The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or John Robb. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is John Robb. John is a returning guest. He’s been on the show a bunch of times. And I can’t even count how many. He’s one of our go-to folks on military intelligence and strategic stuff. Those who want to follow John and his thinking, learn more about him, check him out on Patreon, John Robb at Patreon. I’ve been a subscriber since he put the thing up and well worth the $5 a month or whatever it is I pay him. So, anyway, welcome back John.
John: Oh, thank you Jim.
Jim: Always good to chat. This is the fifth Jim Rutt Show episode about the Russian Ukrainian conflict. As in our other episodes, we’ll try to step back and maybe get above the blow by blow details at the news and social media are full of and look instead at some of the higher level dynamics of the situation. One thing that strikes me about the highest level dynamics of the situation is when we look at the history of war, while occasionally a war is fought to the bitter end, World War II, the US Civil War, et cetera, most wars are settled. And as I look at where we are, we may be approaching the range of times when settlement makes sense. That is what we’ll talk about later, maybe we aren’t. And that is in labor negotiations, which I think are a very interesting kind of game theoretical similar dynamic, typically you can get to settlement in a labor strike, a union strike when both sides realize they can both give and absorb punishment for a while and that neither side sees a major victory in sight, or certainly not an easy major victory.
Jim: Management sees unions not going to accept their first offer. The union realizes the company isn’t going to give them what they want. And at that point is when rational actors start to settle. So what do you think about that? Do you think we’re approaching the zone where settlement would make sense for rational actors? And then maybe your thoughts on whether we’re dealing with rational actors.
John: Yeah, I think so. But there are dynamics in place that are pulling these rational actors back from the compromise that would end the conflict. Putin obviously understands that he overstepped, he screwed up with this move, but he’s in it up to his eyeballs right now. And he has internal dissent rising. And he has a reputation for the Russian nation to protect. And he has to ward off encroachment from the West. So those are all factors coming into his thinking. He needs a Maximus, from his perspective, settlement conclusion. And that would be more towards a Ukrainian neutrality and no joining of NATO or EU. And then the Ukrainians on the other hand, they don’t want any restrictions like that. In fact, they would want back some of the lost territory, Crimea, Donbas. And they’re also getting pressure from the EU and NATO countries and the US who are completely behind them and pushing for Maximus goals. A complete rollback of Russia.
Jim: Yeah, question. Why would the Russians be opposed to Ukraine joining the EU? I mean, it’s not a military alliance.
John: It has a mutual defense function.
Jim: Oh, very weak one, trivial one. If you can’t beat the EU rapid reaction force, then you might as well just fold your cards, right?
John: Oh yeah. But I mean, if you use the EU as a mechanism for actually instigating conflict, it can draw a NATO. So you have that back door. And then also it’s economic and cultural change that’s right on their doorstep that will leak into Russia. Mostly an anti-fossil fuel viewpoint. A lot of the measures that they would try to put in place in terms of how the society is run in Ukraine, if they joined the EU would change the culture in Russia.
Jim: Yeah. I was going to say, he may be thinking like late Cold War that a prosperous and free Western oriented Ukraine would be a hell of an example for the Russian people to see, right?
Jim: And he’s probably afraid of that, doesn’t want a good example of functional society right next to him.
John: Yeah, exactly. And he’s definitely of the mind that Russia was humiliated and dismembered as the Soviet Union was collapsed. And there is a certain level of national pride and the need for buffer states to slow down NATO’s expansion. I mean, NATO is really just there to contain Russia. And expanding right up to his borders, it’s like the Warsaw Pact expanding right up to America’s borders from that perspective.
Jim: Of course the Warsaw Pact came right up to our major allies, right? In fact, divided one of them right in half. Anyway, okay, we’ll come back. We’ll talk about some settlements and some things that might push it in one direction or another. But yeah, we’re in a position where logically settlements are possible, but I agree with you that currently both sides are pretty far apart. So next, the high level military situation. The Institute for the Study of War put out a pretty detailed assessment on March 19th, where it declared flatly that the Russian offensive has failed and that we are likely to see a violent and costly stalemate situation ensue. I would interpret it in Clausewitzian terms is that, the friction of war has essentially used up most of the Russian capacity to move forward. And so stalemate is a likely situation. What do you think of that?
John: Yeah. The maneuver warfare that Russia initially tried to use in Ukraine hasn’t worked. They got bogged down and now it’s into attrition warfare, destruction of cities. The goal is to destroy so much inside of Ukraine that it forces it to the negotiation table. I mean, attrition warfare is basically destruction of physical capacity to actually oppose. So you destroy city after city after city until Ukraine comes into the negotiating table and says, “I’m exhausted, let’s end this.”
Jim: And of course that didn’t work too well in World War II. We pounded Germany flat, we pounded Japan even flatter and did not break their will. Germans, we actually struck the [inaudible 00:06:57] in a bunker at Berlin did the Germany fall. And not until we landed the nukes on their ass did the Japanese surrender. So, the pounding of cities has not historically been a prescription for winning a war.
