Small Wars Journal

5 Reasons The U.S. Army Will Lose Its Next War In Europe

Mon, 09/19/2016 - 9:44am

5 Reasons The U.S. Army Will Lose Its Next War In Europe by Loren Thompson, Forbes

U.S. Army planners believe they may have to fight a “near-peer” adversary within five years. Near-peer in this case means a rapidly modernizing Russian military seeking to regain lost ground along Russia’s border with Europe. There’s plenty of evidence that Russia’s military is on the move in the Baltic region, near Ukraine, and elsewhere. Some observers have wrongly inferred that America’s Army has “only” five years to prepare for such a conflict. In fact, it has five years or less. It is common for aggressors to challenge new U.S. presidents early in their tenure.

If such a war were to occur, it would be mainly an Army show. The fight would be over control of large expanses of land with few geographical impediments to rapid advance. The U.S. Army would likely do most of the ground combat for NATO, because America contributes over two-thirds of the alliance’s resources. Losing such a war would drastically reshape the geopolitical balance in Europe, and reduce U.S. influence there to its lowest ebb since before World War Two. And yet losing is what the U.S. Army is currently postured to do.

This bleak outlook arises mainly because of the aggressive nationalism being exhibited by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, but also because of strategic misjudgments by the last two U.S. presidents. George W. Bush removed two U.S. heavy (armored) brigades from Europe during the closing days of his presidency, and then Barack Obama proposed a strategic “pivot” to the Pacific that further reduced America’s military presence on the ground. Putin got the message Washington was focused elsewhere, and proceeded to annex parts of Ukraine in 2014…

Read on.


Outlaw 09

Sat, 09/24/2016 - 6:21am

Unless we get away from the US FP of "doing nothing stupid"...we are losing on all fronts and a "war" has never even started.

IMHO....Russian is well on it's way of damaging the US using non linear warfare in ways we cannot even begin to think about right now...

The Obama drive on a so called "ethnical FP" approach has been an outright all aspects...


Mon, 09/26/2016 - 4:28pm

In reply to by Bill M.

I disagreed with Thompson, and my point about the US Army being unable to surge adequate forces was a counter-argument to Thompson’s contention that the US Army would be the “main” service opposing any Russian aggression against NATO on its eastern flank.

If Berlin and Paris would fail to militarily support a NATO under attack, then the Atlantic Alliance does not exist and there is no reason for the United States to deploy any forces to Europe in order to protect it. No amount of Army deployments can compensate for a political lack of will within NATO to defend its members against Russian aggression, rendering all discussion of the US Army’s role in East-Central Europe pointless.


1. My argument was that European NATO members have sufficient ground forces to defend against a major conventional Russian incursion against Poland or further west. Even without significant external assistance, Poland could either defeat a Russian conventional invasion or force Russia to commit all of its conventional power to the effort. Note that in early 2014, the Ukrainian Army could count on less than 10,000 soldiers, even though Russia had over four times that number massed along Ukraine’s eastern border and thousands already in Crimea. Again, if France and Germany fail to intervene, the Alliance is doomed regardless of whether or not the United States comes to Poland’s aid. Russia could conceivably occupy Latvia before NATO can react, but then it runs the risk of escalation of the conflict to Russian soil and to nuclear warfare. Note that NATO has always been prepared to exchange territory for strategic depth, and the Baltics are about as defensible as West Berlin was.

3. Firstly, Russia’s advanced weaponry has never worked as advertised, and this trend has existed from the Soviet period. Secondly, I have yet to see evidence that Russia could employ effective A2/AD strategies against US submarines or US stealth bombers and fighters. Once those assets have kicked down the door, the Carrier Strike Groups and USAF strike packages can go to work.

There is a major difference between the US Army losing a war in Europe, the US Joint Force losing a war in Europe and NATO losing a war in Europe.

Bill M.

Sat, 09/24/2016 - 6:07am

In reply to by Azor

Point by point

Firstly, agreed, when adversaries have strong interests the concept of escalation control is unrealistic, and perhaps even dangerous.

