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  #51  
Old 07-21-2018, 07:04 PM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
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You make some fair points AK84, particularly about the state of maintenance in major western militaries( an article recently suggested about 71% combat aircraft availability for the U.S. - modern planes are getting increasingly tricky to keep up ). But I don't think it fundamentally changes my mind.

I'm well aware that Russia has rebuilt itself from its nadir in the 1990's/early 2000's. But my point about where it is relative to the USSR still stands. As much as the West has drawn down, so has Russia. In 1991 the Soviet army had over 3.5 million active duty troops on the books. Today Russia has 350,000, which is literally smaller than the old elite Group of Soviet Forces in Germany was in 1989. The GSFG also fielded twice as many active-duty tanks . However formidable the modern Russian army is, as currently configured it is simply not capable of conquering vast swathes of Europe blitzkrieg fashion. And if it mosrtly stands on defense, no matter how well it can defend itself it will not be able to sustain a war longer than the West and IMHO certainly wouldn't over such piddly stakes as Estonia et al.

We'll simply have to agree to disagree about the utility of preserving NATO and the likliehood that the U.S. would maintain the treaty.

Last edited by Tamerlane; 07-21-2018 at 07:04 PM.
  #52  
Old 07-21-2018, 08:28 PM
DinoR DinoR is offline
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Originally Posted by Tamerlane View Post
I'm in the camp that thinks people are generally substantially overrating Russia and substantially underrating NATO minus the United States. The economic balance in particular is stark [snipped]

Even with Russia spending a much higher proportion of its GDP on the military, it is still out-bulked in defense spending by well over 4 to 1 by non-US NATO.
Comparing nominal GDP is fraught with issues. This may be a good case where using Purchasing Power Parity adjustments makes a lot of sense. The argument is, after all, using spending as a proxy for what kind of capabilities are being purchased. PPP is mostly about civilian purchasing but it might still be a better estimate of capability. Russia does manage most of the supply chain for their military industrial complex internally so you'd expect it would be freer of the influences that would push prices to normalize. There's also big chunks of military budgets that really do reflect local pricing; the US spends more on personnel costs, about 1/3 of defense spending, than it does on purchasing military equipment as an example.

Russia's 2017 military spending was 61 billion USD. NATO Europe's spending in the same year was 272 billion USD. On the surface that seems pretty dominantly an advantage for NATO Europe. The OECD PPP adjustment factors for the EU (as a rough proxy for NATO Europe) and Russia are .727 and 14.019 respectively in 2017. At PPP that makes the defense budget comparison 198 billion USD by NATO Europe to 855 billion USD for Russia. In fact at PPP, Russia's spending in 2017 was greater than US spending.

Of course spending doesn't mean spending well....
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Originally Posted by AK84 View Post
Money for maintaince is typically the first thing to be cut. The German military is is lousy shape, the French Air Force combat fleet is 50% grounded and the Polish military is of dubious quality,
The US Military, having spent a decade focused on Counter Insurgency is of the opinion that it ill-prepared and organized to fight large scale peer warfare.
AK84 points to some of the issues on the NATO side with respect to whether they are spending well. (I'd argue with calling the Polish dubious quality based solely on recent moves that have strong potential to degrade quality.) Spending comparisons alone can hide flaws in how that money is spent. It's possibel to spend a lot fielding large formations that have to cut training or maintenance corners to meet budgets. Large but hollow forces can have issues if expected to actually fight.

NATO struggled maintaining operations against Libya in 2011. War stocks of munitions and parts were running out. The US, who wasn't directly involved in the combat portion after the initial suppression of air defenses, was able to make up the difference for those using US systems. The rest got made up by going hat in hand to the majority of members that hadn't initially signed on to the mission. NATO got pushed to it's logistical limit by relatively low paced air operations against a prostrate Libya.