John: Well, I think World War I is probably a better analogy for this war, both in terms of how it escalated using a network dynamic rather than just a bunch of treaties and familial relationships between monarchs. And also how it’s bogging down and turning into a war of exhaustion. And Germany certainly suffered exhaustion. And that’s what drove it to the negotiating table in World War I. Pounding a city with artillery works a lot more effectively than strategic bombing on the whole. And then you follow that up with ground forces coming through it. Yeah, I think attrition is a long drawn out horrible affair. So, this is still in a starting phases, and wait until it gets to Kiev.
Jim: And of course, one thing that’s interesting about attrition, I looked up the data on what are the balance of forces currently in Ukraine. If say the Russians have about 190,000 that they put in, they may have lost 20,000 effectives already between killed and wounded, maybe slightly more. That’s a huge number out of 190,000. And then you look at the other side, the Ukrainian military plus its reserves is about 460,000. And so, if the reserves have been fully deployed, which I imagine by now they have been, the Ukrainians outnumber the Russians almost three to one.
Jim: And so if it’s man for man attrition, the Ukrainians have a lot to give and further. So far, the loss ratios look like they’re skewed heavily against the Russians, which is what you’d expect with the Ukrainian hunker down defensive strategy.
John: Yeah. We don’t have no idea what the Ukrainian losses are. I mean, they’re not reporting. The open source networks that we rely upon for data are completely skewed to Russian losses and Russian deployments. And there’s no data coming out on Ukrainian losses. And they’re hiding it to achieve this kind of effect that they’re effective at defending. So, I suspect they probably lost as least as much as the Russians. This has been a brutal pounding and they’ll lose many more in terms of civilian losses. So, expect the Ukrainian losses to be at the end of the day maybe two to three to one to the Russian losses by the time this concludes.
Jim: Yeah, counting civilians I would say that’s certainly likely to be the case. May not be the case with military though. Though again, to degree they have a hunker down defense and the Russians seem do not know how to do mobile maneuver warfare, they don’t know how to play the air land game the way the West does. It’s going to be mighty expensive for them to capture these cities, even not really large cities. They’re having a really hard time. How long have they been trying to consolidate Mariupol and still hasn’t happened, right? And they may have to fight street by street.
John: Yeah. I mean, to be fair though, at least in the terms of the mobile or maneuver portion of this war, I mean, the Ukrainians were clearly prepped for this in terms of having PGMs and drones available. This, unlike a foe that we’ve faced in the past, US probably would’ve been able to compensate for it. But it still makes things slow going when every tree could hide a guy with a position guiding ammunition that could take out a tank, or the sky is flooded with cheap Chinese drones that can drop any vehicle IEDs and other weaponry on your column. So, they clearly didn’t put enough forces in.
John: They thought this was going to be a walk in the park akin to what it was in Crimea. And they’ve been preparing. I mean, Ukrainians have been preparing, and this is the cost. You go into a hedgehog with a maneuver force, it’s going to bog you down. And it’s going to slow you down. And that was the opportunity for the Ukrainians to get their forces mobilized and get all the weaponry they needed to do more damage to the Russians over the long term.
Jim: Let’s skip ahead here to another very high level question, is when I look at the situation here, particularly the unexpectedness, so we go back and read the prognostications of many or most I would say of the analysts. They did not expect Ukraine to essentially fight Russia to a stalemate. And I’m thinking that this might represent one of those historical flips in military technology where the defense has now come back into power over the offense. You think it’s happened before. Like the US civil war famously the invention of the mini ball which tripled the effective range of the infantry rifle basically brought the Napoleonic frontal charge to being irrelevant. Unfortunately, the generals didn’t know it. They’d all been taught Yemeni’s analysis of Napoleon at West Point, and they kept doing it again and again. The only general seemed to realized that the military tech had switch was James Longstreet.
Jim: He never wanted to get involved in a frontal attack. Always let them attack first, then we’ll counterattack. And it worked for him. World War I, another example. After the Franco-Prussian War, we saw the Prussians just zip right through, take Paris. World War I with the machine guns, rapid fire light field artillery, et cetera, turned into a very different conflict where defense had the advantage until the tank came late in the war. World War II was mostly offense dominated war as were things like the Gulf War. But perhaps inexpensive precision guided missile, hedgehog strategy etcetera may has flipped us back to a period where the technology and the tactics favor the defense. What do you think about that?
John: That would complete the World War I analogy, right? With attrition, with the defense being more advanced than offense. I think though that what we’re seeing definitely is a transition point towards more use of drones, autonomous weapons, smart weapons, and that we’re going to see the advance into using those as offensive technologies really quickly after this conflict. And the Russians clearly have invested in that. I think the Chinese certainly will be investing in that. That should have been the tip of the spear on this, is that using a lot more drones, I mean, swarming the skies over the Ukraine with thousands upon thousands of drones and all armed to the teeth, gathering information faster, that would’ve turned this into a ramp and for very little in terms of investment. And I don’t think Russia would be at the forefront in terms of advancing that, but with Chinese help, I think they could. So, yeah, there was a certain amount of switch. It’s more due to I think the sloppiness of Russian planning.