Secondly, true, and I'm glad to hear you agree with the author.

Thirdly, this is based on an assumption that Germany and France would commit forces. Long as Russia poaches eastern European countries and drives a wedge between NATO countries this remains in doubt.

Point 1, so what? Armies frequently fight on foreign soil, and Russia enjoys the advantage of interior lines. I doubt that that Russia has designs to run to the English channel. Suspect they will stay in the Gray zone and avoid attacking Germany and France unless they opt to defend Poland, or something along those lines. The bottom line is Russia could relatively easily conduct a rapid assault, capture some territory before NATO even thinks about mobilizing.

Point 2, agreed, but as you stated earlier by the time the US army gets there, the fight will be over with, unless we have the political will to dislodge them.

Point 3, I think you are underestimating the impact current A2AD weapons. Turning the seas into NATO lakes would come at a high cost, but yes it would still be a joint fight. Points 4 and 5 were addressee above.

Forbes claims that a conflict between NATO and Russia in Eastern Europe would, “mainly be an Army show”.

Firstly, at no point during the Cold War, from 1955 on, did US/NATO or Soviet/Warsaw Pact planners believe that a conflict could be kept conventional or non-nuclear. While Kennedy’s “Flexible Response” doctrine, finally realized under Reagan when Carter’s Second Offset initiative came into being, permitted more freedom of maneuver than Eisenhower’s OPLAN did, neither side had any doubts that a conventional battle would rapidly cross the nuclear threshold.

Secondly, the US Army’s footprint in Europe is minimal, and given the speed of modern conflict (e.g Falklands, Operation Desert Storm’s air campaign, etc.) it would be impossible for the US to surge major ground forces to Europe. Therefore, most of the US contribution will be by the USAF (aircraft, nuclear weapons) and the USN (carriers, submarines, nuclear weapons).

Thirdly, the major ground forces contributions will be from Germany, Poland, France and random elements from the rest of NATO.

Let’s delve into Loren Thompson’s ridiculous 5 points, shall we?

1. Geography favors the enemy

Thompson seems to be under the misguided impression that without the US Army blocking its path, the Russians will make it to the Channel within days. He seems to forget that Russia would be fighting on other countries’ geographies…

2. The Army is woefully underprepared

According to Thompson, the US Army, “can’t match what Russia has”. But the US Army fights as part of a Joint Force, whereas Russia’s crude attempts at combined arms network-centric precision-strike in Georgia and Syria cannot even achieve a modicum of what Operation Desert Storm did. Perhaps Russia’s best-equipped and most experienced ground units can give their American peers a real challenge, but in totality, the US Army is much better equipped and supported.

3. Much of the joint force would be sidelined

Thompson seems to forget that NATO can turn the Baltic and Black Seas into NATO “lakes”, that carriers can play supporting roles from the Mediterranean and North Seas, that submarines can attack land targets and shipping, and that the USAF has the best stealth and precision-strike capabilities in the world. If the S-400 is so dangerous, then what of the Patriot?

4. NATO allies aren’t committed

It’s always an issue. Certainly Poland and the United Kingdom are. The less NATO members want to commit, the less the United States has to provide to them in the form of extended deterrence.

5. Washington isn’t willing to escalate

Washington also isn’t willing to allow its personnel to be killed by stand-off weapons launched from Russian territory either.

Bill M.

Mon, 09/26/2016 - 7:08am

In reply to by Bill C.


Confirmed by viewing documents in the national security archives online. The strategic aim of "normalizing" relations with China was to prevent a monolithic communist block (balance of power goals), and to make Moscow more malleable to US policy goals toward Vietnam, since it was the USSR that provided most of the support to North Vietnam, not China. China was as eager as the US to normalize relationships to improve their leverage with Moscow.

Whether the Cold War, or any other great power competition, competing for allies and partners can be a decisive endeavor for deterrence, or winning an armed conflict. IMO we are not doing well in this competition with the current administration. Of course, Nixon and Kissinger throwing Taiwan halfway under the bus, has created an enduring Point of friction and strategic ambiguity. The Republican right wouldn't let Nixon or Ford pull the rug out from under Taiwan completely.

