented. Washington’s support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units just strengthens Ankara’s hostility.
  6. Erdoğan has used the coup as an opportunity to accelerate and widen the purge that he was already doing. Enough of the actual plotters and potential sympathisers have been neutralised that he is coup-proof for the foreseeable future. He is fully in charge and has demonstrated his substantial street power, Added to which he can now blame any past foolish decisions (like the Russian fighter plane shoot-down) on the plotters. So, he is free to re-tell the past, he has proved his power and he may now do what he wants.
  7. Atatürk made a kind of compact with the population: adopt European behaviours and, eventually, Europe will accept you as “European”. For years I have wondered what would happen when Ankara finally understood that that was never going to happen. We will now find out. Kemalist Turkey is gone. My guess is that what will replace it will be something that could be called “neo-Ottomanism” – authoritarian but with a degree of popular support, predominantly Islamic but with a degree of tolerance, looking much more to the south and east. But the future structure will take time to evolve and, at the end of the day, it might cover a smaller territory and it may get rather violent.
  8. The Turkish Armed Forces have been severely weakened and, with the emphasis on domestic security now predominant, to say nothing of extensive purges of the high command, the time of military adventures in Syria is over. The war against the Kurds will also likely have to wind down.
  9. I believe that Erdoğan and his people began a sort of cost-benefit analysis recently and, just before the coup, we saw the first moves with his overtures to Israel and Russia. First, the cost side of the ledger. Turkey is never going to be admitted into the EU (not that that is so attractive these days); following Washington’s lead in the Middle East has brought it disaster and defeat; rightly or wrongly, Ankara believes Washington has betrayed it. The Western orientation is mostly on the cost side of the ledger. On the benefit side, Ankara has learned how much Russia’s enmity can cost it (and, if its true that Moscow tipped Erdoğan off to the coup, what Russia’s friendship can give). Then there are the future benefits: tangible in the shape of becoming Russia’s gas spigot to southern Europe and the potentially enormous gains from China’s “One Belt, One Road” strategy. Therefore, a simple cost-benefit calculation shows that a Eurasian turn has many benefits for Turkey while the status quo has about paid out.
  10. A more brutal calculation would have Erdoğan & Co considering the correlation of forces. Who’s winning? Which is the side to bet on? In 2000 the USA was by far the most powerful country on Earth; most powerful in every measurable way. But it’s been at war ever since and it’s losing these wars; it has outsourced the manufacturing power that was the foundation of its power last century; its foreign activities are fumbling and incoherent. As to the other Western standard-bearer, no one could possibly pretend that the future of the EU is bright. The power of the West is fading and what remains is incompetently managed. Since 2000, on the other hand – although the consumer of Western media absurdities would be unaware of it – under very capable management, Russia has grown in wealth and power. The same goes for China – steady economic and military growth combined with intelligent and wise leadership. If you were running Turkey, with which would you throw in your fate? Especially when your Western “allies” have so frequently spurned you? And may just have tried to kill you?
  11. Moscow will accept the turn but will demand behavioural change. No more backdoor support to Daesh through oil smuggling; no more safe havens for Daesh fighters; no more interference in Syria. But it will continue its patient approach and allow a certain amount of dissimulation from Ankara. Moscow will pretend to believe (and maybe it’s true) that the fighter was shot down by coup plotters and other face-saving statements from Ankara as Erdoğan rewrites the past.
  12. Turkey will leave NATO. What is not clear is the timing and the optics. I can easily imagine a gradual pulling back that doesn’t quite ever formally leave. But, if the Eurasian turn is indeed happening, then NATO is gone. It no longer brings Ankara advantages and that goes doubly given the apparent use of İncirlik base as a location of some of the coup plotters. Washington is starting to understand that İncirlik is, in fact, changing from an asset into a liability and it will be interesting to see what it does: certainly it’s time to move the nuclear weapons out. (Vide the New Yorker piece: “How secure are the American hydrogen bombs stored at a Turkish airbase?“.)
  13. Things could get rather violent. It’s too early to tell. Erdoğan’s call to take to the streets to stop the coup was bravely answered and that may be enough. His purge is very extensive and may eliminate the fifth column (as well as many innocents). It all depends on how strong the internal glue of the country is and that we cannot know – the distance between stability and bloody chaos in any society is shorter than most people like to think. And the American regime changers, who have brought so much destruction in such a short time to Turkey’s neighbours, have a new target, albeit with greatly restricted access and levers with which to do it.
  14. (What follows is sheer off-the-wall speculation. The Ottoman Empire was an extremely multi-ethnic and multi-confessional enterprise. Through the millet system, the Sultans allowed and managed these differences. Atatürk tried to create a European-style country inhabited by an ethnicity he invented called “Turks”. Descendants of the people of Göbekli Tepe, the Trojans, Bithynians and Miletians, Caucasians, surviving Greeks and Armenians, Seljuks and Kurds would now all officially be “Turks” just as Bretons, Burgundians and Occitan-speakers were officially “French”. To a considerable degree this fiction succeeded (as it has for that matter in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and so on) but the Kurds never accepted being called “Turks” or “Mountain Turks”. In a neo-Ottoman Turkey, however, they can again become “Kurds” (but never separatists). But, if the Kurds really want independence, this is probably the best chance they have ever had to take it.)

