Joe Buff is a novelist with several submarine-related books to his credit. He is also a frequent technical/political-military contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW
The persistent claims in some media and political quarters that America’s nuclear submarines are Cold War relics is invalidated in this two-part article by a multi-pronged attack on both 1) the underlying flawed post-Cold War military history involved, and 2) the sheer bad logical syllogism inherent in these claims. The U.S. Navy’s Submarine Force was instrumental in winning the Cold War against the USSR; the Soviet Union fell but this did not in any way make nuclear subs antiquated or irrelevant. This is particularly true for America’s survivable strategic nuclear deterrent ballistic missile subs, its SSBN fleet: The Russian Republic retained (or regained) all of the nuclear warhead stocks owned by the USSR in 1991. While steep reductions have been made by the U.S. and Russia alike, this has mainly been to reduce the Cold War strategic weapons. Recently, Russia has been modernizing her nuclear warheads and delivery systems, increasing in both capacity and capability these tools for not just nuclear deterrence but also nuclear blackmail and nuclear destruction. Russia’s deployed tactical nuclear weapons, designed for use on local battlefields, outnumber NATO’s by about ten to one.
The trend since 1991 across eastern EUCOM (U.S. European Command), and in CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) as well, in the Russian Federation’s repeated near-abroad aggressions— and in Moscow’s ongoing interference in U.S.—supported Middle East peacekeeping efforts (including in Libya, and now Syria with its mounting cross-Med immigration crisis)—indicates that either the Cold War never really ended, or a New Cold War by Russia
has begun. Either way, we dare not send the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Force into retirement. Other compelling national deterrence and defense needs also guarantee that nuclear subs must remain front-line tools for peace maintenance and peace restoration: 1) Nuclear armed China’s non-transparent military rise and territorial expansionism, and her own nuclear arsenal expansion and modernization including (reportedly) the recent introduction of destabilizing, escalatory land-based MIRVed ICBMs; plus 2) multiple U.S./NATO/UN overseas contingency operations and containment challenges against brutal dictatorships, terrorists (and the state sponsors of terrorism), and other armed groups—such as in North Korea and Iran, and continuing in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, the Sudans, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan.
The danger of bloody conflict will always be prevalent so long as the world has a running supply of talented, ambitious clinical sociopaths, some of whom claw their way to absolute power, seize control of armies and arsenals, and commit aggressive wars and ethnic/religious genocides. Perhaps only nuclear weapons are frightening enough as a deterrent to force even sociopathic—and other—dictatorships (nuclear armed and nuke wannabes alike) away from hot war toward cold war and from rearmament toward disarmament. We have already seen that our nuclear submarines’ superior designs and tactics can force a nuclear-armed adversary in a cold war onto the path toward (at least temporary, but decades-long) arms reduction and incrementally greater democracy. Thus, it is a U.S. national imperative that adequate funding be sustained for sufficiently numerous and promptly-built new SSBN(X) strategic deterrent subs (the OHIO-class replacements), more VIRGINIA-class fast attack SSNs in general, and the extended-hull SSGN-capable VIRGINIAs (with the Virginia Payload Module – VPM) in particular. These vessels and their crews remain vital to current and future national security, homeland defense, and world peace and prosperity.
Up North Calling: Key Trends in EUCOM Submarine Events vs. U.S. Logic and Rhetoric In 1991, the dreary, gulag-infested Soviet Union broke apart.
The lengthy Cold War between NATO and the Warsaw Pact came to an end. Courageous, self-sacrificing American and UK nuclear submariners, and their awesomely capable vessels, played a major role in this Cold War Victory. They pushed, and the Sovs fell. (France maintained her own independent force of SSBNs and SSNs.)
