Thursday, May 8, 2014

Of Russia and the United States

I read something the other day that said the war in Afghanistan was the longest war in modern history.  How is it possible for a modern war, using modern technology, to have lasted twice as long as the US involvement with World War II?  How is it that the war in Afghanistan has lasted longer than the Vietnam War?

The answer is that most American citizens don't perceive that we are at war.  Think about that for a minute, unless you or someone you know has served what effect has the war in Afghanistan or Iraq had on you?  Have you experience any attacks or than some random individuals detonating the occasional bomb?  Unless you fly commercial airlines, what inconveniences have you experienced as a result of the war?

Americans during World War II were subject to being drafted.  Even if you did not serve, material goods (such as fuel, food, cars, tires, etc) were all subject to rationing for the war effort.  Those living on the West Coast were very much worried about an attack by the Japanese.  U-boats were seen off the East Coast and around Florida.  Everyone felt the stress of being at war.

Vietnam did not have rationing but otherwise Americans felt the stress of the war.  The draft would take any able bodied male who could pass the physical exam for entrance into military service.  Those who did not want to go to war fled to Canada or found ways to avoid the draft.  It was also the first war that was covered on TV.  Everyone felt the stress of being at war.  But how times have changed.

When George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, he made a conscience decision NOT to involve American citizens.  There is no draft and no rationing of materials.  There is no shortage of supplies and for the most part, life after the invasion is much the same as before the invasion (unless of course you or someone you knew served).  Even the Boston Marathon bombing last year seemed far removed from the reality of being at war.  Compared to World War II and Vietnam, few felt the stress of being at war.

The lack of stress, or perhaps consequences is a better word, to being at "war" has lulled planners and citizens alike into a sense of a world where ware is fought "over there" at not at home.  US planners are  using the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan to make cuts in answer to budgetary constraints.  With no clear and present danger, war time dollars are drying up quickly.  As typically happens, the pendulum is beginning to swing too far in the opposite direction jeopardizing much needed modernization to our forces.  These are seen as necessary and planners smugly assume our military is still a match for China and Russia.

In the face of drawing down military forces, the Obama Administration grandly announced its infamous "pivot" towards Asia.  Somehow or other, Washington was convinced the "pivot" from the Middle East to Asia would help calm the fears of Western allies in the region over China's increasing economic and military dominance.

The first problem of course were the matters in the Middle East that were far from settled.  The after shocks of the Arab Spring still rebounded throughout North Africana and the Middle East with the most notable epicenter being Syria.  Mr. Obama's failed "red line" regarding the use of chemical weapons by Syria raised questions about the actual viability of the pivot to Asia.  But other matters would soon overtake Syria and even China. (read "America's Pivot Paradox")

In late February, Mr. Putin began to reclaim Russia's position as a world superpower by moving forces to reclaim the Crimea from Ukraine.  Again Mr. Obama tried to sound tough and prevent the Russians from invading.  Once again, Mr. Obama failed to persuade a world leader to heed his words.  But this only touches on a much more alarming issue.  Why did Mr. Putin feel he could pursue his own goals without consequence from the US?

To understand that, we have to look back over the last few years.  First, Russia realized as result of their invasion of Georgia in 2008 that their forces were woefully out of date.  Putin started efforts immediately to modernize the Russian military at the same time Obama started to talk about drawdowns and cuts.  Thus began a series of under-reported events by Russia;

1. In 2009, the first sightings of Russian subs operating near US occurred

"A pair of nuclear-powered Russian attack submarines has been patrolling off the eastern seaboard of the United States in recent days, a rare mission that has raised concerns inside the Pentagon and intelligence agencies about a more assertive stance by the Russian military." N.Y. Times

2. In June and July 2012,  Russian bombers violated US airspace

There was a single out-of-area patrol by two Russian
long range bombers which entered the Alaska ADIZ that were visually
identified by NORAD fighters,” John Cornelio, chief spokesman for Northcom, said in an email response to questions about the recent war games.--Free Republic

3. In August 2012, an Akula class submarine had been operating in the Gulf of Mexico for "several weeks" (Business Insider).

