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Will Russia use nuclear weapons over Ukraine?

In the past several months I have written much about the war in Ukraine.  Since then, the Ukraine’s masterful use of NATO supplied precision munitions (especially US supplied HIMARS missile systems) and their own ability to deceive the Russians as to their intent on the ground have resulted in significant tactical victories in several distinct areas of Ukraine.  These successes have caused Putin to make veiled threats about the use of nuclear weapons. Many in Washington and elsewhere are voicing concern over these threats. Iodine pills to treat against radiation poisoning have been procured by the US and several NATO allies.  The real question is why should Putin use nuclear weapons?  Does their use prevent a defeat?  Can their use lead to negotiations? Is there a strategic advantage to be gained? 

Defeat Prevention

Biden argues that Putin is irrational, a madman of sorts, pressed into a corner facing imminent defeat in Ukraine—and, with that, the likelihood of regime change. But nothing could be further from the truth. Putin is not facing “defeat” in the Ukraine.  Defeat implies the end of the Russian Bear as a threat to the rest of Europe.  The tactical loses and the demonstration of the technical failures of Russian weaponry does more to demonstrate that Russia is not the 10 feet tall that we used to think that the Soviets were.  This week’s news is on the Russian use of Iranian drones to attack Kiev due to the lack of weapons of their own and closed production facilities.  T 62 mid cold war tanks are now being refurbished as crews are are being created through forced mobilization throughout Russia.  Are these the signs of a huge threat?  Putin can retreat to stable pre-invasion lines in the Donbas and elsewhere with little more than egg on his face—nothing close to defeat.  However nuclear weapons would change the equation.

Some argue that the face of defeat would be regime change resulting from a defeat in the Ukraine or as a result of the catastrophic reaction to the use of nuclear weapons.   Putin owes nothing to whatever Russian public opinion exists around him, and his pals in power, the so-called oligarchs, have (minus a yacht or two) plundered mightily off sanctions.  The Russian people have not been allowed to forget their own sacrifices of World War II and have a defense of the motherland drilled into them from birth.

The primary reason for Putin to avoid a nuclear escalation is that it would bring the US and / or some subset of NATO “boots on the ground” deeper into the Ukrainian war zone, and this is something Putin would fear. Indeed, depending on how much force is applied, it could lead to a full-on “defeat” in Ukraine.  One is reminded of General (ret) Petraeus’s suggestion that almost in an afternoon the Russian Black Sea fleet and forces on the ground in Western Russia could be destroyed by conventional weaponry, as the Ukrainians are now demonstrating on a relatively small scale.

The U.S. and NATO have been preparing to fight Russia on the plains of Ukraine for some 70 years. In such a short war endless U.S. precision air and missile strikes into those long Russian columns or massed supply bases would destroy the Russian forces in the western areas abutting Ukraine and its neighbors. The last thing Putin should want is to engage NATO directly over chunks of the Ukraine, instead of fighting the current weaker opponent (Ukraine).

Nuclear weapon use leading to negotiations 

Through either tactical use against a massed military target, destroying a city like Kiev, an attempt to decapitate the Ukrainian leadership, or a demonstration nuke– sea-level low-yield blast outside Odessa designed to rattle the windows, maybe shut off the lights, but otherwise cause little damage. Each of these are strikes to demonstrate resolve and thus might lead to negotiations.  However, almost all of the same effects could be caused by conventional weaponry.

Obviously, the Ukrainians are not presenting massed targets or the Russians cannot detect them and engage them in a timely manner.  Nuclear weapon use does not overcome the target acquisition failures of the Russians. Why would the Russians want to contaminate an area that they want to capture? 

The current drone strikes against urban sites must be seeking to undermine the Ukrainian people’s resolve to resist Russian aggression leading them to call for negotiations.  One only need to remember the anti-war movement in this country causing LBJ to seek negotiations with North Vietnam.  Would the Russians want to worry about the world outcry over a city’s destruction by nuclear weapons?  The vote of condemnation against Russia in the UN over its invasion of Ukraine had 35 nations abstaining and 5 voting against the motion.  Does Putin want to risk that support?

A decapitation strike against the Ukrainian leadership could in fact be counter-productive.  In addition to probably destroying an urban area the leadership that is waiting in the wings could be even more hawkish with their demands for revenge.  In short, a total backfire against the sought-after goal of negotiations.

A demonstration strike might raise fears among the faint hearted, but more likely would be cause for the Petraeus conventional attacks.

In short, a nuclear strike is highly unlikely to result in negotiations.

Strategic advantage to be gained by the use of nuclear weapons?

The short answer is NO!  The above discussion shows that there is nothing to be gained by the use of nuclear weapons.  EXCEPT the fear quotient that has been voiced by leaders in many western capitals in response to the threats of their use.  To the extent that these leaders have displayed weakness in the face of these veiled threats they have provided the Russians some leverage.  How much is problematic.  The fear that has caused folks like Elon Musk to support meeting some Russian demands in exchange for negotiations is demonstrative of this point.

This whole discussion suggests that there is a need to find a way to terminate the Russia Ukraine conflict.  Nuclear weapons are not the answer!  A long cold winter may lessen Western European resolve, but the Russian Expeditionary Force could dissolve.  Potentially, it will take the cold European winter to test resolve.  It may be that the Russians simply melt back into mother Russia and begin the long rebuilding process in doctrine and weaponry for Russia to re-emerge as a non-nuclear military power on the world stage. Think about how Generals Abrams and DePuy rebuilt the US Army after Vietnam.