Best of all, the end of the Cold War was achieved without nuclear weapons being used in combat, without open warfare being fought in the heart of Europe, and with significant casualties being confined to brutal but limited proxy battles in far flung places such as Korea, Vietnam, Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and Afghanistan. It was a political, economic, and technological triumph for the West, in which ever-modernizing undersea warfare coupled with everything else, from multi-domain major weapons systems to Radio Free Europe to selective trade embargoes, to targeted foreign aid, to back-corridor diplomacy, produced the desired result after decades of tension and strife. The United States accordingly celebrated and congratulated itself—and most deservedly so!
Worth a special shout-out is that perhaps one of the most significant single achievements of this overall Cold War Victory was to greatly increase the strategic depth of the forces of freedom on the European continent, with excellent consequences for potential future U.S. declared nuclear deterrence policy. During the height of the military standoff between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, along the edge of the Iron Curtain that ran right through the middle of divided Germany, America refrained from renouncing the option for the first use of nuclear weapons for defense. At least
one reason for this was because of the ever-present danger of an overwhelming assault by USSR-led Warsaw Pact conventional ground forces, driving for the English Channel. The distance from the Iron Curtain to the English Channel was less than 500 statute miles. Then, the geopolitical changes since 1991 that ended the Iron Curtain, expanded NATO eastward, and freed many republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to become independent
countries, moved the front line between freedom and tyranny about one thousand statute miles to the east. These same changes also greatly reduced the military manpower and other assets available under Moscow’s control. The probability that a Russian Republic conventional ground onslaught from her own borders toward the English Channel would be unstoppable by conventional defenses alone appears to be low.
But some people (of many different ethnic groups and nationalities), born and raised under the system of Soviet Communism, saw and still see things differently. They felt that the U.S. had relatively little to do with the ultimate failure of a flawed and stifling economic system their own citizenry had known was doomed for years. They said and still say loudly that American triumphalism was mere bullying, not only short-term and childish but deeply offensive to ex-Soviets’, now Russians’ natural sense of personal pride and collective national ego. They emphasize that the USSR’s predecessor-and-successor entity, Russia, boasts centuries of cultural and imperial greatness that are destined to continue despite—even egged on by—the fading chimera of U.S. unipolarism.
This article develops some solutions to what has become an apparent disconnect over time, between the evident current world situation on the one hand and sufficient funding to implement America’s national undersea warfare policy and strategy on the other hand. Said disconnect is caused in part by public information flows that too often don’t gain wide enough traction and stickiness. This disconnect is degrading national awareness of vital security tasks. Sometimes, failed or forgotten idea flows have led to what seems like a domestic anti-submarine warfare of words. That seeming disconnect has only recently, apparently, been redressed by the positive funding decisions of a United States Congress. The dangerous verbal ASW disconnect can be characterized by contrasting in some detail, as we will further below, two broad tendencies of the past 25 years:
1. The repeated and continuing declaration by some commentators that the “Russia threat” has been beaten once
and for all and that America has “no more big enemies:” This view has, in particular, fomented the belief that the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet could safely, permanently be cut in half (it was)—and that the remainder and their replacement vessels are Cold War relics that should be discontinued altogether as obsolete wastes of money, or thermonuclear warmongering symbols, or both.
2. The ongoing military expansionism and interference with international peace processes by the Russian Federation: This has been epitomized but by no means limited to the increasingly nationalistic/xenophobic, autocratic rule of Vladimir Putin since 2000. This expansionist jingoism is transpiring both in Russia domestically and throughout her near abroad and beyond. It has included, in rough chronological order, deadly armed conflicts instigated and/or supported by Moscow since 1991 in the North Caucasus, Moldova, the Balkans, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine. It has also included ongoing (now escalating?) psychological-economic warfare with the Baltic States (Lithuania,
Latvia, and Estonia). It also includes a revamping and revitalizing of the Russian Navy’s nuclear and diesel/AIP
submarine fleet (including new sub-launched thermonuclear ballistic missiles and cruise missiles). It furthermore includes the expansion of power-projection bases and military assets such as the attempted acquisition of several
modern amphibious warfare ships from France, the seizing of advantageous naval basing/support territory on the Black Sea (Crimea) – and most recently (as of this writing in late October, 2015) the development of a military airbase at Latakia, Syria, close to an existing Russian naval base at Tartus (on Syria’s Eastern-Mediterranean coast), in further support of brutal local dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Confronting Complexity: Pressing Need for the Broadest View, and Balance Of course, other countries and sub-national entities besides Russia have presented, or do, or will present serious strategic threats to any American-led system of constructive, open world order, basic human freedoms, and stable peace. Those threating, destructive forces and trends all call for diligent governmental and societal education/learning, better understanding, and especially a more concerted regimen of retaining cognizance of not-so-oldfashioned, experience-driven, geopolitical parables and aphorisms.
