Miscellanea: A Very Short Glossary of Military Terminology

For this week, I wanted to expand a bit on a comment I made on Twitter expressing some frustration at the failure of journalists attempting to cover the war in Ukraine (and thus interpret military experts for a lay audience) to master some of the key military terminology being used and to convey its actual meaning to a general audience unfamiliar with them. So I thought I’d provide a primer of some terms I think folks might want to just generally have ‘in their pockets’ in understanding what is being said.

The proximate cause of my rant was a conversation between Will Saletan and Charlie Sykes, but these are hardly the only or worst offenders.

And of course the ‘profession of arms’ has a slew of technical terms. Some of these come from military theory, but also military systems and ideas today tend to get very long descriptive names (Man-Portable Air Defense System) which are then shortened to often unintuitive acronyms (MANPAD). I’m going to focus here, however, on the theory terms – almost any military acronym (COIN, LSCO, ATGM, MANPAD, BTG, BCT, etc. etc.) can be decoded fairly quickly by typing it into google along with the word ‘military.’ But military theory terms often require a bit more explanation and unpacking, so here is a list explaining some of them; it is by no means exhaustive but I hope it is helpful (particularly for journalists who need to be able to explain what is happening to regular folks but may not have a background in military theory or affairs, but also for regular folks consuming news and listening to interviews and trying to make sense of what is going on).

I am not going to mark every Clausewitz reference with (drink!) because there are so many; just be drinking for the whole glossary, more or less. Also, I will note at some points when terms have formal definition of existence in United States military doctrine, in particular because that means both that commentators with experience with the United States military are likely to use those terms but also that those terms may be foreign to Ukrainian or Russian doctrine, so while they may represent how a given expert understands the situation, they may not represent how the belligerents understand that same situation. Also, shout out to Mary Elizabeth Walters over at the Air Command Staff College’s Department of Airpower who helped me brainstorm parts of the list.

From the Liddell and Scott’s An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (1889) also known as the ‘Middle Liddell’ (in contrast to the Little Liddell and the Great Scott – yes those are the nicknames for the best (ancient)Greek-English dictionaries).

Area of Operations (AO), is a geographic command subdivision of an overall conflict or theater; each AO generally has its own subordinate commander, its own supply lines (see Communications, Lines Of), its own forces and its own operational objectives (see Operations, below). Because each AO proceeds independently, it is important, when looking at the overall status of Operations (see below) to review each AO; it is not at all unusual for one AO to be stalled out while others advance. The Russian invasion of Ukraine seems to be divided into four principle AOs: the North Dnieper effort against Kyiv, the North-East AO (fighting around Sumy, Chernihiv, etc.), a Donbas AO which includes efforts against Kharkiv and a Southern AO consisting of pushes out of Crimea both towards Mykolaiv and towards Zaporizhzhia. This is crucial as, at the present moment Russian posture in these different AOs is quite different (defensive around Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson but still pushing forward in the broader Donbas area).

Asymmetric Warfare is a term used to describe warfare between two belligerents with either starkly different amounts of resources or different warfare styles or systems. It is crucial to note this term denotes something about the relationship between two belligerents, not something essential to one of them; an army or a state is not asymmetric except in relations to another (the mistake here is often to set the modern western industrialized form of warfare as the ‘norm’ against which all other forms are somehow asymmetric). While this term has been used to describe the war in Ukraine, it is ill-suited for it: both Ukraine and Russia are attempting to make use of a similar set of equipment (including the use of artillery and airstrikes, see fires) using a uniformed soldiery; they are both, to borrow one of my earlier definitions, attempting to operate within the ‘third system of war.’ Ukrainian efforts to have uniformed soldiers use maneuver and surprise to engage Russian logistics and rear echelon units are not ‘asymmetric,’ but rather a standard part of both Russian and Ukrainian warfighting, albeit one that Ukraine appears more skilled at in the present moment. Likewise, both sides are attempting a parallel ‘political struggle’ of demonstrations and information warfare; Ukrainian success here too does not make their methods asymmetric.

Bombardment, Shelling and Bombing: shelling is the act of attacking a place with artillery (which fire explosive shells), while bombing is the act of attacking a place with bombs, today almost universally delivered via aircraft (so the easy distinction: artillery shells, aircraft bomb). Bombarding is an umbrella term which captures both types of attack, useful for the observer who knows that fires (see below) were directed at a target or the civilian populace of a city (see War Crimes) but doesn’t know what sort of fires were so directed.

