ENOUGH AND NOT TOO MUCH By Patrick Armstrong


(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation, I put it here to see what the Committee thinks about it)

Moscow will not engage in an exhausting arms race, and the country’s military spending will gradually decrease as Russia does not seek a role as the “world gendarme,” President Vladimir Putin said. Moscow is not seeking to get involved in a “pointless” new arms race, and will stick to “smart decisions” to strengthen its defensive capabilities, Putin said on Friday during an annual extended meeting of the Defense Ministry board. “Intelligence, brains, discipline and organization” must be the cornerstones of the country’s military doctrine, the Russian leader said. The last thing that Russia needs is an arms race that would “drain” its economy, and Moscow sure does not want that “in any scenario,” Putin pointed out.

RT, 22 December 2017


It's easy to forget it today, but the USSR was, in its time, an "exceptionalist" country. It was the world's first socialist country – the "bright future"; it set an example for all to follow, it was destined by History. It had a mission and was required by History to assist any country that called itself "socialist". The USSR had bases and interests all over the world. As the 1977 USSR Constitution said:

the Soviet state, a new type of state, the basic instrument for defending the gains of the revolution and for building socialism and communism. Humanity thereby began the epoch-making turn from capitalist to socialism.

A novus ordo seclorum indeed.

Russia, however, is just Russia. There is no feeling in Moscow that Russia must take the lead any place but Russia itself. One of the reasons, indeed, why Putin is always talking about the primacy of the UN, the independence of nation states, the impermissibility to interfere in internal activities – the so-called "Westphalian" position – is that he remembers the exceptionalist past and knows that it led to a dead end. Moscow has no interest in going abroad in search of internationalist causes.

Internationalism/exceptionalism and nationalism: the two have completely different approaches to constructing a military. The first is obsessed with "power projection", "full spectrum superiority", it imagines that its hypertrophied interests are challenged all over the planet. Its wants are expensive, indeterminate, unbounded. The other is only concerned with dealing with enemies in its neighbourhood. Its wants are affordable, exact, finite. The exceptionalist/interventionist has everything to defend everywhere; the nationalist has one thing to defend in one place. It is much easier and much cheaper to be a nationalist: the exceptionalist/interventionist USA spends much more than anyone else but always needs more; nationalist Russia can cut its expenditure.

The USSR's desire to match or exceed the USA in all military areas was a contributing factor to the collapse of its alliance system and the USSR itself. Estimates are always a matter for debate, especially in a command economy that hid its numbers (even when they were calculable), but a common estimate is a minimum of 15% of the USSR's production went to the military. But the true effort was probably higher. The USSR was involved all over the world shoring up socialism's "bright future" and that cost it at home.

Putin & Co's "bright future" is for Russia only and the world may do as it wants about any example or counterexample it may imagine there. While Putin may occasionally indulge himself by offering opinions about liberalism and oped writers gas on about the Putin/Trump populism threat, Putin & Co are just trying to do what they think best for Russia with, as their trust ratings suggest (in contrast with those of the rulers of the "liberal" West), the support and agreement of most Russians.

The military stance of the former exceptionalist country is all gone. As the USSR has faded away, so have its overseas bases and commitments: the Warsaw Pact is gone together with the forward deployment of Soviet armies; there are no advisors in Vietnam or Mozambique; Moscow awaits with bemusement the day next January when the surviving exceptionalist power and its minions will have been in Afghanistan twice as long as the USSR was. The United States, still exceptionalist, still imagining it is spreading freedom and democracy, preventing war and creating stability, has bases everywhere and thinks that it must protect "freedom of navigation" to and from China in the South China Sea. It has yet to learn the futility of seeing oneself as The World's Example.

Putin & Co have learned: Russia has no World-Historical purpose and its military is just for Russia. They understand what this means for Russia's Armed Forces:

Moscow doesn't have to match the US military; it just has to checkmate it.

And it doesn't have to checkmate it everywhere, only at home. The US Air Force can rampage anywhere but not in Russia's airspace; the US Navy can go anywhere but not in Russia's waters. It's a much simpler job and it costs much less than what Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev were attempting; it's much easier to achieve; it's easier to plan and carry out. The exceptionalist/interventionist has to plan for Everything; the nationalist for One Thing.

