Are We Stumbling Into World War III in Ukraine?

Yves here. From very early in the war in Ukraine, experts have talked about the summer of 1914 feeling, of weak leaders, of aristocrats confident that any war would be short and close to a sporting event, juxtaposed with the view that a serious conflict would not happen because no one wanted that. Here we have weak, appearance-obsessed leaders, way too many who do want war because profit, and widespread indifference to the risk of nuclear escalation.

By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies are the authors of War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict, published by OR Books in November 2022.Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and the author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher for CODEPINK and the author of Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq

 U.S. and Ukrainian armies attend the opening ceremony of the “RAPID TRIDENT-2021” military exercises

President Biden began his State of the Union speech with an impassioned warning that failing to pass his $61 billion dollar weapons package for Ukraine “will put Ukraine at risk, Europe at risk, the free world at risk.” But even if the president’s request were suddenly passed, it would only prolong, and dangerously escalate, the brutal war that is destroying Ukraine.

The assumption of the U.S. political elite that Biden had a viable plan to defeat Russia and restore Ukraine’s pre-2014 borders has proven to be one more triumphalist American dream that has turned into a nightmare. Ukraine has joined North Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and now Gaza, as another shattered monument to America’s military madness.

This could have been one of the shortest wars in history, if President Biden had just supported a peace and neutrality agreement negotiated in Turkey in March and April 2022 that already had champagne corkspopping in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian negotiator Oleksiy Arestovych. Instead, the U.S. and NATO chose to prolong and escalate the war as a means to try to defeat and weaken Russia.

Two days before Biden’s State of the Union speech, Secretary of State Blinken announced the early retirement of Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, one of the officials most responsible for a decade of disastrous U.S. policy toward Ukraine.

Two weeks before the announcement of Nuland’s retirement at the age of 62, she acknowledged in a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that the war in Ukraine had degenerated into a war of attrition that she compared to the First World War, and she admitted that the Biden administration had no Plan B for Ukraine if Congress doesn’t cough up $61 billion for more weapons.

We don’t know whether Nuland was forced out, or perhaps quit in protest over a policy that she fought for and lost. Either way, her ride into the sunset opens the door for others to fashion a badly needed Plan B for Ukraine.

The imperative must be to chart a path back from this hopeless but ever-escalating war of attrition to the negotiating table that the U.S. and Britain upended in April 2022 – or at least to new negotiations on the basis that President Zelenskyy defined on March 27, 2022, when he told his people, “Our goal is obvious: peace and the restoration of normal life in our native state as soon as possible.”

Instead, on February 26, in a very worrying sign of where NATO’s current policy is leading, French President Emmanuel Macron revealed that European leaders meeting in Paris discussed sending larger numbers of Western ground troops to Ukraine.

Macron pointed out that NATO members have steadily increased their support to levels unthinkable when the war began. He highlighted the example of Germany, which offered Ukraine only helmets and sleeping bags at the outset of the conflict and is now saying Ukraine needs more missiles and tanks. “The people that said “never ever” today were the same ones who said never ever planes, never ever long-range missiles, never ever trucks. They said all that two years ago,” Macron recalled. “We have to be humble and realize that we (have) always been six to eight months late.”

Macron implied that, as the war escalates, NATO countries may eventually have to deploy their own forces to Ukraine, and he argued that they should do so sooner rather than later if they want to recover the initiative in the war.

The mere suggestion of Western troops fighting in Ukraine elicited an outcry both within France–from extreme right National Rally to leftist La France Insoumise–and from other NATO countries. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz insisted that participants in the meeting were “unanimous” in their opposition to deploying troops. Russian officials warned that such a step would mean war between Russia and NATO.

But as Poland’s president and prime minister headed to Washington for a White House meeting on February 12, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski told the Polish parliament that sending NATO troops into Ukraine “is not unthinkable.”

Macron’s intention may have been precisely to bring this debate out into the open and put an end to the secrecy surrounding the undeclared policy of gradual escalation toward full-scale war with Russia that the West has pursued for two years.

Macron failed to mention publicly that, under current policy, NATO forces are already deeply involved in the war. Among many lies that President Biden told in his State of the Union speech, he insisted that “there are no American soldiers at war in Ukraine.”

However, the trove of Pentagon documents leaked in March 2023 included an assessment that there were already at least 97 NATO special forces troops operating in Ukraine, including 50 British, 14 Americans and 15 French. Admiral John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, has also acknowledged a “small U.S. military presence” based in the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to try to keep track of thousands of tons of U.S. weapons as they arrive in Ukraine.

But many more U.S. forces, whether inside or outside Ukraine, are involved in planning Ukrainian militaryoperations; providing satellite intelligence; and play essential roles in the targeting of U.S. weapons. A Ukrainian official told the Washington Post that Ukrainian forces hardly ever fire HIMARS rockets without precise targeting data provided by U.S. forces in Europe.

All these U.S. and NATO forces are most definitely “at war in Ukraine.” To be at war in a country with only small numbers of “boots on the ground” has been a hallmark of 21st Century U.S. war-making, as any Navy pilot on an aircraft-carrier or drone operator in Nevada can attest. It is precisely this doctrine of “limited” and proxy war that is at risk of spinning out of control in Ukraine, unleashing the World War III that President Biden has vowed to avoid.

The United States and NATO have tried to keep the escalation of the war under control by deliberate, incremental escalation of the types of weapons they provide and cautious, covert expansion of their own involvement. This has been compared to “boiling a frog,” turning up the heat gradually to avoid any sudden move that might cross a Russian “red line” and trigger a full-scale war between NATO and Russia. But as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned in December 2022, “If things go wrong, they can go horribly wrong.”

We have long been puzzled by these glaring contradictions at the heart of U.S. and NATO policy. On one hand, we believe President Biden when he says he does not want to start World War III. On the other hand, that is what his policy of incremental escalation is inexorably leading towards.

