One of the biggest advantages western leaders have politically is that most of the public have no idea whatsoever of the basics of military strategy and operations. For this reason they will not see or understand the deep significance in the military preparations made by their leaders.
Here I want to explain the significance of the preparations the USA/NATO have been making since the end of the cold war. For there has been a systematic programme to put in place over many years everything needed to launch and win a war against Russia.
PUBLIC DELUSIONS ABOUT RUSSIAN POWER
Modern Russia is not the USSR. The USSR was composed of fifteen states with a combined population of around 300 million. The armed forces of the USSR were three million strong. In addition the USSR had control of the Warsaw Pact military alliance, which included some six other relatively well developed middle income East European countries.
Modern Russia stands alone with mostly hostile neighbours, many being members of NATO. The equivalent of the Warsaw Pact belongs to NATO now and is backed up by the industrial might and wealth of the west. The Russian population is about 150 million, and its armed forces were recently rationalised down to about one million. To compare the conventional military threat from modern Russia to the USSR is plainly ridiculous, but that is what many western leaders are slyly doing.
NATO military spending is around ten times larger than Russia’s. US military spending alone is about six times larger than Russia’s. The Russian economy is smaller than the UK economy. Russian government spending on everything is only a third of UK government spending. The Russian economy is not well balanced and is overly dependent on exports of fossil fuels and minerals, which are highly vulnerable to external conditions.
Why did NATO need to expand? The Cold War was over, relations between Russia and the west were supposedly good, Russia was in a weakened, inward looking condition, so why?
There were those such as the Neocons who thought that one day Russia might recover and rebuild itself. They had become used to the idea of a world where the US could do whatever it liked internationally without meeting any significant opposition. They were determined that this ‘desirable’ set of circumstances must be maintained by any means necessary.
Thus while Russia was gradually recovering they would put in place all the capabilities and alliances needed to strangle a resurgent Russia in its cradle. Much of this was demonstrated in the US “National Security Revitalisation Act” (1995). Preparations of one form or another, such as the ‘Partnership for Peace’, had been going on practically since the fall of the USSR in 1991.
To go to war with Russia, or even just to threaten Russia with a credible conventional attack, NATO must have a border with Russia. Thus expanding NATO as fast as reasonably possible was pursued:
MAP 1 NATO 1999
MAP 2 NATO 2009
THE STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF UKRAINE
The expansion of NATO to a Baltic border with Russia gave only a limited, narrow front over which a NATO ground attack could be launched, with limited space for surprise. Russia could have some confidence about being able to contain such an attack. Thus the remaining buffer states between Russia and NATO consisting of Belarus and Ukraine became all important. Till recently Russia maintained good relations with both governments. These relationships are of crucial importance to Russian national security.
The strategic importance of Ukraine to Russia’s ability to defend itself is two-fold. Firstly there is a 600 to 700 mile long border between Ukraine and Russia composed of ideal terrain for offensive military operations against Russia. At the shortest distance it would take a NATO armoured division scarcely a week to march, if unopposed, to Moscow. If NATO forces were ever deployed in Ukraine it would deprive Russia of the great depth of defence it has enjoyed for many centuries, and put it in the most precarious peacetime strategic position it has experienced for many centuries. NATO would simultaneously be able to launch an attack from Estonia or Latvia which, if unopposed, could reach St. Petersburg in maybe as little as two days.
There have been those in the USA who have been keen since the end of the Cold War for NATO to expand into Georgia and Ukraine despite the extreme strategic sensitivity to Russian national security, and the damage to international relations this would inevitably cause. The issue of Ukraine’s potential EU membership seems to have precipitated a crisis. Why I asked myself did Russia seem so alarmed by Ukraine wanting to join the EU? I soon found out the answer. EU membership would be a quick way for Ukraine to effectively join NATO by the back door.
The reason lies with the Lisbon Treaty of the EU which includes provisions on collective security and defence. Article V is modelled on Article V of the NATO treaty and is almost as good. It legally commits all EU members to the ‘defence’ of any other member who is the ‘victim of aggression’ by an outside power. Of course each member government can decide for itself who they think the aggressor is in any situation, so can choose whether they want to intervene or not. As the overlap between the EU and NATO is so great there is a mechanism to easily slide from an EU affair to a NATO one.
The second crucial strategic sensitivity of Ukraine is the Crimean bases of the Black Sea Fleet. The Black Sea is surrounded by NATO members, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. Russian ships have to pass through Turkish controlled waters to enter and leave the Black Sea. Without the Black Sea Fleet NATO could easily close the Black Sea to Russian shipping.