Study the enemy, learn what he takes for granted and block it. And the two must haves of American conventional military power as it affects Russia are 1) air superiority and 2) assured, reliable communications; counter those and it's checkmated: Russia doesn't have to equal or surpass the US military across the board, just counter its must haves.

Russia's comprehensive and interlocking air defence weaponry is well known and well respected: it covers the spectrum from defences against ballistic missiles to small RPVs, from complex missile/radar sets to MANPADS; all of it coordinated, interlocking with many redundancies. We hear US generals complaining about air defence bubbles and studies referring to Russia's "anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) exclusion zones". Russian air defence has not been put to the full-scale test but we have two good indications of its effectiveness. The first was the coordinated RPV attack on Russian bases in Syria last year in which seven were shot down and six taken over, three of them landed intact. Then, in the FUKUS attack of April 2018, the Russians say the Syrian AD system (most of which is old but has benefited from Russian coordination) shot down a large number of the cruise missiles. (FUKUS' claims are not believable).

The other area, about which even less is known are Russian electronic warfare capabilities: “eye-watering” says a US general; "Right now in Syria we are operating in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet from our adversaries. They are testing us everyday, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etcetera.” Of course, what the Americans know is only what Russia wants them to know. There is speculation about an ability to spoof GPS signals. AEGIS-equipped warships seem to have trouble locating themselves (HNoMS Helge Ingstad) or avoiding being run into (USS Lake Champlain, USS John McCain, USS Fitzgerald). Bad seamanship may, of course, be the cause and that's what the US investigations claim. So more rumour than fact but a lot of rumour.

In the past two or three decades US air power has operated with impunity; it has assumed that all GPS-based systems (and there are many) will operate as planned and that communications will be free and clear. Not against Russia. With those certainties removed, the American war fighting doctrine will be left scrabbling.

But AD and EW are not the only Russian counters. When President Bush pulled the USA out of the ABM Treaty in 2001, Putin warned that Russia would have to respond. Mutual Assured Destruction may sound crazy but there's a stability to it: neither side, under any circumstance, can get away with a first strike; therefore neither will try it. Last year we met the response: a new ICBM, a hypersonic re-entry vehicle, a nuclear-powered cruise missile with enormous flight time and a similar underwater cruise missile. No defence will stop them and so MAD returns. A hypersonic anti-shipping missile will keep the US Navy out of Russian waters. And, to deal with the US Army's risible ground forces in Europe, with or without NATO's other feeble forces, Russia has re-created the First Guards Tank Army. Checkmate again.

No free pass for US air power, strained and uncertain communications, a defeated ground attack and no defence against Russian nuclear weapons. That's all and that's enough.

And that is how Moscow does it while spending much less money than Washington. It studies Washington's strengths and counters them: "smart decisions". Washington is starting to realise Russia's military power but it is blinded and can only see its reflection in the mirror: the so-called "rising threat from Russia" would be no threat to a Washington that stayed at home.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sun Tzu

About Patrick Armstrong

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54 Responses to ENOUGH AND NOT TOO MUCH By Patrick Armstrong

  1. casey says:

    Persevet, too, on top of everything else. A big question mark on top of a bunch of other question marks, no?
    As for Afghanistan, am I being a ding-dong civilian to say we are still there so the agency can skim the poppy trade?

  2. turcopolier says:

    Yes, you are a ding-dong civilian. CIA does not control policy and they don’t need the money. They are given immense funds by Congress.

  3. Jim Ticehurst says:

    Armstrong…Very Excellent Presentation..Worth the Read…

  4. Valissa says:

    Patrick, this is a bit OT but I just watched this video from The Duran and wondered what your thoughts are on Ukraine making peace with Russia.
    Is Ukraine ready for a Russian reset? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lWOJIetDu4 (24 min)
    The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss whether the time has finally come for Ukraine to re-engage with Russia.
    Can a sitcom actor turned President, Volodymyr Zelensky, find the courage to fight off ultra right nationalist forces and the neocon US deep state, to be the man who brings peace and sensibility to Ukraine, in relation to Russia?
    It appears that most Ukrainian citizens want to make peace with Russia, and of course there are the potentially devastating financial challenges the gov’t has upcoming (a strong incentive). But is that enough?
    Thoughts anyone?

  5. The Russian bear (I’ve saved the picture for future use), BTW, is what we in N American call a Grizzly. It’s not a cuddly little Black Bear.

