Si vis pacem para bellum. If you want peace prepare for war. These words might sum up the gargantuan sense of determination and long-term investment on the part of the West in undertaking the levels of economic transformation necessary to prevail in a long-term territorial, political, military and ideological struggle with Russia. Russia herself has been undergoing a transformation of this kind. Russia has been experiencing a Keynesian economic boom of a kind, as government instructions and commandeering of Russia’s key industrial production to wartime ends has resulted in increased military manufacturing output, increased labour force opportunities and hence higher wages. That is because large swathes of the Russian economy are now directed towards sustaining the war effort, something that Russia has calculated she can continue to pay for in the medium to long term by reason of continued hydrocarbon sales to countries not applying sanctions, in particular India and China. Notwithstanding President Putin’s recent pre-election denials in his December 2023 “state of the Union” speech to the Russian people, the potential exists for virtually unlimited conscription of Russian soldiers in waves of hundreds of thousands of people over the coming months and even years. Likewise Russian production of military vehicles, armour, supplies to soldiers, ammunition, artillery, cheaper missiles and drones has been ramped up to maintain the existing logistics supply lines into Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory virtually indefinitely. Russian soldiers are now battle-hardened, having had almost two years of solid fighting experience, and the Russian Armed Forces are now a serious force to be reckoned with which is why the summer / Autumn 2023 Ukrainian Armed Forces much-vaunted “counter offensive” has not yielded significant results.
This presents an existential risk to the European polity which now includes all the member states of NATO and the European Union. The Russian media has been boasting openly that once Ukraine has been overcome in a war of attrition, Poland will be next. It is not clear that Poland is taking the necessary steps to rearm although her Foreign Minister has recently called for it. But the fact remains that to meet this existential threat of one of the world’s largest armies and hydrocarbon exporters engaging in a massive exercise in rearmament and development of a potentially overwhelming military-industrial complex in which a Russian invasion of the European continent can be sustained indefinitely through a massive infrastructure of production facilities across the world’s largest countries delivering lethal and nonlethal supplies to the European front line thousands of kilometres away for as long as it takes to achieve whatever Russian war aims really are in seeking to recreate a modern Soviet Union and/or a “Warsaw Pact” eastern European bloc of countries under Russian-Soviet domination is a threat the enormity of which has to be actively countered and this will involve all NATO member states massively increasing their military spending and the size of their armies. Otherwise we risk being overrun by the Russian Armed Forces in Europe and this jeopardises our civilisation, our values and our liberties.
Hence we face the grizzly prospect of NATO states’ rearmament at least to Cold War levels and possibly even to higher levels than that, as we face down the danger faced by a fully rearmed Russia that had redirected her entire economy on a command economy basis to produce military supplies to conduct an invasion of Europe. It is not just a matter of NATO troops entering Ukraine as peacekeepers, something we have already considered as a necessary precondition of bringing even the conflict in Ukraine even to a tenuous ceasefire. Rather a long-term mobilisation of all NATO armed forces will be necessary to face down over a period of years or even decades the prospect of a reinvigorated Russian Empire with many millions of troops at her disposal. Without the institutions of democracy to act as an effective constraint upon her militaristic ambitions; and with access to some of the best and most cost-effective military hardware in the world that together with her allies in Iran and North Korea she has been building up over the twenty years under the premiership of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia is now by far the most dangerous country in the world.
The Russian Armed Forces currently stand at some 1.32 million active service personnel, with a further 2 million reservists. This does not include the National Guard of the Russian Federation, a sort of internal military force used to quell national security incidents and with an estimated membership of 400,000; the Ministry of Civil Emergencies, another internal paramilitary organisation with an estimated 80,000 troops; and the FSB (the Federal Security Service, Russia’s secret police who also increasingly operate abroad and in particular in occupied Ukraine) who effectively operate as a military institution and whose precise numbers are unknown (possibly even by the Russian government) but on any account exceed 300,000 (including the Russian State Border Service all of whose members are FSB employees). In other words, Russia is one of the most militarised countries in the world, if not the most militarised. The Chinese army is often cited as the largest army in the world, with some 2 million active service personnel; but once the various branches of the Russian military not normally counted in the numbers, such as the National Guard and the FSB, are included, Russia may be running an extremely close second. Moreover in proportion to population size, it cannot be doubted that Russia’s military personnel numbers are truly extraordinary.
Further, the capacity of the Russian government’s totalitarian methods to recruit ever larger numbers of Russian males into the various branches of the Russian military render the propensity for military expansionism on the part of the Russian Federation ever likelier, just as by unilateral decree Russia’s President-for-life Vladimir Putin can commandeer Russia’s extensive industrial facilities to increase exponentially the manufacture of arms, armour and munitions. Indeed that is what we have seen Russia doing gradually since the most recent Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and that is what we can expect to continue. We have seen this before; it was the policy adopted by Josef Stalin in response to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and eventually the Soviet Union overcame the Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union and indeed pushed the Nazis out of eastern Europe and arrived at the gates of Berlin in May 1945, only to be stopped by the Allied Forces who had likewise been engaging in a massive build-up both of military personnel and production capacities in order to be able to provide effective deterrence and if necessary armed resistance to the threat of continued Russian expansion of their occupation of Europe. In recent state-sanctioned Russian media reports, provocative questions are being asked as to whether it is worth it for the Russian Armed Forces to proceed as far as Lisbon. That was the thinking of Stalin in 1945 and it is the thinking of Putin in late 2023 and the only way to prevent it is massive remobilisation of the NATO member states in both terms of military personnel and military production.
