Thursday, April 17, 2014

Could the U.S. Alone Defeat Russia in a Conventional War? NO!

One stage of a recent game of GO.  The black markers could represent NATO,  expanded (via U.S. pressure)  to try to surround the white (Russia). All responses are merited therefore which are in the interest of the defense of white.

Our President, alas, continues to babble on the mounting Ukraine crisis from a perception that is more in line with Neocon thinking than that of a rational person who is geopolitically informed.  This is not surprising because the meme of American exceptionalism and hubris contaminates the thinking of most of our leaders - who seem - after a time, to just parrot each other's talking points. Thus, last night in a CBS interview (CBS Evening News) Obama - when asked about the current crisis - replied that Russia is "responding from a position of weakness".

This is, of course, Neocon drivel. If Obama understood even the basics of the strategic game of 'GO' (an ancient and complex game of oriental origin that predates chess) he would never have made such a dumb remark. In 'GO',  you see, the object is not to capture pieces, but to prevail by virtue of effectively surrounding the opponent's pieces. (Pieces are in the shape of black and white circular, or roundish discs.)  At the point of maximal surround, the hapless opponent either has no legal moves left, or he loses pieces (usually in the center of the board) because the encircling is so effective it allows them to be removed from play (not the same as capture, since they are effectively useless so are redundant).

Indeed, the image presented above shows white backed against the side of the board by an ever more aggressive black. For the purposes of illustration, I identify the U.S.- instigated NATO expansion as the black force. Meanwhile,  Russia - backed against the side of the board (or it would be if it allowed NATO to take Ukraine as one its puppets)-  is identified with the white force-pieces. This presentation or situation is totally in line with what I formerly described in terms of game theory . See e.g.

As I observed in that post, in terms of the game theory context of 'spheres of influence':

In this game context, I look at a 20-plus year sequential game played by the U.S. vs. Russia and for which the subtext and most basic assumption is the “sphere of influence”.  This is taken to mean the geographic and geo-political domain in which a nation’s actions are justified and wherein it exhibits maximal latitude to determine its own self-interest especially in matters of national security.

The most thoroughly studied solution concept is the Nash equilibrium (see e.g. the book, The Essential John Nash, Princeton University Press, 2002,  Ch. 6 ‘Non-Cooperative Games’ – facsimile of Nash’s Ph.D. Thesis, and Ch. 7, presented in regular book font format). This is the outcome that results when the players maximize their own payoffs – taking the other player’s behavior as given.

In the game space graphic shown, I place the Nash equilibrium for the U.S.Russia contest just 2-3 yrs. past the point where in 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev refused to use force to keep the Soviet Union together and allowed Germany to peacefully reunify. In exchange, US President George H.W. Bush agreed not to expand NATO’s borders east, and certainly not to Russia’s borders.

This translated into a credible 'win-win' (analogous to both persons in the classic "Prisoner's Dilemma" refusing to rat on each other), and I argue that this equilibrium – if it had been preserved- would not have led to the current U.S. – Russian standoff.

Alas, the U.S. broke faith and began to play the “dominant” game (i.e. changing strategy to grab a seeming payoff and benefit  - breaking the then Nash equilibrium), egged on by its defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and others to grab former Soviet States like Latvia, Estonia etc. – suck them into NATO, and ply them with weapons sales.  The reason for adopting the dominant posture is still up for discussion, but according to blogger Eric Margolis, “Washington regarded Russia as a broken-down, third world nation beneath contempt”.

Thus, it is clear - as I also noted - the U.S. -NATO had "too many payoffs" and Russia had no choice other than to respond in aggressive fashion. But this response in the context was from one of defensive strength - not "weakness" - as Obama described it.

Obama was next asked about the buzzing of the U.S. destroyer in the Black Sea by the Russian SU-24 jet, and again delivered a clueless, Neocon -biased, American exceptionalist reply:

"They did that for display but they don't want to get into a war with us. They'd be defeated in a conventional war."