Combined Arms is the use of different kinds of combat arms in concert; typically this is the combined use of some mix of infantry, artillery, armor (tanks and other armored fighting vehicles or AFVs) and airpower (when analyzing much older armies, we often talk about combined arms as mixing shock infantry, missile infantry and cavalry, so the ‘arms’ being combined vary from era to era). This is important because effective use of these arms in modern warfare requires them to be used together: artillery and aircraft need infantry to help identify targets to strike (since both engage targets they typically cannot observe), while infantry needs them to provide supporting fires (see Fires). AFVs of all kinds (but especially tanks) typically have poor situational awareness (there’s only so much you can see through even a good set of optics while buttoned up in a tank) and at close range are vulnerable to infantry-carried anti-tank weapons and so require infantry to screen them and be their eyes (while the superior firepower of AFVs enhance the infantry). Note that this can mean that good systems (e.g. an effective tank) can still be ineffective if not used appropriately with supporting arms (e.g. screening infantry with supporting fires). In the opening days of the invasion, Russia struggled to use these arms in concert effectively, with the result that the Russian advantage in vehicles and fires, which was considerable, wasn’t realized. That in turn makes it difficult at this point to make clear assessments about the effectiveness of Russian equipment or the overall usefulness of certain kinds of equipment (e.g. tanks) when used properly in a combined arms framework.

Command and Control (C2) is a term from US Army doctrine and one of the “six functions of warfighting.” It is the “exercise of authority and direction over assigned and attached forces.” C2 is necessary in particular because war is by its nature chaotic and complex (see Friction), requiring a lot of direction and control in order to wrangle the chaos into something resembling order so that the mission can be accomplished. In the current context, C2 is most likely to come up when it is disrupted, either by disrupting communications or with the loss or absence of key command personnel. Also note not to confuse C2 (Command and Control), with CIC (Combat Information Center) or CinC (the Commander in Chief) or C&C (the video game Command and Conquer).

Communication, Lines of. This is a case where civilian usage of the word (‘communication’ meaning purely the exchange of information) is confusing because in the military context ‘lines of communication’ are the routes by which not merely information, but supplies and reinforcements move to units actively engaged at the front.

Cohesion (or ‘Unit Cohesion’) in a military context refers to the mental forces that bond a unit together and allow it to continue to function collectively to achieve a mission despite the tremendous stress of combat. Crucially, cohesion exists between soldiers in a unit, not as a relationship of that unit with command; soldiers that hold their superiors in contempt may nonetheless continue to cohere together and as a result remain effective, particularly in defense. The French army mutinies of 1917 provide an example where morale failed but cohesion held, resulting in a force that would defend effectively, but refused to attack. Note that this is a related, but distinct concept from morale (see below).

Culminate. A term from Clausewitz (book 7, chapter 5), an offensive culminates (or reaches its culminating point) when the advantage in strength no longer favors the attacker sufficiently enough to continue pushing forward. Crucially, this does not mean the offensive ends: an attacker may not know their offensive has culminated and may keep ‘pushing’ and achieving nothing for some time. At the same time, the culmination of an offensive operation (see Operations) does not end a war – the attacker may merely rebuild strength (reinforcements, supplies, organization) to push again later, something that is generally termed an ‘operational pause.’

Doctrine. Something I keep promising to write about and then don’t. Doctrine is, “the body of formal knowledge that tells a fighting force how it is expected to fight” (Parshall and Tully, 83). it is not a plan for a specific war, but the general planning framework a military brings to every war; think of it like a very complex list of ‘best practices.’ This is necessary because war is too complex to make this stuff up on the fly. That said, just because a military has a written out doctrine doesn’t mean they can execute on that doctrine; the doctrine may call for things that military (or its political leaders) are simply not capable or willing to do. That said, a military that finds itself operating well outside its own doctrine is likely in trouble. Russian maneuver warfare doctrine generally goes by the moniker Deep Battle or Deep Operations (Глубокая операция) and to say that the Russian Armed Forces have not managed to pull off their doctrine in practice is significant understatement.

Fires is a term from US Army doctrine, one of the ‘Six Warfighting Functions.’ While technically ‘fires’ ought to include ‘direct fire’ (e.g. firing a rifle at an enemy) and ‘indirect fire’ (like artillery), its place in doctrine as one of the six functions means that ‘fires’ really mean ‘indirect fires’ while direct fire is a component of ‘maneuver’ (another of the six functions). So ‘fires’ means indirect fire, which is essentially ‘the things that artillery does, even when it isn’t traditional artillery that is doing them.’ In modern warfare, most casualties are a result of fires (rather than direct engagement), but battles are won, in the end, by maneuver, not by fires (so fires ought to enable maneuver). Fires include both those directed against ground targets and those against air targets (so anti-air batteries shooting missiles at aircraft are also doing ‘fires’).