This would enable the American public and Congress to more fully grasp and support the inexorable, perpetual need for ample security spending for strong defense preparedness. As folks both rich and poor, and corporations large and small, all need to remember, We must invest in defense in order to defend our investments and savings. This essential spending must always include adequate budgeting for strong naval forces in general and for adequate nuclear submarine strategic-deterrent and fastattack/land-attack forces in particular. The notion in some quarters that America’s genuinely job-creating and honestly tax-paying defense industry is no more than some bloated, venal, politicized sacred cow must be debunked and debunked again; in the long run, it is a matter of life and death for us all.
The broad spectrum of world defense needs has to be seen as an integrated tapestry of readiness requirements that demand a global, holistic approach to financing, rather than as competing geographic theaters and competing acquisition expenditures that all want to hog the available funds. Much has been said and done, and more attention and action are needed, about China’s maritime rise, North Korea’s conventional and nuclear provocations, Iran’s stubborn (and maybe still viable?) nuclear cravings and state sponsorship of terrorism, Libya’s and Syria’s unresolved civil wars, the mounting atrocities of ISIS, the continuing threat from al Qaeda, ongoing strains on the beleaguered State of Israel’s self defense, ethnic cleansings (genocide) hither and yon, and various separatist movements (some peaceful and some quite bloody) on different continents. Compounding these human bad-behavior phenomena are the destabilizing effects of global energy insecurity, and of rampant man-made and natural climate change. These include sea level rise and coastline inundations (including of naval bases), ice cap melting and altered sea routes, plus pandemic diseases and pestilence, famine, drought, rampant poverty—and consequent worldwide human migration crises, militant and organized-crime infiltrations, and terrorist recruitment. To cope successfully, given this plethora of inter-related defense demands, two traditional American traits have to stay at the fore: clarity of perception, and good teamwork. Two more of our greatest traits must not be allowed to fail us now: amazing ingenuity under stress, and resourcefulness in a crisis.
Over human generations the world order is always changing, in broad trends punctuated by discontinuous jolts. These jolts, such as the Arab Spring upheaval, are often not widely anticipated and are not necessarily democratizing. The fact is, nobody knows what sort of regime will be in power in twenty years in troubled/troubling countries such as China or Russia or Iran, and nobody knows today what might be the status then, if any, of some Islamic caliphate (or caliphates). Nor does anybody know now the ultimate 21st century outcome of today’s pushing and shoving in the world between an American-led global system of both win compromise and engagement, and a winner take all confrontational system dominated by repressive, paranoid totalitarians.
Extraordinary dangers demand extraordinary preparedness. Some Facts of Existential Importance This article focuses primarily on Russia. I discuss how the uncertainties and risks posed to American, Allied, and friendly vital interests, and to good world order, by Russia’s antidemocratic, neo-kleptocratic expansionism and interference, are sufficient in themselves to prove something of existential importance: American nuclear subs are vital survivable nuclear deterrents, indispensable counter anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) platforms, and most of all nobody’s relics. Regime changes, of the sort we have seen in Moscow via the fall of the USSR almost 25 years ago now—and more recently in Iraq and then Libya, with the removal of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi—cannot
be counted on soon to truly reform all the world’s bad behaviors.
