Economist mag is wrong – Russia-US war risks are dropping

The Economist had a special report which asserts that the odds of a great power conflict – US and allies versus Russia or US versus China have increased.

One of the main points is that Russia did take Crimea from Ukraine and they now have a stalemate in that still active conflict.

* The US now has placed an armored brigade in Poland to reinforce Baltics
* Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are or have increased military spending to 2-2.5% of GDP
* Russian military spending peaked in 2015 and is off 8% in 2018 from 2017
* However, the Baltics and Taiwan are not acting like there is a real emergency

In 2015, RAND has studies where across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of Tallinn and Riga (capitals of Estonia and Latvia) is 60 hours. Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options, all bad. Having a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades—adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities— might prevent such an outcome. A more recent RAND study looked at the potential for Russia to use hybrid war tactics in the Baltics. The conclusion is that the main threat is still a rapid and overwhelming conventional forces attack.

The US has placed the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, in Gdansk, Poland on a year-round basis.
The USA has 116 to 126 tanks in an armored brigade or 300 Stryker armored personnel carriers in an armored brigade.

Poland, envisions a defense budget increase of up to 2.5 percent of Poland’s GDP by 2030. Poland will increase defense spending and up the size of the army by 50,000 from the current 100,000. The bill will also introduce a new volunteer defense force, numbering around 50,000. Poland defense investment was maintained at 2% of GDP in 2018.

Global defense spending is forecast to reach $1.67 trillion in 2018, the highest level since the end of Cold War.

IHS Markit’s Jane’s Defence Budgets Report forecasts annual global defense spending would represent a 3.3 percent increase over 2017, or the fastest growth rate in a decade.

The region with the fastest growing defense spending is Eastern Europe, where the three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — that were once part of the Soviet Union are seen as trying to counter Moscow’s stepped-up military assertiveness following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Indeed, Baltic defense spending by next year “will have more than doubled in real terms compared to 2014 levels,” the report said.

“Growth has taken off in Eastern Europe since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014 with the majority of the new defense funding being put towards military modernization,” wrote Fenella McGerty, principal analyst at IHS Jane’s. “Armored vehicle procurement is on the increase — in fact, Europe is emerging as the leading spender globally in the military ground vehicle market.”

NATO has a target for members to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense but only five of the 28 member countries this year met the alliance goal. But the report forecasts nine NATO members will reach the 2 percent target in 2018. It said these countries are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the U.S., the U.K., Turkey, Poland, Romania and Greece.

Russia’s defense budget now stands about 10 percent below its 2015 peak, and it forecasts Moscow will spend about $43.1 billion on defense next year, or down 8 percent from $47 billion in 2017.

Figures from the report show Russia’s defense spending this year ranked it in the sixth slot worldwide, down from No. 4 in 2016. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the U.K., India, China and the U.S. all had higher annual defense spending than Russia.

Taiwan has drafted a budget for 2018 which raises defense spending by 1.9 percent to NT$327.8 billion (US$10.7 billion), a far cry from the 50-percent leap needed to reach 3 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

The country’s defense spending now stands at 2 percent of GDP, or NT$321.7 billion (US$10.5 billion), but the government has predicted a raise in the light of grave threats.

Taiwan is investing in submarines, fighters and missile defenses.

Taiwan has given up on getting surplus M1 Abram tanks and instead will upgrade its 450 M60A3 tanks.