Friday, September 25, 2015

Lose the Battle. Win the Campaign

I can't see the article because it is firewalled, but Foreign Policy's article title says we have war gamed a Baltic states battle and we keep losing to Russia. Well of course we do. Which means we have to plan to win the campaign.

Is this a reason to give up?

The Pentagon Is Preparing New War Plans for a Baltic Battle Against Russia

But the really troubling thing is that in the war games being played, the United States keeps losing.

I can't see the article so I'm assuming this, but of course NATO can't stop Russia from conquering the Baltic states. These NATO states are small and weak; Russia is close and much stronger than them; and NATO's capabilities are divided, far away, and mostly unable to deploy away from home countries.

So of course we lose control of the Baltics to a determined Russian offensive to take the Baltic states. At best we could hold a corner of Lithuania.

But the key consideration isn't whether we can hold these NATO allies. It is whether we will fight to win the war and liberate them. West Berlin during the Cold War could never have been held if the Soviets had invaded. Large chunks of Norway, West Germany, and Denmark would have fallen, too. And perhaps the Netherlands and Belgium, depending on the success of Soviet armies in the northern part of a thrust into West Germany.

[In a pre-publication edit, I find that the link works. My assumption is correct, as that article states:

That is, the Pentagon does not envision a scenario in which Russia doesn’t manage to grab some Baltic territory first. The goal is to deter — Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced this summer that the United States would be sending dozens of tanks, armored vehicles, and howitzers to the Baltics and Eastern Europe — and, if that fails, to painstakingly regain NATO territory.

Yes. That's the basic situation of forces, time, and distance.]

So the Baltic states would fall if Russia invades in force. That's a fact of life to deal with and not a reason to conclude we would lose the war.

After Russia conquered Crimea last year, I gave my initial impression of how we'd fight for the Baltic states:

The Baltic states are a problem. I've suggested moving the equipment set we have for a Marine brigade from Norway to one of the Baltic states--in Riga for example. The idea would be to hold a perimeter until we can counter attack north. I'd rather not have lots of troops up there since the Russians could make their main effort into Poland and potentially cut off any troops in the Baltic states.

I admit we'd have better air and naval power to cope with that situation. I'm counting on that to sustain a bridgehead in the Baltics wherever we move in the Marines.

But still, if we are to put a brigade into the Baltic states, I'd rather reconstitute a real Army armored cavalry regiment skilled in making a fighting withdrawal south while attriting the attacking Russians.

Our main effort should be to hold in Poland; conquer the Russian Kaliningrad pocket; smash any Russian effort to rescue Kaliningrad; and prepare to advance north to relieve the Marine pocket (and whatever Estonian and Latvian forces retreat to that refuge) and drive out the Russians.

Hopefully we stop retreating somewhere in Lithuania.

Those are the basics of a campaign to hold the Baltic states at the end of the war. Don't accept the loss as permanent and move quickly to counter-attack while local forces augmented by our special forces and air power are resisting the Russian occupation.

And don't forget REFORPOL to enable this.

Hopefully our special forces prepare to work with Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian militias and special forces to go insurgent against the Russian invaders while we prepare to drive north.

If we hold islands in the Baltic off of the Baltic states, we could reinforce the Riga bridgehead (this facility in Norway will be critical for this) while mechanized forces mass in Poland in order to drive north to liberate the Baltic states again.

As long as we take Kaliningrad from Russia, we don't even need to clean the Russians out of all of their conquered territory--let's not get danger close to St. Petersburg--since we could trade land for the status quo ante. We don't want this to escalate to nuclear weapons, after all. No need to make Russia think we want to carve them up.

It sucks to have to go back to Cold War era crisis thinking that elevates ending conflicts over winning them in order to back away from the specter of nuclear escalation.

Although I'd strongly consider an air-naval campaign to strike and/or blockade (with sea mines) Russia's Crimea bases for added pressure for Russia to go to status quo ante to prevent too much damage to their prized conquest of 2014.

But at least we're making plans now.

One part of the plan should be the diplomatic aspect to make sure that the most important territory in Europe today doesn't fall under Russian control.

Because Putin has his eyes on Belarus:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has backed the establishment of an airbase in neighboring Belarus, the latest move by Moscow to project its military power abroad.

Anschluss! Reset!

UPDATE: And let me remind people that during the Cold War, if it had gone hot in NATO, not only was West Berlin a loss, but huge chunks of the main front, West Germany, would have been captured by the Soviets until we could counter-attack.

If you want more recent actual history, we failed to prevent Saddam Hussein from conquering Kuwait in August 1990. Yet we counter-attacked in 1991 to eject his forces.

So don't think that success in the Baltic states can only be defined as stopping the invasion at the border. Thinking like that gives you the Maginot Line and an enemy strategy of going around your defenses.