Released 26 May 2022.
This podcast examines critical issues for the field of strategic studies raised by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including the waning of major war, strategic coercion, and “War Amongst the People.” Drawing on previous scholarship and current events, this commentary considers the questions raised by the first major war of the twenty-first century. It provides recommendations for scholars and senior leaders on how to work together to address the questions of strategy and policy that have and continue to arise as the war progresses.
Click here to read the article.
Keywords: Russia, Ukraine, strategic coercion, gray zone, compellence
Dr. Antulio J. Echevarria II had a distinguished career in the US Army and is currently the editor-in-chief of the US Army War College Press, which includes Parameters. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy, the US Army Command and General Staff College, and the US Army War College. He holds a doctorate in modern history from Princeton University and is the author of six books, including War’s Logic: Strategic Thought and the American Way of War (2021), Military Strategy: A Very Short Introduction (2017), Reconsidering the American Way of War (2014), Clausewitz and Contemporary War (2007), Imagining Future War (2007), and After Clausewitz (2001), and more than 100 articles and monographs on strategic thinking, military theory, and military history.
Episode Transcript [Putin’s Invasion Of Ukraine in 2022]
Stephanie Crider (Host)
(Prerecorded Decisive Point intro) Welcome to Decisive Point, a US Army War College Press production featuring distinguished authors and contributors who get to the heart of the matter in national security affairs.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are those of the podcast guests and are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army, the US Army War College, or any other agency of the US government.
The guests in speaking order on this episode are:
(Guest 1: Antulio J. Echevarria II)
Decisive Point welcomes Dr. Antulio J. Echevarria, author of “Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine in 2022: Implications for Strategic Studies,” which was featured in the Parameters summer 2022 issue. Echevarria had a distinguished career in the US Army and is currently the editor-in-chief of the US Army War College Press, which includes Parameters. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy, the US Army Command and General Staff College, and the US Army War College. He holds a doctorate in modern history from Princeton University and is the author of six books, including his most recent, War’s Logic: Strategic Thought and the American Way of War, published in 2021. He’s also authored more than 100 articles and monographs on strategic thinking, military theory, and military history.
Your article notes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, has the potential to shape the defense policies of the United States, its strategic partners, and their rivals in decisive ways. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this. But first, thanks for being here.
Oh, thank you so much. My pleasure.
Some pundits have argued the declining occurrence of major wars since World War II is evidence that armed conflict is disappearing altogether. What are the six principal explanations for what appears to be a decline in large-scale conflict?
It’s a very interesting set of explanations. The first of these is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In other words, states fearful of nuclear escalation have avoided going to war for that reason.
The second explanation: the spread of democracies and democratic values. Democratic peace theory, among others, says that the more democracies you have, the fewer conflicts you will have because democracies tend not to go to war with one another.
The third explanation is the growth of multilateral institutions, such as NATO, the UN, and the EU. And the theory behind this explanation is that these organizations provide states with other outlets to express or address their grievances in peaceful ways, and they establish norms for cooperation and collaboration as opposed to antagonism and conflict.
The fourth explanation is increasing economic integration. And the idea behind this explanation is that as economies become more and more integrated, states will avoid going to conflict to avoid the economic disruption that normally follows major conflicts and the economic ups and downs—mostly downs—that societies then have to suffer and experience as a result of that.
The fifth explanation is the influence of international law and the law of armed conflict. And the logic here is that international law has restricted the reasons that states can go to war and the ways in which they can wage it—and which, in some ways, removes many of the causes for war. And the ethical norms that are in place instead have essentially caused states to look for more peaceful ways to solve their grievances.
And the sixth one is the spread of antiwar norms. And the idea behind that is that civilian populations have become used to not having war—major wars, anyway. There are always, it seems, smaller conflicts in the news and so on. And professional militaries, which are very small in percentage to the larger civilian population, are the ones participating in them. But the civilian populations have not been inconvenienced at the same degree as they have in the past. So, to persuade them, to get them incited to wage war, to participate in war, to go all in as it were for war is much more difficult for heads of state. And hence, heads of state have not gone in that direction.
You mentioned a seventh explanation too. What is it?
Yeah. The seventh one has to do with the relative balance of military power. For some reason, the explanations about why wars have not escalated to the level of a major conflict—instead, they’ve remained kind of small conflicts—have left out the idea that the balance of military power is not sufficient enough to bring one side or another victory in the sense of being able to achieve this policy objectives for going to war in the first place.
So if you’re going to war, you run into all kinds of risk, of course. With all of that risk, if you are not able to accomplish your objectives or not sure you’ll be able to because you don’t have an overwhelming military power or some sort of technological overmatch or some other means by which you might be able to achieve success and defeat your opponent, then it’s just too risky to go to war. And I’m not entirely sure why that explanation has been left out, but I think it deserves more study.