Friction is a key concept from Clausewitz, a term encompassing the unpredictability of war which is one component of his ‘trinity.’ In essence, ‘friction’ stands in for the fact that war is unpredictable and things have a tendency to not go ‘to plan.’ Friction tends to build over the course of a given effort or operation as surprises stack up on each other, causing greater and greater deviations from the plan. Note that surprises here can mean combat losses (since the soldiers or equipment lost was intended, in the plan, to be doing things), but can also mean disorganization, confusion and delays which also sap the effort of its strength. This is part of why attackers tend to lose strength faster than defenders, leading to offensives culminating – friction eventually overwhelms the attacker’s initial advantage in strength. Friction plays on all sides in a war.

Humanitarian Corridors are agreements between combatants to create temporarily demilitarized zones in order to either allow for the movement of humanitarian aid into a region or of refugees out of it. The concept is a new one restricted to the post-Cold War era; humanitarian corridors are not a long-established feature of warfare. In practice these agreements are fragile, frequently violated or used by one side or the other for temporary advantage (sometimes quite literally to lure civilians into areas where they can be attacked, see War Crimes). Part of the issue is that for a besieger not overly bothered by the morality of civilian casualties, having civilians in a besieged urban area is beneficial, as those civilians eat down food supplies and effectively serve as hostages who can be threatened with bombardment; attackers historically have often used brutality against the civilians trapped in one besieged city as a tool to try to degrade the will (see below) of other enemy population centers. Note also that for any outside part to attempt to enforce a humanitarian corridor would mean attempting to demilitarize part of at least one side of the siege, which is to say that attempting to create a humanitarian corridor would effectively mean joining the war.

Information War or Information Warfare (IW) is a broad term encompassing the use of modern information technologies (read: the internet and mass media) to influence a conflict, typically in the form of propaganda or disinformation. In concept this is a fairly straight-forward extrapolation of traditional wartime propaganda and disinformation, but in practice modern information technology, social media and the much greater information flow impose new challenges and constraints on information operations. it is important to distinguish information warfare, which aims to pass information (accurate or otherwise) through media and information systems in the intended way from cyberwarfare, which is the effort to actually attack the computer systems of an enemy state (for instance, by hacking them). It is important for journalists to recognize that regardless of their affiliation, they are key targets in the information war and that both sides of the conflict have objectives they are aiming to achieve in the information space.

Insurgency is a catch-all term for wars waged by a populace (or a group within the populace) against their state or an occupying force, typically without a conventional military arm; this is a technical term in US Army doctrine, defined as “an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict” (FM3-24 Counterinsurgency, 1.2), though the definition can be extended to an ‘occupying power or other political authority.’ The term has a range of meanings (FM 3-24 identifies six different ‘approaches’ which range from small conspiracies attempting coups to protracted people’s war involving large popular insurgencies); the broadness makes it difficult to use this term effectively, especially since the public perception of the idea is rooted in (mis)perceptions about American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For what it is worth, while popular resistance behind the current front lines but within Ukraine may fit the broadest FM 3-24 definition of insurgency, I find that the protracted war typology, which would classify those actions as ‘mobile warfare’ (when done by regular elements of Ukraine’s army or its Territorial Defense Forces; not that mobile warfare is not the same as maneuver warfare) or as guerrilla actions (when done by civilians, including non-violent political activity) is more useful as a framework for understanding and explaining the situation.

Mission Command or Auftragstaktik (also ‘mission-type tactics’) is a style of command and control (see above) which stresses flexible decision-making by smaller units pursuing an objective (the ‘mission’ of mission tactics) rather than imposing a single rigid top-down plan on the entire force. Under this framework, upper-level commanders assign objectives to their subordinates, who can then use their better local knowledge and quicker reaction times (being closer to the front) to craft a flexible plan to achieve those objectives; this process is then repeated down the command structure. Originally a German concept, US doctrine embraces mission command as its ideal style of command. Russian doctrine, by contrast, has generally been substantially more top-down in nature (with implications for force structure as well); this has proven a liability in Ukraine as the top-down plan did not go to plan and lower-level Russian commanders and NCOs are not generally trained to deviate from the plan ‘on the fly.’