Most of the Europe's NATO members responded with a round of defense spending cuts as part of austerity. I know UK made some specific effort in that to improve capability while cutting. They cut force structure by more than they cut funding to ensure more capable forces. Additionally, they made some institutional reforms to try and make that smaller force more deployable and capable. I haven't seen others follow that lead but I can't say for sure. Some of the links AK84 posted along with other observations I've seen make me doubt that the UK approach to cuts was common.

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Originally Posted by XT View Post
They been fighting top tier nations recently? Last I can recall was some fighters over Vietnam, but feel free to reel off their vast practical experience.
They have employed conventional forces against national militaries in conventional conflict in the Post-Soviet period. The Russian-Georgian War in 2008 was a short conflict but saw them have to manage large conventional forces in offensive operations. They also have deployed Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs0 to Ukraine for operations against the Ukrainian military in the Donbass region. They are solidly reinforced above typical battalion capabilities (providing slightly more firepower, with range advantages, than in a US Brigade Combat Team.) In addition, BTGs have often been operating at the Brigade level while deployed and rounded out with local paramilitaries. That's pretty significant combat experience for the relevant Battalion Commanders and their staffs who are working above their pay grades. Subordinate leaders and soldiers have also been gaining relevant maneuver experience in conventional operations.

While not against a national level and getting old enough the experience isn't widespread, the two Chechen Wars are relevant for some senior leaders. The opposition mostly operated as reasonably equipped light infantry formations operating infantry-centric terrain. It wasn't until later that the opposition was forced to disperse and began operating as guerrillas. That potentially provides some valuable organizational experience for mechanized operations in urban terrain. The time gap makes what the US Army calls Knowledge Management pretty critical though. How effectively they captured and disseminated the lessons learned matters. Whether those got effectively implemented into doctrine and training matters. I can't speak to how effective their KM and follow through was at the time.

The BTGs do raise whole other sets of issues about readiness for a potential peer-level competition. They were well designed to support a hybrid war and capable in a conventional fight within their apparent doctrine. Their fielding still raised a host of issues with potentially decreasing readiness for a conflict like we're discussing. That's another deep rabbit hole to dive down. Since I'm guessing most here are still wondering "WTF is a BTG?" I'll end with an article that gives a description of their capabilities and how US forces might think about fighting them.

From Armor Magazine, Summer 2016, - Russian Hybrid Warfare and the Re-emergence of Conventional Armored Warfare: Implications for the U.S. Army’s Armored Force

Be advised, it's an article in a professional journal written by a field grade officer for a professional audience. That audience is expected to know doctrinal terms and symbols. Colloquial English and US Army English are, to put it mildly, not the same.

Last edited by DinoR; 07-21-2018 at 08:30 PM.
  #53  
Old 07-21-2018, 08:59 PM
DinoR DinoR is offline
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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
Right - but what if those 20 nations think, "Still better for us to lose a thousand soldiers than a million civilians?"
I'd missed this.

The dynamic is still significantly different. Those forces are going to be calling for support before large chunks of their civilian populace are even aware a war started. The question is then more on the line of "Do we order them to surrender or let them die to avoid a larger war?" than the one you propose.

NATO's fighting the hypothetical by deploying them. That doesn't mean NATO might not still blink, bury their dead, and accept the conquest of the Baltics. Fighting is not synonymous with winning. I'd argue it increases the odds of following through on the commitments if the fight begins before the populace is aware. In theory, the US could also have responded to the Pearl Harbor attacks and the conquest of a couple economically insignificant overseas territories by not fighting WWII. It certainly would have been the low casualty and low cost option for us. The dominant emotions within the electorate pushed us strongly the other way.
  #54  
Old 07-23-2018, 11:16 AM
Brayne Ded Brayne Ded is offline
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Originally Posted by AK84 View Post
The current Russian writers are unsure whether the Americans or the major W European countries would fight for E Europe and the Baltics.

That is not a good thing.
Let's hope they get clued up, because NATO would fight.

Any such move would of course involve a military buildup and a diplomatic "what about our poor stranded mistreated ethnic cousins"offensive. There are enough NATO forces in the Baltics to deter a few black ops adventurers.

