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.