European and Russian military capability

I've had a draft text titled "The wet paper bag delusion" for months, in which I (again) hammered on the stupid notion that Europe couldn't defend itself, or rather bashed those who profess such bullocks in public.
Such a topic provokes some not very nice lines, and I held it on draft status ever since.

The problem with this bollocks is very, very fundamental; people don't think much before they talk (or write) and don't grasp that military power is relative. Now if Europe couldn't fight its way out of a figurative wet paper bag, then it should be noted that there isn't even such a thing as a trace of a wet paper bag anywhere close to Europe.

A Swedish effort to quantify the military power of Russia has been published recently (nobody really thinks that Arab armies are a threat to Europe, right?).

FOI, Hedenskog et al, 2013
(the English version used to be here, now one is here)

Some results (page 58):
The Russian army could have in action in the Western part of Russia
in the first week: 5 brigades + 1 airborne brigade
additionally after one month: 6 brigades + 1 airborne division
additionally after 6 months: 5 brigades + 2 airborne divisions

I suppose it's unnecessary to compare this to the military strength of European NATO or the EU.
The party which couldn't defend itself here is Russia/Belarus, period.
The "wet paper bag" talk only serves one purpose; we can easily identify some people who totally don't deserve our attention.
Pay attention; some of those uselessly blathering folks employ a very polished, "serious people" style (though no substance) to fool others into believing that they're great thinkers.

The actual military power of the allied European continental countries is so overpowering in relation to any conceivable threat that there's no need for bigger budgets, or for a feeling of insecurity. 

We should rather recognize this excellent national and collective security situation and push for some reforms and experiments which we probably won't do any more if we come under pressure. This is a time when we can afford a couple failed experiments. Let's build experimental formations, allocate resources to experimental free-play exercises - now we can still spare a few brigades' combat readiness.



  1. I don't know much about this, but how do you rate the survival of the EU into the future? Do you think the EU will continue to centralize into a single state/nation?

    1. Attempts to predict the future are usually bad ideas.

      It's noteworthy that the EU still needs to learn that making a step backwards may be a good idea if the step forward was made into a wrong direction.
      The correction of mistakes is not really built into the system so far, and this accumulates problem pressures.

  2. Great post. Thanks for the link.

    I believe that 2 aspects have to be added to the analysis.

    1. The bulk of financing in the case of Russian rearmament goes towards strategic forces, airspace defence and the navy.
    The use of all those is to prevent the liberation of Russia by NATO or in the case of the navy to prevent or delay other liberation operations like the one which was successfully blocked in Syria.
    Conventional forces are getting modernized but are not growing. Mobility is increasing.
    Those are getting prepared for small to medium scale conflicts against various irregular NATO forces like the former Georgian army or various Salafi brigades which might operate around Russian frontiers.
    2. Russia is changing but we won't see huge developments there.
    If we look at the western frontier of the RF the big changes are not taking place on the Russian side.
    ( For example Russia became the 2nd European autovehicle manufacturer.
    A significant increase took place in this sector in Russia, but the main factor was the meltdown of European autovehicle manufacturing - except Germany.
    Using the metric from the article the conclusion would have been incorrect. )
    I expect that those trends will continue.
    The continuous deindustrialization of Europe plus the political and social strain generated by the increased unemployment and creeping poverty will change the face of the EU.
    Our economy(industry) is going through a Soviet style compression so changes are going to take place on our side. The process is already started and is only gaining momentum and spreading around.


  3. Re EU discussion:

    People often confuse the EU and the monetary union. It should be clear that the EU is for the militry discussion the important one. I see a backscaling of the EMU as a real possibility, in contrast, the EU will grow or at least stagnate.

    The basic problem IMHO is, that France and UK, which both would like to have a full spectrum force in order to maintain political freedom, are not longer able to pay for this ambition. Cooperation within the EU or at least "outsourcing" of some capabilities, here nuclaer systems come to mind, could be a solution.


    1. The ability to pay for the military is largely dependent on the motivation.
      The Blair government has done a lot to drive down the perception of the British military's utility among the British.
      To spend billions more on the military only to expect some more stupid wars helping the Americans looks less promising than trying to deal with domestic issues.

      The French situation is relatively unstable; very much depends on their unpredictable economic growth in the next years.

  4. I have some issues with this piece. The most important one is the mistake of considering EU to be one single unit. It isn’t and it especially isn’t when it comes to defense. I therefore agree that Europe collectively is stronger than Russia, but I also consider it to be quite irrelevant. The case is somewhat different with NATO, but only in the sense that the United States is behind the alliance. Without the United States NATO would just be a skeleton.

    What will happen if Russia should get into an armed conflict with another European country – say Estonia? The most likely scenario would be that the EU would quickly become divided. I hardly consider that to a controversial statement since that has been the case in every armed conflict (Kosovo, Iraq, Libya) in the past 20-30 years. On one hand a Russian aggression would constitute a grave threat against European security. On the other hand there is a distinct difference between fighting insurgents in the Middle East and fighting a European great power armed with missiles, tanks and planes. Russia could easily complicate matters even more if they managed to keep the armed conflict short in duration (the war in Georgia lasted for only a week) and at the same time portray it as a purely defensive humanitarian operation.

    I would like to add that I don’t consider the risk of war in Europe to be great. I also consider Russian use of armed force far more likely in Central Asia and Caucasus than in Europe. At the same time Russia still maintains a fairly large military presence in The Western Military District and has recently deployed Iskander-missiles to Kaliningrad. Russian military exercises like “Zapad 2009” are unnecessarily provocative and clearly aimed at Poland and the Baltic countries.