NATO, Back in Business at the Old Stand

JRL 2016/132/16

Spare a thought for the travails of NATO drones over the past couple of decades. About 25 years ago I was in competition for a job on the International Staff at NATO. I’ve forgotten most of the details but it would have paid about US$100,000. Tax free. Plus benefits. What would have been the equivalent salary, in the real world, to that, do you suppose? In return, NATO started work sometime Monday afternoon and knocked off early on Friday and essentially took meetings the rest of the time. And Brussels is a convenient base for travelling around Europe. But I didn’t get the job.

The Warsaw Pact imploded, followed by the USSR and NATO’s raison d’être disappeared. A colleague who finally got a position on the Canadian delegation (no big IS salaries for them!) seriously wondered whether NATO would last through his time there.

Well, it did. Expansion (soon officially changed to the more anodyne “enlargement”) gave employment. NATO, it piously said, cannot stop people from freely applying to join, can it? Of course, given that most of these countries wanted to be neutral originally – the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine in 1990 has these words: “The Ukrainian SSR solemnly declares its intention of becoming a permanently neutral state that does not participate in military blocs…” – it took time and money to persuade people to “freely” apply. In the case of Ukraine two decades, two colour revolutions and five billion USD and 500 thousand Euros. We see similar efforts today with the campaigns in Sweden and Finland. Nothing spontaneous at all, actually.

Kosovo was a problem for the NATO drones. Not in the initial execution that is; that narrative was smoothly crafted – walking blood banks, rape camps, genocide, the monster Milosevic – the MSM obediently fell into line. No, the problem was the terrifying realisation that it wasn’t working and that a land invasion might have to be fumbled together. But Chernomyrdin persuaded Milosevic to give up, the worst did not come to pass and everybody could congratulate themselves on writing a new page of military history: “virtual war“, air power alone can win wars and similar certainties that are not so certain today.

Then came 911 and NATO was required in Afghanistan. Expansion and Kosovo had been fun for NATO drones: visiting European centres as honoured guests treated to the best of everything, making speeches about stability and the necessity to make a stand against evil but not much in the way of hard or unpleasant work. Afghanistan, on the other hand, was a nasty dangerous place where the locals all hated you but concealed their hatred until you stopped paying them. Like most of the regime-change wars with which we have grown so familiar, Afghanistan started with a bang and the Taliban government was overthrown in weeks. But the war goes on and on. Obama will leave 8400 US troops there for his successor; he had promised to end it in 2014. John McCain thinks the US needs a “permanent presence” there. Complete, of course, with NATO allies.

In short, NATO membership is not attractive if all it involves is interminable rotations through Afghanistan. A dreary prospect indeed.

Besides the multitude of unpleasant locations with few hotels and bars, another problem with the “War on Terror” is that the enemy is small and feeble – IEDs, suicide vests, small arms. Small money weapons that don’t require big money weapons systems to counter.

A third problem, of course, is that NATO & Co is not exactly winning these wars. So either it must stop talking about them (the word “Afghanistan” appears only 8 times in the Warsaw Summit communiqué) or start uttering complete nonsense as in “These efforts mark an important step to strengthen Libya’s democratic transition” (§30).

