Sunday, January 29, 2023

When the Plan Fails - Vox Popoli

 A Rand report published in April 2019 laid out US strategy vis-a-vis Russia, which as you can see in hindsight, was followed fairly closely to the letter. Note that “extending” Russia is shorthand for “causing the Russians to overextend and unbalance themselves”.

This report examines a range of possible means to extend Russia. As the 2018 National Defense Strategy recognized, the United States is currently locked in a great-power competition with Russia. This report seeks to define areas where the United States can compete to its own advantage. Drawing on quantitative and qualitative data from Western and Russian sources, this report examines Russia’s economic, political, and military vulnerabilities and anxieties. It then analyzes potential policy options to exploit them — ideologically, economically, geopolitically, and militarily (including air and space, maritime, land, and multidomain options). After describing each measure, this report assesses the associated benefits, costs, and risks, as well as the likelihood that measure could be successfully implemented and actually extend Russia. Most of the steps covered in this report are in some sense escalatory, and most would likely prompt some Russian counter-escalation. Some of these policies, however, also might prompt adverse reactions from other U.S. adversaries — most notably, China — that could, in turn, stress the United States. Ultimately, this report concludes that the most attractive U.S. policy options to extend Russia — with the greatest benefits, highest likelihood of success, and least risk — are in the economic domain, featuring a combination of boosting U.S. energy production and sanctions, providing the latter are multilateral. In contrast, geopolitical measures to bait Russia into overextending itself and ideological measures to undermine the regime’s stability carry significant risks. Finally, many military options — including force posture changes and development of new capabilities — could enhance U.S. deterrence and reassure U.S. allies, but only a few are likely to extend Russia, as Moscow is not seeking parity with the United States in most domains.

Key Findings

Russia’s weaknesses lie in the economic domains

  • Russia’s greatest vulnerability, in any competition with the United States, is its economy, which is comparatively small and highly dependent on energy exports.
  • The Russian leadership’s greatest anxiety stems from the stability and durability of the regime.

The most promising measures to stress Russia are in the realms of energy production and international pressure

  • Continuing to expand U.S. energy production in all forms, including renewables, and encouraging other countries to do the same would maximize pressure on Russia’s export receipts and thus on its national and defense budgets. Alone among the many measures looked at in this report, this one comes with the least cost or risk.
  • Sanctions can also limit Russia’s economic potential. To be effective, however, these need to be multilateral, involving (at a minimum) the European Union, which is Russia’s largest customer and greatest source of technology and capital, larger in all these respects than the United States.

Geopolitical measures to bait Russia into overextending itself are likely impractical, or they risk second-order consequences

  • Many geopolitical measures would force the United States to operate in areas that are closer to Russia and where it is thus cheaper and easier for Russia than the United States to exert influence.

Ideological measures to undermine the regime’s stability carry significant risks of counter escalation

  • Many military options — including force posture changes and development of new capabilities — could enhance U.S. deterrence and reassure U.S. allies, but only a few are likely to extend Russia, as Moscow is not seeking parity with the United States in most domains.
Extending Russia: Competing from Advantageous Ground, RAND, 24 April 2019

This was followed up by a report five months later, which provided specific actions intended to achieve the objectives identified in the initial report, entitled Overextending and Unbalancing Russia: Assessing the Impact of Cost-Imposing Options.

Insert deep movie trailer voice: They did not correctly assess the impact of the cost-imposed options.

What’s fascinating is that now RAND is rapidly backtracking on the idea of extending Russia, because the US attempts to extend Russia have turned out to extend the USA, its NATO proxies, the other European states, and Clown World itself. Remember what I said in the previous post about NATO needing to win fast? That’s why Rand wants to pull a Vietnam/Afghanistan, call it a win, and get the US military out of Eastern Europe as quickly as possible.

The Andrew Anglin committee has correctly assessed the situation.

Here’s the deal: everyone understands that Russia is only a power capable of competing with the US because it is backed by a much larger and much wealthier country called “China.” Russia needs their economy to survive. India wouldn’t be standing up to the US, nor would Saudi or any of the other former allies pushing back, if they weren’t getting cover from China.

The think tanks were all pushing for China to be the target of the next US war.

However, Pentagon people said Russia is much weaker, so they went with that. Now it’s a boondoggle. The West is destroying its economy, they are alienating the whole world, and they’re accomplishing what exactly? Russia can keep fighting indefinitely. It’s not costing them anything…

The US can’t possibly open up the China front while the Ukraine is ongoing, and time is on China’s side over there.

This is why RAND is mad.

However, wars do not take place in a vacuum and they have a way of creating a new reality that is unforeseen even by the architects of the best-laid warplans. There is no reason for Russia to let NATO and the US military off the hook just because it suits RAND, and there is absolutely zero chance that Xi Xinping and the extremely astute Chinese warplanners are going to be blind to the advantages of making sure that the first front stays active until the second one is opened by one of the two parties concerned.

Remember, the failure of a plan doesn’t mean it never existed, it simply means it didn’t work.