US-China Relations After the Pelosi Visit to Taiwan: 

US China relations have moved to the front page as a result of the Chinese reaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s bid to Taiwan.  There are two intertwined main subjects:

  1. The threat to Taiwan and what the Chinese reaction to Pelosi’s visit.
  2. The overall US China relationship

There should be no doubt that the Communist Chinese leadership of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is angry at the United States, and especially House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for her visit to Taiwan. And then to add injury to insult there was a follow-on Congressional visit last week. China reacted with a barrage of “signals”.  At the center of these signals have been has been extensive military exercises meant to maintain tension on the island and in the surrounding areas. Another has been the cancellation of US-Chinese dialogues, exchanges, and cooperation in selected areas.  These include:

Canceling China-U.S. Theater Commanders Talk.

Canceling China-U.S. Defense Policy Coordination Talks (DPCT).

Canceling China-U.S. Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) meetings.

Suspending China-U.S. cooperation on the repatriation of illegal immigrants.

Suspending China-U.S. cooperation on legal assistance in criminal matters.

Suspending China-U.S. cooperation against transnational crimes.

Suspending China-U.S. counternarcotics cooperation.

Suspending China-U.S. talks on climate change.

This highlights how the Pelosi visit and US Chinese relations are intertwined. While some see China as over-reacting, probably a better explanation is that it thinks that it can act in a belligerent way and get away with it. For Beijing, Pelosi’s visit was emblematic of all that is going wrong in US-PRC relations. Some analysts suggest that from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) perspective, the trip was a betrayal of the foundations of the US-China rapprochement. Beijing’s willingness to pursue a more harmonious relationship with the U.S. was grounded, in part, in the idea that Washington accepted that the CCP was the legitimate government over all of China.

Over the last several decades American ambivalence and wandering policy—ranging from the formulation of “The US One-China Policy which acknowledges the PRC’s One-China Principle,” to arms sales to Taiwan, to the Taiwan Relations Act—were grudgingly accepted, mainly because China did not have the power to really alter American decisions. But as China’s power has grown and the US’s power is perceived to have been reduced, China now perceives that it can act as if its patience and tolerance of these formulations has dropped. That the United States, with its decline in relative power, still does not align itself with the Chinese order of things makes China behave as if it is infuriated.

Driving this is that the Chinese truly believe that Taiwan belongs, indeed is part of, China. This is not merely the result of CCP propaganda. Chinese nationalism predates the CCP. Chinese claims to Taiwan are linked to the exploitation of China by a variety of states (especially Japan) during the 19th and early 20th century. Taiwan is recognized as an independent state by only a handful of states—and the United States is not among them. For the CCP, but also for Chinese nationalists more broadly, American support for Taiwan is seen as a stalking horse for pushing the fragmentation of China.

This deep suspicion of American intentions is further colored by the ideological concerns of the Chinese Communist Party. Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders are concerned not only with attacks on China, but on the CCP, including eroding its legitimacy. They view talk of “peaceful evolution” as simply a kinder, gentler way of discussing the fall of the CCP. The 1990s Russian example serves as a stark reminder of what the West would like to happen. 

Consequently, the CCP leadership believes that it must make clear, to both Taiwan and the United States, that not only will China not surrender its claim to Taiwan, but that American “meddling” will only have negative consequences. This takes on greater urgency when Beijing sees President Biden repeatedly stating that the United States will come to the aid and defense of Taiwan. The presence of the Speaker of the House in Taipei, when she is third in line of succession, only underscored perceived American intentions.

The Pelosi visit, moreover, occurred at an awkward moment for the Chinese. The Chinese leadership is preparing to adjourn to the resort of Beidaihe to engage in the backroom politics that will be ratified at the Party congress later this fall. A variety of issues are likely to be under discussion, including the ongoing COVID crisis in China (and the associated lockdowns that are unpopular and economically disruptive), the economic slowdown, and ongoing internal unhappiness and unrest.

Taiwan continues to play a key role in the global microchip market, eclipsing China in both volume and quality of its chips. The backwards nature of China’s own microchip capacity has been spotlighted with the apparent reprisals against those associated with Tsinghua Unigroup. Meanwhile, several officials linked with China’s chip infrastructure investment fund, the China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, are also reportedly under investigation. China’s inability to make substantial gains in semiconductor production means it will remain heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturers for advanced logic chips to power its information sector.  It is not this anger that should be troubling, however, but the response. Taiwan produces 75% of the chips used in the US.  Further interruptions in the flow of chips could do great damage to the US economy.  If it were not for China’s dependence on these chips the US could be experiencing this worrisome disruption in chip flow.

Western and Soviet leaders throughout the Cold War worried about misperceptions, miscommunications, and inadvertent conflict. The two sides inaugurated a “hotline” that allowed for communications between the two sides in time of crisis. For both sides, confidence-building measures, exchanges of data, and the creation of communications forums and mechanisms, were in their own self-interest. Recognizing the potential for miscalculation and inadvertent escalation, Soviet (and later Russian) leaders, as well as Western ones saw these systems as helping both sides maintain stability.  By contrast, there are no such misperception communication protocols in place and in the near term no prospects for the negotiation of such protocols.

As we look ahead

China’s response to the Pelosi visit included unprecedented missile overflights of Taiwan. Such flights could have gone terribly wrong. Had a missile malfunctioned and landed on Taiwan, the consequences might have been catastrophic. Even worse is that now the Chinese may well consider they have established a precedent for future exercises, suggesting that they may conduct such overflights again in the future. They obviously felt emboldened by the weak US and allied response. The Chinese also do not seem to see a need for stability enhancing protocols.