  6. My POV is in my last Sitrep — in short not impossible but a lot of ifs.

  7. Valissa says:

    Thanks, I must have missed that post. Since the oligarchs still wield so much power in Ukraine do you have any sense of how many of them want peace with Russia? I am curious what percentage of the oligarchs support the US vs Russia vs neither/opportunist.
    On the above article… it seems that the very sensible Russian defensive military mindset is entirely too ‘foreign’ for the Borg to understand. Or perhaps they don’t want to understand because stirring up fear of Russia is of greater benefit to them in numerous ways.

  8. It appears that most Ukrainian citizens want to make peace with Russia
    A bit more complicated than that. Some want just the absence of war, not necessarily “peace” (whatever that means) with Russia. And then there are very many those shades of grey after that. Ukraine did happen, did coalesce, as a political nation, however with a very questionable expiration date, and there are very many flavors to this “peace with Russia” on Ukrainian side. And then, of course, there is Russia’s opinion and very many (I do not have exact numbers), very very many, Russians simply do not want to deal with Ukraine and Ukrainians at all. I, personally, don’t see any improvement (again–what is a definition of “improvement”) between Russia and Ukraine, not least because Ukraine is controlled from the outside. Here is an example of audacity on the West’s (US) part to “represent” Ukraine.

  9. ted richard says:

    he is of course correct in his over all views. russian missile and EW technology is already, today, at least a generation ahead of what the pentagon fields for combat. rendering effective pentagon military power projection neutered against both russia and china as well as any ally they choose to support (think syria for sure, iran?, venezuela?)
    the problem washington faces is they sold out the federal government decades ago to banking and corporate interest which as time has proven repeatedly are NOT aligned with the best interests of the american citizenry, and like anyone who sups with the devil a bargain is a bargain, once taken there is no going back.
    the problem for washington is that banking and corporate interests require plunder to operate properly as currently structured. maximize short term gain for private ownership while either put off long terms costs (pollution etc) well into the future or like in 2008 socialize the losses across the entire tax payer (a euphemism for serf) base while handily keeping all those fed vomited bailouts private.
    as russia, china, iran, venezuela erect signs backed up by force saying..”this is a plunder free zone” and, what with unencumbered assets becoming ever harder to locate for anglo american capitalism a crisis is emerging as forward motion (real growth) slows to a crawl or goes below zero which renders all the debt entangled corporations, especially governments and citizens susceptible to gravity once the trigger of ”no confidence”’ hits the public consciousness. increasing debt is directly correlated to decreasing growth need to sustain the debt load. like unsuccessfully dieting a vicious circle.
    all russia and china have to do to prevail over washington and its empire at this point is WAIT…. while keeping their swords bright and their domestic intentions true (by taking care of their own).
    gravity once widespread public no confidence emerges will do all heavy lifting.

  10. Excellent analysis, Patrick. It shows what can be accomplished when you don’t blow your whole wad on force projection and seeking full spectrum dominance at the same time. Seeking dominant capability at our borders and territorial waters is doable, but projecting that all over the world is a losing proposition. The Russian strategy reminds me of the Swiss defensive model.
    BTW, while the Russian bears and our Grizzlies are both brown bears, they are different species.

  11. Valissa says:

    I read that article too. Exceptionalism dies hard. Unironically this is part of their “Realism & Restraint series”… had a good chuckle over that.
    Your point about Russia not wanting to deal with the Ukraine at all makes a lot of sense to me. What a hot mess that country is! Since Ukraine does not a strong central gov’t, and instead has many factions with different internal and external loyalties (esp. the US), then who is there that can actually make a deal, stick to it and enforce it?

  12. MP98 says:

    Very good analysis, but…..
    If the US is not making the global rules, somebody else (China?) will and we will not like those rules.