U.S. preparations for war with Russia are already at odds with the existential imperative of containing the conflict. In November 2022, the Reed-Inhofe Amendment to the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) invoked wartime emergency powers to authorize an extraordinary shopping-list of weapons like the ones sent to Ukraine, and approved billion-dollar, multi-year no-bid contracts with weapons manufacturers to buy 10 to 20 times the quantities of weapons that the United States had actually shipped to Ukraine.

Retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian, the former chief of the Force Structure and Investment Division in the Office of Management and Budget, explained, “This isn’t replacing what we’ve given [Ukraine]. It’s building stockpiles for a major ground war [with Russia] in the future.”

So the United States is preparing to fight a major ground war with Russia, but the weapons to fight that war will take years to produce, and, with or without them, that could quickly escalate into a nuclear war. Nuland’s early retirement could be the result of Biden and his foreign policy team finally starting to come to grips with the existential dangers of the aggressive policies she championed.

Meanwhile, Russia’s escalation from its original limited “Special Military Operation” to its current commitmentof 7% of its GDP to the war and weapons production has outpaced the West’s escalations, not just in weapons production but in manpower and actual military capability.

One could say that Russia is winning the war, but that depends what its real war goals are. There is a yawning gulf between the rhetoric from Biden and other Western leaders about Russian ambitions to invade other countries in Europe and what Russia was ready to settle for at the talks in Turkey in 2022, when it agreed to withdraw to its pre-war positions in return for a simple commitment to Ukrainian neutrality.

Despite Ukraine’s extremely weak position after its failed 2023 offensive and its costly defense and loss of Avdiivka, Russian forces are not racing toward Kyiv, or even Kharkiv, Odesa or the natural boundary of the Dnipro River.

Reuters Moscow Bureau reported that Russia spent months trying to open new negotiations with the United States in late 2023, but that, in January 2024, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan slammed that door shut with a flat refusal to negotiate over Ukraine.

The only way to find out what Russia really wants, or what it will settle for, is to return to the negotiating table. All sides have demonized each other and staked out maximalist positions, but that is what nations at war do in order to justify the sacrifices they demand of their people and their rejection of diplomatic alternatives.

Serious diplomatic negotiations are now essential to get down to the nitty-gritty of what it will take to bring peace to Ukraine. We are sure there are wiser heads within the U.S., French and other NATO governments who are saying this too, behind closed doors, and that may be precisely why Nuland is out and why Macron is talking so openly about where the current policy is heading. We fervently hope that is the case, and that Biden’s Plan B will lead back to the negotiating table, and then forward to peace in Ukraine.

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  1. Terry Flynn

    Yikes. Given the title, this is perhaps the ultimate case where I hope Betteridge’s law holds true.

    1. Willow

      Betteridge’s law holds, it’s just that WW3 starts as a result of the Israel Palestine conflict not Ukraine. Key Ukraine risk was always how far UK would go to trigger an event to get US boots on the ground or bait Russia. Thankfully, so far unsuccessful. But Gaza has thrown up some really bad crosswinds which may spill over into stupid decisions in Ukraine as European leaders try to avoid making decisions about Palestine. An exploding Middle East and wider Islamic world may also push US/Europe & Russia into opposing camps with open & direct conflict. All happening at the same time as US & Europe having extremely poor political leadership & instability.

      1. Willow

        Really important to also factor in the impact of climate change, see >Global Warming Is Still Accelerating, in Three Graphs. It’s not possible to disentangle geopolitical disputes from Global Warming, or vice verse.

        Global warming and food shortages will increase social stresses and revolts. Elites talk a lot about climate change but are doing nothing to reduce other social & political stressors (e.g. Ukraine, Palestine, wealth inequality etc.) in order to provide societies with enough buffer to absorb climate shocks. Unfortunately one way to resolve public disorder and ensure staying in power is to start a war and then hope to win. US Democrats seem particularly predisposed to this way of thinking given the likelihood of a Trump win. Global warming will be the ‘Trump’ for Europe, China, Africa and Middle East.

    2. britzklieg

      Imho, the only reason Betteridge’s Law is in effect here is the word “stumbling.” This is not “stumbling”, this is malign intent.

      As for the essay itself, I had to force myself to keep reading past the part where the writers say they “believe” Biden isn’t interested in starting WWIII. Of course he is… and always has been. Because the war-crazed mummy currently passing for POTUS foolishly believes it to be winnable.

      … but now that I consider the title again, the answer, technically, might be a firm “no” as I believe that astute NC commenter Mikel got it right here, soon after Russia moved in, just after Ukraine had been quickly defeated and as the situation developed openly (though not admittedly) into war with NATO. He named it “WWI part 3.” So no, not WWIII but WW none the less

      1. Carolinian

        I disagree about Biden and think the only validation he cares about his being re-elected. While this may seem like another WW1 “march of folly” on the part of some Europeans like Macron, it can’t happen without the US and Biden, who thinks of himself as a shrewd operator, imagines he is playing a clever game and showing off his power. Arguably the only reason he got stuck to this tar baby in the first place was to erase the humiliation of the Afghanistan withdrawal. It’s all about him.

        And Nuland did just get the boot which should be taken as a good sign.

        Also for this to be like 1914 would be to discount the carefully calculating Putin–no Kaiser Wilhelm he. The characters involved in this current drama are not the absolute monarchs of the empire era and even though those frustrated politicians in Europe may act that way polls show they are on thin ice indeed.

        1. britzklieg

          I understand your argument but believe that any and all moves by Biden that suggest he is at all circumspect are merely optics, especially the end of Nuland. He hopes that action will fool his critics into believing there’s some sanity still at play in his addled brain… but I ain’t believing it. He is, at his very core, a cruel and malign presence and has demonstrated it repeatedly for 4+ decades. I’ll agree to disagree.

