Mapping the Soviet Invasion of Western Europe

1987 American Defense Department map of a speculative Soviet invasion of Western Europe
1987 American Defense Department map of a speculative Soviet invasion of Western Europe (TechConex)

As late as 1987, two years before the Berlin Wall fell, the United States seriously considered the possibility that the Soviet Union might start World War III.

This Defense Department map shows the broad outline of a two-pronged Soviet attack on Western Europe. Planners expected one army to march across the Northern European Plain into the Low Countries and another to dive across Bavaria into France and the Iberian Peninsula.

At the time, the Soviets had thirty forward-deployed divisions in Eastern European to spearhead an invasion force with another 94 in Western Russia. NATO was outnumbered and counted on the threat of massive nuclear retaliation to deter the Reds.

Atomic weapons played a different role in Warsaw Pact planning. Far from a last resort, they were envisaged as something like big artillery pieces that could clear the way for a ground invasion. Read more

Democratic Ideals and Reality: An Enduring Tension

Portrait of Halford Mackinder
Portrait of Halford Mackinder (James Lafayette)

A century ago, a British member of Parliament and geographer, Halford Mackinder, wrote one of the famous books of geopolitics, Democratic Ideals and Reality. The book discussed the tension between what nations want (“democratic ideals”) and what they often get (geographic “reality”).

That tension seems especially topical this week. Read more

Countries That Almost Existed

The world could soon add two new countries. In Catalonia and Kurdistan, referendums have been held to secede from Spain and Iraq, respectively.

Neither would be universally recognized. Spain doesn’t even recognize a Catalan right to self-determination. Iran, Iraq and Turkey all oppose Kurdish statehood.

International recognition is often a stumbling block for would-be states. Consider the likes of Kosovo, Somaliland, South Ossetia and Transnistria.

Others don’t even get to that point. Here is a selection of countries that remained on the drawing board. Read more

The Many Scenarios of a Republican Civil War

Members of the Texas delegation listen to a speech at the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota, September 2, 2008
Members of the Texas delegation listen to a speech at the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota, September 2, 2008 (PBS/Tom LeGro)

In August 2016, I was penning an article titled “The Coming Republican Civil War”. The premise was simple: after a self-inflicted Trumpian defeat in November, the party of Lincoln would tear itself asunder assigning blame and shedding factions.

But Hillary lost. For a few brief months, the Grand Old Party looked triumphant.

Not so much anymore.

The long-term trajectory of the Republican Party isn’t great; factional infighting has already sunk several attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act and by the end of the month we’ll know just how deep the divides go should tax reform and the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill fail. Read more

Russia’s Arctic Posture: Defensive or Offensive?

The Russian nuclear submarine Orel arrives in Murmansk, April 11
The Russian nuclear submarine Orel arrives in Murmansk, April 11 (Russian Ministry of Defense)

Many Westerners interpret Russia’s behavior in the Arctic as offensive, going back to 2007, when the country resumed air and naval patrols in the area and planted its flag under the North Pole.

Alexander Sergunin, a professor of international relations at Saint Petersburg State University, argues The Wilson Quarterly that the reality is more nuanced. On balance, he writes, Moscow’s policy is pragmatic. Read more

The Impossible Partition of India

Map of the partition of India from Life magazine, August 18, 1947
Map of the partition of India from Life magazine, August 18, 1947

Seventy years ago this week British India was split in two, creating the nations of India and Pakistan, which have been at each other’s throats since.

The partition was carried out a little-known British civil servant, Cyril Radcliffe. A lawyer by training, Radcliffe was given the impossible task of dividing the subcontinent into Hindu- and Muslim-majority states. Read more

The Octopus in Political Cartoons

Octopuses are a popular trope in political art. They came in vogue in the 1870s, when Frederick W. Rose depicted Russia as a giant octopus lording over Eastern Europe. The sea monster was quickly given to Germany when it posed a bigger threat to peace in Europe. During the early Cold War, it was Russia’s turn again. The octopus was the perfect metaphor for spreading communism.

Here is a selection of the best and worst tentacled sea creatures. Read more