By: Peter Pry
“Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.” – Cicero
Russia is conducting the largest military exercise of the 21st century. VOSTOK-18 has mobilized 300,000 troops, 36,000 tanks and other vehicles, 1,000 aircraft and 80 ships to practice World War III.
Russia is the most heavily armed state in the world. Russian conventional forces outnumber those of NATO in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and the United Kingdom combined.
However, many Western elites and analysts belittle Russian military power because the Russian economy is weak. The U.S. and its allies, all focused on creating wealth and prosperity for their peoples, imprudently equate “real” military power with economic power, confident in the U.S. as the “Arsenal of Democracy.”
Consequently, the Western press is capable of proliferating such foolish or shortsighted articles as these: “Why Russia Is Really Weak” (Newsweek), “Why Russia Is Far Less Threatening Than It Seems” (Washington Post), “Russia’s Deceptively Weak Military” (National Interest).
Such “analysis” is security-blanket fantasy masquerading as realism, reminiscent of the denial behavior of Western elites before World War II.
Impoverished but heavily armed North Korea and North Vietnam — economic pygmies compared to the United States — proved that even the vastly superior U.S. economic power is no guarantee of peace and does not automatically translate into military superiority and victory.
Predator states, heavily armed warrior cultures that are economically weak or under-developed (often precisely because of “over-investment” in military power), are a recurrent fact that have not only shaped but often dominated the history of civilization.
For example, the Assyrian Empire — economically disadvantaged in its desert-mountain homeland, compared to prosperous Sumeria, Babylon, Egypt and other cradles of civilization made prosperous by the Tigris, Euphrates or Nile rivers — conquered wealth that Assyria could not create with the world’s first professional army.
“The Assyrian war machine was the most efficient military force in the ancient world up until the fall of the empire in 612 BCE,” according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia 2018. “The secret to this success was a professionally trained standing army, iron weapons, advanced engineering skills, effective tactics, and, most importantly, a complete ruthlessness.”
Assyria’s war machine enslaved the known world three times (2025-1750 BC, 1392-1056 BC, 911-612 BC) for periods lasting centuries.
Macedonia, one of the poorest regions of ancient Greece, rose under the generalship of Alexander the Great to become, in merely 13 years (336-323 BC), the greatest empire until the rise of Rome.
Rome defeated wealthy, mercantile Carthage in the Punic Wars (246-146 BC), forging a warrior culture and the mightiest war machine of the ancient world. Rome, which often could not feed its own people, conquered what it needed, eventually building the Roman Empire that lasted in the west until 476 AD, and in the east until 1453 AD, laying the foundations for Western Civilization.
Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and the Soviet Union are contemporary examples of predator militaristic nations that made enormous sacrifices to build mighty war machines to conquer empires, despite having relatively weak economies.
What to do about modern predator states Russia, China, North Korea and Iran?
Do not assume World War III will replay World War II, that the U.S. will have time to mobilize its economic wealth to prevail.
Try to avoid war. Eventually, the “New Assyrians” may collapse, overburdened by their own armaments, as did the USSR.
Heed Vegetius and Plato, who said: “If you would have peace, prepare for war.”
And remember, always, Tacitus: “Woe to the vanquished.”