          1. Carolinian

            Well I don’t have any swami like powers to see inside Biden’s brain but if you listen to him talk it’s obvious that his real enemy is Trump, not Putin. I don’t think he cares about Ukraine on any deep level although some of his staff might. Ukraine is just the big honey pot that grifters like Biden sought to exploit.

            So we may have a world war in America before this is over but I doubt it will happen in Europe. For those of us of a certain age it’s amazing that the nuclear menace has been kept at bay for so long and the reason must be that there are limits, even for lunatics. Plus the whole point of the MIC is to promote “war is the health of the state,” not to end the planet. What’s not so amazing is that we continue to have constant warfare despite all those nuclear weapons.

          2. juno mas

            I think your assessment of Biden is accurate. He is pure evil in a doddering, demented body. The US political system allows it.

            As Scott Ritters says, you won’t be informed of WWIII because all wireless communication will fail and you will be a fried egg in seconds.

        2. NotTimothyGeithner

          Western policy makers are grappling with realities on the ground versus magical thinking. I believe Simpliciticus implies in his recent article they were using AI assessments of open source information (their own propaganda) and the at this shaped nonsense like this famed counter offensive.

          There may be frustration (Biden desperately wants to ouch this past the election), but Western elites are just throwing tantrums as they realize they are going to have to explain billions for Ukraine and aiding a genocide while they cut everywhere else.

          Going back to Nuland, it’s possible the troop rhetoric is an acknowledgement the US is gone after the election regardless of outcome and the Euros are threatening the US before the election.

        3. Mikel

          You’re looking at personalities over time. I’m looking at the issues and events that go around and around which are an outgrowth of what happened beginning in 1914. That was a major change leading to the maps that exist today and the scale of destruction for global conflicts. It led to the USA becoming a global player in everyone’s business.

          This is still about imperialism (whether defense or offense) even though monarchies don’t have the same profile. (As an aside, they still won’t totally go away.)
          Whether a country is thinking the they are defending their resources or acquiring more to control globally, this is a continuation of all of that and at that scale that kicked off in 1914.

          And, I was thinking: Calling it WWI part 3 takes the sheen off the illusion that war solves anything.

        4. Feral Finster

          I suspect that Macron is allowed to go forward because if Ukraine is to collapse, this absolutely cannot be allowed to happen before Election Day.

          1. John k

            So best for putin to go slow enough the west forgets it and focuses on ME… plus, lots at deep wanna pivot to China.

  2. AG

    As to Benjamin&Davies above:
    This phrase is incorrect:
    “The only way to find out what Russia really wants, or what it will settle for”.
    It ought say:
    “what USA really wants, or WHAT IT WILL SETTLE FOR.”
    Since we know what RU wants. And it could be provided very easily.

    also: Did the Russians demonize anyone, as they claim? I don´t think so.

    In this respect CODE PINK is still too much American bread in their thinking. Still identifying too much with the US perspective. Be it anti-war or not.
    (Of course they have accomplished remarkable work in recent years!)

    Gordon Hahn touches above topic in a 73 min. interview with “Nima” from yesterday:

    “NATO Weaker than Ever as Nuland’s Project Failed in Ukraine”

    As usual Hahn offers a grim outlook. In this he mirrors Sleboda´s pessimism and the dangers mentioned above.

    I am not sure in what way Hahn´s predictions / warnings of 2022 were all substantiated or not (or if it´s still too early for that). But even if they weren´t I find his insight worthy the time.

    Apparently in Europe for now there almost is no obstacle for escalation policies.
    The incompetence and hubris of reporters and politicians in Germany is so gigantic that it is almost impossible to talk to these people. They behave like the Spanish Inquisition and the Pope facing Galilei.

    1. Rolf

      Did the Russians demonize anyone, as they claim? I don´t think

      My reaction was similar. From what I have read of the transcripts of Putin’s public remarks, he seems pretty measured in references to the US. Certainly nothing like Biden’s “crazy SOB”, “war criminal”, “evil”. Why do people think Biden has much in the way of FP/diplomatic chops?

      1. lyman alpha blob

        I don’t recall any “demonization” either. Some trolling, definitely – Putin offering to make Western leaders pancakes while he was visiting Xi recently was rather hilarious. The only outright hostility I’m seeing is from Western leaders, and it is incessant.

    2. hemeantwell

      Absolutely right about Code Pink still trying to engage in “balanced criticism.” At this point it’s become part of the social-psychopathology of everyday life among a tranche of progressive antiwar critics. Given Code Pink’s overall appreciation of how the US/NATO steadily blew off the Russians over decades, it works against understanding how much that shaped Russian thinking, as it would anybody’s in a similar situation. It fails to fully register how US diplomacy amounts to prolonged, bad faith dissembling while assembling a noose. The Palestinians are well aware of this.

      1. Rolf

        It fails to fully register how US diplomacy amounts to prolonged, bad faith dissembling while assembling a noose.

        Well put.

      2. ISL

        Enforced group think in certain circles (see how response to Gaza has shifted), which is understandable in that if one bites the hand that feeds (donations)…. morally inconsistent, but understandable. Its not as if Russia cares one whit what Code Pink (or Biden’ brain) think.

    3. caucus99percenter

      > reporters and politicians in Germany … behave like the Spanish Inquisition and the Pope facing Galilei

      A very apt way to put it. They simply refuse to “look through the telescope.” That way they can continue to pretend that the truths they would see if they did look, don’t exist.

      1. CA

        “Are you insulting the Spanish inquisition?”

        Funny; though my sense of this is ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ from “The Brothers Karamazov.”

        1. AG

          Initially I did have above “pun” by Ignacio in mind. But what it in fact comes down to is rather “Brothers Karamazov”.

