We’re moving into military exercise season in the Baltic region. Every year at this time a number of modestly sized exercises crop up in and around NATO nations. Days later, similar exercises sprout up in and around Russia and Belarus. The dueling maneuvers increase in size and complexity, usually culminating on the NATO side with the commencement of BALTOPS, a major exercise held annually that involves ships, aircraft and equipment from over a dozen NATO member-states. This year, the spring exercise season’s stakes are considerably higher than usual given the continuing war in Ukraine, as well as the heightened tensions between Russia and the West. Both NATO and Russia will use the maneuvers to send a message to the other side, as well as work up their respective forces.
Moscow got the jump on NATO by holding wargames in Kaliningrad which included simulated launches of SS-26 Stone (Iskander to the amateurs and social media ‘experts’) short range ballistic missiles. According to statements released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Russian forces in Kaliningrad practiced multiple strikes against simulated enemy missile batteries, airfields, protected infrastructure, military equipment and command posts belonging to a generic enemy. Russian personnel also roleplayed avoiding “a possible retaliatory strike” and working in areas of radiological and chemical agent contamination.
To put it in basic terms, Russian forces in Kaliningrad just ran a military exercise intended to work up its nuclear-capable forces and demonstrate how capable military personnel in Kaliningrad are when it comes to working amid a tactical nuclear or chemical exchange. The message here is simple; Russia takes the possibility of a limited nuclear war far more seriously than does NATO, and Moscow wants the world to be aware of this.
NATO also has several large-scale maneuvers set for this month and beyond. Arrow 22 is set to begin soon in Finland and will run for two weeks. British, US, Polish and Finnish troops will be taking part, as well as soldiers from other NATO members. The exercise is gaining more attention than usual owing to Finland and Sweden. Both nations are tentatively moving closer to applying for NATO membership as the security situation with regards to Russia continues to deteriorate in the Baltic region.
This is it. The list of scenarios from the movie Wargames has been laid out and analyzed. It took nearly three years and as far as side projects go, this one was a lot of fun. All good things must come to an end, however, and here we are. The final twenty nuclear war scenarios from Wargames.
ALASKAN DISCRETIONARY– A low profile operation by the Soviets to disrupt the Alaskan pipeline or possibly disable US early warning radars in preparation for a first strike. As Alaska is US territory, this would be a direct attack upon the United States and the possibility of escalation is very high.
CANADIAN THRUST– A Soviet military move into Canadian territory. With East Bloc forces on North American soil the situation would become volatile very fast.
ARABIAN LIGHT– A regional conflict spills over and provides the spark for a global conflict. The Iran-Iraq War certainly had the potential to serve as a catalyst.
AFRICAN DOMESTIC– Apartheid was ugly. The South African government was a pariah and the ANC was backed indirectly by the Soviet Union. If Apartheid had exploded, the superpowers would have been drawn in. While the US had no love for the South African government, it could not allow the Soviets to gain total control of resource-rich South Africa.
TUNISIAN INCIDENT– Libya and Tunisia clash in an isolated action on land or at sea and it escalates.
MALAYSIAN MANEUVER– China begins making political and military moves to gain control of Malaysia.
JAMAICA DECOY– Cuba instigates an action in Jamaica to divert attention away from Soviet action elsewhere. The US responds with a Grenada-like operation and it’s all downhill from there.
MALAYSIAN MINIMAL– Communist insurgency rekindles in Malaysia
RUSSIAN SOVEREIGNTY– This could refer to an invasion of Russia by the PRC. Possible during the time period. It’s the only realistic possibility.
CHAD OPTION– In the late 70s and early 80s, the Libyan-Chad conflict raged. French involvement increased the potential of a wider clash between the US and Soviet Union.
BANGLADESH WAR– Bangladesh’s leader moved away from his country’s strong ties with India and the Soviet Union in the early 80s in favor of a strong relationship with the West. It could have sparked war with India.
BURMESE CONTAINMENT– Again, Burma’s inclusion on this list mystifies me.
ASIAN THEATERWIDE– Asia explodes. Korea, PRC-USSR, US-USSR, PRC-USA….choose your poison.
BULGARIAN CLANDESTINE-NATO or independent Turkish covert actions against Bulgaria, a Warsaw Pact member at the time.
GREENLAND INCURSION– Soviet assault to seize and destroy US military assets in Greenland. Considering that Thule AB and the BMEWS radar site are located there, escalation would’ve been assured in this scenario.
EGYPT SURGICAL– Libyan surgical strike against an Egyptian target. Political or economic.
CZECH HEAVY– Confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in Southern Germany and Czechoslovakia. NATO incursion perhaps.
