Developing. We are publishing this article as it is being written. Please check back for updates.
To see a list of previous articles, enter “Ukraine” in the Search Box on the upper right, on The Trenchant Observer web site, and you will see a list in chronological order.
1) Patrick Wintour (Diplomatic editor), “European unity on Ukraine growing more difficult, says Estonian PM; Kaja Kallas warns pain of sanctions will test relations, and also criticises Macron’s stance on Putin,” The Guardian, June 6, 2022 (13.37 BST);
2) Catherine Belton, “Putin thinks West will blink first in war of attrition, Russian elites say; The Kremlin is seeking to ramp up economic pressure to erode foreign support for Ukraine,” Washington Post, June 3, 2022 (3:00 a.m. ED);
3) Tatiana Stanovaya (Gastbeitrag), “Bei diesen fünf Annahmen über Putin liegt der Westen falsch; Die Frage, ob man Putin einen Ausweg aus dem Krieg eröffnen muss, ist nebensächlich: Er glaubt, dass er gewinnt. Der Westen muss die Situation anders betrachten, wenn er effektiver vorgehen will,” Der aspiegel, den 6. Juni 2022 (09.16 Uhr);
Tatiana Stanovaya ist Non-Resident Scholar bei der Carnegie Endowment for International Peace und Gründerin und Geschäftsführerin der politischen Analysefirma R.Politik. Sie ist in Moskau geboren und lebt seit 2010 in Frankreich.
The key to fighting and winning a war, or avoiding one altogether, is strategy.
The strategy of the U.S. and NATO for deterring and then countering Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has been flawed from the beginning.
A good strategist tries to foresee how a war based on his strategic assumptions is likely to play out. A political leader may really lead (e.g., Churchill, Roosevelt), or just try to proceed on the basis of the consensus among allies he is able to forge at any point in time, taking care not to get out in front of the consensus.
For the usual politician, the consensus and unity among allies is the point.
For the strategist, victory is the point.
The United States and its NATO allies have largely proceeded as politicians who are not strong leaders in opposing Putin and Russia, not as good strategists.
What have been the flaws in the strategy of the United States and the West?
The first and greatest flaw in the strategy was to take the use of force off the table in considering potential responses to a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and to announce this decision publicly.
This policy goes back to 2014. It was publicly announced by Dense Secretary Chuck Hagel in April, 2014, after Russia had invaded and annexed the Ukrainian territory of the Crimea. Biden continued Obama’s policy, loudly and repeatedly reaffirming it in public from as early as November 2021.
This removed all of the uncertainty from Putin’s calculations.
It ceded to Vladimir Putin what is known as “escalation dominance”, which means it was always Putin and not Biden who had the power to escalate the conflict.
Biden, like Obama before him, revealed his great fear that Putin would carry out his threats and escalate the conflict to the level of using nuclear weapons.
Aware of Biden’s fear and his unwillingness to confront him, Putin has always exercised powerful influence over Biden’s decisions.
The policy of taking force off the table was and remains a fundamental flaw and perhaps the greatest defect in the strategy of the U.S. and NATO to oppose Russian aggression in Ukraine.
A second flaw, at the very beginning, was the assumption by the U.S. that Russia would quickly win the war, and that the task of the U.S. and others would be to support Ukrainian “insurgents”.
It seems that the White House and top U.S. officials were thinking in terms of supporting an “insurgency” as they had successfully done in Afghanistan in the 1980’s to fight the Soviet occupation after its invasion in December, 1979.
We argued at the time that the “counterinsurgency” experts should leave the room, pointing out that Ukrainians would be fighting not an insurgency but rather a war of self-defense in terms of international law and the U.N. Charter.
A third major flaw in the strategy of the West was to approach deterrence through the the conceptual lens of the “rational actor model” or paradigm, which assumes that every action of a state is based on a rational calculation by a single unitary mind of all costs and benefits of a such action. It further assumes that those costs and benefits are known to the unitary actor.
A fourth flaw in the strategy is that the timing of decisions and actions has been determined by the requirements of deveolping consensus, both within the U.S. government and among allies, rather than by the tempo of events on the ground. Decisions and actions have been taken in accordance with bureaucratic time, and not in sync with the tempo of war.
This was evident in the gradual and always “too little, too late” threats of sanctions to deter Putin from invading Ukraine, and the failure to impose any sanctions against Russia for violating the prohibition in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter of the “threat” of the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, here Ukraine.
This flaw has also responsible for the failure of the U.S. and NATO countries to deliver long-range artillery and air defenses in time for them to be fully deployed in the current battle for the Donbas, which could have a decisive impact on the course of the war.
A fifth flaw has been the failure of the Biden administration to frame its decisions in terms of the framework of international law and the U.N. Charter. Not only has Biden failed to explain to the American people what it means for international law and the U.N. Charter to be a stake in the outcome of the war, but he has also faled to explain the legal aspects of options he faces and decisions he makes,
For the longest time, the Biden administration was afraid to call the war crimes we saw unfolding before oir eyes on TV “war crimes”. The State department even went so far as to send out a cable to emassies instructing them no to retweet a tween from the zemassy in Ukraine calling the atrocities “war crimes”. They made really lame efforts to obfuscate the issue by trotting out lawyers to tell the public what were, in effect, the technical legal requirements to secure a war crime conviction of an individual in an international court.
When Anthony Blinken appeared at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on January 31, 2022, he didn’t even bother to set out the legal arguments of the case against Russia, which are overwhelming.
One consequence of the American failure to use international law is that it has not pressed its case publicly in the large number if countries which are trying to stay on the sidelines, refusing to vote in condemn Russia U.N. bodies, for example. This translates into a failure to participate in the sanctions against Russia, which reduces the pressure on the country to stop the war.
Together, these flawS in the strategy of the U.S. and NATO contain the seeds of future failures. If not corrected, they could lead to the loss of the war to the Russian, or a nuclear showdown with Putin whose outcome would be uncertain.
The Trenchant Observer
Only force can stop Putin
“Ukraine War, April 5, 2022 (II): Force must be used to stop Putin,” The Trenchant Observer, April 5, 2922 .