This is particularly so when the international community currently contains (at a minimum) the large, aggressive nuclear power, Russia, that traces its forceful achievements and domineering psyche back to before Czar Peter the Great (1672-1725). The recent series of leaders of the USSR/Russian Federation since the mid 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev (for 6 years), then Boris Yeltsin (for 9 years), then Vladimir Putin (for 16 years and counting with a place-holding assist from Dmitry Medvedev), were each once proclaimed in the West as a democratist of his time. Today they can perhaps best be viewed as something else. They form a cohort of next-gen successors in a resilient, selfperpetuating Russia/Moscow/Kremlin-centered totalitarian bureaucracy. That system, though communism was dropped in favor of private ownership and free markets, still very much puts the power of the Russian state above the will of the people and their human rights. It rates territorial acquisition above both the safety of its own abused conscript soldiers, and above the lives and well being of Russia’s diverse internal regions and external, sovereign neighbors.
Flawed Logic Leads to Bad Decisions and Wrong Actions A syllogism is a fancy term for any chain of logic, whether that logic is correct or erroneous. A simple example is “A implies B is a true statement, and A is a true statement, therefore B must be true.” This particular syllogism is as rock-solidly valid as logic can get. But logic sometimes becomes twisted into false, and consequently misleading, invalid reasoning—whether by an accidental misunderstanding or intentional rhetorical legerdemain (or even by adversary propaganda). But this present article is not about fixing blame; it is about helping avoid dangerous errors in defense budget right-sizings and final allocations.
By way of illustration, an example of flawed logic, popular in basic math textbooks, goes like so: “All men are mortal, and Socrates is not a man, therefore Socrates is immortal.” This doesn’t work, as proven by a valid counterexample: Actually-mortal Socrates might well be a cat or a parakeet. The flawed syllogism involved is the incorrect claim that “A implies B, and not-A, together imply not-B.”
One relevant instance of just such faulty thinking, recurrently encountered throughout the debate about U.S. defense needs subsequent to the end of the USSR, goes something like this: “American nuclear submarines helped win the Cold War. The Cold War is over. Therefore American nuclear submarines are relics.” National defense gets into dire straits whenever such wrongful reasoning crops up. Yet it keeps cropping up. (Technically speaking, we can dissect this claim into a flawed syllogism as follows: Let A be the statement “The Cold War is on.” Let B be the statement “Nuclear Subs are Vital.” The flawed logic about subs as Cold War relics amounts to claiming that because A implies B, then also not A implies not B. But this plainly doesn’t work.)
The following are some actual examples from the media. Most are from The New York Times. I do not wish to single out that fine publication for negative criticism – rather, my wife and I have it delivered as our primary source of daily printed news, so I am familiar with its content over the years. I believe three examples demonstrate adequately the defense flawed-logic problem under discussion; other examples in newspapers, magazines, and blogs abound.
x First example: an editorial or op-ed I vividly remember reading on-line, from a Northeastern U.S. regional newspaper. It was published during the 2005 Base Reduction And Closure (BRAC) debate, about whether to close Groton, CT’s Naval Submarine Base New London. I can’t find it by a Google search now; perhaps it was subsequently taken down – which in Internet practice can be a form of retraction. I cite it here, but without attribution, because it is so very indicative of the problem. I recall it had the punchy title “Nobody Hunts for Red October Any More.” The premise was that Russia had become a true, lasting friend of democracy and the West. Thus, there was no more need for the heroic espionage and undersea jousting by SSNs—let alone the strategic nuclear deterrent patrols
by SSBNs—that were depicted in the late Tom Clancy’s classic. Thus, so the opinion piece’s reasoning went, there was no more need for the sub base in Groton.