As noted, and importantly, Beijing has chosen to suspend a variety of dialogues with the United States. Some, such as climate change, are clearly aimed at the Biden administration’s priorities. Given the Biden administration’s emphasis on climate change as the greatest threat confronting the United States and the regular inclusion of climate change in Xi-Biden dialogues (including the one just before the Pelosi visit), Chinese leaders are most likely correct in thinking this is a potentially powerful pressure point against the Biden administration. This obvious misplaced pressure point certainly reduces the US ability to influence China.  Was trying to influence China what the 6 million barrel of oil sale was all about?

Similarly, given the opioid crisis in the US, and the reality that China is a major source of fentanyl and associated compounds, curtailing discussions in countering narcotics is another strike against a major issue confronting American leaders. However, a firm and resolute attack on the supply chain from China to the Mexican cartels might have overwhelming advantageous results.  But this would mean closing the border.

Three of the eight agreements listed above are military dialogues. These include the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement, which is intended to address incidents at sea, as well as defense ministry talks and discussions between respective military theater commanders. The decision to suspend these talks reflects the CCP view that such interactions, are not of mutual benefit, but are a favor to outsiders. Like Chinese emperors of old, exchanges are not between equals, but a courtesy or indulgence given to reflect favor—or taken away to reflect displeasure.

The combination of both overflights and reduced interactions creates real potential for greater misunderstanding. Indeed, in both cases, missile overflights and suspension of military dialogues, the Chinese logic is strikingly at odds with Western concepts of crisis stability. The PRC seems to believe that crises are, ultimately, under the control of the participants. That a crisis may take on a momentum of its own, apart from the intended actions of the participants, seems to not be of major concern.  What would have happened if the Taiwanese had engaged the Chinese air threat or missile threat?  Would China have backed down or escalated into true attacks.  This question leads to an obvious potential turning point in the situation.  If the Taiwanese were to respond massively to such belligerent Chinese actions and launch preemptive attacks on the mainland, could they momentarily disarm the Chinese?  Creating such a pause might be what it is required to defuse the situation.  Conversely, and extremely worrisome, is the potential global reactions of the Chinese.

The Chinese appear to almost be exploiting Western concerns with the above mentioned intentional or inadvertent escalation and unintended consequences. They seem to have adopted the view that, if their counterparts want more stability and less risk, then they should concede to China. If Taiwan doesn’t want to worry about missile overflights, then it should promptly enter talks about reunification. If the United States doesn’t want to risk inadvertent crises, it should stay out of the western Pacific, halt arms sales to Taiwan, and press Taipei to engage in reunification talks. As the CCP sees it, crisis stability is the problem of the other side.  And, of course this is the problem.  Weakness, may breed further emboldening of China.

Following the COVID pandemic, when Americans realized that most of the critical drugs to US medical needs are manufactured in China.  There are many other items’ supply chains that China can control.  Conversely, the Chinese economy is in a down turn and thus showing its vulnerability.  Much of this is the result of the Chinese birth control policies that have created a steadily aging population with more retirees and fewer workers.  This will take decades to resolve. 

The containment policy that was initiated in 1947 and resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union 45 years later suggests that the long run view adoption of a similar strategy might be successful in a much shorter period of time.  Could economic isolation by reducing dependence on Chinese goods accelerate the modification of Chinese behavior?  Probably, but US and European dependence on Chinese goods in the short term will be expensive and socially disruptive.  So, the conundrum is there, it is visible to those who will look, but solving it the Chinese hope will be too painful.

Taiwan and the US escaped the immediate reaction to the Pelosi visit.  But the long-term relationship with China has not returned to normal (whatever that is) and possibly now is the time to adopt a new policy that applies economic containment with relaxation based upon Chinese behavior.

What do you think?

The Ukrainian way of war

Max Boot wrote a great article in the Washington Post on Wednesday that I am republishing in its entirety. This is one of the best pieces explaining military strategy and tactics that I have read in a long time. Boot’s analysis should be must reading for all students of military strategy.

