If Western great power gaming wasn't so incompetent

One of the extra reasons for opposing Western great power gaming is the West's incompetence at it. The Americans messed so many great power games, we've become used to it. The war of aggression against Panama with its rather fine aftermath (save for the dead and maimed people, of course) is a pleasant exception. Just look at the IS/ISIS mess, a consequence of the war of aggression against Iraq!

 The West's dealing with the Ukrainian territorial crisis is no different. again, incompetence abounds.

I've offered rather diplomatic strategies and some observations on the conflict before

now here's a great power gaming strategy for it. I'm not in favour of great power games, so this is not a recommendation (would be a few months too late for it anyway), but an example meant to show how relatively inept the West is at these games. Obama, Merkel, Hollande are playing a league or two below Putin in these affairs (and Erdogan appears to be disinterested).

So this was for the situation at the end of the Crimean secession, when it became obvious Putin was having designs for Eastern Ukraine, too:

Putin/Russia is understood to try to grab some continental Ukrainian territory while the new government in Kiev is still incapable of decisive resistance.
Economic sanctions and the like were probably if not certainly factored into Putin's deliberations already, and can be dismissed as non-decisive for this reason. Something unanticipated is needed for additional deterrence effect.

Why not force Putin to lose two long-running great power games as the price for merely trying to play a great power game in the Eastern Ukraine?
Get Turkey and Georgia to agree with your strategy, then concentrate air and (suitable) land power in Turkey, threatening to move into Georgia, defeat the separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and to kick out the Russian 'peacekeepers' there. Make sure Putin believes this by adding forces to the deployment which would only be necessary against Russia, not against militias; such as SEAD (suppression enemy air defences), much Electronic Warfare forces in general, battlefield air defences and substantial anti-armour firepower.
(c) Ssolbergj
Putin/Russia would be forced to keep Russian troops in the Caucasus and to even reinforce them in order to deter an actual Western intervention there with the risk of a messy NATO-Russia conflict on proxy territory (it would be similar to how American and Russian pilots fought each other over North Korea during the Korean War).

Russia would be hard-pressed to reinforce the troops in the Caucasus with more than air-deployable forces only, but assuming it did succeed, it could attempt to sway Western public opinion by threatening Estonia with some additional brigades south of St. Petersburg.
The non-involved NATO and EU countries could respond by deploying some suitable forces in an 'exercise' to Lithuania (which has no border with Russian mainland), and subsidise an Estonian partial mobilisation (another 'exercise').

The elegance in this; nothing in this strategy even only requires a violation of the Charter of the United Nations, since no recognised country would be threatened.

So this is how great power hardball could or would look like if the West was playing at the same level as Putin.
It's not. Instead, Western great powers bully weak countries (up to an actual invasion and occupation) for no gain and annoy other delinquents with sanctions if they're disinterested in doing more.

Very little good came of this, ever. The sanctions on apartheid South Africa were probably effective and a good idea, and Panama was mentioned before. Other than that, Western great power games aren't merely cost-inefficient, but often even disastrous. The Iranian theocracy can be traced back to an American-supported coup in the 50's, for example. Many Cold War great power games were ill-fated because of sheer Western ignorance and self-delusion (categorizing independence and unification movements as communist and pushing them into Moscow's arms). Nowadays the USA are supporting both Saudi-Arabia (top ten worst states world-wide) and Pakistan (ditto), both were no doubt more to blame for 9/11 than Saddam's Iraq.

I expect (hope) my readers to recoil in horror at the aforementioned counter-Putin deterrence strategy, for it is risky gaming, expensive gaming and well, it depends on Turkish cooperation which would make it even more expensive (such as a promise never to support the Kurds or even an intervention in Syria). And the Abkhazians seek independence legitimately, so an actual move against them would be unethical.

It's fine if it looks like a bad idea; that's my point. Great power games are bullshit.
What's even worse bullshit is if one's government does play such games, but sucks at them even more than the adversary. And that's the status quo.


P.S.: After I wrote this I saw an "expert" suggest to move NATO forces into Ukraine itself to counter Russian aggression. That's exactly what I mean; so stupid (and primitive), a ten year-old would come up with the same 'advice' within seconds. 

Edit: I'm fully aware that even if they tried, they couldn't get the public to support the strategy. Western politicians can't do bluffs of this scale well. And again, that's my point: They're incapable, incompetent - but they still want to play the game. There's no von Bismarck anywhere, but it would take one to succeed.


  1. To be fair, Obama isnt a chess player; He's more of a golfer and uni lecturer or general speaker (he'll give bill clinton a run for his money). The rest of the west have been effective in global chess in a couple of centuries. Putin is only good at global chess because he, and russia generally, is arrested developmentally by several centuries when empire minded geo political chess was more liberally found. In general the west is just too weighed down by democratic considerations like a free-spirited young man transforming into a beleagured and emotionally and psychologically drained family man of several children fantasizing about his ol sports car whilst driving the family van to another PAC meeting.

