Tag Archives: Ukraine

The New Cold War

Cold War

Recent international activities are beginning to remind me of the cold war, and its heating up. Over the weekend the US shot down a Syrian SU-22 ground attack aircraft, after it had attack US supported Syrian and Kurdish forces who were in combat with ISIS. This action in and of itself is significant and indicates a sea change in US policy. But it is not an isolated incident and is a continuing march toward a new cold war that has been in development since the fall of the Soviet Union.

For those who do not remember, the cold war lasted from the end of the second world war in 1945 until the fall of the Soviet Union on 1991. During this time, there were both political and military confrontations between the West and the East. To correct the wrong impression while the term is “Cold War” there were some very hot spots during this time. From the Korean War through Vietnam and smaller conflicts in Africa and South and Central America, the west faced off against the agents of the Soviet Union in many ways. The main difference is that while the West (US) would engage directly with military force the East (Soviet Union) used proxy fighters.

Today we are seeing a rise in tension and a return to many of the same patterns we saw in the past. Both Russia and China have begun to once again challenge our military by close encounters at sea and in the air and by testing our ability to detect and react to air and submarine incursions.  The subs have mostly been in Scandinavian seas, we have not heard of others. Like the last time however this could lead to unforeseen problems. From the proxy side, we see Russia fermenting a civil war in Ukraine and a direct annexation of Chimera. They have also returned to the Middle East by propping up the regime of Assad in Syrian and this time they have committed their own forces.  China is challenging us in the south china sea by the expansion of territorial claims and an increase in military presence.

It may be assumed we won the last time and we will win this time. This time however there is a major change. The United States is seen by many as a paper tiger. Regardless of what we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan it is greatly assumed we will not commit to a major defense of the west. Some of this can be laid at the feet of the current administration for its talk about NATO and the need for Europe to be more proactive in its own defense. But for the most part, on a macro level, we have over the past few years reduced our own military and shown a reluctance to engage in any meaningful way with the growing threat from Russia or China.

During the last cold war, we stayed out of direct confrontation with Russia through something called Mutual Assured Destruction, (MAD).  The concept of MAD was that in the event of a major war both sides had the capability to destroy the other. In a true sense, it was not the fear of mutual destruction that held back the missiles it was the fact that retaliation was assured. Neither side doubted the other would retaliate. In diplomacy, much the same concept is valid. Why would one side bother to negotiate with another if there is no fear of a military response that could be devastating.

Why has Russia run roughshod over the west, in the last few years presidents from both parties did little to react to Russian military adventures other than wag a finger and level ineffective sanctions. The danger today with the sea change I discussed is that it may take a lot more convincing to reign in Russia and China. This will mean there will be violence and death. Should this however work, as history has taught, then if we are still in time it will be less violent that if nothing is done. If we are not in time then nothing will reduce the carnage.

I hope I am right and we are in time. We must however present a more united front to the world then the fighting and inexcusable rhetoric that is coming out of Washington. It is a dangerous time and it will take a strong front to deflect the carnage and save civilization. PLEASE THINK before you get all bent out of shape over some mundane action of a politician, your child could have been Otto Warnbier. I am not sure if we had a better reputation for protecting our citizens there would have been a different outcome, or if he would have been arrested at all. But we need to try. We need to be that country that other would rather talk to then fight.

 

 

 

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Does Russia Plan to Stop with Ukraine or Turn Left at Kiev and Continue to Poland

Does Russia Plan to Stop with Ukraine or Turn Left at Kiev and Continue to Poland

Today NATO has confirmed what the Ukrainian government has been saying for months; Russian troops have crossed the border and are in eastern Ukraine. Not some advisors, but troops, tanks and artillery with all the support required. Moreover, why not, the West has given them permission to invade and told Putin that nothing will happen other than economic sanctions. Sanctions that will only bolster his standing with the Russian people and lend credence to his claims of US support to the “fascist” in Kiev.

Unfortunately, most Americans will not know this is happening since the news media is still concentrating on the recent election results and current developments in Iraq and Iran. I suppose it is important to concentrate on who will be the Democratic nominee in 2016, devoting multiple columns on speculation while Ukraine is being invaded. While the troubles in the Middle East are important Ukraine present a larger danger to the West. Why is Ukraine important and what should the West do?

