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Russia is still contending with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Russia can meddle in Ukraine at the margins, but threats to fully invade and occupy a country of more than 44 million people aren’t credible.  That big a move would cost too many Russian lives and too many rubles for a chronically weak – and weakening – Russian economy.  In recent months, Belarus provided the latest example of the post-Soviet demand for fundamental change and the need to shoot people to keep protests under control.  In the most recent presidential election in Moldova, a Harvard-educated economist toppled a pro-Kremlin incumbent.  Last year, Turkey’s backing for Azerbaijan dealt a humiliating defeat to Russian ally Armenia in a region that Russia once dominated.  Beijing is increasingly competing for influence with Moscow among the former Soviet Central Asian states.
    —     Ian Bremmer
From his opinion piece:  “The Risk Report: What game is Putin playing?
Appearing in:  Time Magazine;  dtd:  21/28 June 2021
[It seems the “threat” of invasion was a little more “credible” than Mr. Bremmer believed (the editorial was from 2021).  IF the West continues to support Ukraine and IF Putin doesn’t resort to tactical nukes, it appears Mr. Bremmer will ultimately be proven correct that Russia bit off it bit more than it could chew (let alone conquer).    —    KMAB]
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In absolute terms, moreover, the mass and volume (to say nothing of the cost) of all that was required, particularly in fuel and munitions, to maintain an army in field operations at an intensive rate against a similarly equipped opponent, was now very great.  It had taken a quantitative jump since the Second World War.  Warfare in the Middle East in the seventies had shown this very clearly, if on relatively small scale.  It was just no longer possible, at the rate at which stocks could now be exhausted, to sustain intensive operations of war for months on end.  Head – and equipment – counts were no longer the true measure of an army’s capability.  Formation in large numbers could be a liability rather than an advantage unless they could be kept effectively in action.
The Soviet war-fighting philosophy, from whatever origins it may been evolved, was in the circumstances of the 1980s exactly right.  It enjoined the initiation of total and violent offensive action, swiftly followed through to the early attainment of a valuable objective.  The position of military advantage thus secured would then be exploited by political means.  Speed was everything. The corollary was that failure to secure the objective in good time must result in a thorough-going reappraisal, in which to continue to press towards the same end might very well be the least sensible course.
    —     General Sir John Hackett (et al)
From the “future-history” novel:  “The Third World War: August 1985
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[Another LONG post…  You’ve been warned!  (LoL)    —    KMAB]
The Third World War:  August 1985  (1978©)   —   book review
This review is for the fictional portrayal (as a “future history”) of a “realistic” invasion of NATO allied European countries by the Warsaw Pact in August of 1985.  The book was “written” primarily (et al) by (Ret.) British General John W. Hackett in consultation with a number of experts gathered to discuss how such an invasion might occur, what might lead up to it and what might be the end-of-war results.  The “advisors” were listed as:  John Barraclough (Air Chief Marshal), Kenneth Hunt (Brigadier), Ian McGeoch (Vice-Admiral), Norman Macrae (a deputy editor at “The Economist“), John Strawson (Major-General), and, Bernard Burrows (British Diplomatic Service).
The book was a best-seller in England back in 1978.  It was published in the U.S. in early 1979 as a hardback and then released as a paperback in 1980.  I initially read the paperback version.  I believe it was shortly after I was released from the Active Reserves, but my memory isn’t that precise anymore.  In any case, this review is of a re-reading of the book after my reading of “2034: A Novel of the Next World War” earlier this year.  (review here:  A Novel War).  The author of that book, (ret) Admiral James Stavridis, cited this book as a primary inspiration for his work.  This prompted my re-interest in the original…
During my (almost) two years in the Reserves I was assigned to a unit which tested and evaluated the readiness of National Guard units from California, Arizona and New Mexico.  The officers would establish “war-game” scenarios for the Guard officers and I (as an NCO) would embed with the line units to evaluate actual field performance.  We were artillery evaluators, so I watched Guard batteries fire cannons / howitzers, but I gained an understanding of scenario development and large scale tactical war-gaming.  This led to a post-service interest in military style board games which carried on for most of the ’80s.  I lost interest when gaming shifted to computers and became “mostly” shoot-em-up’s instead of (IMHO) about strategy.