Morale is the collective belief in and enthusiasm for the mission of an armed force, held by its members. Soldiers with high morale generally both believe in the mission they have been assigned by their leaders and their ability to accomplish that mission. It is thus related to, but distinct from cohesion, as soldiers may be devoted to one another (high cohesion) while not devoted to the mission (low morale); traditionally this is a very dangerous condition for commanders and political leaders. At the same time, strong norms of service have meant that often units have persevered in missions with low morale for a very long time, especially if cohesion is high: soldiers stay in the fight for each other and because the collective is ordered forward by their leaders, even if they dislike the leaders or the mission, they move forward out of that cohesion. It is also important to distinguish low morale from the more typical ‘soldier’s grumbles’ that are a constant in both high and low morale armies. That said, there is significant evidence that Russian forces are currently struggling with low morale, while morale among Ukrainian forces appears high.

Operations (see also Tactics, Strategy) is the middle layer of military analysis, below strategy and above tactics. Operations concerns the movement of forces (often over multiple lines of advance to fully utilize the transportation network available) and their logistical support (see Sustainment, Lines of Communication). Fundamentally, operations are about getting forces to the objectives specified in your strategy with sufficient supply to sustain themselves, so that once there they can employ your tactics to achieve victory. The specific task of crafting operations which will achieve a set of strategic objectives is called ‘operational art’ in US doctrine. Operational failures typically manifest as logistics and maneuver failures – particularly operational plans with unreasonable timetables – both of which have been particularly in evidence in the initial Russian invasion.

Political Object is a key concept from Clausewitz, a term reflecting the state’s actual interest in a conflict which is one component of his ‘trinity’ and indeed, the foremost of the three. The political object is what a state (or the leader or leaders of a state) want to get out of a war. This can, of course, change as the conflict continues. As Clausewitz notes (drink!) the role of political leadership in war is to tailor the methods and means employed to obtaining the political object they have set (see Strategy). Clausewitz supposes the political object to be rightly ruled by reason and calculation, rather than emotion or instinct. One way to compel an enemy to cease hostilities is by so altering the political calculus that the enemy leadership concludes that continuing the conflict is no longer in their interest.

Protract (also ‘Stalemate‘); to protract a war is to prolong it, typically in the hopes that a victory can be achieved in a ‘slow’ war that could not be achieved in a long one (see ‘Theory of Victory’). Protracting a war generally involves a period of apparent ‘stalemate’ where neither side appears to be achieving its goals. This, unfortunately, does not mean the violence stops (it may actually intensify).

Rules of Engagement (ROE) are the rules given to a country’s military forces defining under what conditions they can use force. Crucially, these are internal rules – that is, different countries may have different ROEs; in many cases ROE differs by location and conflict even for a single country. ROEs are highly contingent on the internal laws of a given country and its political climate (and in many cases the stated ROE on paper bears little resemblance to the actual practice of military justice). ROE is in this importance sense distinct from the concept of war crimes: the latter are at least notionally in force again all countries, but not all ROE violations are war crimes and vice versa. ROE are also often set for political reasons, such as rules against engaging targets over the border in a third country when there are concerns about escalation or other diplomatic issues. One of the issues with the suggestion of creating a ‘no fly zone’ over Ukraine was the almost impossible nature of the ROE framework for enforcing it (e.g. could NATO pilots engage ground targets in Russia which were attacking NATO aircraft enforcing the no fly zone), in part because of course Russian and Ukrainian forces have no obligation to follow or facilitate NATO rules of engagement (and indeed both might have strong incentives not to).

Strategy (see also Operations, Tactics) is the upper layer of military analysis. Fundamentally strategy concerns the identification of final objectives (see War Termination, Political Object), the way those objectives can be achieved (see Theory of Victory) and the resources to be used to achieve those objectives; these three components of strategy in US doctrine are termed “Ends, Ways and Means” respectively. Strategy is thus the ‘big picture’ thinking behind an action, including the decisions to both commence hostilities and end them.

Sustainment is a term from US Army doctrine, one of the ‘Six Warfighting Functions.’ It concerns all of the activities that keep a force functioning and able to do the other functions (especially fires and maneuver). This includes managing supplies, particularly the food, fuel and munitions that a fighting force needs to function, as well as the maintenance of equipment which is also a heavy demand in combat conditions. Large formations (like US Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs)) typically have significant sustainment capacity that is ‘organic’ to the unit, though in any operation longer than a few days this would have to be supplemented (see Lines of Communication).

Tactics (see also Operations, Strategy) are the lowest layer of military analysis. Tactics concern the methods to be used to win battles. Things like flanking, suppressive fire, ambushes, etc. are tactics. A military’s tactical system is often spelled out in doctrine. In theory, operations is designed to deliver forces to battles in such a way (positioning, comparative force, etc.) that their tactics can win those battles, while strategy should aim to ensure that winning those particular battles will achieve the desired political end (whatever concessions are desired). It is important to distinguish actions which are strategy (designed to directly produce a desired end to the conflict) from those which are merely tactical (designed to achieve a local success or advantage in a given engagement). It is important when assessing failures in war to distinguish between strategic failures (typically a failure to come up with realistic goals and the means to reach them), operational failures (e.g. logistics failures or unreasonable maneuver timetables) and tactical failures (e.g. failure to use combined arms effectively).