  13. different clue says:

    I believe that it was all the major Allies and not just the US which wrote a prospective set of rules for global behavior and embodied it in the United Nations and all the treaties involved with that. It was not just a set of America-centric rules.
    And if the DC FedRegime of our own day keeps breaking those rules for its own Regime benefit, the rest of the global will begin to find ways to exclude DC FedRegime rule-writing and rule-enforcing from growing parts of the global territory. The Aggressive-War invasion of Iraq in 2003 was an example of the DC FedRegime breaking global rules. The Cheney(bush) Administration use of torture was another such violation.
    Meanwhile, the Corporate Globalonial Plantation ClassLords were writing and imposing another set of rules, namely all the Forcey-Free-Trade Agreements now impoverishing and exploiting so many. And even casting many aside completely, as in ex-Industrial America. Since the Corporate Globalonial Plantationists operate under American cover, America gets blamed for the effects of Forcey-Free-Trade, even though America also suffers from those effects.
    The American Exceptionalizzum DC FedRegime can try to continue forcing and extorting and blackmailing American society into spending the money, time and effort to Freedomize and Democrafy the Whole World. America will ultimately be driven into some kind of bankruptcy by the effort, and may even break up into a few viable successor countries and some anarcho-violent No-Man’s-Lands like Somalia. With lots of loose nukes.
    And then China may indeed write new global rules, after the DC Fedregime creates the vacuum for China to fill in writing those rules . . . by destroying America beyond any hope of writing any rules at all, or even getting to submit any Public Comment.

  14. Ken Roberts says:

    Possibly related, the interview of President Putin with Oliver Stone contains an interesting statement by Putin, re Ukraine … See the official transcript for context, and of course there may be translation nuances — transcript is from
    Here is an excerpt (about one-third into transcript)…
    “Vladimir Putin: The connection is that he [Medvedchuk] has his own ideas about Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. For example, I believe that Russians and Ukrainians are actually one people.
    Oliver Stone: One people, two nations?
    Vladimir Putin: One nation, in fact.
    Oliver Stone: You think it is one nation?
    Vladimir Putin: Of course. Look, when these lands that are now the core of Ukraine, joined Russia, there were just three regions – Kiev, the Kiev region, northern and southern regions – nobody thought themselves to be anything but Russians, because it was all based on religious affiliation. They were all Orthodox and they considered themselves Russians. They did not want to be part of the Catholic world, where Poland was dragging them.
    I understand very well that over the time the identity of this part of Russia crystallized, and people have the right to determine their identity. But later this factor was used to throw into imbalance the Russian Empire. But in fact, this is the same world sharing the same history, same religion, traditions, and a wide range of ties, close family ties among them.
    At the same time, if a significant part of people who live in Ukraine today believe that they should emphasise their identity and fight for it, no one in Russia would be against this, including me. But, bearing in mind that we have many things in common, we can use this as our competitive advantage during some form of integration; it is obvious. However, the current government clearly doesn’t want this. I believe that in the end common sense will prevail, and we will finally arrive at the conclusion I have mentioned: rapprochement is inevitable.”
    (transcript continues)

  15. Linda says:

    I really learned a lot from this article. Thank you for posting

  16. Tom Wonacott says:

    Moscow will not engage in an exhausting arms race, and the country’s military spending will gradually decrease as Russia does not seek a role as the “world gendarme,” President Vladimir Putin said

    While Vladimir Putin is one of the most astute observers of foreign policy in the world (running circles around Obama and Trump), he is also a politician. I sincerely doubt that Russia gradually plans on decreasing spending on their military in any meaningful way. That is for home consumption because about 35-40 percent of Russians live on $300 per month or less. Putin’s popularity is also dropping even though it remains quite high (Paul Goble: Window on Eurasia — New Series: Nearly 40 Percent of Russians Subsist on Less than… https://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/02/nearly-40-percent-of-russians-subsist.html?spref=tw):

    Thirty-seven percent of Russians life on 19,000 rubles or less a month, Rosstat says, a figure that works out to a subsistence of ten US dollars or a less a day, 23.2 percent live on less than 15,000 rubles a month (under seven dollars a day); and 12 percent have incomes under 10,000 rubles a month (five dollars a day).

  17. I’ve always been intrigued by Switzerland — more guns than anywhere but pretty peaceful; really understands neutrality (which is actually a pretty cold-blooded position). I remember reading some time ago that Switzerland General Guisan (hah! name just came to me, ultimate senility is at least a week away!) told the Germans that, if they invaded, the Swiss would blow the tunnels thereby rendering Switzerland useless to an invader.
    Never seen so many measelshafts as there. (You old Cold Warriors might recognise the term from Germany back in The Day (not entirely sure of the spelling).
    But definitely a country that minds its own business but makes sure its more expensive to conquer than it’s worth. Finland is (or was) another example. (Which is why it’s so disappointing to see the current rulers in Helsinki sucking up to NATO.)
    Faugh Sir! Wikipedia says a clades not a species.