Basically, the plot of this book is the leaders of the USSR feel their position as a superpower is being threatened by political and economic factors which are worsening (for them).  They feel there has been a significant / progressive decrease in NATO’s readiness over the last decade and this may be their last / best opportunity to remove a potential military threat (NATO) and further subjugate the buffer countries of Eastern Europe who are members of the Warsaw Pact.  The plan is a crushing invasion of Western Europe (West Germany and the low-lands) which leaves the USSR in command up to the border of France.  The invasion fails because in the years between the book’s publishing (1978) and the date of the “future-history” event (August 1985), Europe (specifically Great Britain) comes to its senses and reverses the general military decline of the late ’60s to ’70s.  The NATO forces are able to slow the advance of invasion (without the use of tactical nuclear weapons) and allows reinforcements to arrive from the U.S. just in the nick of time.
In a striking foreboding of the current (2022) invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the invasion portrayed fails because of (in no particular order of importance):
1)  an inability to dominate the air despite superior numerical assets;
2)  a failure of logistics (fuel and ammunition) by the Warsaw Pact, (it is believed the invasion will take less than two weeks AND there will not be enough time for the U.S. to resupply NATO forces);
3)  resistance by the native forces (in this case, the West German army / reserves) is surprisingly effective;  and,
4)  the centralized command and control characteristic of authoritarian political systems, does not promote the flexibility / initiative of junior officers (and NCOs) to seize military opportunities when they arise, so opportunities for significant breakouts are lost.
When the war quickly (the “war” lasts weeks) devolves into a war of attrition, failure is viewed as inevitable and hard-liners in the Politburo decide to consolidate their gains for future armistice negotiations by the use of a limited (against only one city) nuclear strike.  The result, however, is not fear and negotiation, but instead, fury and retaliation via a similar limited nuclear strike by Great Britain and the U.S. against a Russian city;  (and like falling dominoes) the Warsaw Pact allies turn on the USSR to avoid nuclear annihilation;  the Soviet military / security services stage a coup, over-throw the hardliners, and cease further combat;  the non-Russian border states (the “-stans”) declare independence from the USSR;  and, the rest of the world struggles with the effects of a new world order.  The “war” is barely a month old before it is over.  Because the book is written as a “recent” history of past events, it does not attempt to forecast / describe long term results of the war except to relate the world has to deal with unaccounted for Soviet nuclear weapons / warheads and large stocks of conventional weapons scattered around the global (mainly Africa).
Is this a “good” book?  Is it realistic as a predictor of future conflict (lethality, if not participants)?  Is it entertaining or interesting?  Do I recommend this book?  With the exception of the final question, the answer to all of these is (are):  yes to so-so…
The book is not a “good” novel.  There are no specified individual characters driving the action, so you cannot (as a reader) identify and grow with anyone.  In this sense, although fictional, the book is written with more of an academic or journalistic feel.  It is very much an military style “after-action” report.  If you are comfortable with this writing style, you will enjoy the writing / book.  If you are not, you will not.  I did.  Was the book able to realistically describe combat and the results (devastation) of war?  Yes!  Although, saying this, there was an obvious Western bias of vivid description of the destruction of the British city and virtually nothing about the similar (or much worse) destruction of the Russian city.  (Very much:  “Yeah, we took out one of theirs as payback…”)  Is the book entertaining or interesting?  This is the toughest question because every reader’s tastes varies so much… I was not “entertained”;  but, I did find the book interesting.  I particularly “enjoyed” the parts the authors get terribly wrong, because as a reader I (we) have 40+ years of hind-sight.  There is no China – Japan alliance;  the Shah is no longer in charge of Iran (or, rather, wasn’t in 1985);  South Africa did not fall to external forces;  and, East Germany did not resist consolidation with West Germany after the fall of the USSR.
Final recommendation:  strong recommendation.  I think most veterans (particularly my age group) will find this book relatable.  I think most civilian “military” readers / historians – and quite a few regular historians – will, too.  For political science readers, the “states” interests, goals, and stances will seem Machiavellian / Kissinger-ian (is that a real word?).  Yet, they ring true – even 40 years later.  It is entirely obvious why this book could seem as an inspiration for a future – updated version (a la “2034“), and I believe (I read) this book served as a similar inspiration for several of Tom Clancy’s works which followed.  At any rate, I do remember “enjoying” the initial read from “way-back-when”, and don’t feel the re-read was less so.  My reaction to “2034” was reinforced:  this version is much better than the more recent book.  If you have read “2034“, I recommend you read “WW3:1985” for the comparison value, if nothing else.
Final disclaimer:  I purchased this book at normal / sale price (for an old / used book) and no compensation has been provided to me by anyone for my opinions in this review.
