by Dmitry Orlov, posted by permission of the author
General Mark Milley, America’s highest-ranking military officer, has recently gone public with a revelation of his: the world is no longer unilateral (with the US as the unquestioned world hegemon) or bilateral (as it was with the US and the SU symmetrically balancing each other out in an intimate tango of mutual assured destruction). It is now tripartite, with three major powers—the US, Russia and China—entering a “tripolar war.” That is the exact term he is reported to have used at the Aspen Security Forum on November 3, 2021.
This seems strange, since neither Russia nor China is eager to attack the US while the US is in no condition to attack either of them. The US has just got defeated in a two-decade conflict against a fourth-rate adversary (Afghanistan, that is) in the most humiliating way possible, abandoning $80 billion of war materiel and forsaking thousands of its faithful servants in a hasty withdrawal that amounted to a rout. It is about to suffer a similar fate in Syria and Iraq. Its navy just got humiliated in a minor skirmish with the Iranians over an oil tanker. Clearly, the US is in no shape to attack anyone.
So what could Milley possibly mean? He may not sound smart, but he is the most powerful man at the Pentagon. Of course, Milley-Vanilley could just be lip-sinking to some stupid music coming out of the White House (which is currently stocked with some choice imbeciles). This would make sense, since throughout his career Milley carefully avoided anything that smacked of actual military action and therefore carried within it the possibility of defeat, instead choosing to concentrate on such things as producing a report on the impact of climate change on the U.S. military.
Here is Milley captured during one of his prouder moments, standing next to Russia’s General Valery Gerasimov, who saw combat—and victory—as commander during the Second Chechen War. Gerasimov then authored Russia’s hybrid war doctrine (the Gerasimov Doctrine), which allows strategic and political objectives to be achieved through nonmilitary means but with military support and military-style secrecy, discipline, coordination and control. In comparison, our General Milley is something of a cardboard cutout general, with a string that makes his lower jaw move up and down leading to some place within the Washington swamp of political think tanks and defense industry lobbyists.
The Gerasimov Doctrine bears an uncanny resemblance to the Chinese doctrine of unlimited war, indicating that Russia and China have harmonized in their defensive strategies. These doctrines are designed to amplify China’s and Russia’s natural advantages while placing the US at a maximum disadvantage. It is not immediately clear whether Milley is capable of understanding such matters; quite the opposite, it is likely that his job security and career path critically depended on his inability to understand anything above his pay grade. Nevertheless, since he happens to be the mouthpiece for the whole ungodly mess, we need to at least try to take his words at face value and try to think of what his “tripolar war” could possibly mean.
The Russian hybrid war doctrine and the Chinese unlimited war doctrine both give an advantage to countries with strict, centralized control structures (China and Russia, that is) while severely disadvantaging the US, which has a diffuse and internally conflicted power elite split up between two parties and among lots of competing government agencies and private entities with lots of opportunities for both internal and external espionage, infiltration and media leaks.
Russia’s advantages are in advanced weapons against which the US has no countermeasures, such as hypersonic missiles and radio warfare systems, and in a huge and only partially explored resource base, of energy resources especially. China’s advantage is in a huge and highly disciplined workforce that produces a vast array of products which the US must continuously import to prevent its entire economy from shutting down because of supply chain disruptions. On the other hand, both China and Russia find themselves at a disadvantage in facing the large and well-oiled machine the US has developed for its habitual meddling in the affairs of other nations and the undermining of their natural sovereignty. An array of mechanisms, from cultural exports to ad campaigns associated with popular brands to social media initiatives designed to corrupt the minds of the young, exists in order to exert US influence on other nations.
