First published Strategic Culture Foundation
We sleep soundly in our beds, because rough men stand ready in the night to do violence on those who would harm us.
NATO contemplates Kaliningrad: “We think through those plans all the time, and… if that would ever come to fruition, we’d be ready to execute.” It would be “a multi-domain, very timely and effective capability”. “The best Polish military units, numbering 30,000 soldiers, should take part in the quick offensive“. Multi-domain, best Polish; in the imaginations of the strategists of Laputa, the Russians passively await the blow. But now we must leave the empyrean realms of pure thought and float down to earth; there we find that “The largest headquarters military exercises Winter 2020 in Poland ended with the complete defeat of Polish troops: on the fifth day of the virtual conflict, the enemy reached the banks of the Vistula and surrounded Warsaw“.
Moscow has just told us (in the guise of a “suggestion” from two scientists) what it would do while NATO was polishing its multi-domains. Andrei Martyanov summarises it. Russia knows that US/NATO attacks start with a heavy air bombardment. And very effective it is too. Against Iraq or Libya which had poorly-coordinated, poorly-maintained, obsolete air defence systems. Or against Afghanistan which had none at all. Went well until the Serbs sent the F-117 into premature obsolescence. But Russia has excellent air defences. But more to the point, which is what our two professors are talking about, it has a host of highly effective missiles, many of them hypersonic and it knows where to aim them.
In order to disrupt the bombardment and frustrate ground-based operations, the analysts say, Russia should launch a colossal counter or pre-emptive strike to wipe out enemy hardware. This could be achieved, they argue, with the combined use of drones, missiles, cyber warfare and new weaponry, destroying Western equipment before it can even get airborne.
As soon as Moscow decided that a real war was inevitable, there would be a rain of hypersonic missiles which would swiftly overwhelm NATO’s mediocre air defences and destroy airfields, aircraft hangars, ammunition dumps, logistics and C3I facilities. And the Defence Minister has just ordered more of them. The “Sulwaki Corridor” would be the quietest place in Europe. Russians, through their brutal experience, know Orwell is correct: war is about destruction and killing.
In the West, however, other matters predominate. An American Rear Admiral heads a group to “have a deeper inclusion and diversity conversation in our Navy“; it will “acknowledge all lived experiences and intersectional identities of every Sailor in the Navy“. The German Army is far ahead as are many Western militaries. “America is stronger around the world when it is inclusive“. “Diversity, inclusion and respect are at the heart of the British Army’s values and ethos“. Diversity makes the Canadian Armed Forces stronger. NATO has “mainstreamed” “gender balance and diversity“.
Is transgenderism a “mental disorder” with very high suicide risk as at least one credentialed psychiatrist says, or is it a perfectly normal position on a flexible spectrum as many other credentialed psychiatrists say? Whatever, let’s try it out in the military and see what happens. Women have gradually moved to full combat roles in the US military. And, no matter how one might want to play with the meaning of the word “stronger”, men are physically stronger than women. And the infantry have to carry heavy loads: one of the more famous efforts was the Royal Marines’ “yomp” in the Falklands – 90 kilometres, three days, average load 36 kilograms. It is said that modern soldiers in the British Army are loaded down with even more. Perhaps weight itself should be made gender-neutral: “The Army Combat Fitness Test, ordered gender-neutral three years ago, is under evaluation by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command“.
Western militaries are lab rats for the latest woke diktats. But there are consequences: “Overall, 11 percent of female service personnel scheduled to ship out were not able to in the previous year because of a pregnancy.” “Research suggests that veterans who identify as members of marginalized populations (e.g., women and racial/ethnic minority groups) carry far greater risk for developing PTSD.” “Sexual violence remains pervasive. In 2018, 20,500 service members were sexually assaulted or raped including 13,000 women and 7,500 men. The rate of sexual assault and rape jumped by almost 40% from 2016 to 2018, and for women veterans, the rate increased by over 50% to the highest level since 2006.” Meditate on the corrosive effect on morale and trust of this: “Of women who reported a penetrative sexual assault, 59% were assaulted by someone with a higher rank than them, and 24% were assaulted by someone in their chain of command.” At some point, the US military will no longer have the levels of trust, cohesion, morale and readiness that distinguish a real fighting force from a parade army.