    1. The Lisbon Treaty has a collective defence (defensive alliance) provision. Even countries such as Sweden and Austria are strongly demanded to assist Estonia if it's being invaded. Much stronger wording than known from the North Atlantic Treaty.

      You see the info above about Russian strength and still the wet paper bag narrative is so strong in you that you cannot but call the European NATO (including three great powers and two nuclear powers) a "skeleton".
      You should search your soul on how much irrationality controls your opinion.
      Russia is a "cartilage" if European NATO is a "skeleton".

      You seem to have an innate dislike for European weakness, or in other words: You have ambitions for European military strength which go far, far beyond what's necessary for defence.

      At the end of your comment you had won the cognitive dissonance struggle and ignored again the bits of information provided by the blog post: "At the same time Russia still maintains a fairly large military presence in The Western Military District"
      No, it doesn't.

      I agree with one opinion, though: A coup de main on Estonia is possible because of its size, winter and its peripheral location.

      That's not about European military power, though; the problem is rather that most of said power could not react within a week. Almost all U.S. military power is irrelevant during such a coup de main for the same reason.

    2. there won't be any ground invasion of estonia. at most nato radar installations will get hit and some planes shot down. putin doesn't want estonia as part of russia, yet. maybe in 2030 years and through sheer political action.

  5. You seem to be very busy assigning me personal characteristics, even though you hardly know me. So to be clear: I am not in favor of a massive European rearmament and the problems with Russia should be handled by politicians and diplomats before anything else. My main disagreement with you is, however, this: Just to count units and military strength only tells you so much. The Lissabon Treaty is nothing more than a piece of paper and the EU has no – I repeat – no defense capability. To claim anything else is nothing more than daydreaming. The EU doesn’t even have a military headquarter that I know of, so who exactly should coordinate a military response? NATO (or more precisely the United States) has a strong defense capability, but collective defense doesn’t mean the same in 2014 as it did in 1989. Some NATO-members are trying to return to collective defense, others prefer to engage in overseas operation and others just try to save money on defense. NATO is hardly united and the United States has made it clear it prefers to focus on Asia.

    1. A common military HQ for an alliance in peacetime as known from NATO and Warsaw Pact is a historical exception anyway. It's utterly normal if allied countries do not maintain such a thing. It's enough to coordinate plans for the first weeks of war only.

    2. The Lisbon Treaty collective defence provision (article 42) is far from as iron clad as you suggest. As you used the Swedes as an example, I must ask, what do you know of Swedish defence policy? The Swedes themselves often point out that 1) the last paragraph of article 42.7 gives them the right to continue their nonaligned policy, and 2) they are free to define “aid and assistance” however they please; meaning: Sweden can choose to offer military support, or they can choose to offer diplomatic and non-military material support.
      Lisbon treaty article 42.7:
      “If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.”

      Furthermore, If Michael Shurkin is correct in his RAND report (The Abilities of the British, French, and German Armies to Generate and Sustain Armored Brigades in the Baltics) and the “first week” capacity of the three great powers are confined to Armoured Battalion Battlegroups. Doesn’t that weaken your argument? You claim it is unnecessary to compare Russian military strength with EU military strength, you should never make that assumption. No one doubt or disagree that EU member states employ around 1,8 million men and women in uniform. What many doubt and disagree over is how many battalions and brigades can be fielded from those 1,8 million soldiers.

      That said, I agree with what you write on experimentality: “This is a time when we can afford a couple failed experiments. Let's build experimental formations, allocate resources to experimental free-play exercises - now we can still spare a few brigades' combat readiness.” It was a good assessment in 2014, and it is still, more or less, a good assessment in 2018.

    3. Sometimes governments have their own selective interpretation of treaties they're members in. The Americans and British ignore article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty, for example. Sweden and Austria ignore the "by all means in their power" part of article 42.

      You should look at the North Atlantic Treaty and how fuzzy article 5 really is. Article 42 is super-precise by comparison.

      About Baltic invasion:
      I've written again and again that Europe has more than enough military power for defence (and doesn't need more military spending), but it's ill-prepared to bring enough to bear in the first week (and tripwire forces are bollocks). Hence the relatively nearby Germany should focus on quickly deployable army forces (enough tank transporters for tracked vehicles, enough pontoon bridging to get past Oder and Vistula).

  6. I have read the NATO treaty and it is indeed fussy, but the fact that it is a military alliance compensate a great deal for the fussiness of said language. Yes, governments quite often ignore international commitments, but the neutral EU members was quite adamant that no Lisbon treaty or CSDP would be ratified if it rendered their neutrality obsolete. In other words, the treaty includes a legal opt out for Ireland, Finland Sweden and Austria.

    My take, unless our militaries can react, mobilise and deploy within a week, Russia might very well establish a fait accompli - Investing in necessary mobility will be very costly and I don’t see that as possible without spending more - but now you are moving the goal post. In the blog post you state “The party which couldn't defend itself here is Russia/Belarus, period.” Now you say we lack necessary mobility to react and bring necessary combat power to a crisis area in a timely fashion. Meaning: Europe is unable to defend itself today, but we might be able to take responsibility for European defence in the future, assuming we invest in logistic enablers.

    Thanks for the response. Thou I disagree with some of your takes, I appreciate being challenged by an opposing view. Especially as military blogs tend to be Anglos-Saxon and overly naval focused.

    1. I don't see any goalpost-moving at all.

      Europe /NATO cannot deal well with a surprise attack and is weak in the first few weeks of conflict.
      In a longer conventional conflict (2+ months) the Russians would stand no chance.
      This fits together. Part of the deterrence challenge is to convince the Russians that they cannot limit war to a coup de main in the Baltics.