Despite assurances given to Gorbachev there would be no NATO bases on Russia’s border, there they are, in the Baltic states, Poland and Romania. Vladimir Putin is determined to stop Ukraine from having them and considers the possibility of NATO bases in Ukraine comprises a casus belli. The argument of this post is such NATO bases are a disaster waiting to happen and all of them should be removed. Emotion, patriotism, fear, etc have nothing to do with it. The conclusion comes from simple mathematics.
The reason lies in the mathematics of Game Theory, and is closely related to The Prisoner’s Dilemma. The concept of that is as follows. The police arrest two criminals and keep them separate, so they cannot communicate with each other. They have insufficient evidence to get a conviction so each is offered the following deal. If you stay silent, you go free, at least of this charge, but if you confess and give evidence against your partner, you get two years in prison and he gets ten. If you keep silent and he provides evidence against you, you get ten years in prison. What should the prisoner do? The answer is, he should immediately confess and rat in his partner because he cannot trust his partner to take the option that benefits both of them.
A similar situation occurred in the Cold War. Each country had the option of spending big on armaments, or investing the money on its own infrastructure. Declining to spend on the military would lead to a better country and stronger economy, but would leave you far weaker and the opposition could overrun you. Neither side could trust the other, but that scenario favoured the US because its economy was so much stronger. At the end of WW II, Russia had to rebuild everything the Germans destroyed in Russia and that which both destroyed in the Warsaw Pact countries. The US had no damage in WW II, and had built a huge armaments business.
All the ignorant commentators are rubbishing the Russian military. It is clearly facing problems, but so does every country going to war. So, let us assume it is clearly weaker than the US, and let us say war breaks out between them. What should Russia do? The mathematical answer in the current situation is simple: let fly with every nuclear weapon you have.
Again, each side faces two choices: launch everything you have immediately and hope you can take out all the opposition or remain conventional and wait and see. If one side does not launch and the other does, the one side loses everything. If neither side launches, the situation is currently unstable, and the first one to launch wins, if anything in this could be considered a win. If both sides launch, everyone loses. So why did this not happen during the Cold War? Mainly because both sides were so well separated if major launches were made, the other side had an hour to get its retaliation under way. In effect, the sides were in an indirect communication with each other, and knew what the other was doing. More than once, that hour gave the time to verify that the opposition had not started WW III once an alarm sounded. Those alarms came from instrumental errors, radar glitches, and in one case, even an exercise where they had forgotten to tell the key people it was an exercise. It is too easy for something to go wrong. Each side has to have its nuclear weapons a long way from the other, so there is time to correct a mistake.
The current NATO bases destroy that equilibrium; Russia has no time to think if a missile is launched from them. They cannot tell what is on the warhead. So why were such bases set up? The original idea was they would be forward conventional military bases. According to the treaty signed in 1987, intermediate-range missiles were banned, but in 2019 the US withdrew from that treaty, arguing violations, and that China was not included. Now those bases could be nuclear capable. Russia cannot do anything about those, but it does not need more. If the bases were not there, and if the US had all its nukes on its own territory, and conventional war broke out, Russia can restrain itself from launching, because there is negative information: if there are no missiles launched from the continental US, the US is not starting a nuclear war. Again, there is time to think and indirect communication.
We now see why NATO cannot afford to send aircraft into Ukraine to help the Ukrainians; if they shoot at a Russian aircraft, that is the start of WW III. Accordingly, both sides are trapped in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. If war breaks out, Russia has no option but to incinerate those bases, but that must start the nuclear exchange. Accordingly, it has no option but to try to take out as much of the US as it can before the US can really get involved. That almost certainly won’t work, but there is no other option other than for Russia to totally surrender, and that is not a particularly likely outcome.
So why the bases? To answer that, who benefits? The obvious answer is the US military Industrial complex, which President Eisenhower warned against, and he could be regarded as being fairly knowledgeable about war. The US spends incredible amounts of money on Defence, and they get the most powerful military by far on the planet, but one that can be difficult to use. By enlarging NATO, the US encourages those countries to increase their defence spending, and since an alliance works best with common parts, the US Military Industrial Complex is the major beneficiary of that increased spending. The second beneficiaries are those who supply goods and services to the bases. In the Ukraine, that would be the oligarchs, who run the country. The underlying origin of this crisis is money, and the ordinary Ukrainians will pay with their lives.