Theory of Victory is a key part of strategy, the glue that holds the three levels of analysis (strategy, operations and tactics) together. It is, in essence, a prediction that if a series of conditions are set (held territory, won battles, public opinion shifts, etc), then it will be possible to achieve desired outcomes (see Political Object). Well-led armies do not lash out randomly, but pursue a coherent theory of victory. Note (see War Termination), ‘victory’ here is subjective; different states may define victory differently. Also, it may become clear that it is either impossible to set the planned conditions (e.g. it is not possible to capture Kyiv) or that those conditions will not produce desired outcomes (e.g. Ukraine will not surrender even if Kyiv is captured), which then requires a force to alter its theory of victory (and possibly change its desired outcomes). The initial Russian Theory of Victory seems to have involved the capture of key cities and the removal of the Ukrainian government to achieve desired ends; it is clear that Russian forces are shifting their theory of victory now as those conditions proved to be impossible to set.

‘Tooth’ and ‘Tail’ are terms which divide a fighting force into two parts: the ‘tooth’ which does the actual direct fighting and the ‘tail’ which supports that effort. In modern militaries, the ‘tail’ often composes more than half of all personnel as the demands of sustainment and communication are so heavy (often expressed as the ‘tooth to tail ratio’). In a conflict, heavy damage to either the tooth or the tail can disable a fighting force. In the case of the Russian Army, their ‘tooth,’ composed of Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) is relatively fragile as the front line forces of BTGs are fairly few (more emphasis on fires) with only around 200 infantrymen per BTG. Thus when assessing combat losses, it is important to distinguish between losses sustained in the ‘teeth’ versus the ‘tails’ of a force.

War Crimes are acts which violate the laws of war, typically as codified in the Geneva Conventions and the earlier Hague Conventions. It is important to recognize that the Geneva Conventions (which are more important for the present issue) were ratified only in 1949; the protections they (in theory) offer, particularly the almost total protections of civilians, are quite new and reflect an effort – of decidedly mixed success – to change the norms of war that had prevailed previously. Prior to 1949, the civilians of belligerent nations were not thought to enjoy such a degree of protection; in some sense we are seeing an effort to impose a new norm of conflict fail because one of the Great Powers refuses to observe it (and has for some time). While ‘collateral damage’ is not a war crime under the Laws of Armed Conflict, the intentional targeting of civilians or civilian property is, as is the intentional deportation of civilians by an occupying power (e.g. forced removal of Ukrainians into Russia). Compelling prisoners of war to render service to a hostile power (e.g. make your propaganda videos) is also a violation. Both Russia and Ukraine are parties to the Geneva Conventions and thus notionally bound by its precepts. The great weakness of international law here, however, matters: in practice international law is a thing enforced upon weaker powers by the Great Powers and often not even then; there is no ‘war crime police.’ A state with a functioning military is unlikely to submit its leaders for the judgement of a tribunal. Note also that while there have been efforts to ban cluster munitions, neither Russia nor Ukraine is a signatory to those efforts (neither is the United States), so the use of cluster munitions in this conflict is not a war crime (though the intentional use of cluster munitions against civilians is). In practice the lack of enforcement mechanisms means that accusations of war crimes, regardless of their accuracy, mostly serve as propaganda tools (see information war).

War Termination is an intentionally broad military term meant to encompass the variety of ways a war – formal fighting between states – can end, only some of which might be termed ‘peace.’ Not every war ends with a peace treaty (for instance the Korean War has technically only been ‘on pause’ with a ceasefire for the last 69 years). For instance a war between states might end with a negotiated ceasefire that one or both sides encourage local proxies to break when it is to their advantage. War termination is thus about the end of formal hostilities and admits the possibility that conditions ending formal hostilities might not create a real lasting peace (though war terminations that result in decreased hostilities might still be desirable). Because the goal of war is peace and the achievement of specific political objectives (see Political Object above), all parties in a given conflict should be thinking about potential war termination scenarios and their acceptability throughout the conflict (see also Theory of Victory). When commentators suggest the necessity of providing someone with an ‘off ramp’ what they are in effect suggesting is attempting to open an acceptable war termination scenario for that party.