What everyone, except NATO military planners, does not realise is the key strategic significance of this. Russia is really, simplifying somewhat, two countries: European Russia west of the Urals and Pacific Russia. The main flow of goods between the two is by sea. The land lines of communication, via the Trans-Siberian railway are weak in peacetime and highly vulnerable to air or missile attack in wartime. If the sea lines of communication between European Russia and Pacific Russia can be severed, then Russia is cut into two weaker, easier to defeat pieces, unable to support each other.
Needless to point out that the Baltic and access to the Atlantic are both dominated by NATO states and navies. NATO has great scope to bottle up Russian shipping. The loss of the Black Sea Fleet would represent a major deterioration in the ability of Russia to defend itself in wartime.
In recent times Russia has been trying to make arrangements for the transfer of the Black Sea Fleet to an alternative Black Sea base or bases. Smaller, easier to house units have already been transferred, and over many years billions have been spent trying to remould Novorossiysk into a form which could harbour the larger units of the Black Sea Fleet. These preparations are far from complete and Novorossiysk is considered far from ideal, even if it is the only practical alternative to the Crimea.
The Black Sea Fleet operated out of the Crimea on the basis of a 25 year extension of its lease from Ukraine. This lease was up for renewal in 2017. As long as a friendly pro-Russian government was in Kiev, as was under Yanukovych, the lease was certain of renewal. The support of the west for the overthrow of Yanukovych, and the installation of a hostile anti-Russian government in Kiev represented an opportunity for the Russian fleet to be kicked out of the Black Sea and for it to become a NATO naval monopoly. This was highly threatening to Russia’s national security so direct action was clearly taken to eliminate this threat.
MAP 3 UKRAINE’S STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE
NEUTRALISING RUSSIA’S NUCLEAR DETERENT
It would be unthinkable to launch a full-scale conventional war against Russia if it were able to destroy America with its nuclear weapons, so new technologies and strategies had to be developed which would one day enable the US to strip Russia of its nuclear deterrent and effectively give the US a nuclear monopoly. In the early days no expense was spared.
The key realisation was that in the age of high precision weapons it would become possible to destroy an opponent’s nuclear weapons on the ground using conventional weapons. In the past it was thought nuclear weapons would be needed for a strategic first strike. This was not practically credible. A conventional first strike was though. Hence PGS, “Precision Global Strike”, or “Prompt Global Strike” was born.
PGS is not a technology or a weapons system, it is a strategic concept, to employ a range of systems to destroy within one hour an opponent’s nuclear forces on the ground. The PGS concept has not yet reached maturity. It is still in the stage of research and development. It could be many years before a fully-fledged PGS capability is available to the Pentagon. Under Obama the approach has not been pursued vigorously, however once Obama goes there seems a high likelihood it will become a major goal of military R&D again.
Even the best system for a first strike is unlikely to destroy one hundred per cent of the enemy’s nuclear missiles. Many could be missed, hidden, or held in reserve etc. Even a small percentage of such weapons surviving could inflict unacceptable damage on the US homeland. This is where the missile defence shield becomes so important.
Whenever such weapons are launched they immediately give away their presence and become vulnerable to being shot down. The missile defence shield could mop up the few remaining weapons the enemy might try to retaliate with. The overall strategic effect is to give the USA a global nuclear weapons monopoly.
The missile defence shield has been developed further than PGS. However, again under Obama, these systems have not been developed or deployed to the extent that a more aggressive president might have done. Once Obama is gone it seems likely this programme will be advanced and expanded radically.
WHY THIS HAS PROVED SO DANGEROUS
The fact is that both Russia and China might have taken these preparations and military technology developments in their stride if not for one major factor which has destabilised the world and created a dangerous climate of tension and mistrust. This is the west’s rehabilitation of the use of war as a routine tool of foreign policy. Our leaders seem to think we are living in the nineteenth century, when nuclear weapons did not exist, and that it is alright now to attack any country whose government they dislike.
Governments in Moscow and Beijing just see themselves as potential targets for a similar treatment and are acting accordingly. The one event which seems to have been a turning point in how the Russian political and military establishment saw the west was the bombing of Belgrade by NATO. This action was technically illegal because it had not been authorised by the UN Security Council.
It is clear that Yeltsin changed his view of the west when this happened on the back of the west’s refusal to listen to his objections about NATO expansion. It is clear that both Gorbachev and Yeltsin believe they were hoodwinked by the west at the end of the Cold War. The reaction of western politicians to this has not been the alarm it should be, but rather a supercilious dismissal.