The Ukrainian War a Year Later
Stopping START: does it raise nuclear war stakes?
A year ago, most military analysts thought that Ukraine would lose in a matter of days or weeks.
The Ukrainian armed forces have done well, thanks to a determination to fight and generous support from NATO and European allies. But, at the same time, the world has moved closer to total war as the Ukrainians have had the strategic initiative for most of the year and President Putin has refused to back down.
Now the world must consider the possibility of nuclear warfare. We saw that in Putin’s state of the nation address, which showed no compromise on the issue of using nuclear weapons. He stated that Russia was suspending its participation in the START treaty that limits the number of nuclear weapons that Russia and the US can field.
However, it was Putin’s threat to not abide by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that should be more worrying. It is this treaty that prevents the testing and developing of new nuclear devices by stating that any nuclear test must be “zero yield.” The US has never ratified the treaty, although Russia has signed and ratified the treaty. However, the treaty has never gone into effect.
In his speech Putin strongly alluded to starting the development and testing of new nuclear weapon designs. In a defense for such development, he reminded listeners that, “We remember Ukraine’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons (actually because of the breakup of the USSR, Ukraine did acquire some nuclear weapons that they gave up in return for assurances from the US and UK).
Putin also said, “If the US conducts [nuclear] tests, so will we.”
However, there are charges that Russia has already conducted small nuclear tests. In 2019, the head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. General Robert Ashley, claimed that Russia had “probably been violating the test ban treaty by carrying out low yield tests in the Arctic Archipelago of Novaya Zemlya.
Ashley continued, “Russia’s development of new warhead designs…have been enhanced by its approach to nuclear testing.”
Since fourth generation nuclear weapons can have yields of as low as 1 to 100 tons of TNT, these tests are much harder to detect. But the designs have unique applications on the tactical battlefield since they reduce collateral damage.
Some of the technologies include petawatt-class lasers, micro-explosions, antimatter as a triggering device, and thermonuclear shaped charges. Weapons could have enhanced electromagnetic pulse, high energy neutrons, reduced residual radiation, and nuclear drive jets and projectiles.
Bombs that use antimatter isn’t something from science fiction, small antimatter traps the size of an egg have already been developed for microgram amounts of antimatter.
The lower yields and enhanced effects of some aspects of the nuclear device will make them ideal if Russia feels it needs new technology to break through Ukrainian lines. With the 1 ton to 100-ton yield, they offer an ideal fit between conventional weapons and nuclear warheads.
NATO and Russia: Then, Now, and in the Future
The Ukraine War has changed the NATO alliance. In the days of the Cold War, the US was the major partner and West Germany was the major land army on the continent of Europe. France under De Gaulle had withdrawn from the NATO military structure, although it was still a NATO member.
The United Kingdom was a former colonial power, who was rapidly reducing its military obligations “East of Suez” and reducing its once formable navy to green ocean navy (a misassumption that Argentina made).
Russia was seen as a major military power with nuclear weapons, a massive tank army, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of soldiers.
Much has changed in the last year. Russia is seen today as a weaker great military power with nuclear weapons. When the Germans invaded the USSR in 1941, the Soviets had 2.9 million soldiers in the Western Military District. When they invaded Ukraine in 2022, they had 300,000. Russia is facing a demographic problem and they can’t rely on the Ukrainian forces that were a large part of the Soviet WWII military. This doesn’t include the losses over the last year that will make it hard to rebuild the army over the next few years.
It will take decades for the Russian Army to modernize and rebuild its forces and reputation.
Meanwhile, the US remains the major NATO partner. But France and Germany are seen as minor NATO military partners: France is sending light, obsolete tanks to Ukraine and Germany, whose army is now a shadow of former size, is dithering on allowing other countries to ship Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Although the UK hasn’t much of an army, they have contributed frontline main battle tanks to the Ukraine. They are modernizing their navy, which boasts the most powerful aircraft carriers – except for American super carriers. They have also designed their carriers to operate seamlessly with the American navy.
The biggest change is in Poland, which has earned the reputation as one of NATO’s major partners. They have a large conventional army with more tanks and armored vehicles than any NATO partner but the US. They have become the major logistics and training center for NATO’s support of Ukraine. They have given some heavy equipment like tanks to Ukraine. And they are expanding their army and inviting the US to move some of its forces into Poland.
The Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have stepped up their participating in NATO, even though their economies are small.
Nations formerly under Soviet control are taking a more aggressive stance against Russia.
The future of NATO will have to consider Central and Eastern European nations as the key to stop Russian expansion. Note that President Biden visited Poland and Ukraine. Berlin and Paris were not part of the trip.
Future potential allies will strengthen NATO despite Turkey and Erdogen. Sweden and Finland will help secure the Baltic Sea while manufacturing modern weapons and holding down the northern flank of NATO.
Today’s attitude towards Russia is much like it was in the coldest days of the Cold War. It will remain if Putin stays in power.
So, what are the factors that will determine the war in 2023?
Logistics. Ukraine has managed to substitute modern arms for the lack of soldiers. Although everyone talks about aircraft and tanks, there are other requirements like longer range artillery and rockets. To have more mobility, Ukraine needs anti-mine capability so they can break through Russian lines without taking major casualties.
Not all the munitions need to be high tech. The US has increased the production of Javelin and Stinger missiles, but 155mm artillery shells are being used at a high rate and there is a need to manufacture more than are currently available.
Although the US and other NATO allies are loath to dip too deep into their war reserves, the fact is that logistical support is critical for the Ukraine and the reality is that NATO has two options – give them to Ukraine so they can stop the Russians or use them in the defense of their own sovereign territory.
Although they are controversial, the delivery of cluster bombs would help stop the Russian tactic of massed human waves.
A spreading wars. The conflict appears to be growing outside Ukraine. According to intelligence sources, Moldova, which is on the western border of Ukraine, may be attacked to open a western front in the war. Putin has revoked a decree that recognized Moldavia as an independent nation. Together with Transnistria, a pro-Russian, breakaway part of Moldova, it is possible that Russia may try to capture some airports in Transnistria and Moldovia and setup an air bridge that will create a second front that will take pressure off Russian forces in the east.
Another front on the Ukraine War is the Chinese threat. Some analysts are saying that the US must step back in Ukraine, so the US has the resources to fight China.
That has been countered by some analysts. First, the type of war in the Chinese theater is different from the one in Ukraine. The Ukraine War is a land battle that requires tanks etc. A war in the South China Sea requires naval vessels, aircraft carriers, anti-ship missiles, Marines, etc. These are weapons systems not needed in Europe.
With the support of Japan, South Korea, and Australia, the US can hold while the Ukraine War goes on. It’s important to remember that if the US pulls back to reinforce the Southeast Asia Theater, Putin will win by default.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping to gain ground in 2023, providing NATO continues to support Ukraine with munitions. But Putin and Russia may have some surprises in the battle fields.