TAIWAN CONFRONTATION– The PRC launches an offensive to reclaim the ‘lost province.’
GREENLAND MAXIMUM– Greenland Incursion times 5.
UGANDA OFFENSIVE– The Ugandans go on the offensive and occupy Congo.
CASPIAN DEFENSE– A NATO offensive on its southern flank, or alternatively, perhaps an Iranian offensive into the southern Soviet Union.
We’re getting towards the end of the list unfortunately. After this, only one set remains.
LIBYAN ACTION– Think Gulf of Sidra in the 1980s. In 1981, US Navy F-14s shot down two Libyan fighters during a period of heightened tension. In 1986, US and Libyan air and naval forces mixed it up and later, USAF and US Navy aircraft bombed targets in Tripoli and Benghazi. In 1989, Navy F-14s shot down Libyan fighters again. Any of these incidents could’ve spilled over into a much larger conflict.
PALESTINIAN TACTICAL– What if the First Intifada had gone beyond protests and riots? What if Syria had contributed equipment, weapons and advisors to the PLO and the uprising took the form of a more organized and deadly offensive against Israel?
NATO ALTERNATE– Confusing title. A Soviet move against NATO using an alternative to its war plans or vice versa?
CYPRUS MANEUVER– Cyprus was a bastion of instability from the 1974 coup onward into the 80s. If either Greece or Turkey had moved unilaterally to take over the island there it could have escalated quickly and gone in a direction that nobody had thought possible.
EGYPT MISDIRECTION– An Egyptian move against Libya goes awry and brings in Soviet assistance for its Libyan allies.
BANGLADESH THRUST– In the late 1970s, when this list was originally put together (years before the movie) Bangladesh was in a period of political disarray. Ziaur Rahman came to power in 1979 and was a popular president. It’s not inconceivable to imagine that Rahman, had he not been assassinated in 1981, could have prepared and executed an offensive against one of the nation’s South Asian neighbors.
KENYA DEFENSE– Kenya finds itself under attack by an external or internal enemy.
BANGLADESH CONTAINMENT– Unlike the Bangladesh scenario previous, this one revolves around containing an aggressive and outward looking Bangladesh.
VIETNAMESE STRIKE– Vietnam moves against one of its neighbors.
ALBANIAN CONTAINMENT– This one is a bit hard to swallow; Hoxa and Albania’s aspirations needing to be checked.
GABON SURPRISE– Omar Bongo was unpredictable and deadly. He could have taken Gabon over the edge at any time.
IRAQ SOVEREIGNTY– An internal uprising (Iranian backed?) against the Ba’ath party and Saddam Hussein.
VIETNAMESE SUDDEN– Similar to STRIKE, only faster
LEBANON INTERDICTION– This one actually became reality. Think Lebanon 1982-834
TAIWAN DOMESTIC- Chinese backed opposition groups sew political chaos on Taiwan
ALGERIAN SOVEREIGNTY– Social unrest was common in Algeria from the late 70s through the 80s. Libya or another outside nation-state player might have tried to turn the situation to its favor and chip away at Algeria’s status as a sovereign nation.
ARABIAN STRIKE– A Soviet move into the Arabian Peninsula to seize the Saudi oil fields.
ATLANTIC SUDDEN– The Soviets begin a war against NATO with a major, sudden effort to close the Atlantic.
MONGOLIAN THRUST– Either Mongolia moving against China or the Soviet Union, or perhaps a Sino-Soviet encounter within the borders of Mongolia.
POLISH DECOY– A Soviet gambit to take attention away from another region where it will be making moves in the near future.
Hard to believe that there were so many scenarios on that list. We’re up to 100 already. Wow.
GREENLAND DOMESTIC– This one is interesting. Greenland is Danish territory but hosted a number of important US military installations during the Cold War. It still does today, as a matter of fact. The population is very small too. The best spark I can think of is a Soviet backed insurrection that targets US bases there, especially the BMEWS radar site.
ICELAND HEAVY-Large scale air and naval combat between NATO and the Warsaw Pact for control of Iceland.
KENYA OPTION– During the Cold War Kenya was viewed as a strategic vanguard against communist influences from Ethiopia and Tanzania. A Soviet backed move against the nation could’ve backfired and led to escalation.
PACIFIC DEFENSE– Soviet or Chinese offensive in the Pacific resulting in a US and allied defense.
UGANDA MAXIMUM- The Ugandan Bush War boils over into a regional contest for control of East Africa.
THAI SUBVERSION– Vietnamese forces made limited incursions into Thailand in the late 70s and 80s. Compound that with an effort to stoke internal flames by Vietnam and/or the PRC, and the stage could be set for a major conflict.
