guideline to red lines

Across the pond POV:

Those who are calling for tougher actions against Russia in the form of troop deployments have not thought it through. They are using 1914 military doctrine when they live in 2014.

The great irony is that our high-priced militaries, built to deter Russia but fraudulently turned against Iraq, now turn out to also be incapable of performing their advertised purpose. Oh, they could still draw a red line closer to home that the Russians would respect, I give them that. But four nuclear submarines could do that.

We are told the EU is weak. But EU members' collective military spending is many times Russia's, never mind the crazy US spending. Together our armies outspend Russia more than ten to one. But none of this intimidates Russia, not even US conventional military power. Because Russia is secure behind its nuclear shield.

Every aspect of our relationship with Russia is conditioned by the nuclear balance. Those missiles are the unspoken context behind every thought, every conversation about Russia and Ukraine. They set the terms far more than Russia's gas exports do. Yet we hardly ever talk or think about them.

Again and again new weapons have fundamentally changed history. It was only with the invention of gunpowder that settled civilisations gained military primacy over the nomad (ie Genghis Khan). Yet we nowadays insist that the rules of the game haven't changed despite the introduction of a weapon that is clearly a game-changer.

We have believed the soldiers who insist that nuclear weapons haven't changed everything. The soldiers must say that because their profession depends on large conventional armies, on keeping the old game alive. Soldiers caress their fabulously expensive conventional weapons, but they detest nukes.

So the US ends up spending $700 trillion/year to achieve exact military parity with the Russians, who spend $90 billion but could still destroy the US in an afternoon. It is precisely because this bloated military machine is useless against serious actors like Russia and China that it instead gets used against unserious ones like Iraq.

The weapon has never been invented that has not been used. Nuclear weapons themselves were used within weeks of being invented, by a nation that was not even backed into a corner at the time. A real war between Russia and NATO would end in a nuclear exchange, just as the blue vs orange wargames fought between NATO officers used to end. The only question is whether such a war will happen.

Nuclear logic dictates that each side has ONE immovable red line, or line in the sand if you like, and that it be fairly close to home. Its position defines itself, as the line whose crossing is so unacceptable to you that you are willing to risk blowing yourself up if your enemy crosses it. Sweden, Poland and Germany are definitely inside our red line, Finland and Latvia probably are, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are not. Taking positions beyond your real red line is foolish because you won't hold them when push comes to shove, not if they are closer to the other guy's red line, to his vital interests.

The US actually had some troops in Georgia in 2008 (admittedly training/liaison not combat units) but they proved irrelevant as Russia had nicely calculated the limits of Western will. They were far beyond our real red line - so Bush told them to sit quietly in their base while outside the gates their Georgian Army proteges were being systematically crushed.

So all this talk of dispatching NATO forces here and there is meaningless symbolism. They will only deploy behind our real trigger line, the position of which will continue to be set by whom we are willing to blow ourselves up for.

And really, can you imagine US troops on the streets of these pro-Russian east Ukrainian cities? Of course not, they'd be attacked by the population. Same thing in Transnistria. So instead they will go to Latvia and Estonia and other places Putin wouldn't dream of touching, or they will pootle around the Black Sea in warships, while doing no good and possibly considerable harm.

It might be argued that by deploying conventional forces, we show Putin a red line he knows he really can't cross. But by showing who is behind our red line, we also show who is not behind it. And that latter group just happens to include all the places at the top of a Russian revanchist to-do list.