Bill M.

Sun, 09/25/2016 - 2:10am

In reply to by Bill C.

Alliance was a poor choice of words on my part, rather as you said it was to improve relations, which still created problems for the USSR, which I believe was the intent. I need to go back and read Kissinger's rationale. It was certainly realpolitik when you throw Taiwan under the bus, to get closer to mass murderer Mao. That is not seeking to get nations to align with our values as you claim. Seems more like making a deal with the devil to me.

Russia's current ambitions seem larger in scope than our Monroe Doctrine. They intend to weaken the U.S. and increase their influence globally. I agree there is a Monroe aspect to their larger plan. My comparison to Hitler was to illustrate Europe's appeasement to Russian aggression, and the dangers associated with that.

Bill C.

Sat, 09/24/2016 - 5:50pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Nixon did not, I believe, seek an "alliance" with China; only better relations. Thus, your "alliance" thoughts above, and as per a Russian comparison, I do not understand/cannot follow.

(No NATO member, I believe, seeks an alliance with Russia today. Much as no SEATO member -- in the "Nixon Goes to China" era -- sought an alliance with China back then?)

Re: "Nixon Goes to China and the "appeasement" of China back then (Taiwan looses its status; the "dominoes" of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are allowed to "fall" to communism); note that this "appeasement" did not result in a "greater risk of war" -- just the opposite.

Thus, what seems to have occurred with "Nixon Goes to China" back then -- and what may be happening with "NATO Goes to Russia" today -- was/is a better focus on strategic objectives and priorities; one which requires that:

a. One's opportunity to "transform" (more along modern western political, economic and social lines) and "incorporate" (more into the global economy) the most powerful/most important states, societies and civilizations of the world (ex: China back-in-the-day?); this,

b. Cannot be allowed to be undermined, threatened, squandered and/or destroyed by one's desire to transform and incorporate the much less powerful -- and much less important -- states, societies and civilizations of the world (ex: Vietnam back-in-the-day?).

Thus, when push comes to shove:

a. Nixon goes for better relations with China. And

b. Taiwan (its status), and Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are sacrificed.

Same-same re:

a. NATO's consideration of the priority of better relations (not an alliance) with Russia today; this,

b. As being more important than "retaining" the Baltic States and/or "gaining" Ukraine?

As to Putin's desires and ambitions today, and re: his actions in his own backyard/his own sphere of influence, should we not consider these as being much more similar to our own desires, ambitions and actions -- re: our own backyard and our own sphere of influence -- much as the below "War on the Rocks" article describes?

Thus, to understand Putin (as the above "War on the Rocks" article suggests?):

a. More in "Monroe Doctrine-like" terms. And

b. Less in some "Hitler-isk" fashion?

Bill M.

Fri, 09/23/2016 - 1:43am

In reply to by Bill C.

Reaching out to China as Nixon did was pragmatic, it kept the balance of power in our favor relative to the USSR. Russia is weak economically, and their values do not align with most of Europe, so it is unlikely that any European country would seek a serious alliance with Russia. The only thing Russia has to offer is energy, and even that will be short term if Russia doesn't invest in their infrastructure. An alliance with Russia is an alliance with weakness and organized crime. If your argument is that most European countries want to avoid war, that appears to be true. That presents the risk of appeasement, and a greater risk of war. Very different than Nixon reaching out to China. More closely aligned with the rise of Hitler.

Our "long game" -- re: such great nations/great civilizations as those of Russia, China and Iran today -- is to further the "expansion" of our way of life, our way of governance and our values, attitudes and beliefs into these critically important regions.

The NATO nations know this. And so does Putin, et. al.

Thus, might we say -- and re: NATO's cost/benefit analysis/considerations of today -- that the NATO nations may be finding themselves in a similar place to that of Nixon in the Old Cold War?

Wherein, he (Nixon) would:

a. Contemplate the sacrifice of lesser/obscure nations (Taiwan: their status; Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia: these countries and their populations as a whole); this, to:

b. Achieve what he (Nixon) believed was the larger, more important cause (better relations with China -- and all the strategic benefits/advantages that came with same).

