Back in the 1980s my enlightened commanding officer sponsored a few of his officers to study under the enlightened Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Professor of Soviet Studies Chris Donnelly.
It was an external course which as a NATO officer serving with 4th Armd. Div made a strong impression. I was also a keen military historian published occasionally in The Army Review. More latterly I led battlefield tours of Northern Europe & attended other on site lectures on several famous battlefields from Spion Kop to the Little Big Horn. I have had the pleasure of giving a paper to the Eisenhower Defense University in Washington & lectured at the Junior Staff College Shrivenham, the Royal College of Defence Studies (my alma mater) & the London School of Economics on military strategy.
Thinking strategically takes training for most of us, some are naturals but they are few. Strategy is subtly different from tactics. The best explanation I ever heard was on a squadron commanders course attributed to General Patton. A bit dated but you will get the drift, “strategy is how you persuade a girl to join you in the back row of the cinema, tactics are what you use when you get her there.”
Currently every two bit politician, tabloid hack & golf club know-all seem to be experts on geo-political military strategy. Yet they see everything simplistically. The very antithesis of strategic thinking. The globe is a chess board, it was ever thus & the players are the main powers, either regional or global. America is a military superpower, the only one but no longer the economic power it once was. Great Britain found itself in this position in 1918. It is the twilight for a superpower when its economy is dying.
The United States spends one trillion dollars every year on its military budget. Much of it unaudited. The Central Intelligence Agency is morally bankrupt & out of control, President Kennedy hated it, President Eisenhower warned against it, but it controls the western press with an iron grip.
This is not the place to reopen the debate on the causes of the Great War but it would be wise to realise a misappreciation of the views of a potential foe can turn a cold war in to a hot one in weeks if not days.
I have written before on these subjects in this very magazine & I visit again some of the vital issues seemingly totally dangerously misunderstood in the western press today.
Post war NATO was conceived as an alliance to protect against a politically hostile & powerful Soviet Union. It was successful, I was an active participant. But thirty years ago the Soviet Union collapsed & the west naturally expected a peace dividend. Russia was humiliated & broken, the eastern European nations escaped communist enslavement. President Gorbachev & then Yeltsin persuaded the Americans to promise no eastward expansion. An optimistic outlook followed although Russia had a very rocky patch economically & socially. President Clinton, under pressure from the US military, industrial & congressional complex of which Eisenhower warned against in his farewell speech in 1960 broke faith.
It is here we must pause to ponder Russian history. As Professor Donnelly persuaded me thirty five years ago try & think like a Russian. Their historical perspective is one of victims of invasion. Napoleon in 1812, The Crimea in 1854 by Britain & France in support of the Ottoman Empire, The Kaiser & then Hitler. Millions of Russians died in these wars, I freely admit some of these disasters Mother Russia brought on itself. But that is not the point.
The Russophobes in the west, many of whom should know better are reworking themselves in to an ignorant frenzy. Like 1914 belligerence whipped up by a tabloid press in Berlin, Paris, Vienna & London coupled with foghorn diplomacy.
Let’s get a few facts on the table. The Crimea voted in a plebiscite overwhelmingly to come in to the Russian Federation, unsurprising 95% of the population are Russian. In 2014 the US pumped $5 billion in to the Ukraine to overturn the elected pro Russian Federation government which is constitutionally committed to reclaiming the Crimea. Let that sink in. Moreover the Ukraine has applied for EU & NATO membership. America & sadly Britain has supplied military personnel & hardware in to the region. This on top of weapon system development & military personnel in Poland, Romania & the Baltic. NATO naval exercises have taken place in the Black sea. The Royal Navy’s equivalent of the Solent.
Russia has historically regarded the best protection for its thousands of miles of border to have non hostile countries on the other side of the wire. Not unreasonable , indeed it is United States policy as confirmed by the Cuban crisis & its regime changes in Grenada & Panama. The Monroe Doctrine for those familiar with it. One might look back further to the George Washington doctrine, to para phrase ‘keep out of Europe it’s a basket case & always will be’.
If the Ukraine had joined NATO & the European Union the world would be on the brink of a world war. Putin understands this. He has therefore made a pre emptive strike to de militarise the zone & protect ethnic Russians from further harassment . This is actually counterintuitively a stabilizing action if he holds firm. See my video Wars Never Work godfreybloom.uk/blogs/.
I might add sanctions never work. They just freeze the status quo, Castro stayed in power for decades because of American sanctions. Moreover sanctions only hurt the innocent & breed resentment against those enforcing them.
There is much talk about the west getting militarily involved, the same cry of ‘poor little Serbia in 1914’ that went well didn’t it? Western involvement will not change the course of the war, just prolong it. The most pragmatic option is a quick surgical strike by Russia & a negotiated independent Western Ukraine de militarized by all. No more Vietnams, Iraqs, Somalias, Afghanistans, Yemens Libyas or Syrias, regime change wars never work.
Let there be some western self interest, the ECB is on the verge of collapse, European Green parties put Putin in the driving seat on energy, let common sense prevail, but remember this war is unfinished business from 2014.