NATO must remain and expand – it’s a necessary control mechanism for Washington (and so is the EU, as we have just learned with the EU-NATO amalgamation). Let a former American official explain Why NATO is vital for American interests: “Vladimir Putin’s aggression”, “weakening and potentially fractured European Union” and “tsunami of violence spreading from the Levant and North Africa into Europe itself”. In short: Russia’s resistance to NATO expansion; the EU’s failure; instability resulting from NATO attacks in the Middle East. Compelling reasons indeed. To paraphrase that great American Statesman, Homer Simpson, NATO is the solution to the problems it creates. But it badly needs a new raison d’être in order to keep the members in, attract new ones and to allow bigger profits. Jihadists in Afghanistan don’t serve the purpose any more.

So, our drones need something more attractive to retain their enthusiasm, pay and perqs. The communiqué from the Warsaw NATO summit is their answer. This 16,489 word panegyric to itself modestly states that NATO is “an unparalleled community of freedom, peace, security, and shared values, including individual liberty, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law” (§2). The Warsaw Summit brings us back to the tried and true – Russia. The communiqué uses the word “Russia” 57 times and “Ukraine” 32 times for a total of 89. By contrast, “terrorism” and “ISIL” only 27 times, “jihad”, “Islam” and “Ebola” not at all. It’s clear where the emphasis now is.

Section 10 will serve as a summary of it all:

Russia’s destabilising actions and policies include: the ongoing illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, which we do not and will not recognise and which we call on Russia to reverse; the violation of sovereign borders by force; the deliberate destabilisation of eastern Ukraine; large-scale snap exercises contrary to the spirit of the Vienna Document, and provocative military activities near NATO borders, including in the Baltic and Black Sea regions and the Eastern Mediterranean; its irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric, military concept and underlying posture; and its repeated violations of NATO Allied airspace. In addition, Russia’s military intervention, significant military presence and support for the regime in Syria, and its use of its military presence in the Black Sea to project power into the Eastern Mediterranean have posed further risks and challenges for the security of Allies and others.

Nevertheless, NATO, ever patient and ever virtuous, says “We remain open to a periodic, focused and meaningful dialogue” (§2) with Russia.

NATO’s relentless expansion, its untrustworthiness (see Libya), military exercises in and around Russia, overthrow of governments in Ukraine and other neighbours, fall in this screed somewhere between unremarkable and non-existent: Russia is to blame for everything. The “serious deterioration of the human rights situation on the Crimean peninsula” is its fault (§7), the non-fulfilment of the Minsk Agreement is its fault (§9), Russia’s reaction to BMD is “unacceptable and counterproductive” (§59), as are its provocations “in the periphery of NATO territory” (§5).

NATO-Land is like Laputa – it floats in some imaginary place where Crimea is a hellish nightmare for the inhabitants, Libya ever “transitions” towards democracy and scholars, looking for sunbeams in cucumbers, find Russians hiding under the cucumber beds. What “deterioration of human rights” in Crimea? The Minsk Agreement requires nothing from Russia: the word “Russia”does not appear in it; has any of these people read it? Is it Russia’s fault that this clause still awaits fulfilment “On the first day after the pullout a dialogue is to start on modalities of conducting local elections“? Is it really so outrageous that the Russians don’t believe that NATO has “no intention to redesign this [BMD] system”? (§59) There was “no intention” to expand NATO or to blow up Libya either; no wonder Moscow won’t trust NATO’s word. (Oh, and it would be wrong to suggest that NATO promised not to permanently station troops in its new territories – that promise only held until enough accusations could be manufactured. In any case, these new troops NATO promises (§40) won’t be permanent; they’ll just be permanently rotating.) Yes, Russia does have military exercises on the edge of NATO now that NATO has expanded to the edge of Russia; is it supposed to only have exercises in central Siberia now, or would they be provocatively close to American troops in Japan, South Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria?

Always difficult out of this catalogue of nonsense to pick a favourite but I think this one is the standout: “[Russia’s] long-standing non-implementation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty” (§69) Russia actually ratified the amended treaty: no one in NATO did!

And, lest we forget weapons sales: “We welcome Allied efforts to address, as appropriate, existing dependencies on Russian-sourced legacy military equipment.” (§78)

So, after dreary years of trudging through the inhospitable mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of Iraq, years of defeat, years of trivial profits, NATO drones have entered the sunny uplands. Russia is again the enemy, NATO has a big enemy that needs big money projects like the F-35, the Littoral Combat Ship, trillion dollar nuclear weapons programs, Crusader SPGs and decades-long deployments in places with good restaurants where the people don’t hate you.