  3. paul m whalen

    Read Hermann Brosch The Sleepwalkers which spans the World Wars in central Europe, wars that were seemingly unconsciously precipitated by somnolent participants.

    1. jobs

      Interesting. Christopher Clark also wrote a book with that title, which discusses the buildup to World War I. He describes in detail how various groups and actors, based on incomplete and sometimes wrong information, misunderstandings and misreadings of opponents and allies, basically stumbled into war without actually expecting it. He (persuasively, in my view) makes the case that WW I was much more formative for Europe than WW II.

      I really enjoyed it.

      1. MFB

        The most interesting thing about it was a) the depth of Serbian state involvement in the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, b) the depth of Russian state involvement in egging the Serbs on to start a war with Austro-Hungary, and c) the depth of French state involvement in egging the Russians on to jump into war with Germany once the Austro-Hungarian war provided a pretext.

        It was mostly new to me because I had always trusted A J P Taylor, who essentially denied all that and promoted the idea that the war was caused by generals adhering to railway timetables. I respect Taylor but I think he was drinking too much Kool-Aid when he was in Special Field Intelligence during the Second World War.

        Looking at the dominoes falling in 1914 it’s not hard to see the same happening in Ukraine-Russia. No, I don’t believe that anything like that would happen in the Middle East, not unless Israel gets its war with Iran.

  4. AG

    p.s. just tonight there will be two events in Berlin connected with this issue:

    A remembrance ceremony in honor of Antje Vollmer, long-time leading GREEN Party member and anti-war activist, who died 1 year ago. Among others with writer Ingo Schulze and Peter Brandt.

    And a public meeting with members of the newly established German left party BSW.

    Unfortunately both events at the same time (19:00) but in different places and not linked.

    That´s a sign that antiwar-resistance in Germany still has to be re-constructed and properly organized.
    Same is true for a genuine oppositional movement. We have a long way to go.

    On this note also recommended:
    excellent 90-min. with Nicolai Petro and Michael Rossi:
    “Two Year Anniversary of the Special Military Operation in Ukraine: A Conversation with Nicolai Petro”

    Handy short piece by Petro and Ted Snider (repeating some of above points):
    “Four Myths That Are Preventing Peace in Ukraine”

    1. Rolf

      Thank you for the Petro links. A review of his book, The Tragedy of Ukraine: What Classical Greek Tragedy Can Teach Us About Conflict Resolution was linked in NC last year, and I just found out that the publisher, De Gruyter, will ship you a softcover version, printed on-demand, for $22.

      1. AG

        Buy it! And tell people about it.
        The chapter about Corona mis-management by Kiev e.g., has some hair-raising detail displaying the insane racism against Russia…

  5. Watt4Bob

    “This could have been one of the shortest wars in history, if President Biden had just supported a peace and neutrality agreement negotiated in Turkey in March and April 2022…”

    And if a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bump so much.

    1. TimmyB

      There would never have been a war if Ukraine followed through with the Minsk Agreements it signed in 2015.

      And Crimea would still be Ukrainian if the U.S. hadn’t helped overthrow the neutral Ukrainian government in 2014.

      This war never needed to start. Except the U.S. wanted it because it believed a war with Ukraine would weaken Russia.

      My government is run by the worst combination of people, stupid monsters. Too stupid to win the avoidable wars they start.

      1. Watt4Bob

        I agree, our so-called leaders are among the worst people in the world.

        “Stupid monsters” great description.

  6. SocalJimObjects

    With what army, one wonders? The CDC is currently doing “God’s work” in trying to make sure that most Americans won’t ever qualify as soldiers and this is on top of the obesity crisis. Maybe the powers that be are so brain addled, they think they can create the ultimate soldiers through the miracle of Ozempic + mRNA injections?

  7. Louis Fyne

    France, and possibly the US but for it’s an election year, are taking the worst lessons from Syria—

    namely save a losing hand by dropping a few hundred special operations “tripwire” forces as human shields when your proxies are losing.

    the US did it in eastern Syria; and Macron’s public remarks last week hint that he may send a few hundred French Foreign Legion to occupy Odesa airport or other symbolic Ukrainian areas and essentially dare the Russians to attack.

    The West **will** lose a purely conventional war, convincingly. The only question is that will the US use a first-strike tactical nuke (which has been US doctrine since 1949) to “signal its resolve for democracy” or other hare-brained rationale.

    And given the polarization of US politics and empire-exhaustion, many traditionally right-wing Americans are not going to send a tear if two Kinzhals gets sent to NATO headquarters in Belgium in response to a US first strike..

    1. TimmyB

      Russia is a lot stronger than Syria. It will stomp on any tripwires, instead of putting up with them.

  8. John

    It’s an election year. Why does that simple sentence excuse the continued pursuit of the stupid and suicidal? The Ukraine project is going down in flames and blood … lots of blood, little of it American. So it must continue because to stop before the election would be an embarrassment? The other party would accuse me of … (fill in the blank). We must continue to support genocide in Gaza because votes and campaign money. That is just obscene. We cannot possibly agree on a sensible immigration policy. And on and on and on.

    Waist deep in the Big Muddy and the damn fool said to press on.

    1. Ignacio

      Election year. It is always election year here and there. I think the really secret conversations amongst the illuminated warmongers is how to cancel what remains of those molesting formalities of democracy: how to remove from the electoral lists those who do not complain 100% with their “ideology”, how to declare national emergencies to justify sending troops etc. This is how they can finally succeed dragging us all into WW. It is obvious they are trying. We have to observe carefully if, how and when they escalate in this internal war against discrepancies.

      1. caucus99percenter

        In Germany, I’ve begun supporting the right-wing populists in earnest. Not because I like them or any of their leading politicians; merely to strew what sand I can in the political establishment’s gears. It’s the only way I see to resist the rush to war — and more generally, Brussels’ grab for centralized power beyond the reach of national electorates, accountable to no one.

