Review: 2017 War With Russia (General Sir Richard Shirreff)

9 Jun

Evidently, General Shirreff has been reading The Fall of Night <evil grin>.

Not unlike Ghost Fleet, which I reviewed earlier, 2017 War With Russia has been billed as the successor to Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. And, also not unlike Ghost Fleet, 2017 War With Russia does not live up to the claim. But, once again unlike Ghost Fleet, the importance of 2017 War With Russia lies in its attempts to outline the potential consequences of constantly slashing one’s military forces to the bone while an aggressive power lies on the border.


This power, as you will probably have guessed, is Russia.

2017 War With Russia is not a literary success. The characters are either hackneyed stereotypes (the President of Russia could pass for a bad James Bond villain) or instantly forgettable. But that isn’t the point. The true success of the book lies in its expose of Russian strength (and will) contrasted with NATO weakness (and irresolution). NATO, pledged to defend the Baltic States, is largely unable to do so, if the Russians aren’t kind enough to give us several months worth of warning. The Russians can invade the Baltic States pretty much whenever they want – using mistreatment of ethnic Russian populations as their excuse – and then … well, what then? This is the question to which the characters in the book struggle, pretty much in vain, to find an answer.

The book is largely concentrated on Britain, which isn’t too surprising. Cuts in the UK’s defences – and the insane reliance on reservists to fill holes in the army when the UK goes to war – plays a major role in the disasters that sweep over Britain. The book is scathingly critical – with good reason – of politicians who play games with Russia, unaware or uncaring that the Russians are prepared to play for keeps. Losing an aircraft carrier because there was only one escort ship available to protect her from enemy submarines is the sort of mistake that would have Churchill, Nelson and Percival rolling in their graves. And yet it seems frighteningly plausible.

Our nuclear deterrent can and does keep an enemy from landing on our shores. But are we prepared to use it – and accept the destruction of our country – to save the Baltic States? It needs to be paired with a strong conventional fighting force if we are to have any influence at all on global politics.

The major point made by the book is just how quickly matters can run out of control. Even the Russians, holding the whip hand for most of the book, discover to their chagrin that events can change the situation in an eyeblink. But the Russians have the strong advantage of a united command and control, something largely denied to NATO (now, in Afghanistan, and later in the book). Wars cannot be run, certainly not in real time, by committee.

Indeed, the sole true disappointment in the book lies in the ending. Having set the stage for a geopolitical disaster, General Shirreff allows NATO a neat trick that permits it to turn the tables on the Russians. One may argue that he cheats (particularly as the ending comes with a suddenness that leaves the reader unsatisfied). It would be better, I feel, if the war was played out to a NATO defeat, which is – of course – the ending of The Fall of Night. It would certainly have a stronger impact.

The book does have its flaws, apart from that. There is a strong over-reliance on acronyms that can be intimidating to the uninformed reader. There are hints of romance that – thankfully – never really go anywhere. But it does serve as a warning, a warning we would do well to heed.

The thing is, we in Britain like to claim that we have been punching above our weight. But the blunt truth is that our weight is much less than we care to believe. And there is no point in trying to bluff someone who is perfectly capable of calculating the odds – and concluding that they are in his favour.

The Russians may not seek to invade and occupy Europe, as I postulated in The Fall of Night. But they don’t have to do anything of the sort to render NATO a dead letter and ensure unrivalled control over their claimed sphere of influence.

Read this book. And then start fearing for the future.

27 Responses to “Review: 2017 War With Russia (General Sir Richard Shirreff)”

  1. conservativlib June 9, 2016 at 8:16 pm #

    I liked your “Fall of Night” very much. But it left me hoping for sequel because I’d like the good guys to win.

    • chrishanger June 10, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

      I do have a plan for a sequal, but we will see.


      • shrekgrinch June 10, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

        Will it have stupid German protestors getting raped even more by Russian soldiers? While tragic & raw, it somehow also doesn’t get old.

      • chrishanger June 10, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

        Well, I was going to set it in Britain. But yeah, it won’t be pleasant.


  2. shrekgrinch June 9, 2016 at 8:57 pm #

    Wasn’t NATO in ‘Fall of Night’ pretty much non-existent after the US left it years prior?

    SCOTUS has ruled that POTUS can unilaterally withdraw from binding treaties if it wants to. So, NATO in real life is just one Trump Card away from being as meaningless as it is truly impotent already.

    • chrishanger June 10, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

      True. NATO was a dead letter for years.


  3. shrekgrinch June 9, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

    RUSSIA could steamroll NATO forces in just 60 hours, a leading US defence official has warned amid rising tensions with the west.

