COMMENTARY | The Russians charged in hard, driving NATO forces back under sheer weight of massed infantry and armor. However, the U.S.-led West struck back hard and with devastating accuracy, matching Russian size and aggression with high-tech know-how. On land Russia had the advantage, but in the air and at sea the West quickly got the upper hand. In the end, fuel shortages crimped Russia’s war plan. Is this a prediction of summer 2014, after Russia invades Ukraine proper and attempts to “appropriate” other regions of that sovereign nation?
Instead, it is a recap of author Tom Clancy’s popular novel Red Storm Rising, which featured a 1980s full-scale war between NATO and the Soviet Union. Given the growing masses of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, as described by TIME, should we be dusting off our copies of our Cold War paperbacks? Has the West’s cautious response to Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which Russia says was to protect ethnic Russians from left-wing Ukrainian fervor, emboldened Russian president Vladimir Putin to behave more like Joseph Stalin than Mikhail Gorbachev?
The possibility of a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine puts the West in a tight spot. Western Europe needs Russia’s continued petroleum sales and the United States, busy pulling its troops out of Afghanistan after twelve and a half years of warfare and occupation, is hardly eager for another conflict. And, with the aftermath of the Great Recession causing substantial cuts to U.S. defense spending, is America even prepared for a war against a combat-proficient foe?
War with Russia won’t be like war with Iraq or Afghanistan, and policymakers are being careful. The U.S. has avoided “lethal military aid,” meaning weapons, to Ukraine and has stressed that it will not act unilaterally in Europe, only serving as a part of NATO. Currently, Ukraine is not a member of NATO and there is no treaty obligation to respond to an attack on that nation with a military response.
But the possibility of a growing conflict still looms, especially if a NATO ally does get involved. What if Russian aggression grows to involve Turkey or one of the Baltic states, all of whom are members of NATO? If a member of NATO does support Ukraine after the Russians invade, do shots fired at those foreign troops constitute an attack on a NATO member itself, or must there be a direct assault on sovereign territory of a NATO member? In the past there has been no obligation for NATO to directly assist members involved in their own foreign excursions, such as the U.S. in Vietnam or Britain in the Falkland Islands, but a war in Ukraine, geographically near most NATO members and instigated by NATO’s most historic opponent, could be a game changer.
While World War III is unlikely, it is probably time for Red Storm Rising to be on the evening reading list of the White House staff and the military brass.