4. In Sep 2012, the Viktor Leonov CCB-175, an armed intelligence-gathering vessel built for the Soviet navy in the late 1980s, quietly arrived in Havana. (USA Today)

5. In November 2012, for the second time in three months a Russian sub was spotted operating in the Gulf of Mexico:

"This would be the first time a Sierra-2 class attack submarine has been detected near a U.S. coastline and if the report is true, shows Russia is determined to regain its naval projection power. The Russian vessel is said to have been conducting anti-submarine exercises near the U.S. submarine base Kings Bay in Georgia, but did not threaten a nearby U.S. aircraft carrier strike group." Business Insider

6.  In Feb 2014, the Viktor Leonov intelligence-gather vessel returns to Havana.

"The port call came the same day Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Russia would establish permanent bases in Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Singapore, the Seychelle islands off Africa. The Russian navy also plans to visit other friendly countries, and Moscow is negotiating to open refueling stations for its strategic bombers."--USA Today

7.  In May 2014, PACAF confirms the increase activity of long-range Russian bombers

I wrote about earlier LAX being shut-down by a U-2 flying through its airspace and overwhelming it's flight route system.  But now comes another theory that after reviewing the above incidents, has me wondering as well.  The Commander of PACAF was quoted in an Associated Press article on Monday "a significant increase in the activities of Russian long-range aircraft flying along the California Coast" (

Note: What if the U-2 was merely propaganda to prevent Americans from panicking or letting Russia know how effective their electronic countermeasures (ECM) really are?

That might sound alarmist but on Wednesday, the US Senate Armed Services Committee called on US national security officials to report back on threats posed by Russian satellite monitoring stations (Defense News).  The concern is if the Russian stations could shutdown our GPS and reconnaissance satellites.

The US Senate isn't the only ones recognizing the threat posed by today's Russian forces.
Russia’s military engagement in Ukraine has triggered a swift response by Sweden to shore up its military readiness and capability, with more spending expected on big-ticket fighter aircraft and submarine acquisition, and modernization programs (Defense News).  Many think Sweden's only claim to a violent past where the Vikings but in reality, Sweden and Russia have had several major wars;

Russo-Swedish War 1495-97
Russo-Swedish War 1554-57
Livonian War 1558-1582
Russo-Swedish War 1590-95
Russo-Swedish War 1656-58
Great Northern War 1700-1721
Russo-Swedish War 1741-1743
Russo-Swedish War 1788-1790
Finnish War 1808-1809

Hence the significance of this quote from Peter Hultqvist, a Social Democratic MP and chairman of the Swedish Parliament’s Committee On Defense:

This defense reinforcement initiative is long overdue. It will go some way to restoring Sweden’s position, lost in recent years because of low spending on defense, as the Nordic region’s strongest military power. It will also improve our capacity to better police the Baltic Sea area"--Defense News

Russia has been testing the US for at least the last two years (that we know of).  Nothing the Obama administration has done has curtailed these increasingly bold moves by Russia (both domestically as well as in the Crimea).   The Russian military has rapidly become quite modern while the US military continues to drawdown and cut modernization programs.  US nuclear forces in particular have come under scrutiny for not being prepared.

Taken all of this into account, Russia has no fear of Washington.  Any sanctions that Obama gets against Russia for invading Crimea will not deter Putin.  In fact, it may very well embolden him.  The US has never faced military action on its soil since the Civil War.  The Russian military is quite capable of attacking the CONUS via cyber or electronic warfare.  We see what happens when acts of nature cripple our cities and infrastructure, imagine what a concerted effort could do!  And this is exactly what Russia is banking on, that Americans won't want to have their way of life disrupted or destroyed.  Mr. Putin may have already won by simply proving his unwavering determination to win Russia's place back as a superpower.  And the US may have proved it is no longer relevant.

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