    Russians Violating New START Arms Treaty
    Moscow tried to deceive inspectors on missile cuts, U.S. says

    …and yet for a THIRD time in 100 years, the Sheeple of Europe are clueless. The US should leave NATO. Staying in is just a moral hazard that we get to pay once again for Europe’s irresponsibility.

  4. PhilippeO June 10, 2016 at 3:54 am #

    The problem is “Why Die for Danzig ?”.

    Politician and military might think some threat or another important, but if they can’t convince their own people of that, Nothing good will come from any strategy/alliance/military structure.

    For people in Western/Central Europe, Eastern Europe is short unimportant, they member of NATO/EU sure, but there are no feeling attached. They feel sorry for Estonian if attacked, but it no different from feeling sorry about Greece for unemployment, Nigeria for Boko Haram, or other disaster. Its just sad story in TV about somewhere far from home.

    Russia also no longer feel like threat. They not USSR who want to spread worldwide revolution and threaten their livelihood. Its just mid-rank regional power who want to spread their influence. Its government and ideology is nothing special. There also rather slow way of Russia waging war. Czechnya happen, then quiet for several year, Georgia happen (Abhakazia), then several year of hiatus, Ukraine (Crimea) happen, then no longer news. So there are no feel of blitzkrieg where country after country fall.

    Also, i suspect, support of NATO is probably as low support for EU. There no longer ideological struggle. most think its defunct institution and waste of money. Some citizen will be glad if their countries withdraw from NATO. There perception is America and ‘New Europe’ game to play with Russia, not their business.

  5. shrekgrinch June 10, 2016 at 5:01 am #

    Chris, found out why some of my comments get put into moderation. I have one in there now. It’s definitely because I included links. You’ll see.

    • chrishanger June 10, 2016 at 6:00 pm #

      It should be up now.


      • shrekgrinch June 11, 2016 at 1:03 am #


  6. Anarchymedes June 10, 2016 at 9:39 am #

    I’m not sure I want to read this book: on the one hand, it sounds too painfully real (and therefore too depressing, offering no solution); and on the other hand, the aforementioned flaws in charachterisation are a big red flag for me (I can forgive bad grammar, occasionally misused words, but not that – no matter how good the political background is). As for the Russia’s attitude, a couple of years ago I personally bumped into a Russian-language forum where the participants absolutely seriously discussed dropping ‘a couple of nukes’ on London and Berlin. They were like: They (NATO) will just huff and puff a little, and then do as we tell them to do; those spoilt overprivileged brats haven’t got a pair of balls between them. And these were not soldiers but the ordinary citizens. And a recent (also Russian-language) poll showed that 72% (!!!) of ordinary Russians consider the USA their primary enemy (and 40-something percent named Ukraine – which makes me, a Ukrainian-born Australian, rather proud 🙂 ). Now how many Americans, let alone Britons or Aussies, consider Russia their primary enemy? If this book can increase that number even a little bit, I say it’ll do. But I’m still not going to read it: politics are boring! 🙂

    • Mark P June 10, 2016 at 9:49 am #

      Isn’t ‘Punching above our weight’ a euphemism for ‘Delusions of Grandeur’?

      • Anarchymedes June 10, 2016 at 4:50 pm #

        Actually no, as far as I know, it means ‘performing better than everyone, ourselves included, expected us to.’ You probably mean ‘picking a fight with someone who is too big for us.’

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard June 10, 2016 at 5:09 pm #

        “Delusions of Grandeur” means that you think you’re bigger/stronger/smarter than anybody else and you’re very very wrong.

        “Punching above your weight” can often include the idea that you know it but have little choice in the matter.

        Of course, when you’re “Punching above your weight”, you might still win because your opponent underestimates “what you can do to him”.

      • Mark P June 10, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

        Sorry got to disagree. In the case of the UK all of our Prime ministers are always stating we punch above our Weight.

        They still actuality like to think of the UK is a world power. We’re not, we might now just about be third rate Behind the US as the only world power, China and the Russia. Now we don’t have a working Aircraft Carrier we’re probably behind France, and soon to be behind India.

        This is a delusion of grandeur.

      • shrekgrinch June 10, 2016 at 7:26 pm #

        Reply to Mark P:

        Yep. The Russians suffer from the same delusions of grandeur x 11. They HATE being reminded of their fall as one of the two super powers.

        When the US unilaterally decided to dismantle a lot of our ICBMS (I forget when…during either the late Clinton years or Bush admin), they went ballistic and demanded that it be part of a treaty between them.

