Monday, March 16, 2015

Banging on the War Drums All Day

War by Zulema Revilla, hosted at

Not that we need yet another media or blogging outlet hell-bent on keeping your amygdalae locked into the "fear" setting day and night, but I do want to draw your attention to the ongoing school-yard shoving match in Ukraine between the U.S./NATO/EU coalition and Russia and the ethnic Russian militias in the Donbas. This is not meant to play into the Clown Show rhetoric being sprayed across every media platform each side's propaganda teams can access, but to ask you to parse through actions and words and see how close we might be to an actual clash between NATO forces and Russian troops, or whether this will remain a proxy war.

The Sounds of the Drums

Aside from the constant chatter about "Putin's Army" or "Putin's forces" and other simplistic narratives, let's see what we can find in the open media about what is happening on the ground over the last few weeks with both the forces aligned with the West (meaning here U.S./NATO/EU) and the forces aligned with Russia.

First, we have Sweden, which has a history of being "non-aligned" and doing a dance to keep both the Russians and NATO at bay, drawing closer to NATO, especially after recent incursions and near-incursions by Russian bombers and subs:

Swedish government says plans to boost defence spending
(Reuters) - The Swedish government will propose a 6.2 billion crown ($720 million) boost to defence spending over the next five years, its Defence Minister said on Thursday, citing increased instability in the region.

Peter Hultqvist said a worsening security situation, particularly Russian activity in and around the Baltic Sea, is forcing Sweden's armed forces to concentrate on the defence of its borders instead of international operations.

"We are making it very clear that we are shifting towards a focus of the national operations," he told a news conference.

The additional funds will be spent mainly on submarine operations and a permanent armed force on Gotland, a strategically important island in the Baltic, Hultqvist said.
Some take-aways: increase in war spending, re-establishing a military presence on a key Baltic Sea island, and in general, shifting more towards the NATO alliance.

As part of a trend by Russia to rattle the saber right under the noses of Western States, a month back we saw an incursion by Russian bombers near the UK.

RAF scrambles jets after Russian bombers spotted near Cornwall coast

(Guardian, Haroon Siddique, 19 February 2015) Anglo-Russian relations have taken another battering after the RAF escorted two Russian Bear bombers off the coast of Cornwall, as Moscow reacted angrily over a warning by Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, about the threat it may pose to Nato’s Baltic states.

RAF Typhoons were scrambled from their base in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, on Wednesday in response to the latest in a series of incursions by Russian warplanes. On Thursday David Cameron accused Moscow of trying to make a point, while the Kremlin furiously denounced Fallon’s warning that Vladimir Putin could repeat the tactics used to destabilise Ukraine in Baltic members of the Nato alliance.

During an event at Felixstowe, Suffolk, Cameron said: “I think what this demonstrates is that we do have the fast jets, the pilots, the systems in place to protect the United Kingdom. I suspect what’s happening here is that the Russians are trying to make some sort of a point and I don’t think we should dignify it with too much of a response."
Here is a more measured response by the Brits, past masters at Great Power saber-rattling, but another example of Russia not exactly going out of the way to de-escalate. As in the Cold War days, the big worry here is that one of these incursion missions will go too far and someone gets shot down, or a malfunction of some sort occurs, leading to a dogfight. What is more worrisome is that unlike the Cold War, there are no agreed-upon rules of behavior. A miscommunication could easily happen.

And then there has been yet another reference to the use of nuclear weapons by the Russians:

Putin says Russia was ready for nuclear confrontation over Crimea
(Reuters) - Moscow was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert to ensure Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year, President Vladimir Putin said in a pre-recorded documentary aired on Sunday...

" wasn't immediately understandable (what the reaction would be to Crimea's annexation). Therefore, in the first stages, I had to orient our armed forces. Not just orient, but give direct orders," he said.

When asked if he had been ready to put Russia's nuclear forces on alert, he said: "We were ready to do it."
That last comment is telling, in my opinion (emphasis mine). One oddity about the article is the headline about the potential for Russia to put its nukes on alert, while the bulk of the story was about Russia helping get its guy out of Ukraine after the recent coup. It's like the editor knows nuclear war draws eyeballs and brings clicks to the story links, but thinks the important stuff is the Clown Show drama over the former Ukrainian president. Or maybe the author doesn't know, or isn't allowed to speculate about, what a nuclear forces alert means.

Back in January we looked at not just nuclear weapons and social mood, but also at how Russia has revised its stance on the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent and the concept of "tailored damage" - basically the use of nuclear weapons on a small scale to (hopefully) prevent a wider war.

I think part of this continuing reference to nuclear weapons and its nuclear arsenal is a reflection, in part, of Russia's limited ability to handle a major ground war right now. It is interesting how much of how Russia is sending messages on the use of nuclear force here is like the U.S. and then NATO back in the late 1940's and through the 1950's. Western forces were absolutely outmanned and outgunned by the Red Army in Europe. This was part of the reason for NATO to push for the development of tactical nukes and to never make a "No First Use" promise for nuclear weapons. They felt too weak to ever make such a statement.

Russia is probably feeling similar today. She has substantial forces, but her options to project that force into Ukraine, and certainly into Europe are limited.

What Kind of War Would We See?

No one can know for sure just how out of hand a war might get, should we actually NATO-on-Russian fighting in Ukraine. Knowing we can't have perfect knowledge, let's turn to the Socionomic Model and see what it tells us about past conflicts.

War and Socionomic Patterns, the Socionomist, February 2012
This graph from 2012 gives you the basic model on war and mood. This model would tell us that if you assume a top in mood in 2000, the leg down through 2008-2009 as the (a) wave, and call the run-up since then as the rally, a major collapse in mood and markets could mean we are facing the potential for a major conflict.

If instead we regard the recent highs as the top, any decline that might follow would hopefully lead us to either a negotiated armistice or at least a regional conflict. That doesn't mean we might not see a nuclear weapon detonated - but hopefully it would be more of a "signal" or detonated to create "tailored damage" (blow up a remote base or maybe detonate very high in the atmosphere over a target - blasting out windows and scaring a lot of people, but creating a low death toll and relatively low damage).

I don't bring you answers here, but I do want you to think about this model. One way or the other, we are likely facing a major conflict, whether in the immediate future or within a decade or so. All I can say is, don't dwell on the fear, but do plan accordingly...

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