Jim: Yeah. It was one of the other things I was going to say is this could just be an artifact of the particular matchup. The Ukrainian army pretty big relatively to the Russian army and defensively oriented, fighting on their own turf against a fairly bumbling Russian military in this defensive dominance might not occur say in a US versus Iran situation for instance. But it might.
John: Yeah. I mean, stalemate I see it more as a slow grind that Russia thinks it can win over the long term. That it just will continue these slowly advance chewing city after city over the course of years. And we’re thinking, okay, everything should be done quick, it should be done in weeks. And here’s this thing that just goes and goes and goes. And city and casualties mount. And Russia keeps on throwing resources at it. New technologies get developed. The Ukrainians pay the biggest price because their cities are being destroyed, their civilians are killed. Their soldiers are chewed up because a lot of them are under-armed and under-experienced. And I swear that there are actually a lot more casualties on the Ukrainian side than we’re being led to believe, I mean, sending forward people that just don’t have the training or the equipment necessary to defend themselves against armored columns. We’re only seeing the successes of the attacks on the Russians. It’s very one side in terms of the information flow.
Jim: And we’ll talk about that later, how Russia’s doing such a bad job on information warfare. So, nonetheless, Russia has underachieved relative to what seemingly almost every analyst said. What do you think that’s about? Was it just hubris or are there fundamental problems in the Russian military organization and doctrine?
John: Well, a lot of people would say that Russia really wasn’t ever that great military. It focused on bulk and ability to grind outs wins over the long term and their ability to mobilize the entire state when needed. And there’s also the way that Putin treated the military. There’s this line of thinking that Russia is a security state, and the biggest threat to that security state is a military coup. In fact, it was one of the early things that almost happened prior to Putin taking power. And that Putin constantly kept the military under his thumb.
John: And then he debased it and weakened it. And that everything from the Russian gangs and criminal networks extorting money from conscripts and lower ranked officials on every Russian base and that being tolerated. And then constant theft and black market stuff and behind. And then in general just showing them that they are second tier, that they didn’t really need an intellectual culture. And the kind of things that would allow you to plan effectively and do the kind of operations they initially anticipated here. So you have a weak culture in the Russian military. Made weaker by Putin. It is a security state where no one really wanted to tell Putin the real truth.
Jim: Yeah, it’s the downside of a closed society, right? Karl Popper famously wrote in his book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, that in the long term, open societies should beat closed societies because closed societies aren’t operating on accurate information, right? And this seems to be a good example of that. I don’t know about the military, but I have read that in the intelligence services, which Putin has arrested some of the top guys in the Fifth, director at the FSB for giving him such bad advice, nepotism is a very serious problem, that our CIA hires the best and the brightest while the FSB apparently is heavily populated with the regression to the mean offspring of former FSB officers. I wonder if that’s also true in the military.
John: Yeah, nepotism has always been a Russian problem from the get go. I mean, even during the USSR, I mean, the analysis of the USSR was run by 5,000 families, and they all lived in Moscow area. So it’s like-
Jim: Nomenclature, they called it, right?
John: Yeah. That nepotism has not gone away. It’s ingrained in Russian culture and it does slow down their… Anyone who tries to challenge it tends to be soon out of power.
Jim: Yeah. And I think, one thing that’s good news here from all this new information about how feeble this is. And thinking about the systematics might be behind it is the idea of Russia taking on NATO toe to toe is now pretty laughable. If they can’t defeat the Ukrainians on their home turf, a hundred miles from their border, how the hell are they going to deal with NATO trying to come across Poland or something like that.
Jim: So it’s taken the escalation to general war against NATO off the table.
John: Well, yeah, but also NATO of 25 years ago is still in our head. I mean, we don’t have that NATO anymore. I mean, that NATO is like Germans and everybody cut their military budgets to nothing. And so, they’re about as bad office as their Russians at this point. They might have smaller high quality units, but they have nothing in bulk.
Jim: They still have those leopard tanks and they have those cool missiles. I mean, I won’t want to mess with the German.
John: Very small.
Jim: It’s not. Yeah, it’s 1% of the GDP as opposed to 3.5% Of ours, but it’s only one front. Keep that in mind too. We’re policing the world with 3.5% GDP. All they got to do is help Poland defend its borders. A much more concentrated piece. I think even if the US didn’t show up in NATO, I’ll back NATO would still kick their ass.
John: Given enough time, I think. But their militaries are so small.
Jim: It is true they are small. And they did not distinguish themselves in Afghanistan any.
John: No. And it is not really a militaristic culture in the Europe anymore. And it’s very old. It’s like the average age of Europe is 41 or something like that.