The short answer (or shortsighted answer) is that Ukraine is not very important to the US and only marginally important to Europe. The US does very little business with Ukraine and Europe is tied through the natural gas that flows from Russia through pipelines in Ukraine. The importance of a response to Russia’s invasion is in the long term. For the US, which has lost the respect of the world, is to reestablish the foundations of peace in Europe which has allowed growth and prosperity. It is further important to establish diplomatic boundaries; boundaries which when crossed do invite a military option. These boundaries use to exist; there was some certainty of a response when crossed. With the loss of those boundaries, invasions happen.

The invasion is moving slowly while Putin and his thugs continue to test Western resolve and capabilities. Recent activities, reminiscent of the cold war, are being used to judge us. Russian planes are flying near US, Canadian and European airspace causing fighters to scramble to intercept. Naval forces have also been involved testing the waters off Sweden. The “non-Russian forces”, disguised as Ukrainian separatist, who took control of eastern Ukraine and allowed Russia to annex Crimea, preceded these tests. Now that we have been judge and found deficient Russian forces are flooding over the border. The question is where will they stop? Once a Russian military force begins to move it will stop only when it runs into a force larger then itself or is sufficiently degraded that it can go no further. Of course, an alternative is to ensure it never begins to move.

It is somewhat late in the game to try incremental steps to convince the Russians it is a bad idea to invade Ukraine. It is not too late to show resolve and indicate that there will be a price to pay and that price will be painful. I doubt that the U.S. can pull it off and will need someone that the Russians believe will be true to their word. Germany, England and France, along with Poland and the Baltic states could provide a sufficient force to make a threat credible.

I hope that a united European front would be able to stop a war from happening or at least contain it to a limited war that would not lead to a major conflict. The problem, as I have written before, is the longer it takes to meet this challenge, the larger the war that will come. Make no mistake, unless Putin is stopped, there will be a war.

On the need to return the military option to US foreign policy

What is Old is New Again

By Paul Davis

As we grow older, we discover through events that occur around us that the world changes little and that history repeats itself regardless of what we should have learned and passed on. Not all lessons are benign, not all lessons that would keep us from harm are learned. I began my military career in the early 1970’s just as the war in Vietnam was winding down. The enemy at the time was the Soviet Union with its large army and nuclear capabilities. Through a series of deterrent actions such as the Berlin Brigade or direct actions such as the Cuban Missile crisis we out lasted the evil empire and watched as peace broke out around the world, or most of it, or some of it, well at least for a little while.   My analytic career as well began with the Soviet Union then progressed, both in the military and then as a civilian, from the Soviet Union, through North Korea and then the Middle East. So now, after all these years, and triumphs and the peace dividend, where are the hot spots, and which regions/countries threaten world peace, Russia, North Korea and the Middle East. The news and events of the day continue to remind us that the world is a dangerous place to live.

Russia (USSR, Czarist Empire) has always been paranoid and xenophobic. It has always relied on hard power, its military. Even under the Czars, it was never an economic power, though it had the potential after the fall of the Soviet Union. Today it has Oil and Natural Gas and uses these resources as a weapon to subjugate and control. It has always been expansionist and it has never gotten along with the West. Now today thugs run the country. These thugs envision a return to empire and to expand back to the lands they lost; historically they have expanded through force of arms.

The West apparently does not understand Russia. We rejoiced when the Soviet Union fell and elected the first president of Russia, a verbose alcoholic. We then saw a “democratic” transfer of power from the alcoholic to an unknown former KGB agent. The KGB agent then engineered another election in which his handpicked successor became President and he became Prime Minister. This was convenient since it allowed for no real transfer, which became official in the next election when the KGB agent was once again the President and his successor became the Prime Minister. During this time things started to get interesting. In 2008, Russia decided that the regions of a former Soviet Republic, Georgia, actually should be independent since they had Russian speaking separatist movements. Therefore, while the West tried to negotiate a resolution, Russia invaded and “freed” Abkhazia and South Ossetia; the US imposed economic sanctions, which did not last after the next administration reset the world. The thugs also decided that this whole experiment in a free market economy needed to be brought under the thumb of the thugs. How to do this? The KGB guy had an idea. In 2003, a privately owned oil company under the leadership of Mikhail Khodorkovsky was in direct competition with the government both economically and politically. The government, now stop me if you have heard this one, arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky on trump up charges and shipped him off to Siberia. Next take the private company and roll its assets into the government run oil industries. The West will not object as long as they get their oil. The West did not object. OK now let’s see what can be done about all this foreign capital in Russia that the thugs don’t control. In 2007 a financial group called, Hermitage Capital Management was accused of trump up tax evasion charges and taken over by government goons. This time an employee of the firm, Sergei Magnitsky, thought he could help by bringing out the truth. He was wrong. He is dead. This time the West, after several years, did something. The US congress passed a law that barred some Russian officials blamed for the death from entering the US.