  18. Well, many of us will live to see whether that’s correct or not. My assumption is that China is so arrogant (Middle Kingdom means between Heaven and Earth) that they really don’t care what the rest of us do as long as business happens.
    But ya gotta admit that the USA/UK/West/Whatever-you-want-to-call-it rule has been pretty disastrous.

  19. I’m coming to think that you are that rare species of a POLITE troll. Russians like VVP, they trust him and buy the package. And they get it that Russia is under attack (they aren’t living in a news bubble. They see Western stuff.)
    Nobody in the West comes anywhere close to his numbers.
    PS Paul Goble just prints anti-Putin stuff and is mostly entertainment.
    PPS. check my link to SIPRI on reductions.

  20. rkka says:

    After 8 years of the governance of Boris Yeltsin & the Free Market Reformers, 30% of Russians were living on $1.50/day or less as their country unstoppably descended into social catastrophe & strategic irrelevance.
    The place has since transformed, much for the better.

  21. LA Sox Fan says:

    What happened to the USSR and it’s empire should serve as a warning to the USA. We have two huge oceans defending us, yet we spend more to maintain our far flung empire than the USSR ever did. One day, the taxpayers of this country are no longer going to pay for an empire that they don’t profit from.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Wonder why they tested the arrow 3 in alaska.

  23. Tom Wonacott says:

    I am polite, and at the very least – an honest troll. I am just not quite as trusting of Putin as some. The IRA are real trolls which had (have?) a two million dollar operating budget according to Meduza (https://meduza.io/en/feature/2017/10/15/an-ex-st-petersburg-troll-speaks-out?utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=share_twitter&utm_campaign=share). At any rate good article.

  24. different clue says:

    Will that day come by choice, while we still have any money to be able to refuse to pay such taxes from?
    Or will that day come by passive default force, once we have run out of money to be able to pay for taxes or for anything else?
    Sooner by choice would be better than later by passive default force.

  25. Ingolf Eide says:

    Good stuff Patrick, thanks.
    Russia may be uniquely inoculated against all manner of foolishness by the two catastrophes it lived through over the last century. For now at least, it seems driven by a bone hard realism.

  26. Patrick, I remember the measle holes. That was back when we all thought shit was serious. I was only stationed in Germany as a case officer in a clan detachment, but even we practiced evacuating our location and driving to wartime sites to continue our collection mission behind the lines if necessary.
    Lithuania is developing a poison pill/insurgency kind of defensive strategy and force structure. It would be a lot better than the front line of NATO strategy now in place. As you explained, that just causes Russia to have to counter the threat. The insurgency defensive strategy would be no threat.
    For the bears, clades, species it doesn’t really matter. If polar bears and grizzlies can interbreed, the brown bears of North America and Eurasia could interbreed without missing a step. I wouldn’t want to piss off any of them.

  27. ISL says:

    thanks for the analysis – a shame the general did not expand on what Russian capabilities iN EW were eye watering.
    Interesting “The first was the coordinated RPV attack on Russian bases in Syria last year in which seven were shot down and six taken over, three of them landed intact.” According to the article, the drones were controlled from 100 km distant. This really doesnt sound like jihadi technology. So very interesting that Russia was able to take over the RPVs which were either US or Israeli…

  28. according to Meduza
    No, you are not an “honest troll”. Meanwhile, why don’t you try Die Deutsche Wochenschau as your source. Or CNN, at the least.

  29. Dao Gen says:

    Throughout its long history China has never tried to dominate foreign countries. It never tried to conquer Japan, for example, which had some very productive silver and gold mines. On the other hand, the Mongols tried twice (unsuccessfully) to invade Japan during their short period of dominance. China did try meddle in Korean politics and use Korea as a buffer zone, though a few times the Koreans threw them out. China also tried to secure buffer zones in the west and south. Even now, though, they seem to feel that they are destined to be the world’s middle country, and they don’t seem to have a hankering to invade or directly control foreign areas to gain Lebensraum, even though they have a huge population. And they have no tradition of global colonialism. It is not in the culture or the economic history.
    As for the New Silk Road, it does not seem to be as self-serving and manipulative as the DoS and Pompeo are constantly claiming. China has an ancient continuous culture, and the Chinese seem to know full well by now that lasting prosperity only happens when all parties prosper. Mutual dependence and mutual recognition are a deep part of Chinese and all east Asian cultures, though the Japanese samurai ethic briefly went berserk and disregarded that wisdom back in the 1930s! The Chinese spirit of innovation-within-tradition and dynamic business management (including state management) is also likely to keep them confident in their own ability to be creative and cutting edge, so they will probably be less likely to try to suppress other economies the way Trump is trying to do. I imagine Chinese leaders are hoping that mutual prosperity and interdependence will make ideologies like “full spectrum dominance” risible relics of the past. Culture is long, turbulence happens.