  9. Michaelmas

    From the OP: Retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian … explained, “This isn’t replacing what we’ve given [Ukraine]. It’s building stockpiles for a major ground war [with Russia] in the future.” … So the United States is preparing to fight a major ground war with Russia, but the weapons to fight that war will take years to produce, and, with or without them, that could quickly escalate into a nuclear war.

    Same as it ever was, then. NATO never got to where it could have beaten the Soviets in a conventional ground war in Europe during the first Cold War, either.

    The story I got from a couple of Pentagon consultants during a stint as a journalist covering global security issues during the noughties — and there’s probably literature in the popular domain supporting it — was that during Reagan’s presidency whenever the US and NATO war-gamed what would happen if Russian tanks started pouring through the Fulda Gap they had to default to nuclear weapons to stop them.

    Consequently, when all Reagan canonically got from the Pentagon was the response that they would automatically end up in a nuclear war with the Soviets, he said, “That’s insane.” And he, Schultz and the rest of the Reagan foreign policy team started seeking a nuclear arms control agreement with Gorbachev and the Soviets.

    Couple of points following on from that: –

    [1] That was with the US-NATO force structure existing then. Just before and during Gulf War 1 in 1990, I toured a bunch of US-NATO bases in a purely civilian role and witnessed the staggering amounts of personnel and kit being assembled: the miles of tanks lined up on the Kuwait borders for six months before they went in, and the C-5 transports landing on and taking off every thirty seconds from the ten-mile runway at Zaragosa USAF base in central Spain, and so on.

    That level of force structure is gone and never coming back: the necessary organizational and industrial capability has been destroyed by more than thirty years of neoliberalism and unipolar moment brain disease. And if the US-NATO couldn’t beat the USSR in a ground war then — and it couldn’t — then it won’t beat the Russians now; granted, the Russian Federation isn’t the old USSR, but the old USSR didn’t have the general superiority in weapon systems over NATO that Russia now has.

    [2] The OP: in January 2024, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan slammed that door shut with a flat refusal to negotiate over Ukraine..

    It’s sad that Biden, Blinken, Sullivan, et al are far less capable than — for Christ’s sake — Reagan’s mob. But quite soon they’ll be gone and, anyway, the likes of CIA chief William Burns are the actual adults in the room and are keeping lines open with their opposite numbers. Furthermore, it’s unclear that the 40-year-old US nuclear capability is even functional or the US has the wherewithal to modernize it.

    ICBM Test Failure Puts Nuclear Modernization Effort Into Focus

    So, it’s Cold War 2, with lots of huffing and puffing as with Cold War 1. History repeats itself, first time as tragedy, second time — given the parlous state of US-NATO capabilities — as comedy, hopefully.

    1. Cristobal

      And where do the damn fool Europeans think that this coming major land war will take place? California?

    2. Maxwell Johnston

      Just to show how far NATO’s capabilities have atrophied, here is a link showing in detail what NATO ground forces were present in the southern half of West Germany in 1989:

      My old unit (1st brigade, 3rd infantry division, 7th corps) is the little dot by the East German frontier in northern Bavaria, second map from the bottom. We used to joke that we were nuclear tripwires, but in reality we had a lot of equipment (and logistical backup). Plus the USA had 4 divisions of pre-positioned REFORGER equipment sitting in warehouses near the French border. And the German Bundeswehr back then was a capable and well-equipped force. And this is only the southern half of West Germany; the northern half was also loaded with NATO units, notably the well-regarded British Army of the Rhine.

      Today, little of this remains. The USA’s heavy equipment sailed home long ago, along with most of its ground troops. The Bundeswehr is a shadow of its former self. The entire active-duty UK army can fit inside Wembley Stadium (capacity 90k) with seats left over. As per Big Serge, the French currently have 8 combat brigades (not divisions, but brigades), and I doubt they have the logistical capacity to deploy and sustain them in UKR. Poland’s army has modernized and has grown in size, but by nowhere near enough to offset the aforementioned declines. Meanwhile RU has at least 300k+ combat troops in or near UKR, roughly the equivalent of 20 NATO-sized divisions, and many of them have fresh combat experience. The only way NATO can counter this is via nukes (unlikely) or via a large-scale long-term remilitarization across all its member states, including mass conscription and sharp cuts in social programs to fund a sustained arms buildup (most unlikely).

      So let’s hope comedy will prevail over tragedy this time around.

      1. Cristobal

        Good grief! Scrolling though all that, there must have been more Americans than Germans there in those days. Occupatión forces, naturally.

    3. AG

      Since you highlight Cancian´s quote – which might be one of the most important and revealing quotes in the entire piece – looking for its origin I came this far:

      “Lawmakers seek emergency powers for Pentagon’s Ukraine war contracting
      By Joe Gould and Bryant Harris”
      Oct. 17 2022

      But it extends far beyond what the U.S. needs to replenish stocks sent to Ukraine. For instance, it authorizes contracts to procure up to 20,000 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and 25,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles. That far exceeds the approximately 1,400 Stingers and 5,500 Javelins that the U.S. has sent to Ukraine from its stocks.

      “These numbers are much larger than just replenishing stocks,” said Cancian. “These are huge numbers. They are not driven by what we’ve given to Ukraine, but sort of related to what we’ve given to Ukraine.”

      “This isn’t replacing what we’ve given them,” he added. “It’s building stockpiles for a major ground war in the future. This is not the list you would use for China. For China we’d have a very different list.”

      The amendment also authorizes buying up to 30,000 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles; 36,000 AGM-179 Joint Air-to-Ground Missiles; 1,000 Harpoon missiles; 800 Naval Strike Missiles; and 10,000 Patriot Advanced Capability – 3 air defense system and 6,000 MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile Systems.