Now let us move forward to 2014. The thugs have now seen that the West in more interested in oil and peace then right and wrong. That when their morals are affronted they will resort to wholesale diplomatic finger wagging. So next, the thugs chopped off a piece of Ukraine that they claim is full of Russians and really should be independent like those parts of Georgia. No wait, the West did nothing then so let us not just say they are independent lets hold an open and honest vote with Russian troops in the street that makes this part of Ukraine part of Russia. This now is too much for the West that, after days of finger wagging, decides to punish the thugs by economic sanction of about seven people, most of whom have no economic interests that the West can control. You know the rest some additional sanctions imposed on additional people. Yes, the sanctions have hurt the Russian economy but as we said, they have never been an economic power so the thugs will not feel the pain.

Now the thugs have been trying for years to bring the whole of Ukraine back into the new empire but most Ukrainians do not like the Russians, and would like to be part of the West. Well the thugs cannot have that, so they send in special army units to pretend to be Russian speaking Ukrainians to arm and train Ukrainian thugs who may be able to chop off more land for Russia. To this end Moscow continued to arm the rebels with more and more sophisticated weapons, until it resulted in the deaths of 298 innocent people going home or on vacation or, for some of the top researchers in the world, to an AIDS convention. This horrific consequence of war shook the resolve of the Russians and their Ukrainian proxies for about 24 hours; long enough to remove the anti-aircraft missile launcher back to Russia. The Russians did hold back for a while until the Ukrainian terrorist started to lose the fight. The Russians then invaded with a small army to rescue the agenda they had set out, the annexation of Ukraine. Up to today. The west has failed, the Russians are looking more and more like they will annex east Ukraine and the Ukrainian government is helpless to stop it without western support. DIRECT western support.

HOW DID WE GET HERE

Now let’s get back to lessons learned or not learned. In order to do this we need to travel back in time (this is when you see the wavy lines and hear strange music) back to 1532. In his book, “The Prince” Nicolo Machiavelli asked “… is it better to be loved then feared or feared then loved…” The answer obviously is feared. Am I endorsing Machiavelli, of course not, but sometimes he does make a good point. Now let’s move a little forward in time to 1832. Following his death, the book, “On War” by the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz was published. I will not go into all of what he wrote but one thing he did point out is that war is a continuation of foreign policy by other means. There are many interpretations of what he meant, but all agree that at a minimum when diplomacy fails, the state still has the military option. How does all this tie in. In 1966, Thomas Schelling an American economist and professor of foreign affairs, national security, nuclear strategy, and arms control wrote “Arms and Influence” in the first chapter, he wrote about the “diplomacy of violence.” The diplomacy of violence states, amongst other things, that regardless of the size and capability of your military should your enemy perceive that it will not be used then the deterrent effect is nullified. In other words if the military option is off the table then the bad guy has nothing to fear. This is the lesson the leaders of today have not yet learned. That what has been passed down to us by all of the above and others is that without the military option there is no diplomatic option.

Russia has no reason to be concerned over its actions, there is nothing the West will do, we have removed the military option. As I stated above no iteration of Russia has ever been an economic power and the threat of economic sanctions is of little effect. In fact, I can think of no place in modern history where economic sanctions had any effect other than punishing subjugated populations.

This is not a call to arms every time someone pisses us off. Diplomacy is always the preferred method to conflict resolution. Nevertheless, we must understand that diplomacy has to be a two way street with both sides acting to come to a reasonable accord. When you are dealing with thugs, if there is no fear of a violent response, there is no hope for a peaceful resolution. There was nothing we could have done when Russia took the Crimea. Yes, we could have streamed ships into the Black Sea or sent troops to Kiev. This would not at the time been a credible deterrent since there was no belief of any actual engagement. Had there been, then maybe the threat would have been enough. Had there been then maybe the crisis would not have begun. Had Europe stood up to Hitler in the 1930’s would so many have died. In 1962, did the world become safer when the US confronted the Soviet Union over missiles in Cuba and the Kremlin understood that the threat of force was real? I do not believe that war is an answer to the world’s problems but I do believe that sometimes there needs to be a credible threat of violence to contain violence.