Really, Mr. Prez? You think so? I don't!  You need to stop ingesting those MJ 'edibles'. Here are some reasons why Obama is dreaming and the U.S, would be 'smoked' in any conventional engagement:

- After eleven plus years of  futile "wars" in which the U.S. couldn't even defeat a ragtag rabble in either Iraq or Afghanistan, the American military is spent, demoralized and literally crippled in mind and  body. Hell, the vets returning from these occupations can't even obtain the medical and other disability benefits they sorely need! The military, meanwhile, has featured the highest suicide rate of any group in this country for the last five years, and the brain-damaged toll (from IEDs, etc.) is estimated at possibly as high as 50 percent. That is 50 percent of all vets coming back with some type of PTSD or actual brain damage. You think these guys would be able to face off against a totally revamped Russian military on their turf?

- The sharp reduction of the American defense inventory over approximately the past twenty-five years has been predicated on two basic assumptions. First, that Russia, Washington’s chief Cold War adversary, was no longer a substantial threat following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Second, that no military force or collection of forces on the planet had the technological sophistication to rival the United States.   These assumptions are no longer valid.

Russia has already nearly completed a $723 billion modernization program that includes procuring 1,700 warplanes, including cutting edge fighters and new air defense batteries. Reliable German defense reports also note that  Russia has revamped its air force with many new craft, including some, like the T-50, that surpass America’s latest fighter, the F-22 Raptor..

- Acting on those concepts, America’s armed forces were substantially reduced. The Navy shrunk from 600 ships to 286, the Air Force from 37 combat air wings to 20, and the Army from 17 divisions to 10. Under the Obama administration, this process has deepened and accelerated. The President has also pursued a course of significant and, in large part unilateral, nuclear arms reduction.

- The costs of the two futile occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq are still being tallied but already best estimates put the total at over $4 trillion.  There is no way the American people - certainly the sensible, thinking ones - will go for another major ground war that could empty the Treasury in one fell swoop. Where will the U.S. get the money from such a venture? China? Not too likely!  (It is possible, however, that the hypocrite warmonger 'pukes would allow the debt ceiling to be raised past $20 trillion to enable this dubious move.)

-  According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London Russia is now firmly established as the world’s third-largest military spender, behind the U.S. and China. According to IISS, Russia now operates one aircraft carrier, five cruisers, 18 destroyers, nine frigates and 82 coastal warships as well as 64 submarines — 11 carrying ballistic missiles.

- From all points of view, given the U.S. the last 12 years hasn't been in a major conventional war defined by actual  battle lines, air attacks from the opponent, tank combat, facing targeted sophisticated missiles (as opposed to IEDs) and facing well trained troops - as opposed to rag tag goobers, it is doubtful whatever forces Obama lines up will last even one major battle. Most savvy observers see a rout like Dien Bien Phu all over again.   And where will these troops come from to fight the Russkies?  From the battered and bruised lot already mending wounds and mental pain after multiple tours in Eye-rack? Please.  They'd have to be pulled from South Korea (leaving N. Korea free to attack the South) and Afghanistan, where again, they've only faced the Taliban - not exactly the equivalent of the Russians.

-  The Russians would be fighting for and IN their own sphere of influence, so would be stoked to the max to defend their interests. In many respects it would be analogous to the massive wave attack of the Chinese after the U.S. -NATO forces pushed too far north in the Korean War.  With the advantage of nearby supply lines and forces, the U.S. would have to retreat .

The conclusion here is that the U.S. alone - given its demoralized, PTSD-wrought and diluted forces - would be no match for the vastly superior and improved Russian military which is no longer the 'joke' of the world as blow-dried moron Rob Lowe tried to portray on Bill Maher's Real Time last week. ("These guys couldn't even get locks on the doors of the hotel rooms in Sochi or keep dogs out of the halls!") That is an antiquated view the West and its PR lackeys best get rid of before it engages Russian troops anywhere in their sphere of influence.

The U.S. therefore would need to recruit all its NATO puppets to assist in any conventional ground attack on Russia. The problem with that is that the Russians have retained a “limited use" nuclear doctrine by which they reserve the right to employ nuclear weapons if they feel overwhelmed by conventional outside forces, say NATO’s, see e.g.