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Colonels and generals are expected to fight moving, active battles, always seeking an advantage from the use of terrain, surprise and mobility.
Generals are expected to concentrate defending forces in front of the main thrusts of the enemy so that the fighting troops do not have to meet a greater ratio of strength against them than three or four to one.
The captains and their troops have learned that modern weapons in the defense can and should inflict losses on an attacker, in comparison to their own, of well over three to one.  They have learned, in short, that a successful defense against considerable odds is possible.
    —    General Sir John Hackett (Ret.)
From his book:  “The Third World War:  A Future History
The book was “written” by General Hackett and “others” and purported to be a “future history” of a war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.  The “war” ends following a limited tactical nuclear exchange which leads to a revolution in Russia.
[With the delays in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, much has been said about the failure to overwhelm the militarily over-matched defenders.
Ukraine vs Russia (In Theater)
Armed Forces 200,000 850,000 200,000
Fighter Aircraft 69 772 193
Attack Aircraft 29 739 185
Helicopters 112 1,543 386
Attack Helicopters 34 544 136
Tanks 2,596 12,420 3,105
Personnel Carriers 12,303 30,122 7,531
Self-Propelled Artillery 1,067 6,574 1,644
Towed Artillery 2,040 7,571 1,893
Mobile Rocket Launchers 490 3,391 848
What isn’t clear to me is how many of Russia’s forces are actually “in theater” and committed to the invasion.  The numbers I’ve seen indicate approximately “200,000” Russians were gathered for the invasion.  This is (again approximately) 25% of Russia’s forces.  If we assume a similar ratio across the board for other assets, the numbers are far less indicative of an assured success for the invasion.
In military theory, it is almost a given that the attacker needs a six-to-one superiority in order to have a reasonable “guarantee” of success against a prepared defense.  (This is why you concentrate forces at breakout / breakthrough points.)  Three-to-one superiority is considered the bare minimum to have a reasonable “expectation” of success.
Based on the above numbers, the “only” Russian advantage is in attack aircraft (29 vs 185).  This is an even greater advantage than just the numbers indicate as attack aircraft serve as force multipliers for both your tanks and your ground forces.
IMHO this invasion will succeed or fail based on three factors:  logistics, will and geography.  If the Russian forces can maintain their supply of fuel and ammunition, they will have the advantage in a war of attrition.  If Ukraine can maintain their will to fight in the face of both heavy civilian losses and questionable munitions resupply from other countries, they will make the war / occupation unsustainable for Russia.  Finally, we should recall Russia invaded and then dominated Afghanistan for almost twenty years before finally being driven out.  Afghanistan is roughly the size of Texas.  Texas is only about 10-15% larger than Ukraine.  There is a vast amount of land to hide in and fight from IF you have the will to do so.  So far, the Ukraine people have shown the will…
Of course, all of this assumes Russia does not choose a tactical nuclear option…    —    KMAB]
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God created war so that Americans would learn geography.
    —    Mark Twain
[Just over a week ago, I was discussing the Ukraine (at that time the Russian threat of invasion) with someone who said, he didn’t want the U.S. to get involved in the problems of some “tiny, insignificant country in Europe that I can’t even point to on a map”.  I replied Ukraine is bigger than California (almost twice the size) and just smaller than Texas (roughly 90%), and you probably can’t find it because it was part of the U.S.S.R. when you were studying world geography.  I added the Ukraine President is the guy who stood up to #45 when he (#45) tried to extort them into a announcing a bogus investigation of Joe Biden in exchange for military funding for Ukraine’s defense.  The funding had already been authorized by Congress and #45 was withholding the funds to try to “buy” the U.S. election with a made-up scandal.  Maybe Twain was only part right.    —    KMAB]
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2034: A Novel of the Next World War”  (2021©)  —  book review
The book subject to today’s review was written by Elliot Ackerman, James Stavridis Admiral USN (ret.).  Ackerman is a former White House Fellow and decorated Marine veteran.  Stavridis is, of course, best known as a four-star Admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.  Ackerman is a working journalist / opinion writer and both are authors of multiple books.  That’s pretty much their bonafides for writing a “future – history” about world war / combat.
This novel is set thirteen years in the future.  Putin is still in charge of Russia.  The U.S. has a female President from an Independent party.  And, we don’t really know much about anyone else in charge around the world.  We know China is pushing its claims in the northern Pacific, yet Taiwan remains an independent “nation” state.  India has somehow “resolved” the Pakistan issue in its favor, but we don’t know what that means for either India or Pakistan.  NATO is in disarray without strong U.S. leadership.  And, finally, Iran has had some success against Israel.  What isn’t exactly made clear, except Iran has somehow “freed” the Golan Heights.