BTW, Russia might well think twice about such a move if there was any chance at all that the West would respond by massively supporting the Ukraine. The West has kept out of what is basically a local dispute and the claims of the Ukraine are not at all good.

NATO may have much smaller forces than pre-1990, but so has Russia, and Russia does not have the resources for a prolonged battle.

There is also another issue for Russia if it attacked Europe; even the possibility of a US-PRC alliance would scare the bejazus out of them.
  #55  
Old 07-23-2018, 11:27 AM
Brayne Ded Brayne Ded is offline
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Originally Posted by Ravenman View Post
Because seizing Crimea or the Georgia invasion carried little risk of World War III and no risk of nuclear war. That cannot be said of the Baltics.
Bear in mind that the (stupid) war with Georgia lasted longer than one would have expected, given the disparity. Nor did the fighting in Chechnya go too well for them.
The Russian military has some excellent new equipment - but can't get enough of it due to production problems. Much of what they have is pre-nineties and not maintained adequately. Nor sure if it still applies, but they were having problems not so long ago giving their pilots enough flight hours to maintain their skills. And, as has been pointed out, they have some good units plus a mass of conscripts who would prefer to stay home and get drunk.

It basically comes down to diplomacy and making it clear that no incursions will be tolerated. The issue with the ethnic Russians in the Baltics is that Putin makes no effort to repatriate them, and some don't want to go anyway. The locals don't want them, regarding them as leftovers of the occupation. Now what?
  #56  
Old 07-23-2018, 11:41 AM
Brayne Ded Brayne Ded is offline
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Originally Posted by AK84 View Post
Fair enough


You kidding me? Money for maintaince is typically the first thing to be cut. The German military is is lousy shape, the French Air Force combat fleet is 50% grounded and the Polish military is of dubious quality,
The US Military, having spent a decade focused on Counter Insurgency is of the opinion that it ill-prepared and organized to fight large scale peer warfare.
The NATO forces are indeed run down, as stated, but part of this is due to budget cuts. If Russia looks like it is planning something, you'll see massive military spending and probably a draft. And, as has been pointed out, the Russian military is most likely not up to more than limited action, and full-scale combat would quickly reveal its weaknesses. The Baltics are NATO members, so the USA would soon be in. Bring in the forces from Afghanistan and elsewhere, and you have a sizable force with combat experience. Which the Russians do not, on the whole.
I think the NATO countries could contain a Russian attack by themselves, and once the US starts shipping men and material in it is only a matter of time before the Russians get pushed back. But this of course implies that the political will exists. It certainly will in eastern Europe! They saw the Russians at first hand, and don't want them back.

And, seen from the other side, what does Russia really have to gain? Three small countries that hate them. More access to the Baltic. Put that against a possibly resurgent Ukraine and the specter of a move by the PRC to grab some territory when nobody is looking.
  #57  
Old 07-24-2018, 07:23 AM
Delicious Delicious is offline
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If Russia is going to threaten nuclear war over it, why not just skip the invasion step and just demand the Baltic countries hand themselves over or everyone gets nuked? Could spend the invasion money on bomb shelters.
  #58  
Old 07-24-2018, 07:43 AM
Brayne Ded Brayne Ded is offline
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Originally Posted by Delicious View Post
If Russia is going to threaten nuclear war over it, why not just skip the invasion step and just demand the Baltic countries hand themselves over or everyone gets nuked? Could spend the invasion money on bomb shelters.
Do you seriously think the Russians would threaten nuclear war? I certainly don't. If nothing else, why risk that for three small countries that are not critical to Russia's security or economy?
  #59  
Old 07-24-2018, 09:00 AM
Delicious Delicious is offline
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Originally Posted by Brayne Ded View Post
Do you seriously think the Russians would threaten nuclear war? I certainly don't. If nothing else, why risk that for three small countries that are not critical to Russia's security or economy?
No I don't but per the OP, they're going to threaten it after the invasion so the core question is whether NATO will give up 3 members due to that threat. My way seems more efficient.
  #60  
Old 07-24-2018, 11:24 AM
clairobscur clairobscur is offline
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Originally Posted by Brayne Ded View Post
Do you seriously think the Russians would threaten nuclear war? I certainly don't. If nothing else, why risk that for three small countries that are not critical to Russia's security or economy?
They did rattle the nuclear saber during the Crimea crisis, apparently.
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  #61  
Old 07-24-2018, 01:51 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Originally Posted by Delicious View Post
No I don't but per the OP, they're going to threaten it after the invasion so the core question is whether NATO will give up 3 members due to that threat. My way seems more efficient.
Why is Russia somehow capable of making a credible threat of a nuclear attack and the United States is not?
  #62  
Old 07-24-2018, 03:39 PM
Delicious Delicious is offline
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
Why is Russia somehow capable of making a credible threat of a nuclear attack and the United States is not?
If the OP was about the US invading Crimea and threatening nuclear war if Russia responded, I'd suggest the same simplification.