Europe will again be united against the Russian Threat© under Washington’s leadership even more tightly now that the EU and NATO are openly under the same management. Promotions and prosperity all round!

All is well.

Apart for the niggling facts that NATO & Co are still losing their wars, haven’t got the money they used to have, are actually under attack from different enemies, have populations that are growing restive, are in a demographic decline, have militaries that are rusting out and fading away, have stagnant economies and populations that don’t actually want to go to war for Estonia. Oh, and European banks need a bailout. And NATO’s pressure brings Russia and China (0 mentions) ever closer. Repeating lies, nonsense and fantasies at twice the volume is not actually a sign of strength.

So, it’s not really a bright new future, it’s just Miss Havisham reliving the happiness of her engagement day.

Questions NATO Still Hasn’t Answered

A couple of years ago NATO held one of its self-congratulatory summits in Wales. I suggested some agenda subjects to discuss. Time moves on, dates change, but these subjects didn’t make it to the agenda then and won’t next month either. Instead we’ll hear how NATO’s an all-round Good Thing.

NATO Gives Away the Secret

On the NATO home page we find “Admiral Howard takes the helm at JFC Naples

In it is this

As Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, Howard will be responsible for leading full spectrum maritime operations in concert with allied, coalition, joint, interagency and other partners to advance U.S. interests while enhancing maritime security and stability in Europe and Africa. [My emphasis]

Now I thought, in my simple-minded way, that NATO’s “essential purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members through political and military means” and not just to be a beard for Washington’s aims and purposes.

I guess I was wrong.

Check it out before some NATO flunkey “corrects” it.

(Thanks to Tina Jennings for catching this)

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

Headline from the Daily Stupidity Mail

NATO shows Putin who’s boss: 31,000 troops, tanks and jets from 24 countries begin the largest war game exercise in eastern Europe since the Cold War in response to Russian aggression

Well, apart from the fact that 80-some-odd percent of these 31K troops are from the USA and Poland, and the others are from here and there (in short, another typical NATO – some-NATO – others-NATO – whoever-shows-up NATO, all-NATO-all-the-time, operation) we can compare this with the somewhat larger FTXs Russia does (as, for example VOSTOK-2014 155K troops) and be properly gobsmacked.
But I prefer to look at the comments on the Daily Idiocy Mail website; regarding them as giving us, as Agent K might say, a better bead on reality.
Highest rated (467 upvotes):
So we organize a huge premeditated military show of Force with thousands of troops on Russias doorstep because of what???
Second highest rated (403 upvotes):
These fools are barking up the wrong tree! They should worry about ISIS and migrants crisis NOT Vlad.
Third highest rated (371 upvotes):
So this is what NATO is doing when they are not too busy training ISIS troops in Turkey?
I say it ain’t selling, Daily Dorkface Mail. Better go back to Hot-Babe-of-the-Moment’s-Beach-Body.\
Top comment: “Hunga Munga!!!!!” (92 billion upvotes)
 That gets upvotes.

Russia Prepares for a Big War: The Significance of a Tank Army

Picked up by

People who already understand how armies are put together should skip Part 1.

Part 1. How armies are put together

One of the things that I find irritating about battles in movie is that the director seems to think that battles are about getting an inchoate mass of soldiers together, giving a rousing speech and yelling “Charge!” That is absolutely not how it works nor ever has worked. Real armies are assembled out of groupings made from smaller groupings, themselves made from still-smaller groupings and so on down to the smallest group.

The smallest group is about ten soldiers. This is the fundamental bonding size – these are your buddies, the people you will really remember, the ones you depend on and who depend on you and for whom you will fight and sacrifice. Yes, you’re fighting for Freedom or some other Large Cause, but it’s really your buddy you’re doing it for. So we start with about ten soldiers.

In the Roman Army this was the contubernium – a corporal, seven legionaries plus two servants who shared a tent and ate together. The fundamental tiny piece out of which everything else was constructed.

The next thing to know is the span of command or control. The commander of each level, is trying, in very difficult circumstances, to get his subordinates to do something they would never do in their right minds. They know perfectly well that the first guy in the house, the lead guy attacking the machinegun post, the first guy out of the trench, the first guy out of the landing craft is almost certain to be killed or injured. It is very difficult to get people to do this and long experience shows that a commander can only control three to five elements.