Benjamin Franklin said “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Can we paraphrase that to say those who give up someone else’s liberty to secure their own temporary safety… well you get the point.

Civilization should only move forward

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” – Albert Einstein

 

Civilization should only move forward. The problem is that is goes forward very slowly, so slowly in fact that the past occasionally catches up. That is one of the reason we often hear the quote from George Santayana “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The world has found itself in one of those periods today and needs to remember the past, because this time repetition could prove very costly. Social, religious and political difference has very often become social, religious and political intolerance. Welcome to a period of intolerance.

Currently the world is confronting the Islamic terrorist group ISIL. ISIL is a group of religious fanatics, similar to the Spanish Inquisition, spreading the word through torture, murder and forced conversions.   ISIL is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Muslims, Christians and Yazidi in Syria and Iraq. Yet the United States did very little to stop these crimes against humanity until two Americans were gruesomely beheaded.   While we did provide air support to Kurdish and Iraqi forces that fought back, it had to be forced on the administration to do so. Why the delay? Reason and history should have shown the need for immediate and forceful response. However, fear of a new war if we committed ground forces, boots on the ground, paralyzed the government. This is a case of reality and reason running into political doctrine and dogma. ISIL is dangerous and a threat to the region, to Europe and the United States. Air power can blunt the advances to a degree but it will require ground forces to destroy them. There is no Army in the region that can destroy them without massive support and training over a long period. Therefore, the two options are to pretend we are doing something, which will result in ISIL growing stronger and becoming a direct threat, or commit ground forces, in conjunction with others, and degrade and destroy them. We have currently committed 3000 troops to Africa to help contain the Ebola outbreak that to this date has taken 2500 lives. It is the right thing to do, but how many lives will be lost if we do not commit forces to contain the ISIL threat? Are there consequences for taking the latter course, yes. However, I suggest if viewed through the prism of history the result will show it to be the correct choice.

A greater threat to world peace is taking place in Europe. The Russian invasion of Ukraine represents a much larger and more direct challenge to the US and its European allies. One we have faced before. The building confrontation between the West and Russia will require a much different response then the one planned for ISIL. We are in what appears to be in a standoff with an advisory that is trying to compel us to maintain peace at any price. That price is the abandonment of a sovereign nation to a predator. We now, once again, face a foe that, as they have reminded us, is a nuclear power. What does history reason and logic teach us? We can discuss diplomacy but to Putin that just gives him more time to do what he wants. We can discuss economic sanctions, which will be of little effect on a country that does not have a strong economy outside of oil and gas exports and does not fear losing that revenue. We can discuss deterrence. Yes, we can discuss deterrence.

To be up front I am not suggesting that the next time Russian artillery fires into Ukraine that we nuke Moscow. What I am saying is that we can provide weapons and training, intelligence and logistics support. What I am saying is that the 6th Fleet can run some exercises in the Black Sea. We can make life more difficult for the Russian military as it tries to reinvent itself into what was the Soviet military. We can draw a line and say no further. Back in June, some Russian bombers flow off the coasts of Alaska and California to within 50 miles of the US. However they were within their rights and according to the Air Force the encounter was “professional.” Next time maybe a little less professionalism and a little more swagger.

Putin is not going to stop until he sees the potential of an encounter that may cost him. An old saying goes something like this “All evil needs to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” The threat of force has to be real and right now, it is not. The President removed the military option, which was a mistake, and even if he promised to return it, it is likely Russia would not believe us. The threat of military action, unbelievably, has stopped wars. Failure to use all tools, including the military, has led to major wars. The world may have been different had Japan been stopped in Manchuria, Italy in Ethiopia or Germany in the Sudetenland. If the US can lead a coalition into Syria, confront, and destroy ISIL, even a fast strike into the heart, would show a resolve that Russia has not seen from the West. I do not suggest we put young lives in harm’s way lightly. Once we can show resolve and commitment, standing up to evil, the world becomes a little less dangerous.