Grand Strategy in the Age of Mass Destruction

Strategic Bungling
Commentary for 16 June 2015

“We must be prepared to extend our influence and save the world."
-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, 2007

“In the big boys’ game, it’s cutthroat, it’s bloody and it’s not pleasant."
-Prince Bandar bin Sultan to President George W. Bush

The Brookings Institution has published a piece by Brandon Valeriano and Ryan C. Maness that says “Putin’s strategy has weakened Russia.” This thesis contains two probable errors: (1) that Russia’s strategy belongs to Putin, and (2) that the authors have a proper grasp of the word “weakened.” With regard to the first error, Western experts have never understood Moscow’s strategy and are in no position to name its architects. With regard to the second error, the Brookings scholars have a very confused and “post-modern” definition of the word “weakened.” For them, it would seem, Russia’s strategy of obtaining – under cover of a false democratization in 1991 – superior ICBMs, tanks and ABMs somehow signifies a weakened country.

Then there is the question of Russian propaganda. When the state-controlled Russian media recently published a story saying that the “US is encircling Russia with bioweapons labs,” experts like Valeriano and Maness ignore the implications. In the Sputnik news story “Americans Sign Petition to Preemptively Nuke Russia” we read about a joker in Southern California who got an unstated number of Americans to sign a petition in favor of a nuclear war. The Russian language version of this story did not bother to say that the petition was a hoax. Quite clearly, this unchallenged anti-American propaganda, which depicts Americans as crazy warmongers, is an artifact of Russian strengthening and not weakening. This is because Russia's newfound military advantages are unusable unless people can be convinced that America deserves to be crushed. But the West's experts do not see this. From their point of view, Russian pre-war propaganda might as well be a soap commercial.

On 30 April Foreign Affairs published a piece by Valeriano and Maness titled Paper Tiger Putin: The Failure of Russia’s Anachronistic Antagonism. The two authors suggest that mankind is done with national antagonism. Incredible, isn’t it? One looks back at twenty five centuries of written history and there isn’t a century without national antagonism – including the present century. What could they possibly be talking about? It is hard to understand why a nuclear crater in place of Washington, D.C. would be anachronistic. Why, indeed, should New York or Chicago remain standing? The reader must realize, and the future will attest, that the definition of anachronism applies best to the pre-war thoughts of the soon-to-be defeated nation. It never applies to the victor.

Valeriano and Maness have written Russia's obiturary before the actual outbreak of hostilities. And why have they done this? Becuase they believe that America has already won the peace. But this is demonstrably not so. Simply look at who the U.S. president is. Look at what is taught in American schools. Now ask yourself whether this has happened through a process unconnected with Russian military strategy. The nonsense of "cultural Marxism" is nothing more than a form of psychological warfare used in advance of a military attack. The promotion of nonsense in place of common sense is a form of sabotage. This kind of sabotage has been practiced on us for decades. And we have not challenged it.

Valeriano and Maness are victims of a broken intellectual culture. This is demonstrated by their apparent belief that war itself is obsolete. Where did they get this idea? If the reader cannot guess by now, then the reader is also a victim. A dangerous idea, repeated by intelligent people, which stands unquestioned by nearly everyone, is like a beacon. Only you have to know what the beacon signifies. Typically, our experts today believe that power is no longer measured in terms of actual military capability. Here is the real anachronism. If we are to measure strength and weakness properly, before the military arguments play out in strikes and counter-strikes, the only relevant measurement is the hard power measurement. Take, for example, the sudden appearance of the Russian S-500 surface-to-air missile system, which is designed for intercepting American intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as high altitude bombers. There is nothing like this system anywhere in the world. Consider, as well, the Armata Universal Combat Platform – a heavy tracked vehicle with an unmanned, remotely controlled turret. The crew of this superior tank will be housed in an armored capsule. It has a 30 mm cannon and a 12.7 mm machine gun. It will also be equipped with a deadly laser-guided anti-tank missile. The tank’s armor is lightweight (designated 44S-SV-SH), maintains its strength at sub-freezing temperatures, and employs the latest digital technology.  One must not forget, as well, the Topol-M “Sickle B” intercontinental ballistic missile. It is a cold launch, road mobile, three-stage rocket that carries an 800 kiloton nuclear warhead. It is far in advance of anything possessed by the United States.