The next principle to remember is square or triangular. Armies are usually constructed by making the next level of organisation out of three or four of the lower level. Why? With three, you can have two engaged and one in reserve. (A great deal of the problem of a commander, once battle is joined, is knowing where and when to commit his reserves). The “square” structure allows two in contact, one in reserve and one resting, or two up, one in reserve and one manoeuvring. Five or six are too many but two are too few. This introduces the fundamental principles of “fire” (applying the destruction to the enemy) and “movement” (moving so as to apply that destruction most efficaciously). (Movie battles have lots of the first, but little of the last.)

Finally, we have the combat arms – infantry, armour (cavalry in its time) and artillery – and supporting arms. “Combat arms” because they directly apply the violence. Other specialities assist them: engineers help them move, transport moves them, medical patches them up, signals communicate, logistics supplies them and so on. No army can function without them.

In what follows I will discuss infantry organisations because they are the purest soldier – the other two combat arms are machines, whether tanks or guns, and the support arms are functions. But, the principles of infantry organisations are followed in the other components. It should be noted that different military traditions have different names for some of these things but it’s all the same principle.

Three or four “tents” (sections) make a platoon; three or four platoons a company; three or four companies a battalion. At battalion level some specialisation will appear: it may have a mortar platoon, or a machinegun platoon, there will be a simple first aid element, some light engineers, communicators, headquarters and so on. But they are all capable of being ordinary riflemen if needed. The battalion is the first construction that is capable of some sort of independent action – it has enough companies to provide fire and manoeuvre and reserves, its machinegun or mortar elements give it some support. But it is still infantry and still pretty “light”.

The next level is a brigade of three or four battalions. But there is a decision point here: do you envisage this brigade being an “independent brigade” or a sub-division of a larger formation? If the former we introduce the other arms, if the latter it remains all infantry.

An independent brigade, or brigade group, will have, in proportions depending on what you want to do, infantry, tank and artillery battalions from the “combat arms” as well as “support” elements: like combat engineers, medical and dental, post offices, laundry facilities, possibly a helicopter battalion and on and on. It is an independent military town of 4000 to 6000 people which needs almost everything a civilian town needs while also being capable of moving anywhere at a moment’s notice. This formation is intended to carry out military tasks by itself with help from the air forces.

The brigade that is intended to be a piece in the next largest structure would have three or four infantry battalions and would still be mainly riflemen with very little added from the other arms. Next level is the division made of infantry, tank and artillery brigades in the proportion thought useful. In the Second World War divisions were usually the smallest thing one would see on the battlefield that could be given an independent task.

A tank division would be constructed the same way except that the basic “tent” is tank itself, three or four make a platoon, and then companies, battalions and brigades. Artillery would only rarely be organised into independent structures because while it has fire, it does not have much movement. The supporting arms – engineers, signals, logistics, medical and so on, because they exist for support, rarely appear as independent structures. In short “divisions” are infantry-heavy or tank-heavy (bitter experience has taught and re-taught that none of the combat arms can function alone).

Moving up, three or four divisions make a corps; two to four corps an army and a couple of armies make an army group.

So, a whole gigantic army group is assembled, step by step, out of our little “tents”.

Part 2. What’s All This Mean?

How big a war do you anticipate? A smallish one, a bigger one or a really big one? Your answer will determine the formations that you construct.

An important decision point, which reveals your answer, is whether you add in the other combat arms and specialised support elements at brigade (ie 5000 or so troops) or at division (10,000 or so)? If at brigade, you have made a decision that you expect your future wars to be rather small and that all-arms formations of 5000-or-so soldiers is as big as you need. If on the other hand, you decide to create divisions – formations about three times as large – you are showing that you are expecting a larger war. If you then start combining these divisions into corps, armies or even army groups, you are expecting a really big, all-out war against a first-class enemy. Something the size of World War II in fact. In 1945, for example, the Western Allies entered Germany with three army groups, totalling eight armies, totalling 91 divisions: about four and a half million soldiers.

It is possible to have a bit of both, but it’s only a bit. You may decide on independent brigades but also have a divisional headquarters. But, unless the brigades routinely exercise under the command of a standing divisional headquarters, and that headquarters controls assets, only the idea of divisional operations is kept alive.

In short, if you stop at independent brigades, you are telling the world that you expect, and are planning for, relatively small wars. If you go to divisions you are expecting something larger and if you construct a corps (or army in Russian terminology) you are telling the world that you are preparing for a big war.

