Introducing a new feature in which we highlight the best, the strangest, and anything else that might have fallen through the cracks. This week? It’s all about Ukraine.
Ukrainian force disposition drifts closer to a war footing. The Royal United Services Institute has released an excellent briefing paper on recent Ukrainian redeployments. The Ukrainian military numbers 70,000 but is underequipped and faces steep logistical challenges in event of full mobilization. Indeed, Ukraine has already suffered humiliating losses at the hands of pro-Russian “separatists,” including the capture of an entire armored column. In any Russian incursion, Ukraine is likely to be locally outnumbered and outgunned; NATO’s Supreme Commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, estimates that Russia could fulfill limited territorial objectives in just three to five days. Meanwhile, Russia’s 50,000 mobilized troops are currently at full readiness – they can’t sustain this posture indefinitely.
Just who are these armed men in balaclavas and ski masks? As Patrick Tucker notes in Defense One (and as I did earlier this week), the identity of Ukraine’s pro-Russian separatists is intrinsically tied to questions of international law and appropriate retaliatory response. Professional gun handling, coordinated maneuvers, and military-grade equipment all suggest that this is not an organic movement. Vladimir Putin has already acknowledged that many Crimean “protesters” were Russian servicemen and operators – how long before the same thing happens in eastern Ukraine? Tucker’s argument rings true: “The only effective strategy in the fight against unrestricted war may be unmasking the combatants.”
This may be the new face of interstate conflict. Steven Metz concludes in World Politics Review that the tactic of stealth-invasion is here to stay. As he observes, “boundaries between the battlefield and what is not the battlefield, between what is a weapon and what is not, between soldier and noncombatant, between state and nonstate or suprastate” are quickly disintegrating. This is partly a consequence of new media technologies that render the traditional deployment of force both highly visible and (in this case) politically untenable. As I wrote back in March, “Our national security and international relations architectures—largely forged between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries—bound how we think about and deal with threats to international order.” We are entering a period of deep, systemic change.
The Western response: bring back containment? Richard Haass observes in Project Syndicate that, “The West does not have the luxury of waiting to make sense of recent events in Ukraine, simply because there is no assurance that what occurred in Crimea is unique.” He also argues that the situation in Ukraine should serve as a wake-up call for NATO – people and governments need to rid themselves of the comforting illusion that use of military force to acquire territory is an anachronism, and NATO allies’ defense spending should increase. Haass notes that this will be no Cold War II (and certainly not World War III); Russia is now a regional power with regional ambitions. Nonetheless, serious steps should be taken to diminish Russia’s energy stranglehold over Europe and ensure Putin pays a domestic political price for military adventurism.
On an unrelated note: the intersection of art and statecraft. Kathleen McInnis has launched an intriguing new column, “The Art of War,” over at War on the Rocks. She notes that the arts offer a truly “creative space” to think about strategy issues, free from the rigid methodological bounds typically associated with applied social science and policy analysis. Her first piece, an examination of the horror movie Oculus and the limits of perfecting planning, is fascinating. Take a look!