Generally though, I'd be more likely to believe a Russian threat, seems they have less to lose.
  #63  
Old 07-28-2018, 03:24 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
Because there's always a point where one has bitten off as much or more than one can chew. And it's quite possible that for Russia, the Baltics are all they can reliably take and hold.

For the record, I am not advocating NATO passivity in the face of a hypothetical Russian attack, quite the opposite. I just don't think that it necessarily follows that if/because Russia has taken the Baltics, Poland must therefore necessarily be next on the menu.
Not necessarily Russia, but allowing Russia to get away with nuclear brinksmanship would send a horrible signal to every other country with nukes - that nuclear brinksmanship works. And it would send a message to every bad actor that nuclear weapons are the game changer that would allow them to achieve their own ambitions. Failure to respond dramatically to a Baltic invasion would make the world a much more dangerous place.

Even in Shakespeare's time, we knew that if you pay the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane. The only proper response to any kind of blackmail threat involving nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons is an immediate denunciation followed by measures that ensure whoever tries it suffers more negative consequences than they gained. Whether that means military blockades, war, selective strikes against the regime itself or hard sanctions would need to be determined by conditions at the time, but the net result MUST be negative for the aggressor.

As an aside, this is why it's dangerous to let your defenses get weak. You invite this sort of risky calculation by your enemies, which can result in much more eventual cost than the maintenance of a proper deterrent in the first place.

In any event, we should be more worried about Germany, which is about to put its energy needs in Putin's lap due to Merkel's godawful decision to shut down Germany's nuclear plants. You want to talk blackmail? Wait until Putin does something against the Baltics and then warns Germany to stay out of it or face being starved of energy. Germany's military is already hollowed out, and Merkel probably wouldn't need much convincing.

As for NATO breaking up, that's looking more and more likely by the day, but not because of the Baltics. I would say a bigger threat is Turkey. Turkey is becoming autocratic, and is enraging a lot of NATO members by buying Russian missile systems along with advanced allied aircraft, which will give Russia a huge amount of data they can use to improve their weapons against NATO. The U.S. needs to halt sale of the F-35 to Turkey for this reason. How do you maintain a member in NATO which is in close military cooperation with the country NATO was set up to defend against? And with Turkey and Russia both operating in Syria, there are decent odds that the U.S. could find itself in a shooting battle with a NATO country on the other side.
  #64  
Old 07-28-2018, 03:46 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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Originally Posted by Brayne Ded View Post
The NATO forces are indeed run down, as stated, but part of this is due to budget cuts. If Russia looks like it is planning something, you'll see massive military spending and probably a draft. And, as has been pointed out, the Russian military is most likely not up to more than limited action, and full-scale combat would quickly reveal its weaknesses. The Baltics are NATO members, so the USA would soon be in. Bring in the forces from Afghanistan and elsewhere, and you have a sizable force with combat experience. Which the Russians do not, on the whole.
I think the NATO countries could contain a Russian attack by themselves, and once the US starts shipping men and material in it is only a matter of time before the Russians get pushed back. But this of course implies that the political will exists. It certainly will in eastern Europe! They saw the Russians at first hand, and don't want them back.

