The current tensions between Russia and the NATO Alliance are more dangerous than even the cold war at its height in the view one former top-ranking uniformed Western official.
Throughout the cold war there was a military balance between NATO and also the Warsaw pact that Lent itself to stability. Moreover, the U.S and its NATO partners had established communications channels with the Soviet leadership during that period. The same cannot be said of the current regime in the Kremlin—which is in some ways more volatile. Thus, not only is there a danger of a skirmish breaking out between NATO and Russia in Eastern Europe, it is very possible that such a conflict would quickly intensify into an all out nuclear war.
“Is this a return to the Cold War?” Gen. Sir Richard Shirreff, former deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe told an audience at the Brookings institution on October. 19. “I assume it’s more dangerous than that.”
Shirreff said that Western European nations, while economically prosperous in relative terms, are militarily and politically weak. That weakness serves as a beacon for Moscow to check Western resolve and push boundaries. particularly, the 2008 war in Georgia served to demonstrate to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he could go away with aggression in Russia’s ‘near abroad,’ Shirreff said. “Russia respects strength and despises weakness and will continue to probe weakness,” Shirreff said.
The Russians request to use weakness and sow divisions at intervals the West, in Shirreff’s read. Significantly, Vladimir Putin wants to decouple the US from its allies in Europe. Thus, Moscow might test Western resolve in the vulnerable Baltic States—leading potentially to a nuclear war as NATO’s Article five clause is triggered. “If Russia puts one soldier across the borders of the Baltic States, that mean America is at war,”
Shirreff said. “And, of course, as I said earlier, potentially nuclear war as well.”
Shirreff conceded that under rational circumstances, it is a stretch to imagine that Russia would invade the Baltics.
However, Shirreff argues that history has shown that strategy is more about the human dimension. “Humans are not necessarily rational,” Shirreff said. “Certainly, we need to be ready for the worst case.”