Jim: Same as Russia. Russia’s also 41, which is very important to know. Both of them are old culture. And Russia is even worse, because the only reason Russia is only 41 is because of its very high death rate, particularly for males.
Jim: If Russia had the longevity of the Western European countries, it’s average age we’ll about 48, because its population’s actually going down. Unlike the Western Europe ones are getting ready to go down, they haven’t actually started going down yet. But Russia’s actually going down because of the high death rate, particularly for males and a ridiculously low birth rate. Let’s go back up to an earlier topic I wanted to cover, which is, we’re in a range where there could be settlement, but the guy seem to be apart. What are some things in the near term, what I call transition points, that could move people’s willingness to settle one way or the other? A couple of them I came up with.
Jim: One idea I’ve seen circulating amongst the strategists is the Russians could converge from the northeast and the south on Dnipro and cut off Ukrainian eastern forces in front of the Donbas area, and then eventually reduce that bag and then consolidate their forces across the Dnieper. Turn north, take Kiev from the south. Another one is we already starting to see some Ukrainian counterattacks, local ones, Kharkiv, Mykhailo, Rivne, Lviv, Kherson and Donetsk have all had counterattacks, but they’ve been local. If those become more general, literally start rolling the Russians back the way the allies did late in World War I, that would move the needle quite a bit.
Jim: And of course on the other side, one could imagine Belarus coming in on the side of Russia and coming down the Polish border and cutting off the supply lines. And another one is the Russians could finally get their shit together and actually do a pervasive network attack on the both physical and virtual networks that so far have been sustaining Ukraine. I could think of four things that could happen in the relatively short term that might move the needle about negotiation. Do those make sense to you? And do you have some others?
John: Yeah, I’m looking at it more as even [inaudible 00:23:47]. You have the specific operational conditions that you were talking about, that it’s really… The frame for this conflict for me is really over nuclear weapons and nuclear escalation. At least from our perspective, that’s probably the most important thing here. And that what I see as an endgame is that either Russia is losing either through internal loss or operational loss in the theater and that it has to withdraw. And that could be because the Ukrainians are counterattacking or more militaries are joining from their talk of Poland and others sending troops into the conflict that it becomes untenable for them. They’re going to lose an army. And that forces them to the negotiating table, and basically they’re either given, which I don’t think is going to happen, or they escalate the conflict, which is I think is more likely. Or they start winning. And Ukraine is forced into the conflict or forced to end.
John: And that winning is mostly… From my perspective, I don’t think that they’re going to see any big operational maneuvers that could cause losses of huge territory in Ukraine. I do see a slow, steady grind that’s going to grind up Ukrainian cities, and that just the sheer amount of loss once they start really working on Kiev and other places of that size is going to drive the Ukrainians to the table. And they’ll accept that kind of neutrality that Russia is currently offering, without Ukraine without Donbas.
Jim: I’ve got a hypothesis which I’ve been circulating online, which is that there’s a constraint on Putin, which I call maximum acceptable atrocity, which is, yeah, he could do a Grozny and literally flatten Kiev and kill everybody in it damn close to. But if he did, there’s a fair chance that public opinion, i.e, outside of elite channels… I mean the elite channels do not want NATO to go toe to toe with the Russians because of the risk of nuclear escalation. But to some degree they’re dependent on popular opinion. There was a time not long ago where three quarters of Americans poll said they were in favor of a new flies out over the Ukraine, which would effectively have been declaring war on Russia. And there is some level of atrocity which will arouse public opinion and hypothesizing. Such a level of atrocity will arouse public opinion at the West that it will force NATO to intervene. And Putin being no fool is aware of this. And so, he doesn’t know where that level is, maximum acceptable atrocity, but he has to maneuver as if there is such a line.
John: Yeah. I think he has actually grind these cities up to in order to force Ukraine to the table. So, that’s the way attrition works. That’s the way he has to move forward. The maneuver stuff is not going to work. And so, that means causing civilian casualties, that means causing mass loss of life. But the problem is that the US, by Biden calling Putin war criminal and already talking in terms of war crimes being committed in the past and from the fight so far is basically escalated beyond that. I mean, there’s really no way to actually talk or negotiate with Putin at this point because he is already a designated war criminal. The disconnect is permanent at this point. The sanctions and the disconnection of Russia is permanent at this point with him in power.
John: So, I don’t think he has anything really to lose. I think maybe the escalation of the death through this grinding is actually potentially good for Putin, because it may attract conventional forces from other European countries to enter the theater. And that would allow him to say to the rest of Russia, “Look, this is all about NATO encroachment. This was all planned. They always wanted to come after us here. Here it is.” And my problem with this whole scenario, the way it’s working out, is that if Putin has to withdraw and he say he’s suffering internal dissent that he’s got to keep modded, and he is not going to get this disconnection lifted, is that he has to think in terms of the long term relationship with the West.
