SWJ Blog Post | April 16, 2014
In “Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia” Yegor Gaidar writes “[w]e are not the first to suffer post-empire nostalgia, which permeates the Russian consciousness today. It has occurred in history more than once. The Soviet Union was not the first empire to collapse in the twentieth century, but it was the last. … The problem for a country dealing with post-imperial syndrome is that it is easy to evoke feelings of nostalgia for the lost empire.”[i] It is easy to see the effect of the “post-imperial syndrome” in how the Russian population supports Putin’s actions in the Crimea. What may be less easy to see is how that syndrome is affecting us.
When the Soviet Union fell apart the United States was an unchallenged military leviathan; the only superpower on the planet. Our military divided the earth into sectors of military control overseen by geographical combatant commanders. We projected power across the globe, and we still do. However, since we won the Cold War the U.S. military has been involved in two less than totally successful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. In those wars we fought an enemy who did not use the conventional tactics and systems that we had perfected over the last half of the twentieth century. As those counterinsurgency operations come to a close the military today looks to regain its past prominence as a conventional fighting force.
Russia’s land grab has offered us that opportunity. This new confrontation in Europe comes complete with convenient historical examples. Russia, with its quasi-dictatorial leadership, makes the perfect enemy. We can see the long shadow of Hitler in his actions, replaying the events of Czechoslovakia in 1938, only the first steps in his quest for German “living space”. Further, this is the Soviets, … err, … I mean, the Russians we are talking about. It was not that long ago that they were a threat to capitalist societies around the world. History dictates that we must act now. There is the added bonus of the Russians being a conventional force. We know how to fight them. Most of the equipment we now have was designed in the era where BMPs, T-90s, and Hind-Ds were the threat to defeat.