Will is a key concept from Clausewitz, reflecting the importance in war of a people’s willingness to sustain hardship in order to continue a conflict and part of Clausewitz’ ‘trinity.’ Will, in this sense, is often a target in war, with operations, either directly military or propagandistic in nature, designed to either fortify friendly will (see Morale, Cohesion) or degrade enemy will. Clausewitz recognizes that it will be difficult for any state to maintain a large military effort without at least some public will. Consequently, degrading enemy will can be part of a Theory of Victory (see above) as a way to force an enemy to make peace (see War Termination above). Strategies that focus on Will rather than on politics as the ‘target’ (the Clausewitzian ‘center of gravity’) tend to take longer to accomplish (see Protract above).

Next week we’re going to shift to a bit of a lighter topic and look at some history in video games.

308 thoughts on “Miscellanea: A Very Short Glossary of Military Terminology

  1. Bret, I had tremendous respect for your site up until this war began, but you have managed to entirely squander it. I grew up in Soviet Ukraine, and let me tell you: The Ukrainian state since the 90s is a truly benighted regime, absolutely corrupt to the core in ways you westerners cannot comprehend, a playground for foreign state agents, and packed with antisemites and neonazis. My cousin, a doctor in big city in western Ukraine, has had his practice repeatedly shaken down by the POLICE and FIRE DEPARTMENT many times in the last 15 years. I mean, Crassus type stuff, like refusing to put out a fire until he paid a bribe. My relatives in Odessa have been targeted for harassment by officials of all departments for speaking russian (which we all grew up speaking) and for being jewish. To see a historian in this day and age, with information so freely available, not only carry water for this regime (which is domestically more evil than Putin’s by some margin, just less capable of inflicting it on neighbors) but to swallow and regurgitate its war propaganda to boot, is simply sickening. Please stick to history if you can’t be bothered to be scrupulous with regards to current events.

    Unrelated, but please consider writing a series on The Last Kingdom (netflix series based on Saxon Stories by Cornwell). The show just wrapped its last season. Its a fascinating piece of history that not many outside of britain may be familiar with.

    1. > which is domestically more evil than Putin’s by some margin

      [citation needed]

      I have no doubts that Ukraine is corrupt, but claiming that Putin’s regime is better seems dubious at best.

      Even if you would believe things about badness of Ukraine government, then Russia still did more evil things in Mariupol alone than Ukrainian government since 2014.

      1. To be more clear “horrendously corrupt” is not a good situation (for example, you need bribes to get treated in Ukrainian hospital – despite healthcare supposed to be covered by taxes).

        But “invades, murders thousands, deliberate strikes on hospitals” is worse than “horrendously corrupt, one of the most dysfunctional states in Europe”.

        Disclaimer: my country is one of the next targets of Russia if they will succeed. So “less capable of inflicting it on neighbors” is actually critically important part to me.

        > regurgitate its war propaganda to boot

        Can you be more specific which parts, if any, were incorrect?

    2. Literally none of that means that Ukraine, an independent country, deserves to be invaded, its population slaughtered, and its government snuffed out.

      I have lived in Russia, and it is almost as corrupt as you complain Ukraine is. It is also filled with neonazis, antisemites, and fascists. I never met so many xenophobic racist skinheads as when I lived in Russia.

      Finally, I knew many Chechens when I lived in Russia. I cannot imagine they’d agree with you that Putin’s reign was somehow less evil then Zelenskyy’s. Russia’s constant warcrimes in Chechnya cannot be forgotten.

      But all of that is irrelevant, because even if Ukraine were corrupt, it does not deserve to be invaded. And especially not by such a ‘saviour’ as the Russian state.

      I won’t bother engaging you in a debate, bot. I genuinely hope you’re account is banned and your presence on the internet is cancelled. Go to hell.

    3. I am glad he has squandered your respect.

      Your respect is not worth having.

      When I lived, for several years, in Russia I knew countless Chechens who still bore the wounds of Russian warcrimes. I paid countless bribes to officers of all sorts. I met countless xenophobic, anti-Semitic, racist skinheads and neonazis. That government has little worth defending.

      I will not debate with you. You are not worth my time. I hold you, and all those who agree with you, in contempt.

      You are loathsome.

    4. Ah, yes. Being already bullied and oppressed at home by corrupt officials, clearly the Ukrainians deserve to be bombed and shelled by a hostile imperialistic power, whom, if it ever managed to conquer them, would then STILL bully and oppress them with corrupt officials, since it’s at least as much of a kleptocracy, if not more.