The Chinese and the Russian responses to this threat are almost diametrically different: whereas China builds firewalls and uses strict social controls to contain the threat, Russia’s strategy is to allow the foreign infection to run wild and to let their nation’s innate immune system create antibodies against it and neutralize it. Russia draws its red lines at outright bought-and-paid-for enemy propaganda, inciting armed rebellion, advocacy of terrorism, propaganda of sexual perversion among children, etc. In this way, Russia can not just compensate for this disadvantage but turn it to its own advantage: while the West is becoming increasingly undemocratic and authoritarian with its endless political correctness, social biodiversity requirements and the pursuit of better living through non-reproductive mating, hormone therapy and genital mutilation, Russia remains a free land with a wholesomely conservative social outlook that is quite attractive to people all over the world and is becoming increasingly attractive to many people in the West as they become painfully aware of the wages of sin.
Why concentrate on hybrid/unlimited war instead of an outright nuclear or conventional military conflict between the US and China and/or Russia? That is because both conventional and nuclear military conflict between any of these three nations is an insane, suicidal choice, while those in charge of defining military strategy are specifically not selected for their suicidal tendencies. Neither Russia nor China is known for their wars of aggression, and while the US is extremely well known for its homicidal, violent tendencies (having carried out 32 bombing campaigns on 24 countries since World War II), it is fundamentally a bully, only picking on weak countries that pose no threat. Based on publicly available information, both Russia and China are now quite far ahead of the US in weapons development, to a point where any possible direct US attack on either of them would be self-disarming at best and suicidal at worst.
In the best case scenario, the US launches an attack which is successfully repelled: bombers and rockets shot down, ships sunk, US military bases and port facilities destroyed, possibly US command and control centers also destroyed, as quite pointedly promised by Putin. The US then lays prostrate and at the mercy of its opponents. If its cooperation still leaves something to be desired, some combination of deplorables, despicables, imponderables and indecipherables will be organized just enough to make a bloody mess of what’s left of US government structures and power elites, which will then be replaced with an international peacekeeping force (as an optimistic case) or just left to persist in durable disorder, misery and international isolation.
The worst case scenario is the tired old mutual assured destruction, nuclear winter and end of life on Earth, but it is unlikely for a number of reasons. First, of the US nuclear deterrent triad only the submarine component remains viable, and even it is quite tired. None of the Minuteman missiles has been successfully tested in a long time, and these are ballistic missiles which, once the boost phase is over, follow a perfectly predictable inertial trajectory, making them easy targets for Russia’s new air defense systems. Of the Minutemen that manage to get out of their silos and launch in the general direction of Russia or China, it is unknown how many of their nuclear payloads would actually detonate since these are all quite old and haven’t been tested in a long time either. The US no longer has the ability to make new nuclear charges, having lost the recipe for making the high explosive needed to make them detonate. But that may be a moot point, since at this point no ICBM is likely to be able to penetrate Russian air defenses. As far as Chinese air defenses, it is notable that Russia and China have integrated their early warning systems and China now has four divisions of Russian S-400 Triumph air defense systems and is planning to add more.
Turning to the airborne part of the US nuclear triad, its mainstay is still the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, the youngest of which is almost 60 years old. It cruises at 260 knots at an altitude of 34000 feet and is the opposite of stealthy, making it easy to shoot down at a stand-off distance of several hundred kilometers. Since this makes it perfectly useless for dropping bombs, all that remains is cruise missiles, which fly at a positively poky 0.65 Mach, again making them easy targets for modern air defenses. There are also some newer stealth bombers—very few and, it has turned out, not too stealthy, putting them essentially in the same category as the Stratofortress, and the cruise missiles they can launch are also those same old subsonic ones.
Lastly, there are the strategic nuclear submarines, which are the only part of the US nuclear triad that is still viable. They remain effective as a deterrent, and they do have the ability to get up close to launch a sneak attack with a good chance that at least a few of the missiles will get through the air defenses, but they can’t possibly hope to get around the inevitability of retaliation which will cause unacceptable, fatal damage to the continental US. This makes them useless as an offensive weapon.