(I am sure -- at that time -- that various exceptionally important and extremely well- qualified people in American government, and indeed elsewhere, pointed out to Nixon the, countering, "appeasement," "if you give a mouse a cookie" and "bad precedent" arguments.)

Thus, in the light offered above to see:

a. Ukraine, and the Baltic states, looking somewhat askance at NATO?

b. The NATO nations -- and re: these such lesser/obscure states -- hesitate/re-think their strategic (see the first paragraph above) cost/benefit considerations? And, accordingly,

c. Why there may, indeed, be no war in Europe for the U.S. Army to lose?

Bill M.

Wed, 09/21/2016 - 12:44am

In reply to by flagg

Most victories (military, political, economic, etc.), only produce temporary results. The Russians, much like the Chinese, are using economic coercion to weaken opposing alliances, which is a key step in achieving a political and military position of advantage. That in turn increase Russia's confidence and undermines the confidence of our allies. Less confidence portrays weakness and undermines deterrence. It's a long game where grand strategy will be decisive, not tactics. Russia is dangerous, but they're still weak, if we had stronger leadership in the White House we wouldn't be in this position.

I'm reminded of one of the very early battles President Reagan had with NATO partners from the time he first entered office and when Western Europe was suffering serious economic recession.

The proposed Soviet energy pipeline to provide cheap energy to NATO countries.

Enriching your opponent sitting directly across the Fulda Gap was no way to look at the big picture so it was rightly stopped(albeit temporarily) and surely contributed partially to an earlier demise of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union.

But fast forward 25 years and it looks to me like Reagan was right, but what he did only delayed Russian influence over Europe.

Have a look at individual nation state reliance on Russian energy.

Baltics and Belarus are pretty much 100% reliant.

Most other Eastern European states are significant minority % reliance on Russian energy with Western Europe a bit less but still geopolitically and dangerously relevant.

How much does energy politics and influence have over Eastern European geopolitics.

"Who runs Barter Town? Master Blaster runs Barter Town."


Wed, 09/21/2016 - 3:25pm

In reply to by Bill C.

I understand your point, but I still must disagree. Whether a NATO nation decides to intervene will be based, in part, on a cost-benefit analysis (is directly confronting Russia, and the negatives that could result from that, outweigh the positives of honoring my treaty obligations and ensuring Russia knows that I will not back down), and in part on emotional considerations (I really don't like Russia). I think, for some countries like Italy, they may feel that the cost does not outweigh the benefit. For Poland, I think that calculation will be completely different. With the current nationalistic government, they will be itching for a fight. Plus, all of them know that if Russia picks off one, then the NATO alliance collapses - either they hang together, or they hang separately.

No, I still think that, if the nation can clearly show Russian activity (not just the collapse of the current government), then some NATO allies will intercede even where other are hesitant.

All that said, I don't believe Russia has any interest in Europe beyond the "near abroad" where a large population of "Russian speakers" constitute what is often called "the Russian World." I think that this emotional tie to a mythical view of Russia is the primary motivating factor for the Russians, and why they will not venture deeper into the Ukraine than they need to consolidate current gains.


Wed, 09/21/2016 - 12:03am

In reply to by Bill C.

You may be quite correct that: "whether the benefit of intervening militarily in these such obscure nations is considered to be worth the cost" will determine whether this country and any other member of NATO elects to fulfill its Treaty obligations to go to war on behalf of another Nation -- supposed ally or not. I cannot visualize (for example) the current President taking this Nation to war over Russia invading one of more of the Baltic States, or envision either of the two major candidates for President so doing.

Have you seen the somewhat related paper on The Strategy Bridge (September 13, 2016) titled "The Return of Limited War" wherein at the end the author notes: "In future conflicts it will not be the loss of human life that limits involvement, but the loss of expensive hardware. Whether for better or worse, we are all returning to an older understanding of limited war, one driven more by costs than objectives."


Bill C.