John: And that means that he has to turn Ukraine into something that serves as a warning to the West, that it shouldn’t interfere inside of Russia. And that has to make it as bloody and terrible as it possibly can. And you can do that with conventional forces up to a point, but at the end of the day, if it keeps on going along the way it’s going, you’re going to have to drop some tactical nukes and say, “Do not come after Russia, or this will expand into your territories as well.” Because even if this conflict ends in Ukraine with a negotiated settlement, everyone’s going to be talking about regime change in Russia and how we make that happen and how we start funding groups. And the only way to ward that off, only way to stop the West from doing that is to demonstrate your willingness to use nukes. And what better place to do that than in the Ukraine. And that may even force the negotiation to conclusion faster.
Jim: It’s certainly possible. That was going to be our next point. What are the Russian possible escalations? They see themselves caught in a quick sand pool that they can’t win and they can’t get out with honor. They’re not willing to settle on the terms Zelenskyy is willing to settle on. And so yeah, they could go to nukes. But what would they nuke? I mean, when I think tactically, there isn’t any obvious target to nuke. Maybe an airfield or something. But, how would you use tactical nukes in this kind of situation? The forces are too close together. It couldn’t be at the front probably. It would have to be on a remote target like an airfield or a depot or something. Or perhaps more realistically, if they believe they want to stay under the level of maxim, this might put them over at maximum simple atrocities, they could do a large scale chemical attack on a city in the way Saddam Hussein did on one of the cities in Kurdistan et cetera.
John: I don’t see the chemical stuff. I mean, it could be used, but it really doesn’t shift the needle at all. Just adds to the war crime stuff. I would do the same kind of thing that the US did with Japan, is if I were Putin and putting myself in his mindset is that I would take out some western cities next to the Western border of Ukraine to Europe. Mostly those cities that are just far enough from the border that it doesn’t bleed in through blast damage. But their depot at staging points civilian death don’t matter.
Jim: If they do that, it’s World War III probably.
John: No. Well, it potentially is, but it’s in the war zone. It’s outside of NATO. It still isn’t tactically a world war in that regard, but it’s basically a warning to the West, stay out.
Jim: No. Maybe I misheard you. Did you say for the Russians to nuke cities on the NATO side of the line or on the Ukrainian side of the line?
John: On the Ukrainian side.
John: But in the western part of Ukraine, which is anti-Russian, doesn’t have a lot of Russian speakers and that are conduits. Any city of any magnitude. Anything over a couple hundred thousand, you pick those out, bam, bam, bam. Maybe Odessa. And I mean, it’s horrible.
Jim: They want Odessa, they don’t want to lose Odessa. But they pick up, leave perhaps.
John: Well, they’re not going to get Ukraine. If they’re using nukes, it’s a warning. It’s a totem, stay away from Russia, stay away from internal politics.
Jim: Exceedingly dangerous move. God knows what happens, right? I think you certainly go over the maximum acceptable atrocity level, NATO clearly declares war, then what happens? Right? I’m glad I lived deep in the mountains of Virginia and still have a couple years worth of food supply and fuel supply in stock.
Jim: Because it could go all the way.
John: Yeah, that’s the problem with the way that we escalated. I mean, we had this global network that sprung into being in response to this invasion. And it succeeded. It includes leaders from all the West, from leaders of corporations, individuals all joined in this open source network that’s disconnecting Russia, and that it escalated right up to a global level. It made it an existential conflict for Russia. Russia’s already in a war for survival. So a war survivor with nuclear weapons means that the decision making that goes on in Ukraine is completely different than it would be otherwise if it was just a regional [inaudible 00:33:36].
Jim: It’s not a war for survival for Russia.
John: Oh, it is.
Jim: It’s only a war survival for Putin. Not for Russia, just for Putin. Ukraine’s not going to attack Russia. Now, it’s a fucking ridiculous big lie that Putin tells. There’s no fucking way Ukraine’s going to attack Russia. Russia’s not in any existential risk, it’s only the regime that’s at existential risk. We have to be clear about that distinction.
John: Well, that’s what we’re trying to sell. But the thing is, from the Russian perspective, if the only way out of this is you have to change your government and you have to disarm, potentially get rid of all your nuclear weapons, and that’s the only way we’re going to do a peace deal with you or reconnect you to the West, that’s existential from my perspective. I mean, it’s like so many coming to say, “Okay, you got to get rid of your democracy in the United States. Get rid of your president and you have to disarm in order to…” That considered by us existential.
Jim: Yeah, if we pushed it that far. But there’s a settlement long short of that, right? The settlement I’ve proposed, they should appoint me to be the head negotiator, be the mediator, is that Russia keeps crime near the Donbas provinces. Stay in Ukraine but are granted very substantial autonomy, and Russia withdraws. Oh, and Ukraine agrees not to join NATO for 15 or 20 years. That ought to be a deal that should work for both sides in the current state.
John: See, the thing is there’s two different layers here. There’s what goes on with the Ukrainian deal and then there’s the disconnection of Russia.
