No, we aren’t back in the Cold War yet – but we’re certainly heading in that direction, and the train seems to be picking up speed. Russia has been flexing its muscles for a while now, most spectacularly with its annexation of parts of Georgia and Ukraine, but it’s now feeling confident enough to make direct moves against major NATO countries like the UK. I recently talked about the attempted assassination of a former Russian intelligence officer in an English town; this operation used a nerve agent, a weapon of mass destruction, and under international law, it’s either a warlike act or an actual act of war.

The British government is not happy about this and has taken a hard line (Click here to read my other post on this topic). Two dozen Russian diplomats have been expelled, and increased sanctions are being discussed. The government has already announced that no British officials will be at the 2018 World Cup in Moscow, and that’s a big step for such a soccer-mad nation.

What hasn’t been discussed is any sort of military retaliation against Russia. Obviously, Theresa May isn’t going to assemble an army group and march on Moscow, but a lot more could be done to push Russia out of Ukraine or reduce their growing influence in the Middle East. Why aren’t the UK and other European countries doing that?

Because they can’t. Western Europe has basically disarmed itself.

During the Cold War, everyone in NATO knew that weight of numbers was on the Soviet side. The Warsaw Pact could throw tens of thousands of tanks, and millions of men, into an invasion of Europe. It wasn’t one-sided, though. When it came to modern tanks, artillery, and aircraft, the numbers were a lot more even. Most Soviet and Eastern European weapons, even in the mid-1980s, were old 50s and 60s designs. The west had a clear technological edge and that balanced most of the USSR’s strength in numbers.

Now it’s different. Both sides have cut their armed forces dramatically since the USSR collapsed; in percentage terms, Russia has cut back just as much as Western Europe. Simple numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. Russia could scrap 40,000 obsolete T-55s, JS-3s and T-10s without really reducing their warfighting ability very much.

(Photo by Alexey Ivanov, ‘Zvezda’ TV and Radio Company)

It was a different story on the western side. The UK scrapped its whole fleet of Challenger tanks and half of the more advanced Challenger 2s. West Germany got rid of all its Leopard Is and most of the Leopard 2s. Across the continent, tank fleets shrank to a quarter or a fifth of their former size, and some countries got rid of them altogether. Infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, helicopters and combat aircraft were decimated too.

Now, the difference in numbers is pretty much what it was during the Cold War – but we can’t rely on facing a mass of antiquated hardware anymore. The entire Russian tank fleet is T-72s or better, and they’ve been steadily upgraded with new guns, thermal sights, and protection systems. The T-14 Armata isn’t in service yet, but even without it, Russia can field several thousand tanks that are good enough to be a serious threat.

Meanwhile, a lot of NATO members have let their forces quietly decay; the number of tanks, IFVs, and guns they can put in the field is often a small fraction of what they have on paper. Recent figures from Germany’s defense ministry show that only 95 of the country’s 328 tanks are operational, and for attack helicopters, the figure is as low as 18%. Most other European NATO members are in a similar state. Realistically, if Russia attacked, Europe could mobilize a single fully combat-ready armored division and a handful of mechanized brigades. They would potentially be facing Russia’s entire Western Military District, made up of 6th Army, 20th Guards Army, and 20th Guards Tank Army. Without huge and rapid reinforcement from the USA, it would be a one-sided, and very short, fight.

It isn’t likely that Putin will launch an invasion of Western Europe. The problem is that he could, and western governments know it. That gives him a very powerful lever in any diplomatic dispute. The West might be able to beat Russia at the diplomatic game, but Russia has the ability to change the rules and set the tanks rolling. That puts serious limits on how tough Europe can be, even when chemical weapons are being used on European streets. Unless they reverse the last three decades of defense cuts now, Russia is just going to keep on pushing the boundaries.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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