But Valeriano and Maness say Russia’s position has been weakened by Moscow’s aggressive moves in Eastern Europe, that “in reality” Russia is “a muted and restrained power operating in a system that no longer supports grand-scale intervention. If anything, Russia’s recent military and diplomatic adventures have revealed its desperate weakness.”

And with this last phrase ringing in our ears, let us acknowledge that Russia could drop one bomb and destroy the entire U.S. power grid. Here is genuine and desperate weakness about which the U.S. Congress has done NOTHING. The President says and does NOTHING. In this situation, the American people are too busy shopping and having fun to assume the mantle of real citizens. Diana West has called it the “death of the grownup.” The operative word is death. Valeriano and Maness believe they have seen to the heart of Russia’s strategy. But they have seen nothing. They understand nothing, and they will soon come to nothing. Here are the exemplars of “anachronism.” In all their analysis of Russia’s weakness, they have failed to notice that a shift in the military balance of power has already taken place.

Many will agree with Valeriano and Maness. After all, nuclear weapons and tanks are thought to be irrelevant. The sheer destructiveness of modern war has supposedly rendered it unthinkable. But the destructive power of a weapon is precisely what makes it useful, especially when your objective is the total capitulation of your enemy. With better missile weapons, and better anti-missile weapons, Russia has begun to inch towards strategic nuclear supremacy. This is the kind of supremacy where America’s strategic deterrent is either destroyed in a first strike, or destroyed by Russian interceptor rockets. Meanwhile, the United States has an ABM defense so feeble, so decrepit, there is little chance it could stop a Chinese rocket let alone an advanced Russian Topol-M.   

Valeriano and Maness have written: “Letting Russia assert its regional interests has resulted in outcomes that counter its own goals. And that is why rushing to deal with a perceived Russian threat would be folly.” Yes, we shouldn’t react to a perceived Russian threat. We should slow down and relax. Don’t worry. “Pushing a confrontation between the West and Russia will only lead to a demonstration of the West’s own weaknesses,” the authors explain; “strategically incompatible goals, limited weapons supplies (excluding the United States), and the West’s own vulnerability when it comes to cybersecurity would lead the West to appear weak just as it attempts to look strong.”

We wouldn’t want to appear weak when we actually are weak – would we? The logic follows, that if we attempt to strengthen ourselves we would be admitting actual weakness! (Here we find a seemingly valid argument for remaining weak.) In their Brookings article, Valeriano and Maness say that Russia has shot itself in the foot. “Conquest is an idea of the past and rarely pays off,” they insist. “To overreact now is to play into Putin’s hands and will only make his warnings to the Russian people come true….” Two points in relation to this statement: (1) Conquest has paid off for a lot of folks, and is a permanent, indelible, feature of history; (2) the term “overreaction” is used by the authors to negate the West’s obligation to return to a Cold War military posture.

Following the advice of Valeriano and Maness, the balance of power must continue to shift against the West. And this is perfectly okay because weapons don't really matter any longer. Weapons are a self-defeating thing. We are told that “coercive diplomacy” doesn’t work. Yet, coercive diplomacy worked in 1918 and 1945. If you wipe out your enemy on the battlefield, in fact, his diplomatic position is entirely negated. Consider the following conversation, recorded in Berlin on 1 May 1945:

Gen. Krebs (representing German Chancellor Joseph Goebbels): What I am about to say is absolutely secret. You are the first foreigner to know that on 30 April, Adolf Hitler committed suicide.
Gen. Chuikov: We know that.
Gen. Krebs: [Reads Hitler’s last testament and then quotes Goebbels plea for peace] “…the aim of this declaration is for the benefit of those peoples who had the greatest loss of life in this war. The document can be given to your commander.”
Gen. Chuikov: Are you speaking for Berlin or all of Germany?
Gen. Krebs: I am empowered to speak for all German armies. [I am] empowered by Goebbels.
Gen. Chuikov: I will advise Marshall Zhukov.
Gen. Krebs: My first question. Will the guns fall silent during the negotiations?
Gen. Chuikov: [picks up the telephone receiver] Connect me with Marshall Zhukov. [To Zhukov over the phone:] Report from Chuikov. General of infantry Krebs is here. He is authorized by the German government to negotiate with us. He confirms that Hitler has committed suicide. I request that Party Member Stalin be informed that Goebbels, Bormann, and Gross Admiral Doenitz, according to Hitler’s testament, have assumed power. Krebs is empowered to negotiate with us for an armistice. Krebs suggests a ceasefire during the negotiation. [A pause while Zhukov speaks.] I will ask him now. [To Krebs:] When did Hitler end his life?
Gen. Krebs: Today at 1550 hours. Pardon me.
Gen. Chuikov: [To Zhukov on the phone] Yesterday at 1550. About peace? No, he has not spoken of that yet. I will ask him at once. Yes, understood as ordered. [To Krebs:] Marshal Zhukov asks if we are talking about a capitulation.
Gen. Krebs: No, there are other possibilities.
Gen. Chuikov: [To Zhukov:] He says there are “other possibilities of making peace.” No … they have no contact with the allies. Krebs is only empowered to negotiate with the USSR. [Chuikov listens to Zhukov’s instructions.] Yes, yes, he is empowered by Goebbels, the Reich Chancellor and Bormann remains the [Nazi] Party leader. He says we are the first to have been told about Hitler’s death and his testament…. You want to ask Moscow? I will wait by the receiver. [Zhukov speaks with Stalin and returns to give Chuikov instructions.] Understood. Krebs is not empowered but he can talk about it. Good, understood Party Member Marshall. I will ask. And the others? [A pause] Understood. I have understood. [Turning to Krebs:] We can only negotiate with you for a total capitulation to the USSR….
Gen. Krebs: In order to have an opportunity to discuss your demand I request a temporary ceasefire.
Gen. Chuikov: [into the telephone] He cannot negotiate a total capitulation while he does not know the overall situation of the new government of Germany. He is only empowered to negotiate. [Pause] Yes I will ask him. [Turning to Krebs:] Do you wish to capitulate immediately?
Gen. Krebs: I would have to discuss that with my government…. I am requesting an armistice.
Gen. Chuikov: [into the phone] They are requesting an armistice…. [Zhukov’s is barking instructions] Yes, understood. I hear you. I understand. Good! As ordered! [To Krebs:] An armistice can only be decided on the basis of a total capitulation.
Gen. Krebs: Then you will take over the entire area where the government has residence and kill all the Germans.
Gen. Chuikov: We have not come to annihilate the German people.
Gen. Krebs: [attempts to argue] The Germans will have no chance to work.
Gen. Chuikov: The Germans are already working for us.

This exchange is what an unconditional surrender sounds like. It is the ultimate form of diplomatic coercion. The city of Berlin had been turned into rubble. The defeated country was at the mercy of its enemy. Coercion was the means by which unconditional surrender was obtained. Under the circumstances, diplomatic prowess was meaningless. Only military superiority mattered. A few hours after the unsuccessful negotiation attempt, Chancellor Joseph Goebbels committed suicide. On the next day, 2 May 1945, Gen. Hans Krebs, Chief of the General Staff (OKH), also committed suicide. The above conversation is noteworthy for two things: (1) The Russian side had the power to exterminate the German side, and (2) there was absolutely no negotiation or diplomacy. Valeriano and Maness would do well to review the conversation between Krebs and Chuikov. In a future war the victorious side will dictate the peace to the defeated side in the exact manner described above. This stems from the nature of modern weapons. Such weapons are made to produce decisive results. They are made to engender capitulation and stop all arguments, all negotiations, all half-measures. Atomic bombs were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The result was the surrender of Japan. Diplomatic power is weak when compared to atomic power. In fact, the illusions of diplomatic power must work against those states that favor negotiation over and above measures strictly undertaken to assure military success.

That our best minds have been misinformed, that they will continue to misunderstand, is given. In consequence, the West’s position will continue to erode away. This is not seen, however, because today’s prevailing mode of thought sees the future as an extension of today’s normal life. From this perspective it does indeed appear that Russia has suffered a defeat. Russia’s economy has suffered and Russia has lost diplomatic prestige. But Moscow has not changed course because Russia is not trying to preserve today’s “normal life,” and diplomatic prestige is not as important as nuclear supremacy. The sum of diplomatic approval from militarily ineffectual countries is of no value. Temporary economic losses are meaningless. If strategic nuclear supremacy is acquired, the world can beg for negotiations as Gen. Krebs begged General Chuikov. But negotiations will not take place. Only surrender will take place.