      On bringing up the ICBM issue – (though I would take any negative US-reporting on consequences with a big grain of salt) – Andrei Martyanov on a recent, apparently successful RU test to intercept a MIRV with the latest S-500:

      “The S-500 Prometheus air defense system was tested with the R-29RMU.2 missile”


  10. john r fiore

    The author is mistaken, its already WW3, albeit at a low level, conventional forces on each side are shooting and killing each other, whether this slow boiling war escalates to a definitely final stage involving the use of nuclear weapons is unknown.

    1. Polar Socialist

      In his recent book “The Russian Art of War: How the West led Ukraine to defeat” Jacques Baud makes the case that the war in Ukraine is a lot about preventing a nuclear holocaust. During the cold war there was a buffer zone between NATO and Soviet Union (a.k.a. Warsaw Pact). Had there ever been a kinetic conflict between NATO and Soviet Union it was likely to remain “conventional” hopefully long enough for cooler head to prevail before nuclear escalation.

      NATO now being installed on the Russian border, that buffer is gone. Any conflict will be likely to escalate to nuclear merely because there’s no telling what type of warhead a missile has. It follows that NATO has to be forced – one way or the other – to pull back or negotiate a collective security arrangement. Preferably both.

      Should NATO prove to be too thick in the head, something like WW3 may be needed to point out to even the thickest one that a “collective security” is a win-win proposition, while “world war” is a loosing one. Should NATO go to war, I’d prefer it happened in Ukraine, where it can be at least somewhat contained.

  11. Maxwell Johnston

    I expect that some European countries will officially deploy uniformed troops to UKR in the near future. But given the widespread opposition to this step, as well as NATO’s lack of sufficient ground forces to make any difference in the conflict, I don’t see this leading to WW3. It looks more like a repeat of the Allied Intervention into RU’s civil war just over 100 years ago. The intervention ended in fiasco and poisoned western relations with the USSR (USA didn’t even accord it diplomatic recognition until 1933), but not before hundreds of foreign troops were killed. As was the case back then, today we have western politicians bloviating that “something must be done” to counter Moscow, but lack a unified strategy and (most importantly) the military means to carry it out. And just as the anti-Bolshevik Whites were corrupt and incompetent, so too we have their modern equivalent in UKR.

    RU will eventually establish facts on the ground, and eventually the west will come to terms with the new reality. We’ve been here before. History has a way of rhyming.

      1. Maxwell Johnston

        My experience is that elected politicians care a lot about public opinion. Many if not most of them are obsessed with public opinion polls and how they’re being portrayed in the media, because they desperately want to be re-elected and remain in the game. Their focus on short-term popularity is similar to how many CEOs are laser-focused on the quarterly financials.

        Un-elected officials, on the other hand, don’t seem to care much about public opinion. Fortunately, Ursula Fond of Lying and her fellow unelected Eurocrats don’t command any soldiers or weapons. Not yet, anyway.

    1. Cristobal

      Re Arestovych:
      He would be a good little quisling. At least he is aware of the issue – profitability

  12. ilsm

    Russian demands were made in Fall 2021, they remain the same and hundreds of thousands of casualties will pay for a deal that should have happened in Dec 2021!

    Biden failed!

    Tripping into WW I may not be apropos.

    The pentagon, and its politicians/ press, are sorely short of logisticians!

    A logistician, looking at a map, would say Putin is not ‘dangerous to Warsaw’, too far, too many obstacles and too much beans, bullets, blood and tank fuel! Too small tactical air force, and hard to move forward!

    The same logisticians would forecast doom for US or even lesser prepared EU entry into Ukraine. Tactical air force, if available, would be to hard to arm and fuel!

    From 1870, the German general staff had been kneading and yeasting the plans and resources executed but blunted in 1914.

  13. The Rev Kev

    I doubt that there will be any escalations to WW3 as that is not good for the stock market. My own guess is that the west wants the Ukraine to remain like they are – a simmering conflict that has no clear end in sight. A place where they can keep on attacking the Russians and sending missiles – supposedly under Ukrainian control – into Russia itself. That whole idea of Macrons of moving European troops along the border with Belarus and down in Odessa is so that those Ukrainian garrison troops can be relieved and sent to the front where they too will be annihilated. But it will keep the war going for a few more months of slaughter and then maybe something will turn up. Something that will let the west win this war. Something. But when this war ends you can bet that there will be very bitter recriminations between those NATO countries. Germany is furious, for example, that Macron is accusing the Germans of not doing enough and having no courage when facts show that France has only sent a fraction of the military gear that Germany has. They might want to militarily punish Hungary for their stance the past two years but they will realize that Hungary still has all its military gear and the rest of NATO has zip. I would expect that most of those countries will just turn around and blame the left for them losing. Classic move.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Much of this is tantrums in response to learning facts on the ground. They might hope this will make Moscow more willing to negotiate, but Putin’s line in recent days was they won’t stop to negotiate as there isn’t anyone to trust. Surrender is what is going to have to happen. Western elites haven’t grasped this is not just a loss for Ukraine but a situation where they will have to explain kowtowing to a country they assured their populations didn’t have indoor plumbing.

      1. Norge

        I agree with NTG that “surrender is what is going to have to happen.” The USA is not agreement capable and will use a negotiated settlement to build up its forces for a resumption of hostilities, in the deluded belief that we can at some point win a conventional war with Russia. Better for Russia and for the human race if they continue fighting until the Ukraine capitulates. The alternative will lead to a future war where all sides are better armed and we cocky Americans think Russia can’t or won’t respond to a first strike

    2. mrsyk

      keep the war going for a few more months of slaughter and then maybe something will turn up. That something might be the US 2024 election me thinks, though I am having my doubts that “supporting Ukraine” and “thanking Poland” is the secret sauce to electoral success this year.