  2. Er, last post missed negation. Context makes it evident. Damn old android tablet. XD

  3. I am recoiling at this as you suggest. It is certainly not in the national interest of the West to join in on such a scheme. However, Georgia and Germany have always been close. Perhaps someone in Berlin might like the idea?

  4. Blaming the US for ISIS rather misses the point that ISIS was born in a nation the US didnt topple the government of.
    The MORE US intervention, the less the "arab spring", not the opposite.
    The US friendly gulf states and Iraq are the only Arab governments still standing.

    Thats not to say that the Iraq intervention was sensible, but theres little reason to believe Sadam would be doing better than Assad or Malaki at keeping ISIS under control. Sadam might even be fighting a two front war, against ISIS and Iranian backed militias in the south.

    Your plan for Ukraine lacks reality,
    Putin could afford to lose ten to fifteen thousand Russians fighting in The Donestk, Abkhazi and South Ossestian Peoples Republics, especially if he wins

    EUrope cant.
    Now that the US has gone home NATO is a joke, the idea that Spain and France are going to rush armies to the blood bath that would be the battle of Berlin is laughable. I dont believe Germany would fight for Western Poland, never mind Ukraine.

    What forces would you deploy for this punch up in Georgia? The UK is the most deployable EU force, we can fight a Division level combat in West Germany, a Brigade level anywhere with US logistical support or Battlegroup level anywhere without.
    I dont think Putin will be losing sleep over a British Battlegroup landing in Georgia.
    Perhaps Ive misread the logistical situation in Germany, but the last I heard you could barely maintain intercept cover over Germany.

    The problem is not that the EU is trying to play Great Power Games, its trying to play Hard Power games with soft power.

    If the EU wants to put Putin back in his box, its going to have to double defence spending just to provide the forces it already has with the out of area operations capabilities the US is withdrawing.

    And somehow square the EUrope problem, at the height of the Cold War, most of EUropes commitment to the defence of EUrope was paper thin at best, Spain might have engaged Russia in the South of France...

    1. You began with an error; ISIS originates in the resistance against U.S. occupation of Iraq; it goes back to the group that provoked the 'Anbar awakening'.

      The other parts miss the point; I didn't claim the plan was realistic. I actually pointed at it being unrealistic because the Western leaders want to play games, but are incompetent at it.
      A Bismarck would easily be able to pull off the plan (but would come up with a better one).

      "If the EU wants to put Putin back in his box, its going to have to double defence spending"

      This reminds me of
      No matter how much I bring forward evidence that Europe pays more than enough for military affairs, you come up with the idea that it doesn't.
      Russia is the country that doesn't spend 'enough' on its military, and Putin can still play games because nobody calls his bluff. Bulgaria has more military power than Putin has brought to bear on the Ukraine.

      "And somehow square the EUrope problem, at the height of the Cold War, most of EUropes commitment to the defence of EUrope was paper thin at best (...)"

      Again, you're impervious to evidence. The non-Europeans in NATO (USA and Canada) provided only a small minority of the forces facing off the Warsaw Pact. More than half of the United States' military spending during the Cold War was irrelevant for the Cold War in Europe; USN/USMC, Vietnam, CONUS defence, SAC, Korea...I mentioned the small American contribution to Defence in Central Europe more than once, and you surely saw that.

    2. Nar, ISIS is currently being shot by the awakening councils.
      It was their support that collapsed Iraq so quickly, but they didnt found ISIS, and are very unhappy with its methods, vis a vis beheading the tribal leaders of the Awakening.
      But as I say, the intervention was stupid, regardless of what perceived gains were made
      For the cost of the war the US could have paid Sadam to wear Apollo Creed Undies

      "Bulgaria has more military power than Putin has brought to bear on the Ukraine."
      The difference is Putin can employ his power elsewhere. And thats the issue I'm getting at.

      Its all well and good to have an armoured division, but if it cant get to the battle field, its useless, and EUrope simply is not capable of deploying a coherent, capable force.
      Well, Ive certainly never read anything that says Germany can support a Division level force fighting a war in Eastern Poland. If I'm wrong and there is a plan to rush Spanish Tanks to Riga, complete with ammunition, fuel, and workshops required to keep them fighting, Id love to read it.

      "Again, you're impervious to evidence. The non-Europeans in NATO (USA and Canada) provided only a small minority of the forces facing off the Warsaw Pact."
      Maybe, maybe not, but the Warsaw pact ended a long time ago.
      The front line has moved 1200km east, more if you want the front lines to be Donetsk and South Ossetia.
      Has the German Army moved 1200km east?
      The British Army hasnt.
      The US army nearly did, but Obama buckled and didnt base forces in Poland.