Add to this Russia’s updated nuclear doctrine, according to which any attack against Russian sovereign territory or Russian sovereign interests, whether conventional or nuclear, would open the door to a nuclear retaliation, launched upon warning, and Putin’s solemn promise to counterattack not just against the locations from which a strike is launched but against the centers of decision-making. Considering that Russian missiles are hypersonic and will reach their targets before those of the US reach theirs, and that Russia has the means to shoot down US missiles while the US is unable to shoot down Russian ones, if the US were to launch an attack, those who launched it would be dead before they could find out whether their attack succeeded in causing any damage at all or whether they had just suicided themselves for nothing. All of this adds up to an inevitable conclusion: under no circumstances will the US attack either Russia or China, using either conventional or nuclear weapons.
There are experts who are of the opinion that a world war could spontaneously erupt at any moment without anyone wishing it to do so, just as the world slid into World War I due to a confluence of unhappy accidents. But there is a big difference: the military and civilian leaderships of the warring sides in World War I did not have hypersonic missiles pointed directly at their heads. They thought that the war would be fought far away from their palaces, headquarters and stately mansions. They were, in some cases, quite wrong, but that was their thought originally: why not test our industrial prowess while sacrificing the lives of several million useless peasants?
Now the situation is quite different: any substantial provocation is an automatic self-destruct trigger and all sides know this. Of course, there will be minor provocations such as the US Navy steaming around in the Taiwan Strait or the Black Sea close to the shores of Crimea, but then they do have to earn their keep somehow. In turn, the Russians and the Chinese will periodically up the ante a little bit by shooing them away with a harshly worded radio message or a few shots fired across their bows. But both sides know just how careful they have to be because any serious error will require immediate deescalation and may entail major loss of face. And that, as the saying goes, would be worse than a crime: it would be a mistake.
The provocations of which the US is still capable are likely to grow more and more feeble over time. The US has lost the arms race against both Russia and China and is unlikely to ever catch up. On the other hand, neither Russia nor China is the least bit likely to attack the US. There is no reason to do so, given that they can get what they want—a gradual fading out of US influence—without resorting to large-scale military action. Maintaining a strong defensive posture while projecting power within their expanding spheres of interest would be quite enough for either of them. Thus, all that’s left for the US is hybrid warfare: financial warfare in the form of sanctions, aggressive dollar-printing and large-scale legalized money laundering, informational warfare played out on the internet, medical warfare using novel pathogens, drugs and vaccines, cultural warfare in the form of promoting and defending conflicting systems of values and so on, with military activities limited to the use of proxies, fomenting putsches and civil wars, actions of private military companies and so on.
If Milley is pinning his hopes on being able to provoke a conflict between China and Russia, he is likely to be disappointed. These two very large neighboring countries are synergistic. China has tremendous productive capacity for producing all manner of finished goods but has limited natural resources, is insular and has limited capacity for interacting with the rest of the world except through trade and commerce. Russia, on the other hand, has virtually limitless natural resources but, with a smaller though highly educated population spread out across a vast and somewhat inhospitable terrain, is forced to concentrate its efforts on certain strategically important sectors such as energy and food exports, high-tech weapons systems, nuclear energy, vaccines and energy-intensive products such as fertilizers, plastics and metals where their access to cheap energy provides them with a competitive advantage.
One of Russia’s major strengths is a culturally ingrained ability to understand people from other cultures and to maintain cordial relations even across great cultural divides and enemy lines. Russia has a unique ability to offer stability and security, both through careful diplomacy and by offering advanced defensive weapons systems. The Chinese have been aggressively buying into economies around the world, investing in major infrastructure projects to further their trade, but are sometimes found lacking in diplomatic finesse and in their understanding of local sensibilities, alienating their partners by directly demanding a controlling share in their investments. The Russians, on the other hand, understand that you have to at least kiss a girl before offering to pay her college tuition.
Such finesse tends to be interpreted as weakness by certain Westerners who, over the course of many centuries of fratricidal warfare and genocidal colonialism, have been conditioned to only respect brute force and to understand relationships only in terms of dominance or submission. With the sudden departure of the US from the world stage, many smaller European nations are now actively looking for a new master to lord over them. Both the Chinese and the Russians are likely to leave them disappointed; while Chinese commerce and Russian security (including energy security) will be on offer, they will be on their own and forced to earn their own keep and their oaths of fealty will fall on deaf ears. The Eastern Europeans especially might find it impossible to ingratiate themselves back into the Russian world; the Russians have had their fill of them and their duplicitousness. Their other option will be to go to work for the Chinese.