      Just… none of this follows. In any way. If we looked at it this way, in theory, when the US invaded Afghanistan they had INFINITELY more of a moral high ground to do so (decent-ish democratic liberal state invading horrifically regressive theocracy with the open stated goal and some actual effort put towards liberating and empowering its population), and the result was still a horrific shitshow that probably inflicted more suffering than it relieved, and for what? For the state to immediately plunge back into a horrifically regressive theocracy the very day the occupying forces left. Russia has nowhere near that high ground, and is invading for explicitly imperialistic reasons, with blatant disregard for civilian safety (not that the US didn’t do very questionable things, but they had to at least try to keep appearances. Russia right now doesn’t give a fuck).

      That really is all that matters here. I don’t remember Brett ever waxing lyrical about how democratic and modern and free from corruption Ukraine is. It doesn’t matter – a state’s internal issues don’t make it an acceptable target for invasion, and certainly not from another state who has the exact same internal issues anyway. Pot, kettle and all that.

      1. > a state’s internal issues don’t make it an acceptable target for invasion

        I would consider stopping actual genocide and similar as acceptable reason for invasion (it clearly does not apply to Ukraine).

        1. But that’s still a problem isn’t it ?

          USA has (eventually) backstabbed Saddam and invaded Iraq, one of the pretexts having been Saddam’s chemical genocide of Kurds. Except that happened years later after he did it, and he did it with full Western support (in practice if not in words). And the consequences for the general Iraqi population after two wars and an embargo are probably even worse than that. The West has also managed to abandon Kurds more times than one can count in the process…

          Putin is now (ridiculously) claiming to be trying to “save” Russians in Ukraine from genocide. (Yet he should be familiar with the fable of the Bear and the Gardener ?)

          And those are just two examples…

          So, how can anyone hope that using the excuse of stopping genocide (potentially as one of several) in order to invade would do more good than harm these days ?

          I’ve also seen some speak of the current intensification of the war as “genocide” of Ukrainians by Russians. Except for now, as Mary mentioned, it’s the most Russian Ukrainians that have paid the price. And while Putin seems to basically want to ethnocide Ukrainians, in the case that he would somehow manage to get full control of Ukraine, I don’t think that he would genocide them. Not because he’s not an evil man, but because that just doesn’t seem to be worth the trouble (see Chechnya), and because even China and India would likely turn their backs on him at that point, not to mention his own population !
          No, that’s not fair to all those peoples that *actually* got genocided. And total war and potential ethnocide are already horrible enough, I don’t see why one would need to bring in “genocide”…

          1. Probably because Ukranians were already subjected to a recognized genocide by the Soviets in the Holodomor. I’m not convinced that’s what Putin intends but there’s a reason it’s in the conversation.

          2. Ugh, how insensitive of me – of course – how *could* I have missed this when (IIRC) Russia hasn’t even recognized it yet !

            And I can’t believe that I somehow already forgot the following from Snyder’s “Bloodlands” (2010), that I read only a few months ago !

            “I prefer mass killing to genocide for a number of reasons. The term genocide was coined by the Polish-Jewish international lawyer Rafał Lemkin in 1943. Through a miracle of energy and persistence, he managed to encode it in international law. By the terms of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, genocide involves “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” It lists five ways in which genocide is committed: by “killing members of the group”; “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”; “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”; “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”; and “forcibly transferring children of this group to another group.” This legal instrument has allowed for prosecutions, if only recently. As a guide to historical and moral interpretation, however, the term genocide has limitations.

            The term genocide gives rise to inevitable and intractable controversies. It relies upon the intention of the perpetrator in two places: “intent to destroy” a certain group “as such.” It can be argued that policies of mass killing were not genocide, because rulers had some other “intent,” or because they intended to kill someone, but not a specified group “as such.”

            Though the term genocide in fact has wide application, it is often thought to refer only to the Holocaust. People who associate themselves with victims will wish to define past crimes as genocide, thinking that this will lead to recognition of the kind awarded to the Holocaust. Meanwhile, people associated with states that perpetrated a genocide resist the term with great energy, because they believe that its acceptance would be tantamount to acceptance of a role in the Holocaust. Thus, for example, Turkish governments resist the classification as genocide of the mass killing of a million or more Armenians during the First World War.

            A final problem arises from a known political modification of the definition. The Soviets made sure that the term genocide, contrary to Lemkin’s intentions, excluded political and economic groups. Thus the famine in Soviet Ukraine can be presented as somehow less genocidal, because it targeted a class, kulaks, as well as a nation, Ukrainians. Lemkin himself regarded the Ukrainian famine as genocide. But since the authors of the policy of starvation edited his definition, this has been controversial. It is remarkable that we have the legal instrument of genocide; nevertheless, one must not forget that this particular murder statute was co-drafted by some of the murderers. Or, to put the matter less moralistically: all laws arise within and reflect a certain political setting. It is not always desirable to export the politics of that moment into a history of another.