        Why? Because by unilaterally making that decision and announcing it the way that we did, the US was basically broadcasting to the entire world “See? Russia is SO INCONSEQUENTIAL as a threat to us that we feel confident in eliminating thousands of ICBMs from our arsenal.” And in Moscow, that really, really HURT their sense of manhood or something.

        Well, what manhood they had left after being castrated via the Fall of Communism. 🙂

        The Centauri in Bablyon 5 thus reminded me of both the Turkish, Soviets and Ottoman Turks post-empire (they exhibited elements of all three).

        The Narn exemplified how the Chinese feel about the West’s/Japan’s exploitation of them because of their own perceived weaknesses in addition to the ‘evil motivations’ of the West/Japan.

        Those cultural hangups were pivotal to the character development of Londo and G’kar, for example. Best part of the series, if you ask me.

      • Mark P June 11, 2016 at 8:42 am #


        I like your idea. The Earth Aliance would be the US.

        Just worries me who the Vorlon will turn out to be.

  7. georgephillies June 10, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

    Reader’s may find of interest in this regard Corelli Barnett’s Decline and Fall tetrology.

  8. Sergiu Moscovici June 10, 2016 at 11:43 pm #

    The question Chris is with what you know today about the Baltic states and Ukraine and their attitude towards they own Russian population is mistreatment of the Russian populations just a pretext or a fact of life?
    Are you ready to go to the democratic Ukraine and live there us a Russian? or maybe a Jew? or even us a regular Ukrainian Gay person?
    If the answer is yes then why don’t you try it and good help you.
    If the answer is no then maybe you can give a second look to the Russians.
    I personally blame Clinton that for then first time since second world war has partitioned Serbia and created a artificial state Kosovo.
    If he can do it why not Putin? Where is the difference?
    Best regards

    • chrishanger June 11, 2016 at 9:20 pm #

      I would say a bit of both.

      First, I understand precisely why the Baltic States would be … edgy … about Russian populations. Willingly or unwillingly, they’re a sword pointed at states that only recently attained any level of independence. Russia could easily use them as a cause for war, just as Hitler did in 1938. If they are not going to integrate, what is to be done with them? There are no good answers.

      Second, I also understand why the Russians would be unwilling to integrate into the Baltic populations – even if they can, which probably isn’t easy.


      • shrekgrinch June 11, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

        They are like a bunch of Belgiums. Or, Hungarian Transylvania in Romania.

  9. shrekgrinch June 11, 2016 at 9:34 pm #

    Another reason why Europe is doomed:

    • Sergiu Moscovici June 12, 2016 at 4:09 am #

      There is a huge difference between the Hungarians in Romania and the Russian in Baltic states and Ukraine, and if you don’t know this already maybe you should educate yourself.

      And Chris, nice sidestepping my question, you are after all a writer and a good one in my opinion.

      • conservativlib June 12, 2016 at 5:04 am #

        Well, I am a Jew originally from Odessa, Ukraine. I still have people I know there, although majority of my relatives and friends are now in US or Israel. I also have Russian friends from Riga, Latvia, who lived there after the collapse of the Soviet Union. My wife also corresponds occasionally with a Russian lady still in Riga. None of them ever had problems. The government business in Latvia is conducted in Latvian, so those still living there had to learn the language. But I did have to learn English in order to function here in USA, didn’t I? As for Odessa, guess what language “Ukrainian nationalists” there speak? That’s right, the same “Odessan” language always spoken there: Russian with some influence of Yiddish and Ukrainian.
        Ukraine is just as crappy as the rest of the former Soviet territory, but at least they are trying to move away from the horrors of Soviet past, unlike the modern Russian regime.

      • shrekgrinch June 12, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

        There is no huge difference at all. Like the Baltics and Ukraine there is a geographically concentrated minority of the neighboring nation. They ended up that way because some elites drew the borders map without ever consulting them. The Sudetenland of old Czechoslavakia, parts of Poland post WW1 and French Canada are examples. So is most of Africa.

        Furthermore, those minorities often feel persecuted or at least treated like second class citizens in what they perceive to be their own country.

        It usually doesn’t matter what concessions are made by the majority to address the minority’s concerns. Look at Belgium and Canada, for example.

        And, yes this pertains to Romania. You just don’t like admitting to this, I suspect. Might be because of the documented human rights abuses that Hungarians living in Romania have suffered that you don’t want to admit to as well, perhaps.

      • chrishanger June 12, 2016 at 8:23 pm #


        Jokes aside, being a writer means looking at things from everyone’s POV. I can see why Party A feels something even if i don’t agree with it.


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