And, seen from the other side, what does Russia really have to gain? Three small countries that hate them. More access to the Baltic. Put that against a possibly resurgent Ukraine and the specter of a move by the PRC to grab some territory when nobody is looking.
You are making a mistake in thinking that you can just mobilize a large response rapidly. That was never true - it took the allies years to build up their forces to the level where they could seriously challenge the Axis, and that was in an era when you could design, test, fly, and mass produce a new aircraft or tank in a matter of a year or two, and sometimes even shorter.

Today's military conflicts aren't about massed troops meeting in battle. Conscript armies are a thing of the past, because modern soldiers have to be technical specialists with extensive training, and wars are fought by highly advanced machinery which take a very long time to build.

We live in an era where military hardware is so advanced that going from functional requirements to a production line can take decades. Production can no longer be done by women with a few week's training and a rivet gun, but requires advanced engineering and specialized manufacturing training that takes years. Ramping up production of existing weaponry would take a very long time.

Take the F-35 - its development was started in 1992. The first prototype didn't fly until 8 years later, and it took 15 more years of testing and refinement before its first combat ready deployment. They are manufactured by higly trained specialists, not big assembly lines. Ramping up production would take years. Training new pilots to fly something as sophisticated as an F-35 isn't done in weeks or months, but years.

This is why it is so hard to plan military spending - the new weapons you are funding today won't be ready for combat for years or decades, so you can't base your spending on current threats, but on an evaluation of what the threats might be years or decades from now - an impossible task. This will probably be a growing source of geopolitical instability of the coming decades - the increasing difficulty of managing a military that is the right size and effective when it is needed.
  #65  
Old 07-28-2018, 06:53 PM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is offline
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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post

Even in Shakespeare's time, we knew that if you pay the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane.
**cough** Kipling ** cough**
  #66  
Old 07-28-2018, 07:08 PM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is offline
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Originally Posted by DinoR View Post
Those forces are going to be calling for support before large chunks of their civilian populace are even aware a war started.
C'mon. When cute kitty pix are going around the world in 20 seconds or less, you don't think that the world won't hear about a Russian invasion of the Baltics pretty much instantaneously?

It may be in different time zone from the various nations that have troops there, but the populations of those nations will learn in real time if it happens.
  #67  
Old 07-28-2018, 07:33 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
**cough** Kipling ** cough**
Oops! Of course. I had Hamlet on the brain, but yeah, Kipling. It's even the name of the damned poem. My bad. And I love Kipling.

And it's very relevant to this discussion:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rudyard Kipling
It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation,
To call upon a neighbour and to say:—
“We invaded you last night—we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say:—
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray,
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say:—

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!”
  #68  
Old 08-04-2018, 12:41 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Kipling was misreading his history. The English didn't pay Dane-geld because they were too lazy to fight the Danes; they paid it because they were too weak to fight the Danes (or at least too weak to feel confident in winning).

You don't demand tribute from a truly rich and powerful country. If you do, the best outcome you can hope for is that your demand will be ignored. Another likely possibility is that the rich and powerful country will see your demand as a reason to attack you.

Dane-geld is what you demand from countries that you know are vulnerable. Either because they're weak or because they have to many other enemies to be able to focus on you.

Countries pay Dane-geld not because they're too lazy to fight but rather because they recognize their vulnerability. They decide that the cost of paying off a threatening country is less than the cost of losing a war with that country.
  #69  
Old 08-04-2018, 12:56 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
This is why it is so hard to plan military spending - the new weapons you are funding today won't be ready for combat for years or decades, so you can't base your spending on current threats, but on an evaluation of what the threats might be years or decades from now - an impossible task. This will probably be a growing source of geopolitical instability of the coming decades - the increasing difficulty of managing a military that is the right size and effective when it is needed.
The problem is a lot of people forget to take one very important factor into account when they do their planning; how other countries will react to your military spending.