      I simply have seen no evidence that says EUrope has any realistic plans to fight a war further east than NATO planned to.

      Those plans, and the resources to back them up, are what I think EUrope would have to double its spending to buy.
      Putin has no plans to cross the Rhine, and thats about all the EU can stop him doing.
      Dont get me wrong, if Putin pushed west EUropes armed forces would crush Russia, but he wont, and we simply can not go east to get him.

      Which, again, is my point.

    3. TrT, you mistake what is being done for what's possible.

      Germany could easily deploy the entire mobilized Heer (much more than active service strength) into Eastern Poland within a few weeks and sustain it there. The only actual issue would be a period of a couple weeks after the first weeks during which (assuming high consumption rate) ammunition production and stocks would be an issue.
      The sustainment of such a force is a piece of cake with millions of available trucks.

      There's just no motivation for this kind of effort.
      Politicians want to play games, but they lack the skill (including the skill to motivate for great power games).

    4. SO: "You began with an error; ISIS originates in the resistance against U.S. occupation of Iraq; it goes back to the group that provoked the 'Anbar awakening'."


      This is incorrect: the proper origins of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is al Qaeda: which has always been about the restoration of the Caliphate and implementation of the principle tenets of Qutbism.

      The 2003 invasion of Iraq did not create al Qaeda, but the mismanagement of the occupation certainly did give rise to the expansion of al Qaeda into Iraq (AQI).

      It is also possible to claim that the EU support for the repressive regime of Bashar Assad created the conditions for civil war in Syria, which in turn allowed for the creation of ISIS/ISIL
      from AQI fighters who were pushed into Syria by MNFI.

      In the end, the only thing that matters is that this latest incarnation of Muslim extremism is well funded, effective, and violent.


    5. You're nitpicking the exact meaning of "originates".

      What matters is first and foremost that IS/ISIS is backlash for the Iraq invasion 2003. People in the West need to learn this lesson, or else they will keep making stupid mistakes as in 2003.
      IS/ISIS is overrated and not much of a problem.

      As a German, I will stay 100% calm about them till the NATO ally Turkey calls for help specifically against IS aggression.
      It makes sense for Turks to be more concerned, but for the average Westerner is the IS merely the equivalent of a truck rolling over and spilling beer bottles onto the road a few times a week: A news story without actual relevance for Westerners.

    6. Sven,

      What matters is that ISIS/ISIL has the same ideology and objectives as Al Qaeda (which it traces its direct roots to):

      1) Ejection of U.S forces from the Arabian peninsula as a prelude to...

      2) The restoration of an Islamic Caliphate and implementation of Sharia law as a prelude to...

      3) The harnessing of oil revenue (the greatest wealth transfer in the history of man) to promote Islamic expansion through war; first through the destruction of Israel; then throughout Europe; and ultimately global domination.

      You can talk about nit picking all you want; but this creature called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is same as its grandfather al Qaeda save it is more violent, and is more comfortable with genocide and mass slaughter than anything articulated by Osama Bin Laden.

      As to waiting for Turkey to call for EU aide; the Iraq was far more secular than the Turkish state and is likely to fall into ethno-sectarian conflict as the rest of the Middle East.

      If the EU does not wake up to the reality of this threat and stop blaming the U.S. for 60-years of radical Islamic hatred created by madrassas in Pakistan and funded by Saudi Arabia; it will find itself in a worse position than in 1453.


  5. "within a few weeks"
    If only the other side could be relied upon to give us those weeks.

    The UK has 90 tank transporters. Its a full day to load, travel 1200km, unload and return.
    90 tanks or 180 other armoured vehicles per day (not sure where SPGs fit, they are big, if not very heavy)
    And that assumes no roads are closed by enemy action, fleeing refugees or advancing allies.

    There are 1350 tracked vehicles in 1st armoured, two weeks if all goes perfectly,
    If they attack on day three or four, whats already been moved to the front will be overwhelmed and the war lost before its began.

    The British army of today is no more road mobile than it was 50 years ago, considerably less so really, and yet the front line is 6x the distance away.

    In a total war, you might get away with "millions of trucks", but would the German populace tolerate super markets running out of bread because the army has nationalised the haulage wagons to move shells and sleeping bags to Poland?
    Over a border dispute?

    Of course you might not get away with it.
    The last Franco-German punch up officially last 43days, but ten of those were the French arguing over who was going to surrender, and for the ten before that the writing was pretty much on the wall, trying to stave off a total collapse rather than actually win.

    And this is just the easiest of your three pronged approach, transporting that same division to Ukraine or Georgia would take much much longer.