  30. MP98 says:

    Got me there.
    The western alliance – since the fall of the USSR – has been pretty useless if not downright dangerous.
    As for China, they may have gone too far in that “inscrutable oriental” act and begun to believe their own BS.

  31. confusedponderer says:

    LA Sox Fan
    re: “One day, the taxpayers of this country are no longer going to pay for an empire that they don’t profit from
    There is an easy orange way to solve that – just print more US dollars. They are as indispensable as the US nation. Start MAGA by making the dollar numbers greater!
    It has side effects, no doubt, but then, also advantages.
    After all, in time you’ll be able to build another aicraft carrier for $, and buy bread, cigarettes or whiskey for $ 200.000, 300.000 or 500.000.
    No, no, you’re not a cheap curmudgeon! Instead you’ll live in an exciting time!
    With these numbers you’ll also need to redesign the dollar bills since so far there is not enough place for all the zeros.
    You’ll also likely will need a truck to transport the money to buy cigarettes or bread. In that sense, inflation is in fact a really cunning subsidy for the oil and car industries! Maybe you also want that truck to be bullet proof …

  32. John Minehan says:

    Lithuania is developing a poison pill/insurgency kind of defensive strategy and force structure. It would be a lot better than the front line of NATO strategy now in place.”
    Similar to what Yugoslavia planned to do under Tito? The protracted civil war they had in the 1990s is a sign that it **could** work, as is the conflict that followed OIF I.

  33. John Minehan says:

    The US (with those two oceans as its eastern and western boundaries) is a maritime power.
    We are also still a sufficiently important maritime power that we have some level of responsibility for maintaining freedom of the seas (as with the issues with the pirates operating out of Puntland in southern Somalia in the late 2000s), a situation that has existed (in some form) since the Roman Republic made the Med “Mare Nostrum.”
    Russia has always been (mostly) a land power.
    Given this, the US (even if it does not “seek to fight monsters” in Nietzsche’s terms) has the Force Projection task thrust upon it in a way Russia doesn’t.
    Even if we sought to be non-interventionist (as I think we should), we still have more on our plate than Russia. (The PRC has the same inherent problem.)
    Since we have a force projection mission thrust upon us as a maritime power, full spectrum dominance (in at least the areas where our ships operate) is an implied task.
    So, I think the two thoughts I have about this article are:
    1) we have broader defense needs than the Russians, based on being a maritime power; and
    2) since our plate is already full, it makes little sense to add to that burden.

  34. Adrestia says:

    The Swiss are mountain people.
    People in agrarian societies have a different mindset as people who live on/near the fringes (dessert, jungle, mountain, gypsies). Simply set people in agrarian based societies are more domesticated. IMO pastoralists are a bit in between (and are more hierarchical structured)
    * the people on the edge are less hierarchical and based on meritocracy.
    * most able men (and sometimes also women) become ‘warriors’ when required.
    * they don’t conform to nation-state norms/taxes etc.
    * they are regarded by agrarian people (urban and rural) as thieves, outcasts etc (partly correct because stealing/plundering/providing military mercenary power is part of their core-business when interacting with domesticated people)
    Remember the European verb ‘no money, no swiss’ which originated from the middle ages (still visible in the Vatican) when mercenary labor was a (seasonal) activity for able-bodied Swiss men.
    IMO this still resonates in the present situation. Look at the present conflicts:
    * Houthies/Yemen (mountain)
    * Kurds (mountain)
    * Afghans (mountain/desert) -> (anybody here with knowledge on Kochi pashtun? IMO they have a lot of things in common with gypsies & also do seizonal work fighting for money for the Taliban)
    * Lebanese shia/Hezbollah (mountain)
    * Berber in North Africa (mountain)
    * Touareg (desert)
    * Shan state/Burma (mountain/jungle)
    * Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia montagnards (rhade, jarai, hmong etc) in the Vietnam-era and later
    IMO in Russia this can be seen in Kozaks (who originate from people escaping from feodalism/domestication) but also in Byelorussia where people can be so isolated in swamps/forest that the villages resemble isolated islands.

