Ever since the Korean War, the Western Ideal War has been short, simple and ideally very low in casualties. The footprint must be minimal, the objective must be achieved at once and withdrawal should soon follow. From this point of view, the Falklands was pretty much an ideal war, while Iraq, Afghanistan and Algeria were not. This view of the ideal war has slipped so much into our mindset that we assume all other nation-states share the same ideal. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. Indeed, it is a dangerous weakness to assume that other states will let us call the tune.
Russia is in the news these days, so it’s probably worth taking a look at what the Russians consider an ideal war. Like many other states, Russia has both chosen war and had war forced upon it. The former have several things in common.
-The Russians have always picked on someone smaller than themselves. On the face of it, Finland, Czechoslovakia, Georgia and Afghanistan should not have been able to pose much resistance to the Russians. Indeed, even Finland was eventually forced to submit to Russia, after a gallant defence that thrilled the world. This makes them look like bullies, to which they would probably sneer. What sort of idiot picks a fight with someone bigger than him?
-The Russians have not held back. There was no attempt to pussy-foot around when they rolled into the targeted country. They sought to destroy the enemy’s ability to resist as rapidly as possible, which resulted in countless casualties the West might have tried to avoid.
-The Russians will use commando strikes, local dissidents and unconventional weapons to wreck havoc in the enemy’s rear. Expect them to launch cyber-attacks, ‘terrorist’ attacks, etc to cause chaos. They will also try to time offenses so they take place when the target nation (or the rest of the world) is on holiday.
-The Russians try to win quickly. Short wars are excellent for Moscow; they look good, they make the current ruler look strong and they make everyone else take notice of Russia’s views. (It was a Russian who coined the phrase ‘a short victorious war.’ Long wars tend to be very bad for Russia. Discontent mounts, the public starts to protest and, in some cases, the state comes crashing down. It is unlikely that Russia would have become a communist state if the Tsar hadn’t fought a losing war with Germany.
-At the same time, the Russians have always used war to impose a satisfactory political solution. Finland lost territory the Russians wanted to shield Leningrad. Czechoslovakia returned firmly to communist rule, as dictated by Moscow. Georgia lost territory and grew less willing to confront the Russians. Even the early stages of Afghanistan were a great political success.
-The Russians will lie to everyone. Expect Moscow to try to come up with a suitable cause for war (in 1939, for example, they faked a shooting incident to justify their invasion of Finland.) Foreign media will be carefully guided so they present the Russian-approved viewpoint. There is no true independent reporting from inside Russia. Foreign media will be rewarded for toeing the Russian line and punished for not doing so.
-Above all, the Russians never lose sight of their political goals. They do not talk about ‘nation-building,’ at least not with any great seriousness. Instead, they consider the long-term security of Russia above all else. It may seem utterly indecent of the Russians to impose an unwelcome government on Eastern Europe after World War Two, but they needed it for their own security. Don’t expect the Russians to tamely put civilian lives ahead of their own interests. The Russians have never been cowed by the thought of enemy civilians being killed.
And we seem to be heading towards a major confrontation with the Russians over the Ukraine. Are our leaders actually taking the issue seriously?