Tue, 09/20/2016 - 6:03pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

My argument is that, when it comes to such obscure nations as Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- and re: the will of the NATO nations to intervene there militarily to attempt to halt Russian aggression -- whether these nations are members of NATO, or not, this does not seem matter.

Rather what seems to matter -- to the NATO nations -- is whether the benefit of intervening militarily in these such obscure nations is considered to be worth the cost of such an action; today and going forward.

It is on this suggested basis, rather than on NATO membership "yes or no," that -- shall we agree -- the NATO nations appear to be contemplating/basing their "military intervention"/"go to war or not" decisions?

(Thus, in sum, the NATO nations, before the world, contemplating whether membership in NATO -- and the obligations that go therewith -- are now to be considered in a much different light than in the Old Cold War?)


Tue, 09/20/2016 - 1:40pm

In reply to by Bill C.

I think that is a bit of a false comparison. The Ukraine is not a member of NATO and could not invoke ART 5. Now if Russia were to try what they are doing in Eastern Ukraine in Latvia or Estonia, it would be a different matter. I don't think the other NATO countries would stand by if Lithuania were to invoke due to civil unrest caused by "little green men", that the other NATO countries would do nothing. Poland certainly would send aide.

As for Russia actually having the capabilities for a large scale land grab, probably not. They are modernizing, and they have a large ground force, but how much of it could be maintained and supplied for more than a few weeks is hard to say.

Bill C.

Tue, 09/20/2016 - 12:58pm

Re: the article's title: "5 Reasons the U.S. Army Will Lose Its Next War in Europe:"

Should we say that, most likely, there will be no such war for the U.S. Army to lose?


Because Russia will be allowed -- re: the Baltics states -- to simply take what it wants?

This (a) much as was the case with Crimea and, this, (b) due to the seemingly -- now seen as arbitrary -- NATO/Article 5 requirements?

The author describes a dire situation, and I can't refute any of his points. It does beg the question that if NATO members don't have the will to resist, and are politically unreliable (maybe they're in, maybe not), how much more should we invest in the defense of Europe? Of course we don't want to lose our European allies for a wide range of reasons including realpolitik reasons, as well as defending common values, but will we be able to sustain the political will at home to win?


Mon, 09/19/2016 - 8:29pm

In reply to by cammo99

What are you talking about???? The article was on potential Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. There was nothing in the article about Iran or Afghanistan.

That said, the article was correct, to a point. If the Russians were to initiate a land grab in the Ukraine or the Balkans NATO would be unprepared to respond, but that doesn't mean that we couldn't win the war. The amount of money put into new equipment is not the equivalent of total capability. It only is if you work for FORBES and are interested in the business of selling new equipment. So while the article does raise a valid concern, it is written with a the specific intent of scaring people into paying more taxes and spending more money on new equipment.

A writer claiming to be an expert on Iraq and Afghan war vets got one thing right, the US public is alienated from its military. The end of the draft being one cause cited. Where I think she misses the boat is the anti-war movement not to be confused with genuine pacifists like the Amish or Quakers, is still a counter force to be reckoned with that is both advocates of hard socialism and believe pro-Islamic efforts will also result in forwarding socialism among Islamist revolutionaries which is how Obama's White House so recklessly misunderstood the Arab Spring and its radical Islamist intent. The truth is they love violence.
These are people who will never concede ridding the world of Hussein was a good in itself, one blogger today responded to a comment of mine by claiming that the USA was responsible for a million deaths because of the war against Hussein. It is the same hard socialist ideology as opposed the Vietnam War.
Some people actually believe that 9-11 ended the extremist radical anti-war movement, that is an assumption and mistake. Despite the fact Hussein murdered 450,000 of his own people and invaded his neighbors to seize oil assets, this is all blamed on Bush. How do you explain such lunacy?
They are still here as malevolent and anti-American as ever and considering how far Sanders progressed in the DNC primary, gaining steam and influencing the White House as never before.
Do not underestimate these America haters who made up the oxymoron term socialist/capitalist to hide the fact they are simply new world order hard socialists anti Americans.