Non-nuclear escalation risks

I am biased towards reading German sources and secondarily English sources when it comes to history, military affairs, politics et cetera - simply because I am German. I can read French, Spanish, Dutch and Swedish a little, but it's tiresome and I don't understand most details in such texts. 

This means I am somewhat above global average under impression of the phenomenon that pre-war allies or early wartime allies switch sides. Sometimes I do some side blows on Italy for this reason. No German should consider Italy as allied if history was a reliable predictor of the future.

Well, this topic is finally a bit in fashion these days, because (suspected) Russian subversion efforts are perceived as more successful than (perceived, and in part real) Soviet subversion efforts of the Cold War era. The idea that certain countries would not want to honour their article 5 North Atlantic Treaty obligations* has entered the realm of debatable topics.

The practical consequences of this are very messy. Plans would need to be drawn up for collective defence that treat all unreliable allies' armed forces as uncertain luxury.

It gets even worse if one country was under suspicion of switching sides in the event of war, kind of what Italy did in 1914/15. This is a most unreliable case, but also a terrible one. Potentially hostile mobilised armed forces worth 150,000 personnel could not be tolerated in NATO's rear. To properly keep them in check would require more than 150,000 personnel for the entire duration of the conflict - an unacceptable diversion of military strength for a weakened alliance. A coup de main (quick invasion and disarmament, from multiple directions) with or without a later occupation by non-frontline forces would be thinkable**. This would require maybe twice as many forces, but only so for few weeks. It could be a prelude to a counteroffensive to liberate territory occupied by Russia.

To eliminate the armed forces of an ally that's perceived as a threat is a ridiculous idea in our time, and would be highly illegal. Still, I have little doubt it would be considered as a scenario once the clouds darkened enough to make the now still ridiculous idea of a NATO-Russia war reality.

It gets even more messy if one thinks of the potential for subversion inside Russia. Russia is still a multi-ethnic country and could face sponsored insurgencies in many places once its armed forces are busy elsewhere. This could hugely add to the misery caused by a NATO-Russia war.

Another diversion effort against Russia could happen at secondary fronts. The Caucasus region as a whole could descend into war with Georgia taking Abchasia and South Ossetia and Armenia fighting against Azerbaijan again.

I like to think that a conflict between great powers would either be fought through proxies with little direct involvement of the great powers' forces or as a short & quick limited war designed to prevent escalation beyond a region.

Sadly, there's much potential for escalation. An unlikely nuclear escalation isn't the only terrible scenario.


P.S.: I know it would have been more politically correct to talk of red country, blue alliance, orange country et cetera. I wasn't in the mood for such chiffres.

*: Like the U.S. routinely doesn't honour its article 1 North Atlantic Treaty obligations
**: The most intelligent reaction by the government under attack would be to stand down its forces, agree to disarmament in return for a withdrawal of all invaders' forces within a few weeks. To surrender one's arms can sometimes serve the own nation's sovereignty and security better than to fight with them.


  1. Surrendering ones arms on the promise of being left alone presupposes a quite bit of trust in either the invader or some other guarantor, and Crimea reminds us that trust needs to be well founded.

    1. You seem to imply that a small power surrounded by NATO could in some way defend itself against NATO, That's practically impossible, of course.

      Such a small power government should consider its armed services (particularly its heavy arms) as bargaining chips. Bargaining chips that melt away rapidly. The later you trade them the worse the odds for a good negotiation outcome.

      Ideally such a government would trade away its heavy arms & munitions for public security guarantees and a quick withdrawal gaurantee. This eliminates whatever threat the country would have posed in the rear as a potential ally to NATO's enemies and it comes at practically no cost.
      The utility of the armed services in such a situation wouldn't be in combat effectiveness (they would lose anyway), but in providing bargaining chips. The armed services would protect their country not by fighting (except maybe for buying time), but by giving up threat potential.

      Trust or not - to surrender heavy arms even before an invasion happens (but after a concentration for invasion happened) would be the best course of action. It would be bloodless, avoid invasion, cost nothing and most likely protect sovereignty.

      The entire scenario of NATO attacking a small current NATO member is extremely ugly and remote, of course.