One topic that I discuss with my colleagues is potential threats to the United States in both the present and future. As I listen to people’s opinions on the biggest threats to the US in the future, I hear the same list of actors, but there is one name in particular I don’t hear.
Amazingly, a good bit of people do not consider the Russian Federation to be a potential threat to the United States. We’ve all heard the stories of the Russian economic collapose in the 1990s and the complete lack of control that followed; some of us, including myself, lived through those years. However, if history has taught us anything, it is that it repeats itself.
Let’s take a trip back to October 1917. The entire Russian Federation is in chaos, the government as we know it has been overthrown by a revolutionary named Vladimir Lenin. A bloody civil war followed the revolution. No one could have predicted that in less than 30 years, Russia would become one of the victors of the World War II, on the verge of creating one of the biggest militaries that the world had ever seen.
The government of the United States came to that chilling realization when the Soviet Union began to flex its muscles as its production of armored vehicles skyrocketed. So began the Cold War. Why is it that just because a country is down on its knees today, people discount it from being able to stand strongly? Over the past few years, the government of Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin and the Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov began to expand and modernize the Russian war apparatus. The increase in the defense budget has been immense, and the personal attention of President Putin has been dedicated to strengthening his military. Are the pictures on the internet of Putin in the cockpit of a fighter jet or on the bridge of a warship just for show? I would argue no. One of the most important factors in a military is esprit de corps, and Putin has returned that spirit to the military. I’m not planning to discuss his political strategy, but his actions are not purely out of concern for the public good.
For those who still doubt the possibility, a few years ago the May parade on the Red Square renewed its tradition of the marching pass-in-review by Russian heavy vehicles. I watched each parade with great interest, both personal and professional, and what amazed me was the very last piece of equipment that was in the column. It wasn’t a tank or a howitzer or an SAM launcher. No, it was a mobile, long-range, thermonuclear weapons complex. The Russian nuclear strategy has always been different than the United States’ as they rely on land-based mobile missiles more heavily than we do. The pure symbolism of the weapons being paraded before the Russian people and the world triggered a warning in my mind.
The combination of money, internal restructuring of the military and the creation of a professional NCO corps and kontraktniki (contractors) is a recipe for a reemergence of a world-class military heavy weight. For those who aren’t familiar with the Soviet/Russian military structure, let me elaborate. Traditionally, Russia had a professional officer corps, graduates of numerous military academies, and a draftee military. Anyone who has served in the US military will tell you that the NCO corps is an essential element in executing operations and that was the piece Russia was missing. However, what stands now is a professional, non-commissioned officer corps with more training and incentive to perform well. The Russian army website (www.mil.ru) banners a slogan “Служба по контракту – дело настоящих мужчин.” It translates, “Contract military service: work of real men.” The psychological element that has been missing in the Russian military has officially returned.
So what does this all mean? That’s the question of the hour, ladies and gentlemen: what does this all amount to? There is no surety. None of us can see the future, but as educated professionals we can predict. So, here is mine. I think that within the next quarter century, and very possibly even less, the world will see a new player emerge to contest the international military balance. If history repeats itself, a nation who historically exhibited a hunger for land and power will emerge with a trained, modern military force at the reigns of the Kremlin. This is a possibility we must consider as the next generation of American leaders.