And so, an observer who knows how armies are put together, can tell a lot about what kind of war a country expects by understanding how it has put its “tent groups” together.

Part 3. The Russian Army

The Soviet Army was organised for a huge war: it had divisions, organised into armies (corps in Western terminology) which were organised into fronts (armies in Western terminology) and further grouped into TVDs or Theatres of Military Activity (army groups in Western terminology) all backed up by a conscription and reserve system, immense stocks of weapons and gigantic pre-positioned ammunition dumps. This time, the Soviets did not intend to fight the decisive battle an hour’s drive from Moscow. When the USSR collapsed, so did that structure. The most ready elements were based in the Warsaw Treaty countries; Russia took responsibility for them and they were hurriedly moved back, shedding conscripts as they went. The formations which would have been filled up and then supported the ready elements were in Ukraine and Belarus and lost to Russia.

For some years the management of the Russian army did not appear to have understood that everything had changed – that the huge Soviet forces were gone and would not magically fill up with hundreds of thousands of conscripts to fill up the “empty formations”. But, they didn’t know how to make them smaller either: we were always told in talks with the Russian General Staff that the state could not afford to pay the officers the pensions and housing allowances they were entitled to. And so this once mighty army decayed.

Perhaps it was failure in the First Chechen War that finally convinced headquarters that the Russian army was not a temporarily shrunken big war army. We started being told that they were re-designing their army around independent brigades. It was clear from reading the periodic military and strategic doctrine documents that the wars that Moscow foresaw were smaller wars, on the scale of border infractions or a Chechen-sized war in which the enemy would be small agile lightly-armed groups. For such conflicts, anything larger than independent all-arms brigade-sized formations would be too large and complicated.

And, gradually, between the two Chechen wars, “divisions” (which our inspections had shown to be empty of soldiers but full of poorly-maintained equipment and under-paid dispirited officers) disappeared and were replaced by “storage bases”. We assumed these to be a way of avoiding the huge retirement bill while giving officers something useful to do. At the same time independent brigade groups began to appear, with the first ones in the south where trouble was expected. This is one of the reasons why the second Chechen war was a victory for Moscow.

At this stage, (I’m looking at the 2002 CFE data now) there were entities called “divisions” and “armies” (corps) but they were very understrength – apart from the North Caucasus, there were perhaps two divisions in the western area worthy of the name; neither of them deployed to the west. The real force was in the North Caucasus: three divisions, fully staffed and an army (corps) headquarters. But the future was there too with the first two independent brigade groups setting the pattern for the rest.

In short, by the turn of the century, in their published doctrine, in everything they told us in meetings, in deployments and in their formation structures the Russians were showing us they had no offensive designs against NATO and they expected no attacks from NATO. The south was where they saw danger.

The CFE Treaty showed us all this: the Russians were obliged to give us a list of elements showing their precise location and relationship to other structures with the number of soldiers and major weapons; we could go there and check this out at any moment. Thanks to the Treaty we always knew what they had, where they had it and how it was organised. Our inspectors found no discrepancies. But the NATO member countries never ratified the Treaty, continually adding conditions to it and, after years, Russia, which had ratified it, gave up and denounced it. And so we all lost (because it was reciprocal) a transparent confidence building mechanism based on full disclosure with the right to verify.

All this time the Russians told us that that NATO’s relentless expansion, ever closer, was a danger (опасность) although they stopped short of calling it, as they did terrorism, a threat (угроза); “dangers” you watch; “threats” you must respond to. NATO of course didn’t listen, arrogantly assuming NATO expansion was doing Russia a favour and was an entitlement of the “exceptional nation” and its allies.

It is important to keep in mind with the everlasting charges that Russia is “weaponising” this and that, threatening everyone and everything, behaving in an “19th century fashion“, invading, brutalising, and on and on, that its army structure and deployments do not support the accusations. A few independent brigades, mostly in the south, are not the way to threaten neighbours in the west. Where are the rings of bases, the foreign fleet deployments, the exercises at the borders? And, especially, where are the strike forces? Since the end of the USSR they have not existed: as they have told us, so have they acted.

They planned for small wars, but NATO kept expanding; they argued, but NATO kept expanding; they protested, but NATO kept expanding. They took no action for years.

Well, they have now: the 1st Guards Tank Army is being re-created.

This army, or corps in Western terminology, will likely have two or three tank divisions, plus a motorised rifle division or two, plus enormous artillery and engineering support, plus helicopters and all else.