  35. John Minehan says:

    This is interesting: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/08/03/russia-separatism-vladimir-putin-227498
    As, for example, the history of the Western Roman Empire indicates (with the possible exception of the Five Good Emperors and the early Tetrarchy during and immediately following the reign of Diocletian), authoritarian states have some problems with succession.
    Putin seems to have more of a “read” than any other world leader on the global stage right now, but the answer to who follows him is likely be: “To the strongest.”

  36. Bill H says:

    Britain is an island. Australia, while designated a continent, is also an island. Please compare their “maritime power” status to ours, their defense spending as a percentage of gdp to ours, and their number of foreign bases to ours, and explain.

  37. John Minehan says:

    Please compare those things to similar sized maritime nations and evaluate this in the context of the former preeminence of the Royal Navy and its adjunct forces.
    For extra credit consider the likelihood that the Royal Navy is to some degree an adjunct of the US Navy,

  38. Not very interesting. Russia was “finished” 2 decades ago and the same stuff is endlessly recycled.

  39. ISL says:

    Patrick and John, The linked article was by Peter Eltsov a professor at the National Defense University, which is DOD (not State) sponsored.
    The university has a journal: Joint Forces Quarterly:
    https://ndupress.ndu.edu/ :
    a quick survey of their articles shows a (surprise surprise surprise) DoD focus – better trauma care, weapons systems comparisons, logistics and strategy (e.g., one interesting article is on a civil war battle involving miners called “Battle of the Crater,”** as an example of the role innovation can play in war.
    NDU doesnt seem to focus at all on great power rivalry, the role of diplomacy, and sanctions.
    As such, perhaps it is not surprising that Professor Eltsov doesnt appear to have thought very deeply on the matter (Same has been said of China for decades, too, and Japan***).
    Tellingly, these perennial collapsist authors never argue of the risk of a US implosion (hope I do not live to see) though their arguments apply also domestically, but even moreso.
    here he is telling us in 2014 Crimea will be a big mistake for Russia…
    —- — – — – — — – — –
    In any case, JFQ is a valuable resource
    see work of Eamonn Fingleton, e.g.,
    Fingleton shows that Japan decided on modesty and hid their economic strengths as the best way to deal with the US. Now, decades after teh Japan implodes story Japanese lifespan continues to lengthen (US is decreasing!!!!!!!!), and Japanese tech dominates the high tech backbone of the world (at the chip manufacturing level, machine tools, etc). Note, Japan still has a trade surplus with Asia.

  40. scott s. says:

    I would say that the Royal Navy is not to any degree an adjunct of the US Navy. It might have been somewhat the case back in the days of SACLANT when the emphasis was on the GIUK gap, but since the end of USSR that rationale has gone away. Yes, US naval leaders have pushed the “coalition warfare” and “virtual 1000 ship navy” but as recently pointed out on USNI blog, when push comes to shove it’s easy for your “coalition partner” not to show up when you expect him to.
    The USN likes to tout “freedom of navigation” and cite statistics on ocean shipping tonnage, but mostly it seems to rely on Mahanian strategy without really thinking through what the strategic significance is of maritime traffic today.

  41. Phodges says:

    Consider that perhaps the Russians and Chinese have also read Thucydides and Mahan. And maybe unlike those in the west, they concluded that Alcibiades needed only more ships and men to succeed in Sicily.