Lots of money spent, little to show for it. Weapons seem to have been designed to produce cost over-runs, not victories. The US Navy’s latest aircraft carrier, long over due and over budget still has “problems getting jets off the deck and issues with the landing systems“; problems indeed for an aircraft carrier. “[T]he F-35 currently has 871 software and hardware ‘deficiencies’.” The years-long and stunningly expensive super destroyer program has fizzled out: three built without the weapon they were originally designed around. Brand-new military equipment unuseable in Germany. Engine troubles in the UK’s new warships. AEGIS ships that don’t know where they are: HNoMS Helge Ingstad, USS Lake Champlain, USS John McCain, USS Fitzgerald; or maybe it’s only bad seamanship. German aircraft not ready. USAF bombers ageing out. Cost over-runs in Germany. USAF training ranges inadequate. A third of the RAF’s fighters unfit to fly. F-35 not very ready. Crumbling skin on F-22. NATO air defence is inadequate (vide this). “Only five of the U.S. Army’s 15 armored brigade combat teams are maintained at full readiness levels“. Where is the money going? Into woke projects like tanks with solar power? (Bit of a heat signature, but more money can be squandered fixing that.)
The experience of fighting “forever wars” – two decades of bombing and shooting from safe distances, kicking in doors and hoping there are no IEDs on patrols – have sapped preparation for a real war against first-class enemies. The truth is that Western militaries have been fighting – unsuccessfully – against minor enemies. They strike from secure bases confident in air supremacy and assured communications. (Can the Russians spoof GPS signals? What will that do to all the systems relying on GPS?) NATO is not winning against determined poorly-armed enemies; what makes it think it’s ready for determined well-armed enemies? And who wants to join a losing army? No wonder only one British infantry battalion is fully staffed.
The “forever wars” have enormous morale effects. In 2019 the US Army asked “how has serving impacted you?” and got back a host of answers about suicide and PTSD. The US military now publishes an annual suicide report: about 700 members and family a year. But, it says, deployment doesn’t increase the risk; no, that comes afterwards: over 6000 US veterans commit suicide every year. There are similar results in allied forces: German and British. Not surprising really: wars that last for generations without visible success are bad for morale: “For Afghanistan, 58 percent of veterans said that fight was not worthwhile“. NATO has already spent twice as long in Afghanistan as the USSR did and there isn’t anything to suggest it will be leaving: despite the agreement to be out by 1 May 2021, “no decision”. Meanwhile, NATO wants more troops in Iraq. Can’t end them, can’t win them. But NATO keeps looking for more: add China to the list.
Given skilful diplomacy and policies that didn’t threaten neighbours these things wouldn’t matter very much. Your inclusive and intersectional army would give good parades and your air force noisy flypasts, your navy could glisten at the dock. But the USA and NATO are not such: they believe they should be everywhere, interfere everywhere and enforce everywhere.
NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military power to undertake crisis-management operations… in cooperation with other countries and international organisations.
Has NATO ever solved any dispute, anywhere, any time with anything but bombs and threats? Certainly not since the USSR went down: bombs in the Balkans (22 years), Afghanistan (20 years), Iraq (19 years), Syria (9 years), Libya destroyed, run out of Somalia. Its principal member has 800 military bases in 70 countries. Here is the famous meme that Russia must want war because it puts its country close to our bases. (Not just a meme, actually, NATO complains about “provocative military activities near NATO’s borders“; or, as others might say, “inside Russia”.) Iran, a country that last attacked somebody in 1795, also. The British Navy joins the US Navy in “freedom of navigation” cruises in the South China Sea. Both navies would suffer from shortages in a real war. Maybe better to stay at home and let Beijing worry about freedom of navigation to and from China. Not content with the fact that the USA has no competent icebreakers, Washington is contemplating FON cruises in the Russian Arctic. The US regularly flies B-52s near countries it wants to overawe – “sending a message” they call it. Some message – 31 were lost in Vietnam. Or was it 34? At any event, given that it’s spent years thinking about what to do if the USAF comes, it’s unlikely that Tehran sees two B-52s as anything other than a derisory provocation.
Some US generals get it – World War II loss rates. Maybe even most generals get it, but they’re not making the decisions. People who call it “the greatest military in the history of the world” (Obama) “best trained, best equipped, and strongest military the world has ever known” (Hillary Clinton) with the “greatest weapons” (Trump) part of “the most powerful military alliance ever assembled“, “America’s forward operating base for democracy” do. And, just as if the last twenty years had not been a record of overextended failures, here’s a cheerleader calling for more of the same: A Superpower, Like It or Not.
NATO isn’t a paper tiger, it’s a paper pussycat. Lab rats in the latest woke experiment; bad morale and fading cohesion; low readiness levels; exhausted by forever wars; expensive weapons that don’t work; pawns in the fantasies of belligerent braggarts: that’s a recipe for catastrophe.
NATO would be severely defeated in a war with Russia or China and probably with Iran. If it can’t secure Afghanistan or Iraq after two decades, if it takes 226 days to overthrow Qaddafi, 79 days in Kosovo, what makes it think it can casually provoke countries that know they’re on the hit list and have been preparing for two decades? Do the Polish players in Winter 2020 still think it will be “timely and effective“?