“If you want to understand the Ukrainian way of war, you could do worse than to pick up, as I recently did, a 1954 book called “Strategy” by the influential British military thinker Basil Liddell Hart. Having been gassed during the 1916 Battle of the Somme, where much of his battalion was wiped out, Captain Liddell Hart had developed a burning hatred of brutish generals who led their men to slaughter in frontal and futile attacks on the enemy. He called this the “direct approach,” and he attributed it to the great nineteenth-century Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz, who held that “only a great battle can produce a major decision.”
Rejecting Clausewitz, Liddell Hart embraced the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, who wrote, “Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” In tracts that he began publishing in the late 1920s, Liddell Hart surveyed thousands of years of military history to argue that the key to victory was to strike where least expected, dislocating the enemy psychologically and materially and making possible a relatively bloodless victory. He cited examples ranging from Hannibal’s march across the Alps to Sherman’s march across Georgia to demonstrate “the superiority of the indirect over the direct approach.”
Many historians have critiqued Liddell Hart for twisting history to make every conflict fit his argument. It’s true that no single theory can possibly explain all military outcomes over thousands of years. Yet Liddell Hart’s thinking seems quite applicable to the war in Ukraine. The Russians have pursued a brutal, unthinking direct approach that hearkens back to World War I, while the Ukrainians have outsmarted them with the indirect approach that Liddell Hart claimed was the hallmark of “Great Captains.”The war began on Feb. 24, when the Russians mounted an armored and air assault on Kyiv. Remember the 40-mile Russian column headed for the Ukrainian capital? Rather than counterattack with their own tanks, the Ukrainians used hand-held missiles such as the Javelin to carry out pinprick strikes, targeting trucks carrying supplies in particular. Before long the column ran out of fuel and food, and the Russians were forced to pull back. Kyiv was saved. This was the indirect approach par excellence.The Russians regrouped in mid-April using overwhelming artillery fire to clear their path in Luhansk province just as World War I generals did. That offensive forced the Ukrainians to stage a fighting withdrawal in early July from Lysychansk, the last major city they had held in Luhansk. But they inflicted such heavy casualties on the attackers that the Russian offensive has stalled without having secured the whole of the Donbas region.
Since then, Ukraine has been using U.S.-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to take out Russian command posts and ammunition dumps far behind the front lines. This strategy has impeded the flow of shells to Russian batteries and greatly slowed the bombardment of Ukrainian positions.
On Aug. 9, a Russian air base in occupied Crimea was rocked by at least six explosions that destroyed or heavily damaged at least eight warplanes. Then on Tuesday another blast hit a large Russian ammunition depot in Crimea. Ukrainian officials did not comment in public but privately told reporters that both blasts were the work of their special forces.
Now, the Ukrainians are using the indirect approach to squeeze the Russian garrison in Kherson, the largest Ukrainian city under enemy occupation. Rather than mounting a direct assault, which would result in heavy casualties, the Ukrainians have been using the HIMARS and other systems to target the bridges across the Dnieper River that deliver supplies to the Russian forces in Kherson. The Ukrainians claim to have damaged all four bridges, leaving the Russian troops in danger of being stranded.Ukrainian officials said Russian commanders have already evacuated to the east bank of the Dnieper, and some analysts predict the entire force may be forced to pull out of Kherson due to lack of supplies or risk of being captured. A similar Ukrainian strategy of interdicting logistics previously forced the Russians to evacuate Snake Island, a strategic chokepoint in the Black Sea.
“We do not have the resources to litter the territory with bodies and shells, as Russia does,” said Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov. “Therefore, it is necessary to change tactics, to fight in a different way.” Another Ukrainian official told the Wall Street Journal they are inflicting “a thousand bee stings.”
Australian retired major general Mick Ryan has written that the Ukrainians are pursuing a strategy of “corrosion” that seeks to erode “the Russian physical, moral and intellectual capacity to fight.” Another name for this strategy, as Ryan notes, is “the indirect approach” championed by Basil Liddell Hart.
The problem is that it can be hard to achieve a decisive result with indirect attacks. Sooner or later, if the Ukrainians want to liberate their land, they will have to attack and drive the Russians out. But they are being savvy in doing everything possible to weaken the invaders before that happens.”

Several concluding thoughts: The Russian heavy reliance on massed artillery and forces was also the tactics they used to steam roll the Germans in World War II. And yes they took large casualties using this tactics/ What Max Boot could have also pointed out is the increasing Russian defections, self-inflicted wounds and opposition to conscription. He also could have amplified the increasing use of partisans supported by Ukrainian special forces in attacks in the Crimea. Could Ukraine regain control of Crimea?

Is “wokeism” on a decline?

Judicial Watch just released its freedom of information act (FOIA) data received from West Point.  The 600 pages of information provided include some slides from the Critical Race Theory Classes and other disturbing information.

I wrote in March of 2021 (right after the Biden Administration took office):

“Unfortunately, the search for “political correctness” has also entered the Service academies.  They are embracing critical race theory (CRT), which divides people with unresolvable accusations of “systemic racism.” Last year a group of “woke” alumni issued a 40-page manifesto demanding that West Point make “anti-racism” the central feature of the curriculum. Action items included statements from all white leaders “acknowledging how their white privilege sustains systems of racism.”  Is anti-racism going to win wars?  Is it going to allow graduates to protect and defend the constitution?

Nothing could be worse for morale and readiness than a toxic brew of racist suspicions and division being forced on participants for a full day.  Instead of intimidating servicemembers for expressing normal political beliefs, military leaders should investigate whether military personnel are being recruited by extremists on both ends of the spectrum, not just one.

They should also take an even-handed, honest look at all incidents of violent extremism, without promoting leftist extremism in pursuit of extremists.

We cannot let our military be destroyed by partisan hacks.”

I stand by what I wrote 18 months ago!  Probably more vehemently than I did then!

 Fortunately, the woke movement seems to be losing it energy in the Biden rapidly approaching recession.  The failure of most of the Biden administration’s policies has brought down much of the “wokeism” with it.  For example, the list of proposed new names for Army posts and camps to replace those with the names of Confederate generals may languish in Congress.  Many Democratic legislators are already in deep political trouble as the mid term elections approach and most likely will not want to anger any more constituents than they already have.  Conversely, they may just take an attitude that they are doomed to defeat and try and act.

The days when liberals were able to inflict damage on people by calling them “racist” seem to be coming to an end—they are ending because of their own absurdity.  One can hope that the backlash is a constructive and healing process. Companies like Disney are coming to the realization that being woke is not profitable (50% loss in stock value). History cannot be erased—it should be learned from.

Ukraine–objective creep

I have written recently about the strategic objectives in Ukraine.  At that point the choices were to win or not to win and the Biden administration was seeking a negotiated settlement with some form of appeasement of Russia.  Subsequently, I wrote about a movement within NATO and later the US away from purely defensive weapons towards offensive or more multi-purposed weapons. Given, Ukrainian successes and Russian losses the NATO and US goals seem to be evolving more in recent days.

Secretary of Defense Austin told reporters and his NATO colleagues after a visit to Ukraine that: “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” He went on to highlight that: “So it has already lost a lot of military capability. And a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.”   This is a significant change in objectives and is supported by the change in weapon deliveries.

The Russian response to Secretary Austin has been more nuclear weapon rattling.  Previously, the Biden administration was scared by the Russian potential to escalate to de-escalate by the use of nuclear weapons.  Something changed. One can only guess/assume that there have been assurances from inside the Russian military that the escalation option is “under control.” 