Jim: Yeah. And you basically dial back all the extreme shit like SWIFT and oil embargoes and things like that. And you keep in place the 2014 list of sanctions maybe a bit more. But yeah, the existential ones, that has to be part of the settlement, that we put you back on SWIFT, we’ll start buying your oil again, et cetera. So yeah, currently we’ve got the things dialed all the way up and we can dial them way back and still keep some punitive pressure on.
John: I don’t think that those sanctions are coming off. I think the general sentiment in the West right now is that Putin is a war criminal. Russia should be neutered. It’s too much of a threat to the West, and that this war at least on the global sanctions level and disconnection, I mean, it’s more than just the government sanctions. I mean, we’re talking banks, companies of all types. I mean, every single thing that connects to Russia would cut off.
Jim: It’s been amazing actually.
John: Oh, yeah. But that’s scary. See, the thing is that was a network operating. That’s an open source network. And we don’t have control over that.
Jim: That’s very cool. I mean, in fact, one of the good things about this is, again, I hypothesized online, is that maybe the world has found the solution to collective security that we’ve been trying to find since 1914. We found it in a scary way with mutual assured destruction during the height of the Cold War, but all the other attempts that collective security have been too easy to veto, not effective enough, too expensive, et cetera. But maybe these open source network is finally strong enough. And while it may not stop Putin, it makes an object example of them. So anybody else, talking about you Mr. China, realizes that the consequences of engaging in Nuremberg war crime trial attack across borders ain’t going to happen no more. Because if there’s a consensus against you, we can fuck you up in this network world.
Jim: And the beautiful thing about that, there’s no room for hegemon here. If the US put on sanctions, this would have relatively little effect. You have to have a consensus of most of the economies of the world to make such a network disconnect effective. So, it requires a consensus, not a hegemon. Doesn’t require killing anybody. Can be put on very quickly. Could be taken off very quickly. So we may have actually accidentally discovered a network mechanism for collective security the world’s been looking for since 1918.
John: Oh yeah. I mean this open source network, this swarm that has Maximus goals that disconnects the damage that it sees, the problem is that the old method of peace nuclear umbrella that sits over everybody, that stops these major conventional wars from breaking out is still there. And Maximus goals on the disconnection running into somebody who has an ability to wipe you out, right? Wipe all of us out. So, 6000 nukes is nothing to disregard. And if that’s your only source of power, only way to survive, that’s the clash and the transition point that could end up everything unraveling.
Jim: It could happen. Though, I do say there, we’ll see. Yes, I agree with you, if the West is not willing to ratchet back the existential aspects of the sanctions, then that increases the probability of Putin lashing out in the way like you described. But as part of a general settlement, if I were Putin, I would certainly insist on the most extreme parts of the sanctions have to be thrown in too as part of the settlement.
John: Well, the West isn’t at the negotiating table with Putin, it’s Putin and Ukraine directly.
Jim: But they could be pulled in at any time. Putin could say, “All right, I’ll do this, but only if they do that.” And then you got to send [inaudible 00:39:15] and work it out. But on the other hand, they might not. As you point out, the West blood is up. I read the UK newspapers, particularly The Telegraph every day to get a sense. And their blood’s up way higher than ours, right? This is starting to remind me of July, 1914, where it may be difficult to get the populous to back down, even if it is the right thing to do.
John: Yeah. So the problem with this network is it has a pattern of thinking that everyone seems to adopt and that the Western leadership for the most part and at every level of government has converted their mindset towards this pattern. And they can’t break out of it. So, it’s all Maximus goals. The leaders are competing to see who can ratchet it up more. I mean, Johnson is every day trying to come up with a new way of increasing the existential pressure on Russia. And anyone who actually says anything that’s rational, let’s say… Wait a second, let’s think about this. Let’s think is true, is immediately jumped on. It’s like you don’t want to be that politician. You don’t want to be that leader. And yeah, these sanctions and this disconnection and this ratcheting up a pressure on Russia is not going away even after this conflict.
Jim: I’m not sure about that. I’m going to challenge the world’s leaders, those of you listening to Jim Rutt Show and at least a couple of them do, realize that this network form of collective security is now new. It’s powerful, but for it to actually be effective, you have to be able to modulate it. You have to be able to turn it back. So, world leaders think about how you’re going to modulate these existential network attacks should once you get Russia to bend the knee and reach a tolerable compromise. Yes some wars are fought to the bitter end, but not very many. Most of them, one side of the other realizes that time to bend the knee and the other side says not worth fighting to the end, and a negotiated settlement comes about. But in this case, it has to include the worldwide network, the aroused network effect, which is a new thing under the sun and actually a possibly very hopeful thing for humanity if we can get through this crisis. It may be a way for us to finally achieve collective security at a tolerable price.
John: Yeah. I mean, I view it as a network decision making system, and this is one aspect of that. And we have to figure out a way to mitigate the excess of it and control it to a certain extent. I mean, we figured out how to do that with bureaucracy, we figured out how to do that with Buckets. It took a while.
