Media headlines over the past few weeks resemble the arms race period of the cold war era and show that many decision-makers are not fully in tune with the times.
Sensationalist news about Russian Tu-160M Supersonic Bomber, Moscow’s deployment of advanced missile systems north of Japan, along with similar moves by China and the US are more about political blackmail than substance.
As the West-centric global order unravels and the world becomes multi-polar, it is natural that state entities will try to fill the emerging political, military, and economic vacuum.
Since the Western media has a significant influence over global narratives, events connected to military issues are analyzed and framed within standardized theories of international relations derived from the opinions of Western scholars and theorists.
The standardized narratives also affect the so-called opponents of Western hegemony.
On November 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that “if some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be 7-10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed. What are we to do in such a scenario? We will have to then create something similar in relation to those who threaten us in that way. And we can do that now.”
Putin’s statement is a repetition of long-standing Russian policy of not accepting NATO presence in the former Soviet countries.
The way it was framed, however, suggests that policy-makers still view conventional style military threats and tactics as serious.
Unless one is an ill-informed right-winger in Russia, China or the US, a classical military engagement with World War II style tank battles or even conventional Azerbaijan-Armenia style confrontation between Russia, NATO, China or even equally militarily balanced states like India and Pakistan is highly unlikely.
This is not how most conflicts unfold in 2021.
Countries that learned the new modus operandi of wars in recent history the hard way include Ukraine, Turkey in Syria, US in Afghanistan, and Israel as far back as 2006 in Lebanon.
In the case of direct military confrontation between conventional armies of let’s say China and Taiwan or Russia and Ukraine, no matter the outcome, every party will emerge damaged and weakened.
But most importantly, due to modern means of communication there will be increased chance of internal instability for involved parties.
Even in Syria, where major conventional armies are involved, all of them are trying their best to avoid or minimize direct military contact.
NATO member Turkey also did its best to limit military engagement with the Syrian army in Idlib in February 2020.
Today conventional military engagements with national armed forces are last resort tools, unless one party is significantly stronger than its opponent politically, militarily, and economically.
The latest war fought between Azerbaijan and Armenia confirms this.
The only reason the Aliyev regime resorted to military action in Armenian occupied Karabakh is due to Russian and Turkish political and military backing.
Thus, Armenia was at a significant political and military disadvantage.
Syrian style wars, Taliban initiated military engagements and Eastern Ukraine type wars are the wars to prepare for.
Today conventional military forces fulfill a function of a backer of non-conventional forces.
In Syria, Turkish armed forces act as logistical and planning rooms for takfiri militias.
Russian forces play a similar role for separatists in Ukraine.
Thus, when reading headlines about important developments which concern conventional armed forces, they are to be seen within the framework of political-military deterrence and hybrid wars, not preparation for a conventional war.