One hears rumours that Russian citizens are stocking up on soap, salt and other staples, those that always disappear whenever a war starts. Such authoritative sources as Moscow cabbies confidently predict that one is just around the corner.
Admittedly, Moscow cabbies have been wrong before, for example during the Cuban crisis, when one couldn’t buy a bar of soap for love or money. However, even marginally more authoritative sources share their concerns, and to them we should listen.
Some 1,500 years ago a Roman writer uttered a strategy statement that has since been amply proved and never disproved: Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war.
According to NATO’s former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Sir Richard Shirreff, that’s exactly what we aren’t doing – thereby jeopardising the peace we want.
Sir Richard isn’t an ideologue. He’s a top military professional trained in analysing things like strategy, tactics, logistics, supplies, speed of mobilisation and deployment.
On this basis he has produced a briefing document issuing a scary warning: Putin is preparing for war, and NATO isn’t: “It is clear that Russia is capable of surprising the West… with potentially devastating implications for eastern Poland and fatal consequences to the Alliance”.
The general highlighted Russia’s growing militarisation over the last 18 months, her aggression against the Ukraine, her action in Syria, including last week’s bombing of an airbase used by British and US special forces, frequent clashes between NATO and Russian warplanes, incessant simulated air attacks on NATO vessels, the massive concentration of Russian troops along the western frontier.
According to Sir Richard, NATO would be defenceless against a Russian lightning strike at the Baltics and Poland. Putin’s Western Military District could establish a beachhead within hours, with massive reinforcements arriving from other areas in a day or two.
A mobilisation has already begun, under the guise of exercises, Russia’s traditional method of camouflaging war preparations. “Turning one of these exercises into an operation against one or several of the Baltic states would give very little or no early warning time for NATO,” warns Sir Richard.
His concerns are echoed by Canadian spies who believe that Putin is openly preparing for war with the West, and his intervention in Syria is a capability test for his forces.
The forces seem to be efficient enough to take over the Baltics and Eastern Poland before NATO could reinforce its formidable force of a few hundred soldiers, 200 of them British, already stationed there. That would establish a fait accompli, leaving NATO with only two response options: nuclear or none.
Both would be catastrophic: the latter would spell the end of NATO; the former, possibly the end of Europe.
It’s in this context that Theresa May’s commitment to retaining the Trident deterrent must be understood. This also explains why she’s the first PM to confirm unequivocally that she’d be prepared to order a nuclear strike.
Unfortunately, HMG sees the constantly dwindling defence budget as a zero sum: every billion more spent on Trident is a billion less spent on the conventional army and navy.
Foreign aid is considered a higher priority than defence of the realm. Gen. Shirreff points this out: “NATO members are not spending enough on defence to rebuild the range of capabilities necessary to deter a resurgent and aggressive Russia.”
Sir Richard is talking about spending more on defence overall, not robbing the Peter of nuclear deterrence to pay the Paul of conventional forces. He doesn’t see choosing life over death as a zero sum game.
However, Peter Hitchens, whose understanding of matters martial is less proven than his ideological attachment to Putin’s junta, begs to differ. According to him we don’t need Trident at all:
“Spending £100 billion on Trident and neglecting conventional forces is like spending so much on insuring yourself against alien abduction that you can’t afford cover against fire and theft…
“Trident,” explains Gen. Shirreff’s rival in military expertise, “was designed to deter the USSR, a state that ceased to exist 25 years ago.” Yes, but Russia’s nuclear weapons didn’t, and they’re still targeted at us.
Having thus displayed his impressive knowledge of modern history, Hitchens then kindly dirties his hands with a bit of logistic nitty-gritty: “All we need to do is to hang on to a few H-bombs and the planes to drop them and we can have all that Trident gives us, for 100th of the cost.”
Such effrontery can only come from staggering ignorance, bolstered by ideology. The few planes required to deliver “a few H-bombs” would almost definitely be shot down – which is hard to do with in-coming MIRVed missiles fired from constantly moving and virtually undetectable subs.
What Hitchens is suggesting is tantamount to having no nuclear deterrent at all, but then we aren’t supposed to need any: the USSR is now called Russia, so no problem there.
Don’t know about you, but I’d listen to Gen. Shirreff before Peter Hitchens. Sir Richard knows what he’s talking about, which of course doesn’t mean he can’t be wrong. But he could also be right – a possibility it would be criminal folly to ignore.