Russia and China complement each other and are more likely to work with each other rather than against each other in their dealings with each other and with the rest of the world. This is certainly not the case with the US, vis-à-vis either China or Russia. During the 1990s and the naughts, while China was rapidly transforming into the world’s manufacturing hub while Russia was recovering from the setback it had been dealt by the Soviet collapse, the US was able to position itself as the world’s indispensable consuming nation, redirecting a lion’s share of the world’s resources and manufactured products to feed its appetites in exchange for printed dollars (continuously expropriating the world’s savings while exporting inflation) and using the threat of military action against anyone who would challenge this arrangement. But now the situation is different: most of China’s trade is now not with the US but with the rest of the world, Russia is fully recovered and developing slowly but surely, the share of the US in the world’s economy has shrunk, the appetite for printed dollars in the form of US government debt has declined greatly, and as to its former full-spectrum military dominance, see above.
And yet General Milley wishes to fight a tripolar war against two poles that won’t fight each other and aren’t spoiling for a fight with the US either; they just want the US to pack up, go home and no longer darken the horizons around Eurasia. As I took pains to explain above, the US is in no position to challenge either or both of them in an all-out military conflict, or to risk engaging them in a way that runs a major risk of provoking one. What can a giant, sprawling, lavishly funded, corrupt and dysfunctional bureaucracy do under such circumstances in order to justify its existence? The answer is, I believe, obvious: engage in petty mischief, a.k.a. hybrid warfare, but in doing so it finds itself, as I have already explained, at a disadvantage.
The list of petty mischief is long and makes for tedious reading. The best that can be done with it is to make comedy with it. Take, for instance, the imbroglio, worthy of Boccaccio’s Decameron, of Tikhanovskaya the cutlet fairy and phantom president of Belarus, who recently joined the club of bogus replacement leaders, alongside Juan Random Guaidó, phantom president of Venezuela, having failed to seize power from deeply entrenched Byelorussian president Lukashenko, and who is now cooling her heels in neighboring Lithuania. Having recognized the abject failure of Tikhanovskaya’s power grab, the Petty Mischef Department attempted to organize a scandal around a Byelorussian sprinter during the Tokyo Olympics, whose name is… Timanovskaya! You see, they thought that nobody would notice the single-character substitution. The ploy failed, and Timanovskaya is now cooling her heels in neighboring Poland.
There have been other, much larger-scale attempts at petty mischief, similarly ham-handed and similarly spectacular in their failure.
1. There was the attempt to force the entire world to submit to a relentless inoculation campaign (in the works since 2009) in the course of which an interplay between genetically engineered pathogens and genetically engineered vaccines against them would be used to make fabulous profits for Big Pharma while simultaneously selectively genociding the population of certain unfriendly or otherwise undesirable countries. End result: China has largely fought off the pathogen and has produced its own vaccine while Russia has produced several vaccines, the most popular of which has been proven safe and effective and has been turned into a major profit center by being exported to 71 countries and earning Russia more export revenue than arms exports.
Meanwhile, not only are Western vaccines proving less than 50% effective (much less than that for Johnson & Johnson) but thousands of people are actually dropping dead or becoming severely ill from them. Most alarmingly, young, freshly vaccinated athletes are dropping dead from heart attacks right in the middle of a game—dozens of them! The only possible response to this by the authorities—the only one they are capable of—is to double down, requiring everyone to get vaccinated again and again. The marketing strategy of “if our product makes you sick, we’ll give you more of it” is hardly ever effective and, in due course, it is producing open rebellion in many places, shutting down entire industries and generally playing havoc with societies and economies. Mission accomplished!
