“The unforgivable crime is soft hitting,” Theodore Roosevelt famously said. “Do not hit at all if it can be avoided, but never hit softly.”
NATO recently concluded its biggest military exercise in years, called Trident Juncture-18, advertised as proving that European NATO can defend itself against an increasingly aggressive Russia.
The “big” NATO exercise was also advertised as answering Russia’s truly enormous military exercise held in September: Vostok-18.
Russia’s Vostok-18 mobilized 300,000 troops, 36,000 tanks and other vehicles, 1,000 aircraft, 80 ships, partnered with China, and simulated a nuclear war with the United States. Vostok-18 was not only the largest military exercise ever conducted by Russia, but may have been the largest ever conducted by any nation in history.
In contrast, NATO’s Trident Juncture-18 mobilized about 50,000 troops, 10,000 vehicles, 250 aircraft, and 65 ships from more than 30 nations.
Sweden, not a NATO member, participated for the first time in a NATO exercise. Even officially neutral Sweden is fearful of Russia’s increasingly aggressive military behavior and Moscow’s assertive claims to disputed oil-rich arctic territories.
So what kind of message did NATO’s exercise send to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his general staff? Unfortunately, Putin and his generals can count.
NATO’s Trident Juncture-18 — representing the collective might of 30 nations plus Sweden — compared to Russia’s Vostok-18 was:
- Outnumbered by mobilized Russian troops, 6-to-1;
- Outnumbered by mobilized Russian tanks and other vehicles, nearly 4-to-1.
- Outnumbered by mobilized Russian aircraft, 4-to-1.
Moreover, Vostok-18 simulated a world nuclear war, while Trident Juncture-18 was non-nuclear. And Vostok-18 projected its massive forces across the vastness of Siberia; most of Trident Juncture-18’s troops and vehicles “mobilized” but were not projected beyond the borders of their 30 home countries.
Moscow was so unimpressed by Trident Juncture-18 that it conducted electronic warfare against global positioning satellites (GPS), interfering with NATO’s air and sea operations during the exercise. GPS is indispensable to navigation and precision strikes.
Thus, Russia may have learned more of military value from Trident Juncture-18 than did NATO itself.
Ominously, Russia reacted to Trident Juncture-18 with yet another act of aggression. Confronting a major NATO military exercise with electronic warfare is an act deliberately calculated to escalate tensions and to intimidate NATO. Electronic warfare against GPS is a lot worse and far more significant than Russian jets buzzing NATO ships, an aggressive act that is now routine. World War III could be lost if NATO loses GPS.
Worse, NATO’s confused reaction and impotent protests against Russia waging electronic warfare reinforces Moscow’s impression of NATO military and political weaknesses.
Moscow watches, with keen interest, European NATO’s unwillingness to defend its borders from illegal mass migrations. Except for Poland, Hungary and some other East Europeans, most NATO members lack the political will to defend themselves from this unarmed invasion.
Moscow watches with even keener interest the withering away of NATO’s military power from years of underinvestment in defense.
For example, the number of main battle tanks (MBTs) is a convenient metric for summarizing the shifting balance of military power ever further in Russia’s favor. Russia has 22,214 MBTs. NATO’s Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) have 3 MBTs; NATO’s northern flank comprising Norway (52 MBTs), Finland (239) and neutral Sweden (120) has, altogether, 411 MBTs; Central NATO, the main invasion route from Eastern Europe to the English Channel, comprising Poland (1,063 MBTs), Germany (250), France (200), Denmark (57), Netherlands (18), Belgium (0), Luxembourg (0) and Liechtenstein (0) has, altogether, 1,588 MBTs.
So Russia’s advantage over Central NATO, the European heartland, the conquest of which would decide World War III in the European theater, favors Russia in main battle tanks by 14-to-1. During the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, the USSR’s advantage over European NATO in MBTs was 5-to-1.
Even more important, Russia has a virtual monopoly in tactical nuclear weapons, having at least 1,000 to 2,000 nuclear warheads for battlefield and theater use, whereas U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in NATO have declined to 100 to 180 obsolete gravity bombs.
So why has Russia not yet sent its tank armies rolling over NATO, nuking their way to the English Channel?
European NATO’s security is underwritten and its peace preserved by America’s long-range strategic nuclear forces, the Triad of ICBMs, missile submarines and bombers.
Maintaining something like parity with Russia’s strategic nuclear forces through modernization of delivery systems and the nuclear warheads themselves (which were mostly designed more than 30 years ago, and have been patched together for years beyond their original design life) is essential to contain Russia and prevent World War III.
The Congressional EMP Commission warns there is an even greater threat: “Combined-arms cyber warfare, as described in the military doctrines of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, may use combinations of cyber-, sabotage, and ultimately nuclear EMP attack. … The synergism of such combined arms is described in the military doctrines of all these potential adversaries as the greatest revolution in military affairs in history — one which projects rendering obsolete many, if not all, traditional instruments of military power.”
Can our nation, so divided against itself, defend NATO and survive?
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry was chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission. He served on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee and at the CIA. He is the author of a new book, “EMP Manhattan Project: Organizing For Survival Against An Electromagnetic Pulse Catastrophe.”