ROMANIAN STRIKE– Ceausescu was a maverick. Either he lashes out, or the Soviets decide to intervene and remove him from power.
PAKISTAN SOVEREIGNTY– A situation where the survival of Pakistan is threatened. Internal insurrection, Indian invasion, or possibly a Soviet invasion out of Afghanistan.
AFGHAN MISDIRECTION– Basically, what the Soviets experienced during their time in Afghanistan.
ETHIOPIAN LOCAL– East Africa was a tinderbox in the late 70s and early 80s. Even after the Cold War, conflicts between Ethiopia and its neighbors continued.
ITALIAN TAKEOVER– The Communist Party enjoyed popularity in Italy. If they’d gained control through elections and demanded the removal of NATO forces from Italian soil, the situation could have escalated. NATO moves in, the Soviets move to support the communists and things go downhill quick.
VIETNAMESE INCIDENT– Border incident with China, tensions with Thailand.
ENGLISH PREEMPTIVE- They didn’t call Margaret Thatcher the “Iron Lady” for nothing. Perhaps the British received intelligence that the Russians were going to attack and decided to get their licks in first. That’s what pre-emption is all about, really.
DENMARK ALTERNATE– The Soviets move to capture Denmark using one of their secondary war plans instead of the primary one.
THAI CONFRONTATION-Similar to the previous Thailand-themed scenarios. Conflict with Vietnam and/or Myanmar.
TAIWAN SURPRISE– PRC invasion of Taiwan obtains strategic surprise.
BRAZILIAN STRIKE– Brazil strikes Argentina, Argentina hits back and suddenly South America is in flames.
VENEZUELA SUDDEN– Border clashes and tension with Columbia reach the boiling point. Out of the blue, Venezuela invades.
MAYLASIAN ALERT– Sino-Malay sectarian violence in Kuala Lumpur brings threats from the PRC. Malaysia goes on alert, China moves in ostensibly to ‘protect its citizens’ in Malaysia and before long the area is a cauldron.
ISRAEL DISCRETIONARY– Discreet Israeli action abroad (intelligence gathering, surgical strikes, commando raid) is unsuccessful. Israel is painted as the aggressor and the Arab world stands up to confront Tel Aviv.
I forgot how much I enjoy posting these scenario lists. Apologies for there being such a large gap in time between lists.
Danish Paramilitary– The Danes sponsoring and training paramilitary groups in the East Bloc to carry out raids and strikes against Soviet targets.
SEATO Takeover– Worst case result of the domino theory following Vietnam
Hawaiian Escalation– Pearl Harbor II? A Soviet or Chinese attack on the US naval base leads to quick escalation.
Iranian Maneuver– Back during the Cold War this scenario could’ve referred to a Soviet move against Iran to secure oil fields and/or a warm water port.
NATO Containment– The Soviet Union moves to limit NATO power and expansion
Swiss Incident– Swiss neutrality is breached in some form and it escalates
Cuban Minimal– A situation similar to Operation Urgent Fury leads to the Caribbean exploding.
Chad Alert– Back in the 80s Libya and Chad were involved in a conflict that led to French intervention three times. If the Soviets had decided to back their Libyan ally, the situation could have escalated significantly.
Iceland Escalation– A Soviet military move to neutralize Iceland would have assured a clash between the superpowers.
Vietnamese Retaliation– In the late 70s, China and Vietnam were not the best of friends. In fact, China even invaded Vietnam in 1979. There was a lot of animosity between the two former allies.
Syrian Provocation– Bekka Valley, Lebanon, terrorism….choose your poison.
Libyan Local– A clash between Libya and Egypt or another neighboring state draws in the Superpowers.
Gabon takeover– Omar Bongo would never have gone quietly into the night. It would’ve gotten ugly quick.
Romanian War– Nicolae Ceaușescu was something of an East Bloc maverick. If he had stepped out of line, the Soviets may have come down hard on him. A Western response might have enflamed the entire continent.
Middle East Offensive– Soviet thrust to capture Saudi Arabia or Iran.
Denmark Massive– Whoever controls Denmark controls the Baltic Sea. The Soviets had their eye on Jutland for much of the Cold War and any move against Western Europe would have begun with a large operation against Denmark.
Chile Confrontation– Chile and Argentina clash.
South African Subversion– Think back to the 80s. Apartheid was still enforced in South Africa, Pretoria had nuclear devices, and the Border War was underway. It could’ve ended very badly.
USSR Alert– The Soviet Union prepares for military operations on a global scale. Their conventional and strategic forces go on alert. The US responds in kind………
Nicaraguan Thrust– Ronald Reagan’s worst nightmare. Nicaragua, backed by war materials from Russia and possibly manpower from Cuba, takes to the offensive in Central America.