2. There is an ongoing attempt to force countries around the world to pay a carbon tax for their carbon emissions while those nations that engage in the cargo cult of building solar and wind generation capacity are exempted from it. Lots of expensive climate models kept supercomputers humming and international climate conferences were convened, at which people could wring their hands and wallow in maudlin self-pity over the ever-looming imaginary climate catastrophe. But then came a major complication: both Russia and China managed to turn the situation to their advantage. In the case of China, the case is simple: what allows China to manufacture and export products which the rest of the world loves to import is its use of coal and just a temporary reduction in the use of coal was sufficient to demonstrate that any such constraints would hurt the US through supply chain disruptions more than they would hurt China.
In the case of Russia, the situation is even simpler: from the point of view of carbon dioxide emissions, Russia is the greenest country on earth, deriving the largest share of its electricity from carbon-free nuclear and hydro and low-carbon natural gas. It also has 20% of the world’s forests which, in case of global warming and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, would spread rapidly north across the tundra toward the Arctic circle, soaking up prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide. Thus, the US, and the rest of the West with it, have negotiated themselves into a cul de sac of their own creation, being forced to cause damage to their economies by pursuing misguided decarbonization policies which nobody would have asked them to pursue otherwise. Again, mission accomplished!
3. Yet another attempt at petty mischief is in the area of human rights and democracy. The notion of individual human rights was rather successfully deployed against the USSR, warping the minds of several generations of Russian intelligentsia into being ashamed of their own country (and almost completely unaware of much ghastlier crimes against humanity carried out by the collective West). The Chinese, on the other hand, were barely swayed from their traditional (be it Confucian or Communist) perspective that balances privileges against responsibilities and leaves very little room for such frivolous notions as individual universal rights. But in recent decades the Russians have managed to claw their way back to a more balanced understanding of their own history and a greater awareness of the multiple atrocities perpetuated by those who would criticize them. The rank hypocrisy of those who would use such tactics has also become glaringly obvious through such outrages as the illegal imprisonment of Julian Assange and the exile of Edward Snowden.
The story of Maria Butina, a spectacular individual who is now a member of the Russian parliament, has also made an impression. She was falsely accused of being a foreign agent based on the now discredited Steele Dossier which Hillary Clinton’s camp had concocted in order to slander Donald Trump. Butina was imprisoned for 18 months, spending much of that time in solitary confinement (a treatment that equates to torture). She was forced to plead guilty to a bogus charge before a kangaroo court judge before being released and allowed to return to Russia. She described her ordeal in a best-selling book and anybody who has read it has absorbed, along the way, an important message: there is simply no such thing as the American justice system. A major reason why Butina had been singled out for such treatment had to do with her last name, which differs by just one character from Putin’s: there’s that single-character substitution again! With a name so similar to that of that horrible dictator Putin, of course she’d be found guilty! I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a certain dim-witted miscreant ensconced in the bowels of the CIA or the State Department who comes up with these harebrained ideas by actually scanning documents for similar-sounding names.
As far as democracy, the concept is valuable but applies differently to each nation, based on its unique values and traditions, but the image of it served up in the US, where about half the electorate feels that they were cheated during the last presidential election, or the EU, which is lorded over by unelected pompous nobodies at the European Commission, or the way it was misapplied in Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations invaded and destroyed by the West, has done much to discredit the concept. Joe Biden, who is now working on convening a virtual assemblage of nations he deems democratic, making a list and checking it twice, making sure to exclude anyone he doesn’t deem sufficiently democratic, is too senile to grasp the simple fact that he has lost any right to appeal to the concept of democracy given the way he got elected and what he’s done to Afghanistan.
The image I will leave you with is of a transport plane piloted by the demented Joe Biden and co-piloted by that giggling twit Kamala Harris, with some number of leaders from supposedly democratic nations (who have failed to absorb the lesson of Afghanistan) clinging to its landing gear, and with General Millie-Vanillie sitting in the cargo hold cleaning his gun, getting ready to fight World War III against both Russia and China.