Will Conscription Happen If We Go to War With Russia? An Expert Explains

Will Conscription Happen If We Go to War With Russia? An Expert Explains

Russia vs. NATO: It’s the classic East vs. West conflict you’d play on GoldenEye, or basically see in any James Bond film before it became overly self-aware. Thing of the past? Perhaps. But what if the Big Clash is back?! Some people clearly think so, given recent claims made by Sir Patrick Sanders, the current head of the British military, that the country’s standing army is too small and conscription would need to be introduced should the new Cold War get fucking hot indeed. 

Conscription’s a funny one, because I am actually a great History Man (not to be confused with a Great Man of History!), and so my obsession with the world wars when I was growing up meant I assumed conscription and war was actually the norm and not just some aberration. I often imagined myself going off to war, thinking that might be a thing. You get older and realise that is not a thing, at least in this country, for which I am very grateful. 

Except of course, it may actually be a thing in this hypothetical clash with Russia, which is of course at war with Ukraine since it invaded in 2022 (though they’ve been at it since 2014, let’s be honest). We thought we’d chat with former intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, and US congressional candidate, Matt Shoemaker, to find out what would happen in a war between NATO and Russia – and if we’d all get called up to, er, serve.

VICE: How likely is outright war between NATO and Russia now or in the coming year or two?
Matt Shoemaker: I think the risk, as of this moment, of all-out war between NATO and Russia is limited. There’s a low probability simply because the Russian military is getting very close to exhaustion. No one knows exactly what that point of exhaustion will be. But in terms of its ability to wage war, it’s certainly limited because all of its focus and energies have been focused on Ukraine for the past two years.

Photo: Courtesy of Matt Shoemaker

What would the spark look like for there to be an actual war between two nuclear weapon-having entities in NATO and Russia?
Let’s say, for some reason, NATO decides to start putting either soldiers themselves in Ukraine – or, in a world where Russia uses a tactical nuclear weapon to defend Crimea, for example, that NATO forces conduct an air campaign directly against Russian forces in Ukraine. That could certainly be a catalyst for significant escalation, because then it is a direct response of NATO against Russia directly, rather than through proxies such as the Ukrainians. 

One of the problems the UK and all of Europe is facing is, after 30 years of post-Cold War world, a lot of European countries have cut their militaries down to the bone. They don’t have the research and development needed to update and modernise a lot of their equipment, at least not cheaply, which is why they’re often times beholden on the Americans to buy American material for it, because their defence industries have also been allowed to wither along with their militaries. 

Until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, everyone in the West thought Russia was the second-most powerful military in the world, based off of how many tanks they had, how many soldiers they had, how many weapons systems they had. As it turns out, many of those weapons systems were garbage; they were completely corrupted through the waste, fraud and abuse that had permeated into the Russian defence sector. I think the failure rate for Russian missiles is high as 60 percent – 60 percent of the missiles pretty much explode as soon as their launched, or they don’t launch.

What are the relative advantages and disadvantages for either side?
With regards to Russian advantages, they have sheer numbers, sheer brute force, and they use brutal tactics in order to achieve that. The Russians have a second line of soldiers to shoot any retreating Russian soldiers. From that perspective alone, and because they do have a lot of land force, just in terms of numbers, that is a significant advantage for them. 

A certain disadvantage for them is NATO’s border with Russia has now expanded astronomically. The flat plains that begin in northern Germany and kind of funnel out towards Russia is why Russia got invaded so many times in the 19th and 20th centuries by European powers – it’s very easy just to walk across the plains of Europe, into Russia. So that’s a large land area Russia would have to defend against.

Structurally, the amount of corruption in the Russian military at this point is a significant problem. That is actually one of the risks as well, because the risk of the Russian army collapsing under the weight of a NATO push, for example, could scare the Russians into using weapons of last resort. 

Let’s say this war’s happening: Do you think there would be conscription in the UK and other NATO countries to pick up the manpower slack?
I think the European countries, especially those that had the two years of military service for anyone who is 18 to 20, those that had had that relatively recently, they would be more likely to reinstate conscription fairly quickly, just because it’s a little bit more culturally familiar.

The United States, though, hasn’t had a draft since the early 1970s. It would cause a lot of problems because it would require a kind of a cultural shift in how we view the military – I imagine for the British as well. I mean, the Brits have always ridden the line between continental Europe and the United States. The British would probably be like the middle way between that in terms of the reaction to conscription. In a fight between NATO and Russia, assuming that it went longer than a month, I imagine that conscription probably would be brought in at some point.

What would have to happen in the war for conscription to be brought in generally?
In the initial stages of conflict, NATO’s initial reaction would primarily be an air campaign. That doesn’t require boots on the ground. Depending on how that goes, let’s assume it escalates even further and there’s no de-escalation. Let’s say Russia then does a ground invasion of a NATO country like Poland or the Baltic states – that’s when we would start seeing NATO’s rapid reaction force called up, if they hadn’t already been called up at that point. 

Assuming Russia then invades a NATO country, that’s when the ground offensive would really begin. In the initial stages, European countries would try to use their standing professional armies to prevent further Russian invasion. If those professional forces are under too great a strain and they begin to falter, then a draft is going to be called.

Would nuclear weapons be used in this hypothetical war?
With Putin at the head, it would take probably either a direct NATO involvement, as in NATO firing on Russian forces in Ukraine, or the collapse of the Russian army. If they start to collapse against NATO forces, then I think Putin,  » …
Read More

0 I like it
0 I don't like it