The 1st Guards Tank Army will be stationed in the Western Military District to defend Russia against NATO. It is very likely that it will be the first to receive the new Armata family of AFVs and be staffed with professional soldiers and all the very latest and best of Russia’s formidable defence industry. It will not be a paper headquarters; it will be the real thing: commanded, manned, staffed, integrated, exercised and ready to go.

It should be remembered that the Soviet Armed Forces conducted what are probably the largest operations in the history of warfare. Take, for example, Operation Bagration which started shortly after the D Day invasion. Using Western terms, it involved eleven armies, in support or attacking; recall that the Western allies entered Germany with eight armies – five American, one each British, Canadian and French. Tank corps (armies in Soviet/Russian) are the hammers – either they deliver the decisive counter-attack after the defence has absorbed the attack (Stalingrad or Kursk) or they deliver the offensive strike. The decision to create a tank army (armoured corps in Western terminology) is an indication that Russia really does fear attack from the west and is preparing to defend itself against it.

In short, Russia has finally come to the conclusion that

NATO’s aggression means it has to prepare for a big war.

As a historical note, Dominic Lieven’s book shows the preparations Emperor Alexander made when he realised that, sooner or later, Napoleon was going to come for Russia. And everyone knows how that ended. As Field Marshal Montgomery, who had more experience of big war than anyone in the Pentagon or White House today, said: “Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: ‘Do not march on Moscow’.”

This is what the light-hearted decision to expand NATO, “colour revolutions”, regime changes, cookies on the Maidan and incessant anti-Russian propaganda has brought us to.

And it won’t be a war that NATO will win.


NATO, Alcoholism and Homer Simpson

That great American philosopher Homer Simpson once observed that alcohol was the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.

One might say, as Pepe Escobar has, that “NATO may indeed incarnate the ultimate geopolitical/existential paradox; an alliance that exists to manage the chaos it breeds.”

They’re both right: NATO now exists to attempt to – or more accurately, to pretend to – manage the problems it created the last go round. That is now NATO’s chief purpose. Apart, of course, from making money for weapons companies. Which it does quite satisfactorily.

NATO is a geopolitical alcoholic: last night’s binge is the need for this morning’s hair of the dog which lays the foundation for tonight’s bender. Every weekend is a lost weekend for NATO.

The first case of alcohol causing the problems it solved was NATO expansion itself. In 1998 George Kennan predicted the future: “There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else…. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong.” NATO expanded; Russia reacted; Russia is a threat; NATO was right to expand.

In my diplomat days in Moscow in the early 1990s NATO expansion was just beginning: it will bring stability said wooden American diplomats when I and a colleague from another NATO country questioned its wisdom. Well, we have had at least two wars now – the Ossetia War of 2008 and the ongoing civil war in Ukraine – that have a connection to NATO expansion. But they are both used as a justification for the application of more alcohol to solve the problems of the earlier binge.

Now, apparently, Russia is about to invade the Baltics. (Of course Kennan foresaw that too: “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 attacked Libya on flimsy grounds. Indeed, as the Clinton e-mails tells us, on the most meretricious grounds. But grabbing Libya’s gold is what you might call the real NATO (the distillers’ profits, so to speak) and supporting the heist by fake atrocity stories and R2P is the advertising campaign. But the NATO bender in Libya, or as we say in Canada “defence of our cherished democratic principles“, has led to another drinking problem. Quite apart from waking Moscow up to the reality of NATO.

And the other problem, requiring another lost weekend, is of course the thousands of refugees/migrants from Syria, Iraq, Kosovo, Libya and Afghanistan – all places that have received the blessings of NATO’s attention. But, never fear, NATO steps up to the bar to buy another round: “We have just agreed that NATO will provide support to assist with the refugee and migrant crisis.” When it’s not blaming Russia for it, that is.

But, says Robert Kagan, the ur-neocon and husband to the Baker of the Maidan, just one more war and all will be well. One more drink and it’s solved.

First, it would require establishing a safe zone in Syria, providing the millions of would-be refugees still in the country a place to stay and the hundreds of thousands who have fled to Europe a place to which to return. To establish such a zone, American military officials estimate, would require not only U.S. air power but ground forces numbering up to 30,000. Once the safe zone was established, many of those troops could be replaced by forces from Europe, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, but the initial force would have to be largely American.

NATO will be curing its hangovers with the hair of the dog for years to come.