As noted therein:
On March 13, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists ran a piece by Nikolai Sokov with the paradoxical title Why Russia calls a limited nuclear strike “de-escalation.” He writes, “In 1999, at a time when renewed war in Chechnya seemed imminent, Moscow watched with great concern as NATO waged a high-precision military campaign in Yugoslavia.” It became concerned both that “the United States would interfere within its borders” and that the “conventional capabilities that the United States and its allies demonstrated seemed far beyond Russia’s own capacities.”

In response, Russia:

… issued a new military doctrine whose main innovation was the concept of “de-escalation”—the idea that, if Russia were faced with a large-scale conventional attack that exceeded its capacity for defense, it might respond with a limited nuclear strike.

In the unnerving 1983 film ‘Threads’ such a scenario played out in a future Iran, after the U.S. and NATO allies bombed a nuclear plant at Isfahan. The Russians used tactical nukes to even the score and halt advancing NATO forces, the U.S. did likewise, and within days the exchange could no longer be controlled and had escalated into a full scale nuclear war. Is this what Obama really wants? Then he better be careful what promises he makes and how he wields his rhetoric.
Here's an even better recommendation: Maybe the Prez ought to first learn the game of GO before he babbles again in an interview about the Russians "acting out of weakness" or that "the U.S. can take them in a conventional war."
Give the American people the truth, Mr. Obama, not a bunch of bollocks and Neocon codswallop!
See also:



Charles Hixon said...

I don't think this is a fair assessment. The US military is designed to fight a state theater war not an insurgency. When people say we got beat by a bunch of rag tag insurgents with AK-47s and RPGs they seem to forget that we crushed the state's military, so quickly that indeed that's why they forgot. Most of our weapons are useless against insurgents. No need for rocket artillery, tanks brigades or air superiority fighters. And how well trained are the Russians? Most of their forces are in a 1 year conscription which doesn't make you a professional soldier as a 4-6 year term of volunteer service would, like the US military. Of course I don't mean to downplay their capabilities, their far from weak and produce some great hardware, but they are several steps behind in several areas of modern warfare. Their major boon is that they tailor their military specifically for fighting the US.

Copernicus said...

Charles Hixon wrote:

". When people say we got beat by a bunch of rag tag insurgents with AK-47s and RPGs they seem to forget that we crushed the state's military"

But the "state's military" was also literally ragtag with few weapons to contend with what the U.S. had and NO credible air force. The assorted prolonged U.S. bombing raids and sanctions had see the Iraqi force dismissed in 2003 was a pale shadow of the one confronted in 1991.

"And how well trained are the Russians? Most of their forces are in a 1 year conscription which doesn't make you a professional soldier as a 4-6 year term of volunteer service would, like the US military."

The Russians are VERY well trained based on reports we saw while in Munich last year. (German accounts - from the Deutsche Welle stations) In fact, their training has proceeded apace with their modernization program - given it would be foolish to have the latter minus the former. In addition, the U.S. suffers from war fatigue and has had to scrape the barrel bottom for new recruits even dredging out those with criminal records and others who'd never have been taken before. Most credible sources note the present military is a poor imitation of what was fielded in other war venues, theaters.

"Of course I don't mean to downplay their capabilities, their far from weak and produce some great hardware, but they are several steps behind in several areas of modern warfare. Their major boon is that they tailor their military specifically for fighting the US."

Which is all that's really needed. And as I noted, IF NATO also gets into the act and gangs up on them they have reserved the right to use tactical nukes. And they would certainly do it, make no mistake. Also, they'd be fighting on their own territory or close to it, and if you recall how they fought the Nazis in WW II - again on their own territory - I don't think you'd want to meet them there.

As this post is more than six months old I now consider the issue closed, so no more comments will be accepted.

Tim Mulhair said...

I agree with your general thesis but you are reading some insanely overblown stats on PTSD. Nowhere near 50% of veterans come back with it, and most would take offense at being called unrightfully called invalids like that.

Copernicus said...

Actually, those stats cited at the time came from a series on PTSD in the Colorado Springs Gazette. I also thought the stats might be overblown until the Gazette cited all the incidents at nearby Ft. Carson, as well as at Ft Hood, TX.

Rather than take "offense" it might be better if returning troops ceased the denial. (The Gazette cited the stats mainly to do with returning Iraq vets.)

Copernicus said...

As indicated before in my earlier reply to a reader, issues on this blog post are now closed.