Jim: And we did with the Cold War, right? We’d raise the DEFCON level a level. We put the B-52s back in the air, but then when the crisis was over, DEFCON comes back down one, B-52 stop patrolling so aggressively, right?
Jim: So there was ways to modulate. And if we’re going to use network war, we have to have ways to modulate it up and down.
John: Yeah. I don’t think these guys actually think that the leaders of the West tend to think that they were just great at their job and that they didn’t see any kind of larger dynamic or system actually doing 90% of the work on the disconnection forum. They think, “Oh yeah, look what I did. I’m such a great leader.” But no, they’re just part of it. They’re just one cog in it.
Jim: It is amazing. I will say, I’ve been surprised at how strong the network effect has been with respect to businesses, right? All the businesses under no legal obligation to do so are pulling back very rapidly and very decisively. And again, due to the popular opinion, essentially the raw network itself, which is quite interesting and something for us all to ponder. Before we ponder though, that’d be my last question, what are the future implications for all this. Before we do that, you’ve long been a person who’s talked about network war as part of modern war. Well, I think one of the most amazing thing is how astoundingly inept Russia has been with respect to network war, both in the physical manifestations of network wars and the virtual, right? Well, say physical things like the electricity is still on in much of Ukraine, the internet. The prime ministers of three European countries went to Kiev to meet with Zelenskyy by train.
Jim: If it was United States against Ukraine, there would’ve been no train bridges left within 200 miles of Kiev. The Russians aren’t dealing with the physical networks, and they’re certainly losing the SiOPS big time. We had this idea of the gigantic gorilla of Russia able to manipulate the world’s opinion at will, which I never believed by the way.
Jim: But a lot of people did. But they’ve been showed to be totally inept in both the physical and the virtual aspects of network warfare. What do you make of that?
John: Yeah, I think their reputation was blown out of proportion just for political effect during the Trump years. And that they never really were truly effective in the West. Their output was relatively small, relatively ham-fisted. It was hundreds of billions of views over a course of a campaign season on their disruptive campaigns compared to 4 billion views a day for YouTube alone, right? It’s like a needle in a haystack. We produce more disinformation every day, every hour on our own to disinform each other than Russia could operating a full steam for a year. So, it wasn’t possible in the West.
Jim: Yeah. I could calculate. The Jim Rutt Show has gotten more views on social media than Russian propaganda did in 2016, right?
John: Right. Exactly.
Jim: Maybe for a probably similar effect. Not much but something, right?
John: Wow, exactly. And then compared to what this network swarm produces, it wasn’t… I mean, once this thing fully evolved to a full on network, there wasn’t any competition even possible. But where Russia did focus his efforts were on India and other places in the Middle East, in Africa. And that sentiment is actually relatively pro-Putin. So, same thing with the Chinese, they focused on internal pro-Putin pro-Russia sentiment. That’s been relatively effective.
Jim: But what about the physical network? It seems very weird that the Russians wouldn’t realize that cutting their railroads, cutting electricity, cutting the internet is relatively easy to do with precision ammunitions and they haven’t done it.
John: Yeah. I think in part that was an artifact from the initial campaign design, is that they thought they were going to take it so quick. They didn’t want to do extraordinary damage to the physical infrastructure and then do this civilian casualties and suffering angle. And that backfired. And then they’ve been bogged down in just surviving since then. And they haven’t been able to expand beyond force protection at this point or destroying cities that they’ve clearly surrounded and set up for destruction. And yeah, that physical network effect. We talked about the three things that were new in this war was like, okay, drones, PGMs, smart weapons basically really coming to the fore. And the second one was this network springing up to disconnect damage at a global level in warfare.
John: And then the third thing was the super empowerment that access to these networks provides, and the inability of if you don’t sever those connections, you’re super empowering lots of small groups. For instance with the drones. One of the most effective drone units in Ukraine is leveraging Starlink, right? And so, they have access to this global satellite system and turning it into a military system. And that offers them incredible power. Turns their Podunk’s little drone systems into something that has the ability to gather information and act on it faster than the Russians can. So those network connections, those superpower empowerment linkages to global supply chains also that provide technology to active and networks that provide services and communication, that’s changing this war.
Jim: Yeah. So all these new things. Let’s wrap up, we’ll exit on this one. What are the future implications from what we have learned from this situation? Assuming we survive, of course. Goes nuclear and major strategic exchange, game over. But assuming it doesn’t, what do we learn from all this?
John: Yeah. So if we’re lucky and it just doesn’t end up in a nuclear stalemate, is that we’re going to have to figure out a way to get our arms around this network effect, this network swarm, this open source thing that operates at a global level. It’s great at mobilizing, it’s a great at achieving a specific goal, but it’s also dangerous. And because it’s always Maximus. So we’re going to have to figure out how that works. And that’s the forefront of my thinking, is how do you get your arms around that?
