Belmont Club

Putin vs the World

Anyone who wants an overview of NATO politics and a tour d’ horizon of Russia potential incursions into Ukraine and the Baltics should consider buying General Sir Richard Shirreff’s novel War With Russia. The general, who only recently retired from the NATO post of Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe in 2014 describes a fictional war between the alliance and Vladimir Putin’s Russia in 2017.

The timeline is so current that many of the book’s characters are played by persons with real names, Putin most prominent among them. Though the Russian strongman is the main villain of the story there are plenty of odious characters on the Western side. Obama is mentioned seven times by name as facing the wrong way, abdicating diplomatic responsibilities, drawing elastic red lines and generally making a mess of things. David Cameron comes off as little better than a dishonest opportunist. Trump is criticized twice for casting doubt on American commitments to Europe. The Western Europeans if anything, fare far worse. The Greeks are portrayed left wing buffoons. The Germans balk at everything. The French want to lead everything.  And yet nobody — nobody but America that is — has anything.

In the story, which is roughly accurate picture of the state of European defense, Britain has pared her navy to a token force and incapable of mobilizing a single combined arms brigade. The French have used up all the military assets to guard against internal Jihadi threats they insist does not exist. Nobody really cares about security beyond lulling the public into a false sense of safety.  The entire alliance plays deceptive budgetary games to make it seem they’re spending 2% for defense by counting military pensions in their contribution.

The facade is propped up by the assumption that since European war hasn’t happened for so long it will never happen again. The NATO ambassadors go around reassuring themselves Putin wouldn’t dare.  When Putin does dare the bankruptcy of their assumptions are laid bare.  Confidence is replaced by instant defeatism.

The stage is set for Shirreff to unfold his two basic theories: that a little readiness is worth a barrel of fighting and all war is unpredictable.  Sir Richard quotes Clausewitz’s dictum that “war has its own grammar but not it’s own logic” twice.  In his story nothing goes as planned.  Putin’s plan to bite off the Baltics and hold fails when the Russian bear’s teeth prove too weak to grip the Baltics.  Britain’s budget basement carrier battle group gets savaged in the Baltics because it’s antisubmarine escorts break down from lack of repair.  Nobody’s plan survives contact with the enemy.

In the end Russia loses simply because America sits on it.  NATO’s three and half million men and giant economies suffocate Putin.  The obvious becomes obvious again.  At the conclusion the protagonists are left wondering amid the destruction they invited how the mighty Western alliance could have sent such perverse signals to Putin given their natural advantages.  Then they go back to cheeseparing again.

Somehow between the leftwing Greeks, elastic American Red Lines, loose political talk and the purblind German stubbornness a wholly unnecessary conflict was made sadly inevitable.

But if the intellectual core of the book is its strategic survey of the alliance the considerable entertainment value of the work rests principally on the clarity of Shirreff’s writing and his command of military nuts and bolts.  His prose is vivid without being special-effects dramatic.  The human mainspring of the plot is based on a faceoff between a formidable Russian Spetsnaz officer and a competent but not extraordinary British infantry captain.  Everyone performs to his level of capability, but no one is in control. Chance plays a big part in events because “war has its own grammar but not it’s own logic”.  The characters are roughly plausible and adequately fleshed out, rounded enough to escape the fate of being cardboard cutouts.

In short, War with Russia is an educational and entertaining read, one well worth considering as an introduction into  the strategic landscape of Eastern Europe.

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Books:

War With Russia: An urgent warning from senior military command, by General Sir Richard Shirreff, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Russia’s invasion and seizure of Georgia in 2008 was our ‘Rhineland moment’. We ignored the warning signs – as we did back in the 1930s – and we made it ‘business as usual’. Crimea in 2014 was the President’s ‘Sudetenland moment’ and again he got away with it. Since 2014 Russia has invaded Ukraine. The Baltics could be next. Our political leaders assume that nuclear deterrence will save us. General Sir Richard Shirreff shows us why this will not wash.

Bread Illustrated: A Step-By-Step Guide to Achieving Bakery-Quality Results At Home, In this comprehensive cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen editors break down the often intimidating art and science of bread baking, making it easy for bakers of all levels to create foolproof, bakery-quality breads at home.

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961, by Nicholas Reynolds. This newly released book is the stunning untold story of an American literary icon’s dangerous secret life — including his role as a Soviet agent code-named “Argo” — that fueled his art and his undoing.

Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, Authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT bring together a range of statistics, examples, and arguments to show that technological progress is accelerating, and that this trend has deep consequences for skills, wages, and jobs. They make the case that employment prospects are grim for many today not because technology has stagnated, but because we humans and our organizations aren’t keeping up.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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