Your article states the conflict in Ukraine offers an important case study regarding the exercise of strategic coercion within the context of major war—strategic coercion being the deliberate and purpose of use of overt threats to influence others’ strategic choices. Will you please expand on that?
One way to look at strategic coercion is the activities that occur among states while they are trying to impress each other into agreeing to certain concessions or what have you . . . but another way is to carry that dynamic from prewar into war itself. The two basic components of coercion are compellence and deterrence. And even during a conflict, campaigns that are launched perhaps to reduce an opponent’s airpower or naval power or ground power, what have you—all of those also have the dynamic embedded in them for compelling an opponent and deterring it. You’re compelling an opponent to do something, withdraw or surrender, and deterring that opponent from doing something else, such as revert to an insurgency or something.
I think one of the things that this conflict will do is provide a lot of more evidence, a lot more data, for us to study how that dynamic works or can work in various situations. And then we can begin to develop military plans—even, at a larger level, military strategies, perhaps—that can achieve or cooperate in some ways to achieve both types of objectives.
Will you tell us a little bit about British General Rupert Smith’s paradigm of war amongst the people? How does it fit into this topic?
General Smith actually has a brilliant paradigm he used for war amongst the people, and it really was an attempt to get people out of the Cold War way of thinking about waging war, which was more force-on-force oriented. And the populace was not—allegedly, anyway—was not to play a major role in that sort of conflict. However, there were point of instances in Cold War thinking where the population would have played a role had conflict emerged and so on. But the emphasis was for military planners, for practitioners, for those of us who went through numerous military exercises and training events, we rarely considered the effect that our exercises, had they been real, would have had on a civilian population: what would have become of them, how they would have affected our operations in some ways. We talked about it informally amongst ourselves, but there never really appeared to be any official doctrine for how to deal with large populations and so on.
So, his argument was to move away from the force-on-force model of the Cold War and to situate us more in the nonstate actor, small wars kind of environment and get people thinking along those lines. An important transition indeed, and it worked for many practitioners, but it didn’t work for much of the defense industry, which makes more profit by selling major end items and large pieces of equipment and so forth—which is not really what you need for small wars, wars amongst the people.
Now we are in the situation in the twenty-first century with the war in Ukraine in which the Ukrainians are fighting with major end items, tanks, aircraft, and armored personnel carriers and so on, and yet they’re doing it amongst the population, amongst the people. And the flows of refugees have impacted military operations. The streams of displaced individuals across the media has affected how the rest of the world sees the conflict in Ukraine. They’ve developed more sympathy, I believe, for the Ukrainians than had those instances not been televised and not been available to a global viewing audience, really. So, I think we have seen a new way in which this older paradigm that General Smith introduced is still relevant—in fact, relevant at a higher level with more intensity.
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share before we go?
Yeah, just a few. I think there are a couple of things that academic institutions and professional military educational institutions can and should do both to further the fields of strategic studies and to enhance their understanding of conflict in the twenty-first century, major-level conflict. One of those is to encourage further research into all of the themes mentioned here, and there are others as well that I ensure will come to light in the coming days. So, that’s step one.
Step number two, they should promote more research into the topic of major war itself, provide more grants and collaborative opportunities so that more and more scholars can become involved across the board, make it more and more inter- and multidisciplinary approach.
Third, especially for (professional military education or) PME, we should encourage revisions to our core curricular so that we can accommodate what some might describe in ironic terms as the return of major war and find ways to incentivize our faculty, provide time for them to study this type of war in addition to the sorts of studies they specialize in already, to broaden our approach—find room, as it were, in that curriculum and the curricula more broadly to fit these kinds of studies back in.
The fourth, wargaming and simulations, exercises, all can benefit more by research into this event and the historical data that will be available on a large scale to many of us. We need to find ways to gather all those data and to work them in constructively into our wargaming and simulations.
And, finally, I think we need to find ways to bridge the cultural gaps between scholars and practitioners. We both learn better and faster when we are communicating to each other. And sometimes that communication—it really comes down to arguing, but that’s okay, you know? That’s also a form of communication. We facilitate our learning of contemporary war and, uh, strategies, strategic studies more broadly, the better and more often we’re able to communicate.
So, those would be my recommendations for a way forward for us.
Thanks for sharing your insights on such a timely and relevant topic. I appreciate you making time for us today.
Thank you for having me. it has been a pleasure.
Listeners, you can dive into the details of this article, “Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine in 2022: Implications for Strategic Studies,” at press.armywarcollege.edu. Look for volume 52, issue 2.