      1. John k

        Maybe russia has concluded Biden won’t care so long as ukr doesn’t collapse until the election. Trump won’t care so long as it happens before inauguration.

    3. fjallstrom

      WW1 wasn’t good for the economy of Britain and its owner class, and the editor of the Economist pointed it out repeatedly. This resulted in the editor being let go and the Economist has never opposed a UK war since. The details of which can be found in Liberalism at Large by Alexander Zevin.

      I think it forms an interesting point in evaluating how and if the class interest of the owners in a capitalist empire is expressed in policy. In a crisis, there is a point where the processes of the state trumps the interests of the owners and even the interests of the state, such as self persevation of the empire. At that point even intra-elite opinion making can be banned.

      To relate it to Greaber’s and Wengrow’s model in The Dawn of Everything in a severe crisis the sacral violence of the sovereign appears to come forward, underpinned by the bureaucracy, and the politics of intra-elite rivalry retreats to the background. I think it is a process similar to the Shock Doctrine, but not the same.

      To see how permanent crisis affects the popultaion, we also have the seeming increase in authoritarian followership amongst an emotional exhausted PMC that is repeatedly told that the end is nigh and the orange man will usher it in. Any and all opposition to the power is interpreted as support for the orange man, similar to how any opposition to Bush was once seen as support for islamic terror. In the words of the old man expressing his dislike of young activists asking about the support for genocide: STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP!

      So I am less than sanguine that economic interests will avert disaster.

  14. jan

    Was supposed to be a reply to Michaelmas
    March 14, 2024 at 8:36 am.

    Consequently, when all Reagan canonically got from the Pentagon was the response that they would automatically end up in a nuclear war with the Soviets, he said, “That’s insane.”

    It’s sad that Biden, Blinken, Sullivan, et al are far less capable than — for Christ’s sake — Reagan’s mob.

    Exactly, and I find that quite disturbing. To underscore this:

    Ronald Reagan wasn’t afraid to use leverage to hold Israel to task

    For example, on June 7, 1981, less than six months after Reagan took office, Israel launched a surprise bombing raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, and, in so doing, violated the airspace of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Reagan not only supported UNSC Resolution 487, which condemned the attack, but he also criticized the raid publicly and suspended the delivery of advanced F-16 fighter jets to Israel. Moreover, over the strident objections of Israel and the pro-Israel U.S. lobby groups, Reagan approved the sale of advanced reconnaissance aircraft (AWACS ) to Saudi Arabia, which Israel then viewed as a hostile state.

    Crikey, Reagan handled Israel better than Biden. Our current politicians are useless.

        1. mrsyk

          “Epstein”. More than just a moniker. Agreed and I would have included the quotation marks had I been a bit more awake.

        2. Arkady Bogdanov

          Yes, I have been seeing snippets of what might look like something similar to the Epstein activities in the music/entertainment industry that might have ties to Zionists as well. There is supposedly a lawsuit underway that seems like it might be somewhat revealing. I suppose time will tell.

      1. Aleric

        But is ‘Epstein’ a person or a role within the overall system? Were the Franklin Trust scandal or whoever Mark Dutreaux worked for signs of the ‘Epstein’ before Epstein? Not sure about Reagan himself, but many high level politicos of that era involved.

  15. Victor Sciamarelli

    I thought it was standard military procedure not to tell the enemy what you will do, and more importantly, never tell the enemy what you won’t do. It seems Commander in Chief Biden, as well as some European leaders can’t stop telling us what they’re thinking; should we believe them?
    In addition to what Yves wrote about stumbling into WW3, I’d mention that post-WW1, Europe had a collective security agreement within Article 10 of The League of Nations. Yet, when the ratatouille hit the fan in the 1930s it proved useless.
    I expect that with an escalation in Ukraine, at some point NATO will do more harm than good because collective security sounds good in theory but, imo, it’s seriously flawed. And, like The League, we might eventually see NATO members fighting each other as well.
    Lastly, the US shuns diplomacy in favore of threats and demonstrations of power to coerce the opposition. I don’t expect Biden to be sitting at the negotiating table before the election.

  16. QABubba

    “He highlighted the example of Germany, which offered Ukraine only helmets and sleeping bags”
    This was always subterfuge. The neocon/MIC plan was to funnel all the former Warsaw Pact weapons to Ukraine, and replace them with shiny new Western NATO weapons for the new NATO members. The huge stockpile of Soviet era weapons were supposed to be enough to win the war. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case. Which put Ukraine in the position of using Western weapons they had no training for, and a mishmash of weapons at that. Huge maintenance and logistical problems.

  17. Feral Finster

    “One could say that Russia is winning the war, but that depends what its real war goals are. There is a yawning gulf between the rhetoric from Biden and other Western leaders about Russian ambitions to invade other countries in Europe and what Russia was ready to settle for at the talks in Turkey in 2022, when it agreed to withdraw to its pre-war positions in return for a simple commitment to Ukrainian neutrality.

    Despite Ukraine’s extremely weak position after its failed 2023 offensive and its costly defense and loss of Avdiivka, Russian forces are not racing toward Kyiv, or even Kharkiv, Odesa or the natural boundary of the Dnipro River.”

    It should be abuntantly obvious by now that Russia really does not want this war, while the leaders of the West are absolutely itching for WWIII.

  18. JonnyJames

    A declining empire engages in more and more reckless and desperate attempts to maintain global hegemony. This seems “textbook” in many ways, but a game of “nuclear chicken” has alarmed experts and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight). The US has provoked Russia (and China) numerous times. Thankfully, the leadership of those countries seem rational and cool-headed.