NATO seems much more emboldened.  Talks about Sweden and Finland joining the alliance continue unabated.  Ukraine joining NATO is again being suggested.  One of the interesting arguments is that as Ukraine gains more NATO weapons and gets weaned off of Russian/Soviet weapons the compatibility suggests to the Ukrainian Minister of Defense that his country is moving in that direction.

I find the argument that using Ukrainian surrogates with western weapons to weaken Russia has some moralistic problems.  What bothers me is that what do we say to the Ukrainians if the strategy fails?  Sorry?  Realistically, it seems that the strategic goal is potentially leading to NATO active involvement to ensure that the threat posed by Russian aggression is eliminated for something approaching a decade.  Is the next strategic objective creep going to require NATO forces on the ground and in the air to achieve the desired Russian neutering? This seems to me to be obvious.

There are a lot of implications and dangers if such a strategy is successful.  I am reminded of the idea of a ”peace dividend”.  This was supposed to be benefit from the end of the cold war.  However, arguing against cutting the defense budget Senator from Kansas Nancy Landon Kassebaum suggested that the benefit of the end of the cold war was peace.  She argued in a presentation to the Army War College[i] that the cold war provided some stability and predictability to international relations.  Given the increasingly bellicose actions of the Chinese one can argue that a peace in Europe benefit would be more than negated by increased Chinese expansion.

The issue of Russian escalation has to remain in defense planners’ minds.  The best way to preclude such escalation is to prepare for it and to demonstrate the willingness and capability to defend against such an attack and to respond in kind.  Mutual assured destruction and the prevention of nuclear exchanges because of it seems to continue to be applicable. 

As the battles continue and the outcomes ebb and flow, we will remain vigilant and report the next twist in this on-going struggle for Ukraine.


[i] I was her escort officer and greatly enjoyed our conversations before and after her presentation.

Ukraine: Offensive versus defensive weapons

Yesterday (Ukraine: To win or not to win) I wrote that the Biden administration and the Zalensky administration in Ukraine had different objectives / goals in the conflict with Russia.  The prime Biden administration goal was escalation avoidance and a negotiated solution where Ukraine gave up some territory.  Ukraine’s objective, following tactical success against the Russians around Kyiv and in most urban areas assaulted by the Russians, is winning back all of its lost terrain.  In that article I mentioned the anti-ship missiles that the Brits had provided Ukraine and suggested that these reflected a possible split in NATO over objectives.  This begs the question of offensive versus defensive weapons.  Do the weapons supplied suggest an objective to be sought by the use of those weapons?

A short story.  In 1970, while a graduate student at UCLA, my faculty advisor gave me academic credit for writing a paper under the auspices of the RAND Corporation, where he was an adjunct contributor.  I was allowed to do this paper because I had a security clearance at the time.  The question was what type of weapons the US should provide Israel after the 1967 war?   The Israelis were seeking additional F-4 fighters.  In my short 10 page or so paper I concluded that it would be much more stabilizing if the US would provide M 109 155 howitzers rather than the jets.  The howitzers only had an 18-kilometer range and were critical for defense but could not conduct deep offensive operations, except in the case of artillery raids and other unique tactical maneuvers.  Conversely, the fighters could range over most of the critical parts of the middle-east and conduct offensive attacks.  To add stability to the region I supported the howitzers over the fighters.  This was the first time I ever thought about offensive versus defensive weapons.

As a ground maneuver force commander I considered all of my weapons systems as suited for either offensive or defensive operations.  The Russians have a formula that they apply for determining whether they have sufficient combat power for an operation.  It is called correlation of forces.  Different types of weapons systems against different types of foes provide, when cumulated and compared, a ratio that the Russians use to determine whether more forces are needed.  For example, for a main attack they needed a numerical superiority of 8:1. In the US we were taught that an attacking force should have an advantage of about 3:1.  In short, the advantage went to the defender in terms of the amount of forces required.  The defender has the advantage of prepared positions, mine fields and other obstacles, etc. 

However, in the defense there are opportunities for offensive operations to exploit observed weaknesses in the enemy’s deployments.  Such limited objective raids or other forms of attack can disrupt his formations and his time tables and buy time for other exploitations or to strengthen the defenses.  One would hope that it this form of attacks that the Ukrainians have in mind so as to defeat small parts of the Russian force, one small piece at a time.  They have already sunk a Russian cruiser (the Muskov) in the port of Mariupol with an anti-ship missile.  Does denying the Russians the use of the port weaken the Russian’s supply lines?

The Ukrainians have what military tacticians would call interior lines. Interior lines is a strategy of warfare that is based on the concept that lines of movement, communication, and supply within an area are shorter than those on the outside. Using the strategy of interior lines, a surrounded force can more easily supply, communicate, and move its forces around, and can mount a series of surprise attacks on the forces encircling it. If the Ukrainians can use their movement advantages to mass their forces for attacks to attrit and divide the Russian forces they may be able to “win” by making it so that the Russians cannot achieve any opportunities to inflict serious damage on the Ukrainian forces. 

Large World War II types of tank battles as envisaged in yesterday’s paper by Ukrainian sources are most likely not to the Ukrainians advantage until the Russians have been greatly attrited, if at all. No matter what form of operations the Ukrainians choose to engage in they will need armored vehicles—tanks and personnel carriers.  Attack helicopters would be a definite plus if they have trained pilots. 

Clausewitz argues that the superiority of the defense may leave both sides with no incentive to attack and thus ‘tame the elementary impetuosity of war.’ However, he also argues that it is the offensive force which can win.  This is the exact position that the Ukrainians find themselves in.  They need to avoid massing their forces to avoid the massive fire power advantage that the Russians have and choose their offensive opportunities.