Background:  The first third of this book was published as a special “full dedicated issue” recently in Wired magazine, which I subscribe to.  I have read EVERY issue of the magazine since inception back in 1993.  The company I worked for back in 2000 had all of the back issues on a shelf and I would “borrow” them one at a time, read cover to cover and then bring them back.  As far as I know, no one else EVER read any of them, as once I was hired, I kept the current ones on my desk and no one ever asked for them.  Shortly before leaving the company, I got a personal subscription and have continued reading them for the last 20 years.  Anyway, Wired‘s issue left you hanging with the promise of a future novel publication in March 2021.  My review is of the full publication.  This book was one of two I received as a birthday present from my wife.
And,…  This book is about a military conflict between China and the United States.  Supposedly, China is an ascending world power and the U.S. is a descending / failing world power.  China stages a confrontation in order to demonstrate its military superiority – and the world slips into war.
Is the book interesting?  Informative?  Entertaining?  Accurate – technologically, politically or militarily?  Is it worth the time to read it?  To be honest, the magazine promised more than the book delivered.  The answer to all five of those questions is mostly so-so…
It is a fast read at barely over 300 pages.  The problem is there isn’t much there – there.  I don’t know how much (if any) current military capability Ackerman has access to.  It is a given (to me) that Stavridis would have had nearly unlimited access (pre-retirement anyway).  The problem is, of course, the book would have had to be submitted to and cleared through State and DOD before it was published and neither agencies (nor the authors) would have been inclined to offer much useful information in a novel.
With nothing but the most general capabilities described we get a lot of implausible “magic” technology under the guise of “AI” (Artificial Intelligence) which seems to work perfectly and then not at all.  We get very poor strategic decisions / action by the U.S.; we get some oversimplification of other technologies (overseas internet cabling);  side tracks by Russia and Iran, which seem to have been added to make the conflict global rather than China vs. U.S.;  and then we get a couple of miracles at the end by India to conclude the novel / war.  That pretty much covers the “informative and accuracy” portion of this review.
What about interesting and entertaining?  Again, so-so…  There are five main characters: female American Admiral, male American fighter pilot, male American (Indian immigrant) NSC advisor, male Iranian officer (he ends up with various ranks), and the main Chinese (half-American) Admiral.  The story is told from each of their viewpoints.  (Yes, there are also another handful of secondary but important characters, but this is really about the big five.)
The problem I had was the number of characters made for a long, deep story which developed each character to the point where you cared about them without giving away too much plot / ending.  Unfortunately, this book is neither long nor deep, which meant you almost cared, but not quite.  And, again unfortunately, it was almost entirely predictable and therefore, while I finished feeling entertained, I didn’t feel satisfied – emotionally or intellectually.
Then is it worth your time, then?  Yes!  It raises the interesting question if military technology is useful if it is subject to (can be negated by) a less expensive counter-measure.  In this case, the apparent answer is that if the elephant is blinded, it is still an elephant and not easily overwhelmed.
Final recommendation: moderate to strong.  This is not Tom Clancy or Sir John Hackett level political, military or strategy writing, but I did find it entertaining even if not informative or militarily consistent.  I’m grateful to have received it as a present, because I’d have waited for the paperback or a very reduced price before buying it myself.  So I got to read something almost literally hot off the presses…
Final disclaimer:  I purchased this book at normal / sale price and no compensation has been provided to me by anyone for my opinions in this review.
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An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.
    —    Republican Sen. John McCain
On Tuesday (20 March 2018), the senior GOP senator from Arizona criticized US President Donald Trump for congratulating Vladimir Putin on being reelected as president of Russia.
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Russia has acquired territory but lost credibility.  Putin has bought himself a pile of problems at the cost of the international ties Russia needs to prosper.  He has betrayed Russia’s best resource —  its people — who will eventually realize his rhetoric is nothing more than a fantasy inside a delusion wrapped in a tissue of lies.
    —    Madeleine Albright (describing Vladimir Putin)
Former U.S. Secretary of State
Quoted in Time Magazine, 5 May 2014 issue, “The 100 Most Influential People
[Ms. Albright obviously playing off of Winston Churchill’s famous quote describing Russia:  “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”    —    KMAB]
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