This may entail mandatory conscription or national service for NATO member states. It will certainly entail NATO member states increasing the current commitment to spend 2% of GDP on their armed forces. That may have to increase by 50% or even more. Investment in production and research of military equipment on land, sea and in the air will all be essential. In the West we have been lax over the past 20 years in investing in the research and development necessary to conduct symmetric ground wars which is what the current Russian threat to Europe entails. We have been investing in technology and personnel appropriate to the asymmetric warfare in which we immersed ourselves in the past twenty years, such as the extended conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. We developed counter-insurgency (COIN) strategies to maintain control of countries or regions whose official governments we supported and that were riven with complex ethno-nationalist rivalries that resulted in significant armed resistance to official regimes. All this expertise and investment, that favoured smaller groups of highly-trained soldiers with specialist equipment to outgun ragtag militias and other ill-trained groups, turns out to be of little use in the contemporary conflict with Russia that is an old-fashioned ground war in which strength lies in numbers and supply chains rather than sophisticated equipment. A great deal of it is economics; an Iranian Shaheed combat drone, essentially a high explosive warhead with wings and a small engine guided by a joystick and using mobile ‘phone masts for navigation over ranges of hundreds of kilometres, costs US$20,000 yet using conventional contemporary air defence systems to shoot one down may cost hundreds of thousands of US dollars. Russia in her contemporary military philosophy understands this type of calculus and so does Ukraine which is why her armed forces and now engaged in the process of shooting down Shaheed drones with General Purpose Machine Guns strapped to the back of pick-up trucks, aided by gigantic halogen lamps shone into the sky in a style reminiscent of World War II movies. The West has not caught up with styles in modern symmetric warfare which is distinctly regressive in technological terms.
Hence NATO member states, and the West more generally, need to downgrade their focus upon sophisticated high-tech equipment that costs huge amounts to produce even on top of the phenomenal research and development costs. The war in Ukraine is not an air war by reason of technological advances in hypersonic ballistic missile technology that mean that even the world’s best combat aircraft can be casually shot out of the skies by Russian surface-to-air missiles that, travelling up to Mach 14, trivially outpace the world’s fastest combat fighters. Hence development of the mind-bogglingly expensive F-35 fighter with the benefit of hindsight suddenly seems rather irrelevant for the purposes of the symmetric warfare with which we are now engaged in our struggle with the Russian Federation over the European continental landmass. Instead what we need is a massive army at the ready and on each and every border of Russia, including in Ukrainian theatre, together with land-based armour and equipment, and in particular our tanks that are superior but produced in vastly greater numbers than they are now; hugely improved logistical capacity; enormous increments in the numbers of missiles that are located in Eastern Europe so as to deter further Russian aggression; substantial increase in the sophistication and solidity of the front line between the two sides within Ukraine; and placing similar ground-based blockades to Russian military advancement along Russia’s other borders with European countries. In short we need a new Iron Curtain to prevent Russian invasion and further occupation of Europe at every turn, and we need a comprehensive new regime of logistics, military personnel recruitment and production facilities in order to achieve this. The entirety of this structure needs to be fortified with reinforced naval capacity, an area in which Russia is notoriously weak. A strong NATO-led naval presence can be used to surround an encircle Russia and to leave her increasingly isolated internationally, as we sanctions and blockade her ports.
The only way to bring the Russian invasion of Ukraine and her ongoing publicly stated threat to invade the remainder of Europe from Poland to Lisbon is to bring her to her knees economically and that will require naval blockades at every opportunity. We also need to start catching up with Russia immediately in her transformation of her entire administrative structure to direct a contemporary war economy. In short, we need to do the same so that NATO member states are in a position effectively to deter further Russian military advances. We are behind Russia whose armed forces are increasingly effective due to their combat experience in symmetrical warfare, something NATO troops are lacking. We need to start catching up now and this will have profound consequences for all of our societies in the West as we reintroduce national service obligations and government starts investing ever more heavily in military production and logistics. We have no choice but to do this because the foreign policy logic of the Russian Federation - and this is why a powerful Russia is so dangerous - is simply to keep pushing and taking ever more territory, regardless of international law, lives lost or anything else - until she meets overwhelming resistance and the threat of total destruction. By reason of this nihilistic aggression that has always existed in Russian foreign policy we are once again engaged in a second Cold War and we must use all our means to undermine Russia’s self-perceived military superiority by building up our own military might to rival and exceed that of Russia’s. In short, Europe will once again become an armed camp.