The recent addition of helicopters to the US provided equipment may not be an indicator of a change in the US posture.  The news also showed a battalion of M109 howitzers (18 tubes and associated command and control and supply vehicles) on trains reportedly headed for Ukraine.  These weapons are no more offensive than defensive, as noted earlier.  But could indicate a slight modification of the US objective.  Time will tell.

An addition by a NATO member of offensive capable fighter aircraft could be a definitive indicator of a change in NATO’s goals and objectives.

Ukraine:  To win or not to win

Presently there is a significant and important difference between the Biden administration’s objective / desired outcome of the war in Ukraine and that of Ukraine’s President Zalensky.

The president’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CNN recently that: “We will continue to take every step we possibly can to help the Ukrainians succeed on the battlefield and to improve their position at the negotiating table and to make the Russians pay also through increasing costs of sanctions for what they are doing to the people of Ukraine.”  Is this another way of saying to the Russians and the Ukrainians:  Russia you can keep what you’ve conquered and Ukraine you should give up the areas the Russians have conquered?

Ukrainian President Zalensky’s frustration was apparent in a recent speech when he asked: “What is NATO doing?  Is it being run by Russia?  What are they waiting for?”  He said Ukraine needs “tanks, planes, antiaircraft defense and anti-ship missiles.  Our allies have these resources, but the prefer to allow them to collect dust in their warehouses.”

Since he made these remarks, the British have announced that they are providing 100 armored vehicles and anti-ship missiles.  Does this indicate a split in NATO’s desired outcome of this conflict? 

When the Russians invaded Ukraine most of NATO, probably led by the US, has expressed this overarching fear of escalation and the use of nuclear weapons.  NATO, and the Biden administration, has feared that escalation would be the Russian way of disengaging if it was losing.  Published Russian nuclear doctrine does discuss escalation to deescalate.  In other words, Russia would use tactical / theater nuclear weapons to create conditions favorable for it to withdraw its forces and terminate a conflict.  The Russians would use nuclear weapons, declare victory and withdraw from the conflict if they were losing.  This after thought in the Russian doctrine has scared the alliance.  (I wrote about this a year ago.  Most analysts called this doctrine both foolish and irresponsible.)

Zalensky and the Ukrainians want to win and recover ALL of their lost terrain.  Obviously, the Biden administration does not see Russia surrendering the Crimea which it stole during the Obama years.  But the anti-ship missiles that are going to be provided by the Brits might suggest a much different objective for the Ukrainians.  (This is the first hint of an alliance difference on objectives.)

With the Russians trying to secure lands on the eastern border and the southern Crimean parts of the Ukraine the nature of the warfare could change.  The terrain is much more open and conducive to armored/mechanized warfare.  Additionally, the new commander of the Russian forces is known as “the butcher of Syria.”  Just his appointment is designed to “scare” NATO that the brutality will increase in the Russian occupied or sought parts of the country.  “The battle for Donbas will remind you of the Second World War, with its large operations, maneuvers, involvement of thousands of tanks, armored vehicles, planes, artillery,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers last week. 

Without the aid that he is seeking it may be difficult for Zalensky’s forces to win such a set of battles. However, I am more optimistic about Ukraine’s chances than I was two months ago.  The Russian ground forces that we are seeing in Ukraine are nothing like the force that I trained to fight for 25 years of my Army career. Logistically and tactically, they don’t seem to be able to conduct sophisticated ground combat operations.  Some time back I suggested that one of the outcomes of this war would be the Russian creation of a national training center on the US model at Fort Irwin.  The need for this is becoming more apparent every day.

But I digress.  Since the beginning of the cold war in the later 1940s the US and then NATO has sought ways to defeat the Soviet Union.  This finally happened with the fall of the Soviet empire in 1990.  It has been replaced by the Russian Federation, which under the leadership of Vladimir Putin has sought to reestablish the Soviet Union.  The sad shape of the Russian ground forces provides a strategic opportunity that it is almost impossible to ignore.  ‘Almost impossible” because this is what the Biden administration is trying to do—ignore the reality that the Russian ground forces could be destroyed.  The destruction of the Russian ground forces would provide at least 10 years for the west to seek to modernize Russia into the country that optimists thought would result from the fall of the Soviet Union.  To create this opportunity the Ukrainian people and their armed forces must be given the wherewithal to do more than negotiate some form of cease fire.  They must defeat the Russians on the battlefield that is Ukraine, in short, they must WIN.

Will NATO seize this strategic opportunity?  If so, it will have to pull the US with it.  Ukraine has the initiative can it be exploited? To reduce NATO’s fear of the Russians escalating it must put its own nuclear forces at an increased level of readiness so as to signal Russia that deterrence is still the name of the nuclear game.

Seizing the initiative in Ukraine and the world

Since the coming holocaust in Ukraine began about 10 days ago the Russians have had the initiative.  It was given to them by the Biden administration and NATO.  No sanctions, unless they invade.  Oil to flow. Gradual imposition of sanctions after the invasion. Military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine after large parts of the country have been destroyed.  Fear that a no-fly zone might cause World War III.

The Russians have exploited this NATO fear of WW III.  They agreed to a humanitarian corridor and then strafed refugees fleeing Ukraine in that corridor.  And the US and NATO did nothing.  The US and NATO continued negotiations with Iran on nuclear material enrichment with reportedly the excess uranium from the agreement going to Russia.  Are we serious?  I will refrain from critiquing whatever the arrangement is going to be, but believe right now we should cease and desist.  We should act as if Russia is upsetting the world order, which it is.