x Second example: indirect but telling, the New York Times op-ed “Highly Enriched Danger,” published March 21, 2014, by Alan Kuperman and Frank Von Hippel. It argued that the very existence of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) in American nuclear submarine (and aircraft carrier) propulsion reactors presents such great dangers to world peace (nuclear accident, terrorist theft, loophole to weapons nonproliferation) that the U.S. Navy should change back to lower purity (i.e., non weapons grade) reactor fuel. The piece emphasized post-Cold War nuclear disarmament aspirations in, I think, something of a geopolitical vacuum. Its thesis would also have set back American naval submarine propulsion system design, and tactical capabilities, by decades. This is because HEU allows for massive net cost savings over the lifetime of the VIRGINIA class and the future SSBN(X) class, while also permitting much greater continuous operational availability of each vessel. This better cost/benefit performance, per hull constructed and for the fleet overall, is achieved by HEU allowing the life-ofship reactor core design. A life-of-ship rector core avoids the need for the multiple periodic, lengthy, expensive (and hazardous) dockyard stays required to replenish the (highly radioactive and toxic) Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) spent fuel rods. Such refueling layovers mean added opportunities for said rods to easily be turned into spectacular dirty bombs in situ by determined terrorists, by them simply using a conventional high-explosive bomb in a truck or delivery drone. Though details are highly classified, it also seems likely there would be important sacrifices of overall ship’s mission success-and-survival capabilities (and/or yet other excessive design, fabrication, and maintenance costs), if the Navy were to revert to using a bulkier (and noisier?) reactor system with the substantially weaker pro pulsive-work density of LEU, compared to the preferred
x Third example: the editorial “How to Pay for a 21-st Century Military” which ran in The New York Times on December 20, 2008. It claimed there was “plenty of fat in the defense budget” because of “unneeded weapons systems.” One key recommendation in the piece was “Halt production of the Virginia class sub.” It said they were “modeled on the cold-war-era Seawolf” as if that was something bad, ignoring the many transformational advances (and major cost savings) of VIRGINIA over SEAWOLF. It called the VIRGINIA-class program “little more than a public works project to keep Newport News, Va., and Groton, Conn., naval shipyards in business.”
The second example above seems to miss the most vital point altogether, which is that any such nuclear fuel changeover from HEU back to LEU would, by substantially increasing total lifetime costs per vessel, significantly reduce the affordable number of American (and UK) SSNs/SSGNs and SSBNs in commission in the foreseeable future. That future has already for some time been projected to be one where the size of the U.S. Sub Force fleet will be too small for the global demand signal. (This is not a new problem. Nor is the unhelpful suggestion of our subs using LEU instead something new—it was mentioned in The New York Times for August 29, 2000, in an op-ed by disarmament expert James Clay Moltz, “The Kursk Was in Dangerous Company.”) Granted the third example dates back to 2008—but it was published soon after Russia was responsible, among various other belligerent acts to be detailed below, for a violent and bloody war of conquest against the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, in the South Caucasus. That war, clearly and cynically provoked by the Kremlin against a post-Cold-War independent country, reignited one of the Caucasus’s bloody frozen conflicts from the early 1990s—in which Moscow shared much original blame. The Kremlin’s method was to liberate (occupy) sovereign Georgian territory (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) and leave Georgian borders destabilized. The motive was to deny Georgia the right of selfdetermination, by negating the viability of her application to join the European Union and NATO.
To bring matters up to the present, a reading of selected items in COMSUBLANT’s Undersea Warfare News e-mail daily suggests that funding (and timing) on Capitol Hill, for SSBN(X) ships and more VIRGINIA-class ships (including extended-hull VIRGINIA versions with the Virginia Payload Module – VPM – to make them SSGN-capable), continues in a long-term precarious state. And this is despite Russia’s recent military annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, plus Moscow’s ongoing (as of this writing) sponsorship of bloody territorial separatism/conquest in eastern Ukraine.
