Don’t be Afraid to Invent New Bad Guys

I came across this post from Aivlis who posted this excellent post on the Command Matrix Forum’s Options for Black Sea Conflict thread. 

The one thing that I notice in a lot of the “Cold War 2.0” scenarios is a disregard for believable strategy or goals on the Russian side, which is also invariably the antagonist.

People like to stay in their comfort zone and that sometimes means creating nice cozy scenarios in which the “Soviet Union Mk. 2” goes in guns blazing into an ultimately unwinnable conflict. Not wanting to insult the scenario designers – whose work I greatly appreciate – but I’ve seen enough farcical 1v1 head-on engagements between F-35s and Su-27s to wonder if people really believe this would happen in a real conflict. Do they assume the Russian VVS commanders don’t know the much advertised capabilities of that fighter? Why would they fight on its terms? And most importantly, what kind of mad gamble would have lead them into such a situation?

Wars aren’t started and fought in a vacuum or on an infinite frictionless plane. They are tools to an end, sidetracking notwithstanding. So the best way – in my opinion – to make a scenario believable is to set up clear win conditions for the Red side, then think “if you were given such a mission, what are the chances you’d resign on the spot”?

Regarding Ukraine, scenarios and contemporary politics: Russia has already achieved most of its goals there. Namely, preventing a neighboring country from joining a hostile military alliance, and securing the Crimean peninsula with its military infrastructure. It’s nothing personal, just business (read: national interest). Trying to spin an ideological angle or paint Putin as Hitler might serve to sway the opinion of the uneducated masses, but is just a smokescreen in any serious discussion.

Now, an invasion of Latvia? What for? Please don’t say prestige, Putin has all the high approval ratings he needs.
A ground war with Turkey? Laughable.
A poke into Belarus? There’s literally nothing of value there.

If you really want Russia as the antagonist, consider what it can realistically accomplish with its current armed forces that it couldn’t get via diplomacy, and you’ll have a starting point. Arctic skirmishes and deniable operations in ex-Warsaw Pact countries come to mind. As do expeditionary forces sent to shore up potential allies in the near abroad.

Propaganda and popular culture color our perception of events to an astounding degree, even when we don’t realize it. I know people on both sides of the “Iron Curtain”, as well as many in between (Diplomatic Corps, Think Tank contributors…) and listening the same events being relayed from different camps is always fascinating.

My personal, very biased, opinion, is that Western society has lulled itself into a feeling of moral superiority on certain topics, encouraged by mass media and the oddity that was the highly unipolar world of the 1990s and 2000s. This situation is coming to a close as more regional powers begin to assert themselves in their spheres of influence. We live in interesting times; don’t be afraid to invent new Bad Guys.

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