Jim: How do you modulate this amazing mobilized network? If we can learn to modulate it like we learned to modulate nuclear weapons threats, this thing will be great for humanity. But if we don’t, it’ll be a really dangerous weapon. Some of the ones I’d point out is that the power of hedgehog strategies with smart weapons presents us with some opportunities to make, for instance, the Balkans states who seem very vulnerable, surprisingly expensive to take. So you put 30,000 javelins and 10,000 stingers into each one of the Balkans, suddenly even their relatively small populations would turn out to be an extremely hard nut for Russia to crack, especially showing how inept they actually are with respect to doing land, air type maneuver warfare. So we can at relatively low cost harden up an awful lot of these peripheral allies, which I think would be quite a good thing.
Jim: And of course, we should think about how we use this network and position it for other adversaries, right? It’s one of the biggest questions of course, is what is this Taiwan Chinese situation. I have a bet with Samo Burja, who said if Russia wins a decisive victory in Ukraine, which they won’t, he predicted China would take Taiwan within three years. I said, “No, they won’t.” It’s much harder to take Taiwan than it is to crush Ukraine. And the Chinese don’t need to, they’re on the ascendancy. Why would they? Russia has reached its peak power relative to Ukraine right now. And its power will go down every year. So, it has to attack now or never essentially. But, thinking about this network and how powerful it was, how would we modulate it to use against the Chinese, or frankly them use against us? So thinking about, what are the strategic implications of global instanton pervasive network warfare in other contexts?
John: Yeah, no, I think the network is fickle and that Biden trying to go Maximus with China is not going to work. I mean, he can’t just turn on this network disconnection with China based on their supply of Russia. So, it’s hard to lead, hard to ignite. It’s not something you just can-
Jim: There’s no on switch, right?
John: Right. It’s not an obvious thing. There’s a mechanism. And I tried to dig into that in my reports. And the second thing is we’re going to see rapid improvements in drone tech. It’s going to be torrential. Using drones offensively, creating more autonomous weapons, and deploying them in massive swarms, that can lead to complete change in the way we defend. If we had gone into the Ukraine and we had autonomous air defense system with drones that we could give them, that could have changed the war overnight, right? It’s not us flying them, it’s the Ukrainians deploying them, right?
Jim: And a kid with a joystick could fly these things, right? And then get them close and just say, “Autonomous mode, go kill,” right?
John: Oh yeah. Everything is autonomous. If flying is much easier to do, you’d have an autonomous weapon than on the ground.
Jim: Oh yeah, 3D. I mean, I was a student pilot. I flown and you realize, “Hey, it’s hard to hit shit in the air.” I mean, as in run into something, right? Well, in cars, you’re 18 inches from disaster at all times, right?
John: Well, think of the best way to defend physically in a country that’s invaded by a conventional force is this pop up air to ground, air to air system. Virtually all autonomous that we just send them. And we’re not even in the conflict, we just give these packages in trailers and they just pop them out, and it just goes. And any plane that enter is dead, any tank that comes across, dead.
Jim: Oh, by the way, we flooded the world with the software for free, a simulator, so that kids everywhere learned to play these weapons with the actual software on a simulator. And so then we send them a couple of C-130s worth, and suddenly every 14 year old is sitting there taking the enemy out. It was respect to drone warfare. I mean, somebody in Russia won’t pay any attention. The Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict, that was a big eyeopener, right?
Jim: The Azeris kicked the shit out of the Armenians using just swarms of drones. It was quite impressive actually.
John: And this is a place where China really has an advantage. I mean, they produce the majority of drones in the world. So getting them up to autonomous or semi-autonomous and producing them in bulk, that’s going to be a game changer. When we’re talking about Russia not having… For instance, the Chinese dominance in production is really not fully accounted in this kind of scenario, is that we were talking about Western oil companies not extending technology to Russian oil production. That would cause a breakdown, but underneath it all, is that Chinese actually producing all the big refinery equipment. Everything else it’s all but done in China now. So, if in effect China can supply that without having the West as a toll taker or controlling interest in what’s going on. So, same thing with drones, we’re going to see some serious advances in drones from China.
Jim: But from everybody else. I mean, drone tech is not hard. Israelis have some very impressive drones, right?
John: Yeah. But I’m talking mass. I’m talking tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands.
Jim: Oh yeah, I agree. But it’s not that hard. I mean, you think of what US did during World War II, right? We started cranking out all those Liberty ships and Sherman tanks and shit. We should be setting up US-based cruise missile and drone factories. And I like even better your idea of an integrated system with all the software, all the weaponry in place. You just ship it and deploy it. Anybody can do it. So anyway John, this has been a wonderful conversation. Any final thoughts or should we just wrap it here?
John: Oh, hope we survive. Hey, I hope we’re on the right timeline here.
John: Sometimes [crosstalk 00:55:33] wonder.
Jim: In this branch of the metaverse, right?
Jim: All right. Thanks John. I’m sure you’ll be back on soon. Have a good day.
John: You too Jim.