What is to be done in this domestic ASW war of words? How can we best protect America’s overall defense readiness? Demolishing The Flawed ASW Rhetoric: Two Prongs Besides “Going Up North” Again The bogus claim that “America’s nuclear subs are Cold War relics” can perhaps be reversed most convincingly by resorting over and over to clear logic and established facts. But this only works if audience attention can be earned, and held, long enough for people to listen and understand, and then vote their consciences. This laudable goal is being served by submarine supporters far and wide, in part via the many and varied discussions extant re the indispensable mission roles played by the U.S. Sub Force ever since the “Evil Empire” of the USSR fell – the ongoing survivable strategic deterrent role of SSBNs being foremost among them. A brief overview is worth repeating here, for thoroughness and clarity of this article’s perspective. Though the Cold War might (or might not) be over, America’s nuclear subs continue to be essential tools for peace-maintenance and peace-restoration. This claim can be validated convincingly in at least two ways:
x Global Contingency Operations: As Sub Force leaders, the Submarine Industrial Base Council, and Naval Submarine League and U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc., members have long helped impart to Congress and around the country, there are lots of other things nuclear subs are needed for besides winning cold wars against nuclear-armed evil empires. These other missions, successfully completed to bring home the bacon innumerable times since 1991, include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); indications and warnings; special operations support (SPECWAR); Tomahawk cruise missile land attack (such as USS FLORIDA’s 2011 firing of 93 cruise missiles against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s air assets); oceanic mapping/sampling for environmental and resource protection; mine-laying and minefield penetration; counter-terror and anti-piracy/anti-smuggling ops; downedpilot lifeguard duty; undersea, surface, and aerial drone launch and/or control; anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and sea lines of communication (SLOC) protection; and persistent access to areas that are subjected by adversaries to anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) weapons systems. The indispensable Sub Force missions also include 4,000 (and counting) safe and effective strategic nuclear deterrent patrols, in a world where nuclear warheads and their intercontinental delivery systems unfortunately continue to abound and proliferate.
x China’s rise: China’s rapid development toward a modern nuclear navy is an example of an emerging nearsuperpower competitor, thermonuclear ICBM armed, whose long-term regional and global intentions are not yet transparent. I do not wish to demonize China for following her own vision of Manifest Destiny, nor to condemn China for her frankly brilliant execution of the teachings of A.T. Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt. It nevertheless does seem reasonable for people in various countries to feel qualms about China’s expanding maritime territorial claims (her construction of artificial island bases in disputed local seas in particular), her growth in global power projection capabilities, and her repeated use of non-lethal or semi lethal force at sea. China as a potential/encroaching threat, with growing naval forces including a burgeoning nuclear submarine fleet that includes SSBNs, certainly justifies continuing to fund a robust U.S. Navy Submarine Force.
A Frontal Assault on the “Cold War Relic” Claim Perhaps the most direct, (and valid) way to attack the flawed logic that argues wrongly for the discontinuance, or further downsizing, of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force as Cold War relics, is to refute the claim that the Cold War is over—along with its accompanying, pernicious insinuation that this ended-ness is permanent. What if the Cold War with Russia were not over, even though the Soviet Union imploded down to the Russian Republic? Or, what if a new Cold War with (by) Russia (and/or with China for that matter), were to have already broken out, or be breaking out now, or lie just around the corner? Nuclear subs would then be just as much the essential, effective peace-and-survival tools going forward that they proved to be in the past. This makes it absolutely imperative to replace the OHIO-class SSBNs smartly, and build VIRGINIA-class SSNs and extended-hull VIRGINIA SSGNs numerously.
