Swarms vs. Nukes
A western network swarm has mobilized to oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, escalating it into a war of survival with the world's foremost nuclear power.
Let’s recap what happened:
Russia invaded Ukraine.
Russia built an invasion plan based on mobility to minimize casualties and civilian disruption.
That plan didn’t deliver the quick results as promised due to unexpected levels of opposition and preparation (a plentitude of precision-guided munitions, civilian territorial defense, and drones).
Due to this delay, a western network swarm had the time to mobilize to defend Ukraine and take the war to Russia. That development has changed everything. Let’s dig into how this happened and what it means.
A Network Swarm
Unexpectedly, to everyone in power (including Putin), there was a rapid (hours instead of days) mobilization of a massive networked swarm (composed of individuals, governments, corporations, etc.) to oppose Russia and defend Ukraine. This swarm did the following:
It disconnected Russia from the western socio-economic system, going way beyond government sanctions, making it as isolated as North Korea nearly overnight. NOTE; network swarms love disconnection.
It generated massive information war against Russia at the tactical, operational (the area of operations), and strategic levels.
It launched disruptive attacks (both cyber and physical) against Russian systems, from systems inside Russia to those it relies upon for the war effort (i.e., railways in Belarus).
This network swarming attack on Russia is the most destabilizing (from a nuclear peace standpoint) event since the Cuban missile crisis. Traditionally:
Confrontations with nuclear opponents required slow, systematic, and careful handling.
Each move taken by a nuclear superpower against another took careful consideration, a complex psychological calculus, if you will, to prevent it from escalating to a nuclear level.
Nuclear opponents avoided intervention in each other’s wars. Opposition to these wars was typically limited to arms transfers, economic/financial aid, and intelligence information.
This method, developed over decades, worked. It prevented WW3. In the good sense, it contained repeated global-scale conventional wars that would have killed hundreds of millions (if not billions) if they had escalated into a global conflict. In the bad sense, it took the threat of a devastating nuclear war (mutually assured destruction - MAD) to do it.
Swarms vs. Nukes
In contrast to this serious earlier approach, this western network swarming attack on Russia is intensely destabilizing. This makes it the most dangerous global event since the Cuban missile crisis.
It escalated the conflict from a sub-regional war into a global war.
It turned this into a war of survival for Russia (economic and financial collapse, exhausting war with Ukraine, regime change efforts underway).
The swarm is now pushing for NATO involvement (no-fly zone, troop deployments, etc.) which would instantly escalate the conflict to nuclear war. Not only that, since it is a war for survival for Russia, the likelihood it may use nuclear weapons to extricate or defend itself is exceptionally high.
Looking through the lens of nuclear politics, here are the key factors destabilizing the current situation:
Instant escalation and novelty: The mobilization occurred overnight (hours) across various vectors (air, finance, trade, etc.). It turned a regional war into a global conflict overnight.
Nonlinearity: The wide range of participants doesn’t have formal leadership; it is open-source, so there isn’t anyone in charge. Without traditional supervision and other limiting factors, many aspects of the network are open loop. That means nothing is dampening its growth or limiting what/where it attacks and to what degree, and worse, we can’t turn off the network.
Existential risk. The attacks on Russia, already in motion, are already at a level sufficient to create an existential threat for Russia. Economic collapse, discontent from a costly war, and unrest are inevitable.
The Nuclear Brink
The escalation already underway may suddenly and uncontrollably trigger a nuclear war. Here how:
Instant escalation: Swarm escalation causes Russia and the west to view this regional war as a global, existential conflict. Due to this reorientation, Russia increases the intensity of its actions, devastating Ukraine (bombardments) as it throws poorly led forces at the front (war crimes). NATO intervenes to stop the atrocities, and Russia responds by attacking the NATO forces that enter the country with tactical nuclear weapons.
Nonlinearity: The swarm produces an unexpected innovation (new attack method, new targets, etc.) that becomes a novel provocation for nuclear escalation. For example, the swarm convinces a NATO country or units attached to NATO to intervene without prior authorization, but Russia assumes NATO authorization and responds with nukes. Or, a devastating cyberattack conducted by EU hackers cripples a portion of Russia’s nuclear arsenal (use it or lose it). Or, a kamikaze drone attack, spurred on and supported by the swarm, attempts to assassinate Putin and misses (personal anger).
Existential risk: Russia accelerates the end of the war. Russia’s leadership concludes it can’t lose the war and economic collapse at the same time and survive. For example, in Soviet doctrine, the tactical use of nuclear weapons was an acceptable way to accelerate progress in a war (even the US used nuclear-tipped missiles for air defense until the seventies). If this is still true today, Russia accelerates an end to the war by using tactical nuclear weapons to accelerate progress in the ground war or raze Ukraine’s central cities, to force Ukraine to capitulate.
We’ll dig into how the swarm works next.