    How many heavy tank transporters does Germany have?

    1. A mobilization of civilian trucking potential doesn't cause civilian supply issues. All you'd need to do is get additional drivers to drive a couple % of the trucks almost 24/7 instead of enforcing rest periods on single driver trucks. 5-10% of our 20 ton trucks would easily suffice to supply the entire military thousands of km away.

      Tank transporters are a luxury, not a necessity. Administrative marches can be done without semi trailer or railway trailer. Modern MBTs have components of thousands of km durability, and maintenance is fairly quick (compared to WW2, and even then 150-250 km road marches weren't uncommon).

      It's all a question of motivation, not of technical stuff. We could build a Gizeh pyramid every week in Germany at easily bearable expense, it's just that we don't want any at home.

      Now pay attention to the point; politicians want to play games, but they are incompetent at it and their team is disinterested. They still keep trying, and that's plain wrong.

    2. SO,

      Your comment on mobilization of civilian trucking is noteworthy: perhaps Germany could pull this off, but there is no way the USA could.

      In spite of a massive trucking network, our economic model has shifted to just in time delivery. We would start to run out of food stuffs supermarket goods in 3-4 days.

      I am rather surprised that western Europe maintains a warehouse infrastructure that enables mas mobilization of the trucking industry.

    3. The industry uses the just in time approach, but combined supermarket and private household stocks would easily last a week.

      Neither is important though: What matters is the capacity in mass*distance, which isn't even close to being exploited fully. It's cost-efficient to exploit the trucks below potential and to exploit the drivers up to (regulation-restricted) potential.
      Slightly different regulations would near-instantly make much more road transportation capacity available for military purposes than could possibly be required.

  6. Well it looks like we are about to find out if we can do it and how long it will take to get there as our very own 10 year old in Downing Street is apparently about to announce the deployment of 10000 NATO troops to Ukraine this week . yay

  7. Sven,
    The logic while sound assumes that parties in control actually care about anything beyond their immediate re-election. The inherent weaknesses of democracies as opposed to a pseudo-autocracy like Putin's government is that they are immediately accountable to their populace. Any change in the comfort levels due to a people suffering "far" away and a modern legislator loses his/her post!

    Your strategy is interesting and deserves merit for its creativity, but you fail to take into account how badly it can be perceived in Russia. It will be seen as a direct threat to Russian interests and will lead to the circling of the wagons there, the government is not a liberal minded democracy like the rest of us, it is led by a strong man whose externalization of conflicts will give him increasing and more consolidated power at home. Remember his ascendancy to power, the brutal crackdowns in Grozny and the apartment bombings that preceded it. He will use any and all military moves by the west as a sign to escalate the conflict. This is unaffordable by the EU as they have significant total trading interests as well as an important energy dependance on Russia. Gazprom had no issue in reducing gas supplies to the whole of west Europe over a conflict with Ukraine over gas pricing once, whats to say that has changed? Not to sound gauche but Winter is coming!


    1. I have observed some of the Russian propaganda; an emigrated Russian who writes in German offers a quite impressive window to this, for example. The "circling the wagon" has already happened, their perception of reality differs completely from ours. It's quite Orwellian - the same events or words get a 180° different meaning there.
      Putin's actions and propaganda have thus dissolved concerns about whether Russians might be appalled by some Western actions: By now their propaganda is appalled by everything, and it appears that most of them believe said propaganda.

      It's not clear yet whether winter helps or hurts Putin. A mild winter might make Russian gas completely unnecessary, for example.
      We've already had gas-firing power plants cease to operate this year for cost reasons, and they've simply been replaced by other capacities.

  8. The gas weapon is less than most perceive, simply because it costs Russia a lot to pull the trigger, but its not really the point.

    What's EUropes end game here?
    We demand the dissolution of the Donbass Republic and the absorption of its lands by Ukraine?
    And punish Russia if the DR refuses?

    I deeply dislike Putin and strongly believe continental Europe needs to step up its plans for a conflict against Russia.

    But this is a bad issue to have picked a fight over and it was a bad time to pick it.
    And like it or not, we picked this fight by preparing to admit Ukraine to the EU.

  9. http://weaponsman.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/MBTnumbersdwindledownwards001.jpg
    According to an admittedly very poor source, the UK has only 36 operable tanks.

    The rest are inoperable, for routine servicing? Maybe, but that seems unlikely, if the work could be done it probably would have, although the tankers were diverted to MRAP driving and servicing,
    If its spares, it could be bad, like we need 300 different spare parts, one per tank, or it could be really really bad, like we need 300 new gear boxes, and the factory can only build 30 a month at peak output.

    Who knows how many of our IFVs, APCs, SPGs, and CVR(T)s are operable.

    There was something very similar about the German airforce recently.