Let us posit, and justifiably celebrate, that the First Cold War did indeed end when the USSR ended. Subsequent events are showing that the “First Cold War” did not end all cold wars. Nor, alas, did it make the world safe for democracy, at least not yet. These concerns will be the focus of the remainder of this article. Better Grasping EUCOM Security Trends by Connecting More Dots One potentially harmful side effect of American (and wider Western) society’s forward-looking and peace-loving nature is having an overly short, overly optimistic collective memory regarding national defense policy and politics. Many commentators over the decades have noted how we Americans, and other NATO members as well, naturally crave rapidly ending any war in which we become involved, even if the underlying larger conflict remains unresolved. Naturally enough, we want to stop the killing—but then we rush into a period of disarmament to enjoy a well-earned peace dividend. The same commentators (each in their day) note how the killing then all too soon resumes. World War I as a causal/enabling factor led to World War II; World War II similarly led to the Cold War. The end of the Cold War led to (or at least coincided with) recurring wars with various Islamic extremists, ranging from al Qaeda to the Taliban to Saddam Hussein (two wars with Saddam, or three if we include the 1980s Tanker War after he invaded Iran), to Hamas and Hezbollah and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), plus other insurgencies or civil wars in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
We the People need to figure out a good way to preserve all our many admirable qualities, while curing what I think of as our ill-advised craving to retire prematurely from our de facto duty as the world’s policeman and arsenal of democracy. Just as crime will never cease short of some unattainable utopia, war will never cease so long as deteriorating social conditions, inter-ethnic bigotry, and sheer chance combine to let soulless, murderous sociopaths seize political power. By doing so, a few of them do gain control over massive armies and arsenals and then use them for slaughter—whether in nation-state dictatorships; or in failing, failed, or rogue states; or in terrorist, drug lord, or other armed groups. While not repeating mistakes we made in Afghanistan and Iraq, we must not let ourselves become paralyzed against wellplanned, adequately resourced, broad coalition operations that are needed—and have both achievable goals and good exit strategies—in the future.
More broad public education and dialogue seem to be key, with a greater focus on today’s and tomorrow’s defense challenges and problems. Well-publicized, mass-market studying of military history in and of itself—perhaps because it needs to appeal best to commercialized, politicized pop culture audiences—has tended to become either a self-complacency building celebration of past victories, or a self-loathing building condemnation of past failures. Too much of either has the bad side effect of fomenting a contagious look-to-the-past, head-in-the-sand future war denial on the part of voters. Alas, this does not help promote learning of lifesaving preparedness lessons for the next (inevitable) war. One (purely illustrative, but, again, telling) example of this collective short memory in the West, regarding Russia’s belligerent conduct since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, crops up in a recent news article in The New York Times. The person quoted, perhaps surprisingly since Estonia felt Stalin’s boot in the USSR after it felt Hitler’s in the Third Reich, is Estonia’s president, Toomas Henrik Ilves.
“Tensions Surge in Estonia Amid a Russian Replay of Cold
War Tactics,” by Andrew Higgins, ran on October 6, 2014. It discusses how, on September 5, a squad of Russian security operatives made a shallow penetration of Estonian territory to kidnap Eston Kohver, a Estonian internal security officer, and threw him in a Moscow prison on nonsensical charges of spying. The article quotes President Ilves as saying, “Is this the beginning of something [renewed Cold War-like tensions] or a one-off? Time will tell. You can’t draw a line until you have two points.” The article then notes portentously that on September 18, Russia seized a fishing vessel from neighboring Lithuania, in what Lithuania insists were international waters. As the reporter quite correctly says, “Russia added another point of reference.” (Poor Mr. Ilves was subsequently tried in Moscow and sentenced to a long prison term. Later—in an incident right out of one of John le Carre’s Cold War spy novels—he was exchanged for a Russian operative arrested in the West.)
A more thorough review of publicly available information on Russian Federation military activity since 1991 will establish that there have been, in blaring public view all along, many other points of reference to prove that Cold War-style tensions never ended, or at least if they ended they almost immediately resumed. Nor is this Russia Behaving Badly thesis some mere myth, perpetuated by Old Cold Warriors or Neo-Conservatives in the West who allegedly have vested commercial, professional, or political interests in trying to prolong a long-dead conflict. Detailed discussions on Russian post-Cold War aggression and interference, with page upon page of scholarly footnotes, abound in academic journals and books, and in other publications generally seen as liberal.