Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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If Russia attacks . . .


The Sunday Times reports that planning exercises on the threat posed by Russia to the UK have left defence officials ‘ashen-faced’ at the speed with which confrontation with Moscow could escalate. The only available options were surrender, launch a nuclear strike or a massive cyber-attack to disable the Russian infrastructure.

The really shocking thing is that officials were surprised. We have next to no armed forces and Russia has plenty. We don’t know how to use the few forces we have; Russia does. We have weak leadership with no vision; Putin knows what he is up to. The shock to the officials is alarming; surely some of them had studied modern history, covered the Cold War, noted how mutually assured destruction had to be tempered into a flexible response, which in turn made conventional armed forces important? Apparently not. These must be the same sort of officials who never considered that a vote for Brexit was possible, that Mrs May not getting a majority was possible – even that it was possible that basing a bank on the premise of lending to sub-prime borrowers could end badly. The disconnect between the (allegedly) superior intellects in the upper ranges of the government machine and the rest of us has been obvious for a while – it is the inevitable result of living in an ivory tower and never venturing outside the north and south circulars. Well, inhabitants of the Westminster bubble, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee or, better yet, go and do something more in line with your abilities, like sell the Big Issue (although that’s probably beyond you too).

First, the military stuff. Strategic nuclear weapons more or less protect you against strategic nuclear threats (although not, it seems, the use by a foreign power of chemical weapons on your own cities). The whole point is that if Russia (or for that matter the French) launched a nuclear attack on the UK, there would be time for us to launch back against them. That’s mutually assured destruction, and so far, (now more than 65 years) it has worked; there has been no war between nuclear powers.

The problem with strategic nuclear weapons is that they do not provide cover against other military actions such as annexing Crimea or invading the Spratly Islands (China has nukes and territorial ambitions too). Vlad knows this, and that is why he was able to invade Ukraine. We were not going to drop instant sunshine on Moscow because he’d parked a couple of hundred tanks in the Donets. And post the rounds of defence cuts, we haven’t got any tanks to send. The Balts know this – although we sent a handful of soldiers there, the reality is that Vlad could drive in any time he likes, simply bypassing NATO forces (including all four of the Challenger tanks we send) and presenting NATO with a fait accompli.

So we’ve come up with a massive cyber attack concept. Personally I’m not persuaded. If it worked inasmuch as it took out Russian power generation, what would that actually achieve? Vlad’s tanks would still be on the shores of the Baltic. NATO ships (some from the Royal Navy) would still be stuck without room to manoeuvre and vulnerable as hell, and no invasion force would be likely to get there in the couple of days that it would take. Blackouts in Moscow and St Petersburg would not alter that. Of course, a lack of electricity would start to kill civilians, starting in hospitals. Unless the collapse of the good controllers also affected a nuclear power station and triggered Chernobyl 2. The proposed solution is starting to look a bit like a post-nuclear strike, but without the warmth.

And, of course, this would be a government IT project, so the chances of it being on time and on capability (forget about on budget) are negligible. And in the meantime we’ve nothing.

Alternatively, we could increase the size of our armed forces. Bring back the tanks that have been mothballed, get the Typhoons back on line, accelerate the F35 purchase and build more ships. And recruit the servicemen and women (also not going well). Which would not be cheap either, but would be less risky, quicker and more useful.

I’m not holding my breath.

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here. He is the Reform Parliamentary Candidate for Swansea West.

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