Throughout my education and service as an officer in the Army our national strategy was the containment of the Soviet Union.  I trained a cavalry platoon, a tank battalion, a cavalry squadron and an armored brigade to repel and defeat the Soviet hordes along the east-west German border.  The night the wall came down and the Soviet Union started to implode I was at the National Training Center preparing for the 2d BDE, 1st Infantry Division to attack a Soviet style defense.  I had studied and trained to fight the Soviets for over 25 years.  The strategy of containment had finally caused the desired effect.

At the start of the Cold War in 1947 the US and eventually a large part of the western world adopted what was called the containment strategy.  The essence of the containment strategy was that if the west would contain Soviet expansionism that eventually the USSR would fall from inside.  The containment strategy was initiated by a Foreign Service officer, George F. Kennan. In 1946, while he was Chargé d’Affaires in Moscow, Kennan sent an 8,000-word telegram to the State Department—the now-famous “long telegram”—on the aggressive nature of Stalin’s foreign policy. Kennan, writing as “Mr. X,” published an outline of his philosophy in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs in 1947. His conclusion was that “the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” To that end, he called for countering “Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world” through the “adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy.” Such a policy, Kennan predicted, would “promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power.” Containment provided a conceptual framework for a series of successful initiatives undertaken from 1947 to 1950 to blunt Soviet expansion. The framework of US and NATO strategy was in place for the next 40+ years.

It took a long time and a lot of resources and lives to contain the Soviet Union, but eventually it fell in 1990—43 years after the first containment thinking.  The result was a new world order with many Eastern and South European countries gaining their freedom.  Counter-initiatives to each  Soviet attempt at expansion were generally successful.

With the invasion of Ukraine what is the emerging new world order to look like?  Will it continue to have western nations who are afraid of their shadows or will there be leaders emerge who have sufficient vision to see that they must act now?  The Ukrainians will continue to resist the Russians and the Russians will seek to starve them while they are encapsulated in the destroyed cities of Ukraine.

Let me suggest two actions that might help stop this holocaust in Ukraine and send a strong message to Russia that its ambitious behavior will be met and contained.

  • First, NATO should create a humanitarian no fly zone in Western Ukraine.  In this zone refugees would be free to escape the ravages of the Russian war effort and humanitarian supplies could freely flow to Ukraine.  Military supplies could also move in this no-fly area.  NATO could easily enforce such an area by the positioning of air defense assets along the Polish and Romanian borders.  Air defense aircraft could meet and escort any Russian aircraft that entered the zone out of it.  If necessary, they could be shot down.  Many fear that this would be the beginning of WW III.  Just the opposite should be the case.  NATO would be showing resolve and its humanitarian side.  Russia would violate this at its own risk.  The initiative would have been seized by NATO.
  • Secondly, NATO should seriously consider all of its interactions with Russia.  Most importantly would be the importation of Russian energy and secondly such absurd aberrations as the talks with Iran.  The US could easily become the energy source for Europe.  US liquid natural gas would also be much cleaner than what Europe gets from Russia.  Having denied Russia, the income from energy along with the sanctions it would again be contained except for its relations with China.  Iran would continue to be contained, sorta.

The Sino-Russian axis may survive for a limited period of time, but given the Chinese pragmatism one should expect China to decide fairly quickly that Russia has little to offer it besides energy and is not a wealthy market for its exports.  China would not want to be part of the contained world and would distance itself from Russia.

A new containment strategy that seeks to limit Russian adventurism across the globe should allow NATO and the west to seize and retain the initiative in its dealings with Russia.  Russian historians will remember the containment of the cold war and will be encouraged to advise their leaders that they should not repeat history.

There will be a period of uncertainty and confusion while the new reality settles in.  It is during this period that the West must “hang tough” because if there any seams that the Russians can see they will seek to exploit them.  These tumultuous times will be opposed by the globalists who seek to create a world without boundaries.  They will not appreciate their world view collapsing, but it has. Inherent in the adoption of such a far-reaching strategy is the emergence of leaders who are not wedded to the post-cold war way of doing things.  To save Ukrainian lives in the short term the no-fly zone and total isolation of Russia can be accomplished quickly.  As the elements of this new containment strategy become apparent the Russian re-evaluation will have its beginning.

Taking the initiative in Ukraine and across the globe will save lives and eventually make lives better for populations outside of Russia.  This new containment should have the same result and this cold war should only last for a limited period of time.  The Russian people have experienced a better life and will want it back. 

War crimes in Ukraine

The media has been full of images of apartment houses being attacked, burning buildings and destroyed vehicles.  We have been spared images of all of the murdered civilians in the streets of Ukraine. The Russian generals and President Putin have been accused of war crimes because of their attacks on Ukrainian civilians. 

war crime is a violation of the laws of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility for actions by the combatants, such as intentionally killing civilians or intentionally killing prisoners of war, torture, taking hostages, unnecessarily destroying civilian property, deception by perfidy, wartime sexual violence, pillaging, the conscription of children in the military, committing genocide or ethnic cleansing, the granting of no quarter despite surrender, and flouting the legal distinctions of proportionality and military necessity.

The prospects of deadly urban warfare against motivated Ukrainian partisans no doubt is the reason for the Russians having adopted the urban leveling strategy that is unfolding in front of our eyes.  Missiles, rockets, artillery and bombs are being used to demolish Ukrainian urban centers.  Clearly this is a set of war crimes.  We have not heard of the other types of war crimes, yet.  But before this conflict is over, we can expect there to be sexual violence, pillaging, and killing of prisoners.