  42. As such, perhaps it is not surprising that Professor Eltsov doesnt appear to have thought very deeply on the matter (Same has been said of China for decades, too, and Japan***).
    If I may. Peter Eltsov is, see his CV below:
    A typical generic “professor” with degree(s) in basically “nothing related” to actual warfare not to speak of military technology–your typical “political analyst” who never spent a day in Armed Forces or Intelligence structures. The only reason this professor is allowed to pontificate on the issues on which he cannot possibly have any clue is his allegedly Russian last name and (most likely) classic pro-Western anti-Russian stance. Period, there is nothing else behind it. Yet, in the same time Eltsov is an exhibit A of current American “think-tankdom” and “academe” which cannot find its own ass in brightly lit room with their own two hands. I never heard of auto-mechanic with AA from local community college perform open heart surgery, but, evidently, “professors” of anthropology somehow are welcomed in US to express their opinions on modern geopolitics. If you try heard, I am sure you can recover from C-SPAN a video (about 15-18 years old) of Insurance Agent late Tom Clancy lecturing a group of US Armed Forces officers on how to fight he war, by means of reciting types of munitions. Evidently this MO is absolutely normal. No wonder the outcomes.

  43. Somebody in the twitterverse asked the twits this question: "Name a job that you can completely suck at and still keep your job?" Instantly answered by Max Blumenthal "Beltway think tank senior fellow"
    Patrick Armstrong

  44. John Minehan says:

    Russia is interesting, in a lot of ways.
    Putin has been a smarter, more discerning leader than most presently on the world stage and that has lent credibility. He has an advantage, as a retired LTC in the old KGB of having some level of training and experience in both geo-politics and reading people and assessing strengths and weaknesses.
    On the other hand, the demographics may actually be worse than the US or the EU (See, e.g., https://www.rand.org/pubs/issue_papers/IP162/index2.html.)
    Even given that, Russia has a decided advantage over many places in terms of natural resources and in controlling what may be thought of as “global key terrain” (Mackinder’s “Heartland”).
    They have a kind of lasting Jominian advantage. With BRI/OBOR, they are somewhat in the position of the guy in the Western who owns the land the Railroad is going to come through (or, possibly, not).
    Given its size, position and history, it is questionable if Russia is ever “finished,” but while it has come back from its dire position 20 years ago, it still is notably weaker than it was in the 1980s. As Mr. Armstrong’s article indicates that may matter less than fact it appears strong enough to advance its own interests.

  45. Ingolf Eide says:

    “Notably weaker than it was in the 1980s.”
    Really? Seems to me the very opposite. Would you care to elaborate?

  46. CK says:

    Off Topic:
    100 years ago tomorrow, the first American Expeditionary Force in North Russia was disbanded. In March of 2020 the hundredth anniversary of the Siberian Expeditionary force withdrawal from Russia will occur.

  47. John Minehan says:

    In the 1980s, the then-USSR had control over more territory; the birth rate was picking up and life expectancy was rising.
    Although the latter two are no longer in their 1990s trough, they are still not as good as they were in the 1980s. As to the former, they have recovered some territory, notably Crimea, but have to deal with some consequences from that.
    Russia, given its size, resources and history, will never be unimportant. It is very well lead at present. However, it still has significant issues and faces a major inflection point, common to more authoritarian states, when a strong leader departs.
    It has a lot of threats **AND** opportunities. Let’s see . . . .

  48. ex PFC Chuck says:

    Couldn’t agree more. The most dangerous threat to the USA’s national security is its own financial sector. Lloyd Bankfein, former CEO of Golden Sacks, famously said that he was doing “God’s work.” If that’s genuinely true, then the USA is truly at the very top of God’s s**t list.

  49. “Name a job that you can completely suck at and still keep your job?” Instantly answered by Max Blumenthal “Beltway think tank senior fellow”
    Very true. Succinct.

  50. Phodges says:

    Oops…that should be “did not conclude”

  51. Fred says:

    How long before the USSR Russia recovers East Germany? How about Romania? Those folks overthrew the communist dictator and executed him (in 1989) and then adopted that thing dreaded by the Democratic Socialists of America, capitalism.

  52. Ingolf Eide says:

    Thanks John.
    Seems to me it’s slightly understating matters to say that the birthrate and life expectancy are merely no longer in their 1990s trough. Far as I can see there have been a number of recent years where Russia once again experienced natural population growth and, according to the stats on Wikipedia, life expectancy for both men and women has hit new highs.
    As for controlling less territory, that’s probably a net plus.
    Yes, the transition from Putin will be critically important. He’s of course very aware of that and my guess is at least as much thought and effort will go into managing that as he seems to bring to most things.
    While I think Russia is better placed than almost any other nation to survive and prosper, as you suggest nothing is certain.

  53. I’m closing comments. Wandered too far from the original theme.

Comments are closed.