Suppose for the sake of argument that the Navy Seals have joined our own SAS in fine-tuning their urban warfare tactics on a mock-up of the Kremlin. At the same time, Western intelligence services are conducting a full-blown electronic war aimed at paralysing Russia’s infrastructure and disrupting her political process.
How do you suppose the Russians would react? Don’t know about you, but even as we speak I’m hearing hysterical shrieks about the rebirth of Nazi belligerence, Nato’s far-reaching imperialist designs, Russophobia and taking the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust.
In parallel, I can hear the likes of Peter Hitchens assuring us that the Russians have a point, that they’ve been surrounded by Western enemies throughout their history and are therefore understandably sensitive and, well, yes, Nato is imperialist and, if the Russians respond with ICBMs, we’ll have only ourselves to blame. Unless, or perhaps even if, this happens, we’ve nothing to fear from the strong, Christian, conservative leader Putin we wish we had.
Well, this situation isn’t at all hypothetical, except that the boot is on the other foot. Russia’s defence minister Shoigu has announced that the army is building a full-scale model of the Reichstag for training purposes. In other words, Russian troops are going to practise storming the building of Germany’s parliament.
The initiative has touched a chord in the mysterious Russian soul directly linked to a much-touted superior spirituality. Thousands of cars around Moscow are tastefully decorated with bumper stickers saying ‘To Berlin!’, ‘We can do it again!’ and ‘If you don’t like talking to Lavrov [foreign minister], you’ll talk to Shoigu’.
Drums are rolling and bugles blowing throughout the Russian press, with enough din to bring down the walls of Jericho – or of the Reichstag if you’d rather.
Compared to the hypothetical situation I outlined above, the Germans reacted to the real one rather nonchalantly. The word ‘provocation’ was mooted, but not too loudly, while the government spokesman dismissed the whole thing with a shrug of the shoulders: “This development is unexpected, speaks for itself and requires no comment”.
Yet even that limp-wristed response enraged the Russians. The defence ministry spokesman thundered: “Such attacks by German politicians not only cause extreme consternation but also make one ponder their real convictions as regards the ‘builders’ of the Third Reich in 1933-1945.”
Quite. The Germans’ mild dismay at seeing their parliament building used for storming exercises proves they are crypto-Nazis longing for world conquest and Auschwitz.
One wonders how the Russians would feel if Berlin were inundated with a profusion of bumper stickers saying ‘Wir Schaffen das Nochmals!’, ‘Drang nach Osten’ and ‘Sieg Heil!’. My imagination doesn’t stretch that far.
When it comes to the Russian threat, we don’t have to stay in the subjunctive mood for long. The present features non-stop Russian cyber attacks against Western institutions and infrastructure.
To me, there’s only a distinction without a difference between bombing a command centre and jamming its communications – or between slandering a Western politician into resignation and assassinating him. Both are acts of war.
Critically, this observation is shared by General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, deputy supreme allied commander in Europe. Gen. Bradshaw isn’t averse to treating electronic warfare as cause to invoke Article 5 of the Nato charter, in which an attack on one member state is an attack on all:
“Well Article 5 is when it’s declared to be Article 5… It is a political decision, but no, it is not out of the question that aggression, blatant aggression, in a domain other than conventional warfare might be deemed to be Article 5.”
Gen. Bradshaw emphasised that: “We require the ability to defend our vital assets from aggression in any area.” He then added a remark phrased in the only way the Russians understand: “Do not mess with Nato. You set foot in one of these countries… you’re taking on Nato with all that that implies… so woe betide a nation that does that.”
One wishes that Nato commanders spoke in this fashion when they aren’t as close to retirement as Gen. Bradshaw is (next summer). And that their statements were backed up with resolve on the part of Western governments.
Such resolve should be expressed not just in words but in tangible measures, of which a sizeable increase in defence budget is the most obvious and immediate. Say what you will about Trump’s affection for the Russians, but he seems to understand this, as his announcement of a seven per cent increase in US defence spending testifies.
Yet it’s not all about beefing up the military. It’s also – mostly – about beefing up the resolve to use it should this become necessary. History shows that wishy-washy ambiguity on the part of Western governments serves only to embolden wicked aggressors. The Second World War followed Munich not only chronologically but also causally.
Are we capable of learning the lessons of history? The French poet and thinker Paul Valéry doubted that: “The only thing one can learn from history is a propensity for chauvinism. There are no other lessons.”
Unless we prove him wrong by learning the lessons of the 1938 appeasement, we’ll invite similar consequences. Actually, given the technological advances of which modernity is so proud, the consequences may be far worse.