    Congress has, in typical bipartisan fashion, willfully relinquished its constitutional power of the purse (at least in part) and declaring war to the executive branch. The puppet-emperor and his “administration” can and do send weapons to countries engaged in attacks on civilian populations. On top of that Congress simply ignores its own legislation and laws by not abiding by the AECA. Apparently there is a clause in the law that gives the emperor power to over-ride the law and send weapons anyway, so technically it is “legal” if the pres does it. (Nixon was right)

    The late prof. Stephen Cohen, for example, warned about the risks of the 2014 coup almost immediately thereafter. He and other experts were ignored of course.The folks at Code Pink, Black Alliance for Peace and other orgs have been voicing concern for years.

    As one would expect, since the MassMediaCartel don’t mention it, the threat of nuclear war is considered hyperbole, paranoia. It’s more important to focus on the superficial fluff, celebrity gossip, and the contrived drama and distrarction of US so-called elections.

    The US ripped up the INF, ABM etc. treaties enacted during Cold War 1.0, and has ramped up spending on “nuclear weapons modernization” that costs 100s of billions.

    Plus, now we have Nuclear First Strike doctrine.

    “…Biden’s policy declares that the “fundamental role” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is to deter a nuclear attack, but will still leave open the option that nuclear weapons could be used in “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners,”…’

    So the US reserves the right to use nukes (tactical, or strategic) even if their “partners” interests are threatened. This could mean Ukraine, or Israel of course.

    Nothing to worry about

      1. JonnyJames

        Of course, anyone who questions US Russia policy is a “Putin stooge” and any one who questions US Israel policy is an anti-Semite blah blah.

  19. HH

    The Ukraine defeat will be shoved into the U.S. memory hole, which easily swallowed the 20-year, trillion-dollar Afghanistan debacle. Biden just wants to get past the election without a Ukrainian surrender.

  20. Bob

    1. It is clear that the Biden administration believed it had the upper hand in Ukraine and that they had Putin and Russia in a trap. If Putin did nothing to stop the NATO/Ukraine war on Donbas, his weakness would be exposed and the government would collapse. If Putin took military action, he would be isolated and defeated, because Russia was weak.

    2. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan can better be understood as a preparatory step towards the war in Ukraine rather than an attempt to pull back from imperialist military aggression. It was also unilateral, leaving NATO allies holding the bag. Could this happen again. Would the US pull out of Ukraine in order to focus on aggression against China?

    3. In considering the danger of WWIII, how does China fit into the situation? It seems strange that an article about the dangers of a world war would leave out any meaningful discussion of the role of China.

    1. CA

      “In considering the danger of WWIII, how does China fit into the situation?”

      Unfortunately and important question that I will think through as best I can, but China is far, far stronger than usually understood, far, far more technically advanced, and China will not be influenced by sanctions.

    2. CA

      Continuing; China has been continually acting for peace in Ukraine and Gaza. China has been a repeated voice for ceasefire and peace negotiations in the United Nations. This peace advocacy role of China’s will continue, no matter any contrary pressure and China is not subject to undue and untoward pressure.

      China’s role is that of a peace-advocate.

    3. John k

      Imo nu land’s exit says ukr is over, especially if russia continues advancing slowly. China can’t ripen until after ME settles down, which imo won’t be until after the election.
      But by 2025 trump will likely be pres with distractions, and while trump thinks he can win trade wars, he doesn’t like hot ones. Seems to me the danger has shifted to ME; trump will be all in, not clear if Hez/jordan/iran etc all sit still while 2+ mil are genocided with 6 mil more on deck in West Bank.

  21. Bill Malcolm

    A pretty weak article, in my view. I read Medea Benjamin for years on the Dissident Voice website, but never discovered any great insights on the topics she covered. Perhaps it’s just me, but this article seems written in a style to not rile up the US government in an attempt to get wider media coverage. Some of the facts presented may be new to such a wider audience, but there’s nothing to grab attention. I mean, this WW1 analogy thing has been done to death by everyone and their dog in the alternative press. The US did diddly squat in WW1, arriving very late on the scene, had to use French fighter planes, Spads, and only their massive army presence can be said to have demoralized the Germans. Plus, a great many doughboys got slaughtered for nothing in the 4 months the US was there, because their generals had not the first clue about how to fight, but being American, believed that any scheme was brilliant simply because they thought it up. Larry Johnson has repeatedly mentioned the dire losses the US suffered considering the 16 weeks they were on the ground.

    Nevertheless, there is scant institutional memory of WW1 in US military circles, and virtually none in the population at large, beyond the totally unjustified propaganda view that America won the war and saved Britain and France’s hides. Sure. And what, Germany was strong after four years? The US presence was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    Ukraine: I read blogs till they come out of my ears, look at a lot of Boobtube vids by the pro-Russia punditry, but when you boil them all down, I find only one much good — Ritter. And he’s bright enough to issue caveats for his opinions where warranted. The situation is fluid. Instead of regurgitating Ritter’s points as of today, I’d suggest people watch today’s Garland Nixon’s vid with Ritter. He’s usually on every Thursday for an hour. He points out how Macron and the French Army would have to pull troops from NATO formations, and along with some help from the Baltic rabbits, could put a tiny 10,000 man force in Ukraine with but four jets! France would have to go it alone, and get its arse handed to it anyway, even in the rear echelon where they would supplant Ukie troops sent to the front.

    Anyway, instead of this Benjamin fluff, following Helmers I-dont-know-what yesterday, plus Simplicius garbage (in my view) March 11 sitrep, get the latest thinking — it’ll probably surprise the jaded commentariat here on some items.. Bonus: it includes an Israel update. No hope for the US there either, let alone for Benji and the War Boys.

    1. Kouros

      “The US did diddly squat in WW1”.

      Actually, because the US military were giddy with excitment to jump on such opportunity, they wouldn’t stop shipping young men to Europe/France, regardless if they were healthy or dying from the Kansas pig farms influenta, which later became the famous “Spanish Flu”, because nobody else was allowed to report on it. All this spread is not didly squat.

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