In 2014, shortly after Russia forcefully intervened in Ukraine and admitted Crimea into the Russian Federation, Richard Shirreff stepped down as NATO’s deputy supreme allied commander Europe, one of the highest-ranking positions in the military alliance. The British general proceeded to do something highly unusual. He criticized the government he once served, arguing that Britain’s cuts to defense spending were “one hell of a risk” at a time of renewed Russian aggression. Next, he wrote a startling account of what might follow from the failure of the United Kingdom and many of its NATO allies to, in his view, sufficiently invest in countering the Kremlin militarily. He describes the account as a “work of fiction,” but also a “realistic” and “urgent” warning.
Shirreff’s new novel, 2017: War With Russia, imagines a situation in which, roughly this time next year, Russia consolidates its control over eastern Ukraine and stages a Ukraine-style military incursion into neighboring Latvia, thereby destabilizing the entire Baltic region, raising the specter of nuclear war, and threatening the 70-year-old NATO alliance itself.
It’s a scenario that came to mind when Donald Trump suggested to The New York Times last week that he might not provide military assistance to the Baltic countries—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—if they were invaded by Russia, even though they are part of NATO and the alliance’s treaty declares that an attack on one member is an attack on all members. The Republican presidential candidate indicated that his support would hinge on whether those under attack had fulfilled their financial obligations to the alliance, including a pledge by each country to spend at least 2 percent of its GDP on defense by 2024. Presently, only five of 28 NATO members—among them the U.S., the U.K., and Estonia—are hitting that target.