There are reports that the war crimes tribunal has already sent investigators to Ukraine to begin their fact gathering.  There is no doubt that this will continue until the conflict is over.  Our experience with war crimes goes back to the end of World War II and the Nuremberg trials.  From the Nuremberg trials emerged the Nuremberg principles of law.  These were captured in the updated Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare. 

Alleging war crimes and trying the alleged villains are two much different things.  The search for the perpetrators of war crimes in Bosnia took years.  Adolph Eichmann escaped trial until the Israelis captured him in Argentina.  Trying Vladimir Putin or his generals would never happen until/unless Russia was to experience a coup of some kind and these individuals were to be turned over to the war crimes tribunal for incarceration until trial.  War crimes trials have only been possible when the perpetrators are from a defeated nation.  This means that the probability of Putin being tried for his war crimes are minuscule unless the coup mentioned above occurs.

The probability of reparations from Russia to rebuild Ukraine is also low.  The sale of the impounded Russian oligarch yachts and private aircraft may raise several billion dollars, but that will be far from sufficient to care for the surviving Ukrainians.  The wealth of Putin and his fellow war crimes perpetrators could assist in the rebuilding of Ukraine, but how do they appear in front of a tribunal without some form of coup?

Going back to how the destruction of Ukraine ends it would appear that absent a coup either Russia will capture at least Kyiv and that portion of the country east of the Dnieper River. 

Dnieper River runs from north to south through East-center Ukraine

Dividing the country along the Dnieper River would give the Russians control of the area where most of the damage has occurred.  Would this solve their hunger?  Probably not, but it appears that this is the best that the Russian military can achieve.  If this is how the current conflict ends it will only be a temporary cessation of hostilities.  There will be a continued insurgency in the east with a significant Russian casualty rate.  This casualty rate and the emasculated Russian economy my eventually lead to the coup that is necessary if the war criminals from the current conflict are ever to face the war crimes tribunal.  By the time that occurs there may be many more crimes and thus perpetrators in eastern Ukraine.

How does the Ukrainian crisis end?

As I sit here, I wonder how the Russian invasion of Ukraine will end.  This morning it is reported that Russian nuclear forces have been put on alert.  Other reports indicate that Russian forces have bogged down in their attempts to capture Ukraine.  Western countries are announcing arms deliveries to Ukraine.  Energy flows continue from Russia to Europe, in spite of western economic sanctions on Russian banks.  In this very confused situation one has to think about how this crisis ends.

It has just been announced that Ukraine has agreed to send a delegation to the Belarus border for negotiations with Russia.  Will there be a cease fire while such negotiations occur?  Without a cease fire this offer by Russia could be seen as a false flag attempt to reduce Ukrainian resistance and the resupply coming from the west.  This negotiation could result in Ukraine agreeing to not seek membership in NATO in exchange for a Russian withdrawal and some form or reparations for the damage it has inflicted on Ukraine.  This is probably a globally desired outcome.

In spite of the possibility of negotiations continued belligerency must be considered as most likely.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine, if it has the internal strength to devote continued human and other resources to fight, will eventually overcome the Ukrainian resistance.  The Russian means of overcoming Ukrainian resistance will be to level everything as they did in Chechnya. But what will they have conquered?  Not a functioning country with on call leadership to rule it.  There will be numerous shortages to be dealt with because of their destruction during the conflict.  Major urban areas of Ukraine will have been destroyed.  Housing will be in rubble.  Russia will then have to turn to the west and appeal to its compassion to assis in rebuilding a neutral Ukraine. 

What if the internal strength and support is lost in Russia?  Is it possible for the Russian Army to conduct a coup? Is the current nuclear alert focused on preventing a coup?  It is highly unlikely that Putin will relinquish power willingly.  But with the sanctions starting to take effect, will the Oligarchs look and find a replacement?  If so, he most likely will come from the military so as to assure its support.  Putin may be offered an end of life in exile.  He would probably not accept such an offer and would therefore have to be executed.

Before this crisis, as we reported, Russia secured a back-channel method of ameliorating the impact of the sanctions imposed by the West—Chinese support.  There is reporting that it is Chinese pressure that pushed Russia into the negotiations that are scheduled to occur tomorrow. 

The relative incompetence on the Ukrainian battlefields of the Russian military shows that the threat to NATO is not as severe as it was during Cold War I.  But in the aftermath of this crisis Russia will learn the mistakes of its military training and look at the US model.  One should expect to see several national training centers emerge in different geographical areas of Russia.  In addition to the training at the centers there will be significant emphasis placed on the mobilization skills required to get to a battlefield.  Logistical support operations will be streamlined and modernized. This will result in a more competent Russian military during Cold War II.

Probably the biggest changes that will result from this crisis is the western dependence on Russian energy sources.  Europe will gradually relook its energy requirements.  Russian energy will have to compete with other sources of energy to include nuclear and natural gas from other parts of the world.  For OPEC this will be a huge opportunity for deliveries of liquid natural gas and distilled petroleum products.  For the United States this creates a market to fuel economic independence and funds to reduce national debt and fuel growth and prosperity.  This will require that the far-left climate change elements will have to understand the logic that clean energy, not no energy, is the solution to their climate concerns.  This understanding will most likely not emerge to execution during the current administration.  In spite of the Biden administration, American energy companies will move forward to position themselves to exploit the severe changes in energy policy that will come from the next administration.

As an interim conclusion there are three possible end states envisaged:

  1. A decimated Ukraine with the Russians trying to rule it by martial law.
  2. A negotiated agreement with Ukraine agreeing to refrain from seeking membership in NATO
  3. A coup in Russia resulting in new leadership that withdraws from the Ukraine

Time will tell what the outcome of this crisis will be.  This piece will be updated as events continues