No country exists in isolation; if they did, they wouldn't need a military. And there's a natural tendency to think about military superiority and how the more of it you have, the better you are. But that can be a trap.

Because other countries are also thinking about their strategic situation. And they see your military as part of the threat they must deal with. So when you decide that you need a bigger military to feel safe, they see the bigger size of your military as an increased threat and they respond by increasing their military. And now you see that you've lost the military superiority you had so you feel the need to increase your military to a new bigger level - which prompts the other country to respond again by increasing their military. And so on.

This isn't just theory either. There are plenty of historical examples of this happening, some of which involved the United States as a participant. And often the participants in the arms race realized the disadvantages of being in it while being unable to figure out how to get out of it.

Smart countries need to take this into account when their making their plans for the future. They need to not only think about where they will go but also where other countries will go as a response.
  #70  
Old 08-04-2018, 01:46 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post

You don't demand tribute from a truly rich and powerful country. If you do, the best outcome you can hope for is that your demand will be ignored. Another likely possibility is that the rich and powerful country will see your demand as a reason to attack you.

Dane-geld is what you demand from countries that you know are vulnerable. Either because they're weak or because they have to many other enemies to be able to focus on you.
Nuclear weapons changes that calculation. Ask the North Koreans - they've been collecting Kim-geld for decades.

And that's the problem. If you are a weak nation that can never match the great powers on a battlefield, your only chance to deter them is to threaten them with nukes.

The name of the game in the 21st Century is asymmetrical warfare. Countries like Russia and China see nuclear weapons, internet hacking, propaganda subverting social media and other tools as a way to level the playing field.
  #71  
Old 08-04-2018, 02:18 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
Nuclear weapons changes that calculation. Ask the North Koreans - they've been collecting Kim-geld for decades.

And that's the problem. If you are a weak nation that can never match the great powers on a battlefield, your only chance to deter them is to threaten them with nukes.

The name of the game in the 21st Century is asymmetrical warfare. Countries like Russia and China see nuclear weapons, internet hacking, propaganda subverting social media and other tools as a way to level the playing field.
North Korea didn't collect money by having nuclear weapons. They collected money by not having nuclear weapons and threatening to develop them. And obviously that game has been played out.

North Korea now has nuclear weapons for the usual reason small countries have them; not to threaten powerful countries but to defend themselves against threats from powerful countries. Nuclear weapons have become a de facto defensive weapon; their only planned use is as a response to an attack. No country has ever threatened to use nuclear weapons offensively since 1945.
  #72  
Old 08-04-2018, 04:23 PM
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I could be way wrong, but in the near term, I tend to think that Russia is not interested in invading Europe and creating a new Soviet empire. It takes time and attention away from his problems at home.

In the longer term, however, the threat that Russia poses is acting as a global disruptor and anti-democratic force. And if it inspires a global wave of nationalism then that's a game changer, because nation-states will be acting out of their own self-interest with fewer restraints and fewer frameworks to resolve disputes between individual countries.
  #73  
Old 08-04-2018, 05:08 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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No, they aren't going to invade Europe. Russia doesn't have that capability, nor do they have the financial or logistical resoures.

Rather, I think Putin is playing a long game, trying to undermine the European democracies, manoever to make them energy dependent on Russian natural gas, etc.

But there are also short-term needs, such as Putin deflecting blame for Russia's stumbling economy, stoking Russian nationalism, keeping the oligarchs onboard, etc. Expansion through conquest has been a time-honored way to keep the people quiet while you destroy the economy or siphon off the state's resources to the bank accounts of your friends and supporters to keep internal threats at bay. Putin is walking a high wire, and the danger is that he might do something rash if it's the only way to keep his internal and external enemies at bay.
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