            In the end, historians who discuss genocide find themselves answering the question as to whether a given event qualifies, and so classifying rather than explaining. The discussions take on a semantic or legalistic or political form. In each of the cases discussed in this book, the question “Was it genocide?” can be answered: yes, it was. But this does not get us far.”

            Meanwhile, Lemkin considered “ethnocide” to be a synonym :

            Also relevant here :

            “Genocide is the antithesis of the Rousseau-Portalis Doctrine, which may be reguarded as implicit in the Hague Regulations. This doctrine holds that war is directed against sovereigns and armies, not against subjects and civilians. In its modern [to 1944] application in civilized society, the doctrine means that war is conducted against states and armed forces and not against populations. […] [Nazi] Germany could not accept the Rousseau-Portalis doctrine : first, because [Nazi] Germany is waging a total war ; and secondly, because, according to the doctrine of National Socialism, the nation, not the state, is the predominant factor.[ref to Mein Kampf]”

            I now wonder where I got the idea of “ethnocide” having the specific meaning of “genocide, but stopping short of the actual killing”..?

      2. “a state’s internal issues don’t make it an acceptable target for invasion”–Let’s just be clear, the US did not invade Afghanistan (or Iraq, or Germany, or Japan) because of its internal issues, but because it was serving as a platform for terrorist attacks on us. We may have gotten sucked into attempting to address Afghanistan’s internal issues, regrettably.

        1. The US invaded Afghanistan for frankly questionable reason and on shaky evidence, and invaded Iraq for even more questionable reason and on even shakier evidence. That said, they DID coat both efforts with some veneer of humanitarian preoccupation for the countries’ internal issues, mostly because that made them a bit more palatable to the masses, and look more akin to the previous decades’ UN-backed peacekeeping missions (like Somalia and Bosnia) and less like straight up wars of aggression (which Afghanistan debatably was, and Iraq certainly was).

          That said, I am against conflating all actions taken by a country with that country itself. Countries aren’t individuals with coherent minds, they’re weird Frankenstein monsters with multiple souls battling it out within them. We know names and surnames for all the actual decision makers who wanted those wars and saw them through.

          1. I’m not sure what you’re asserting was shaky. The claim that Bin Laden orchestrated the 9/11 attack? Or the claim that the Afghan government declined to arrest him and hand him over? I think those were both pretty solid, at least as solid as anything that would have justified war against the Empire of Japan.

    5. The violently corrupt Ukraine of the 90s *was* the Russian Federation-friendly client state that you so desperately desire. And what did you get out of that? Both nations had their assets stripped from them by corrupt oligarchs, both had violent nationalistic expressions of the self. One of them retained more land area and resources, the other had a brief and fumbled attempt at reversing the policy of institutional corruption. And now the latter will never succeed.

    6. If you look at graphs of economic development of former Soviet and Warsaw pact states, it’s obvious that Ukraine has historically fared really really poorly, the reasons for which undoubtedly including stuff like corruption (but also, e.g. living under the thumb of Russia and indeed being invaded): their growth has been little better than Central Asian oil states, worse than Russia, and far worse than the Warsaw pact countries and the Baltic states that have thrown their lot with the EU.

      However, even before the recent full invasion that appears to have truly unified the country (one hopes this unification will eventually manifest in shared interest in rebuilding the country not just physically but also in things like shared sense of duty in rooting out corruption), while I don’t have a personal sense of what’s happening on the ground, the situation in Ukraine did finally seem to have turned up! For instance, they had finally started forays into integrating themselves with the EU, which has empirically turned out really good for all of the other former Soviet states. Indeed, this turning point is part of the reason why Russia did attack now rather than later (along with factors like EU’s decreasing reliance on fossil fuels): had Ukraine managed to put an end to its internal rot, an invasion would only ever get more difficult.

      Yes, it is true that Ukraine in 2022 is in many ways even worse than Russia (a really low bar) and Zelensky is no angel either (see, for example, the recent suspension of 11 opposition parties most of which aren’t pro-Russia in any sense), but following the ongoing trend I would have expected the situation to change and that hopeful trajectory alone is worth fighting for. And of course, even if Ukraine under Russian rule would have been marginally less corrupt and dysfunctional (a really big if), that doesn’t exactly justify a brutal war, it doesn’t really justify even a bloodless takeover.

      This is off-topic, but now that the question of less corrupt countries taking over more corrupt countries has kinda been brought up, there perhaps is an alternative that would make sense (and wouldn’t involve killing thousands of people): states temporarily outsourcing the rotten and corrupt governance to e.g. Sweden or Switzerland known for their functional institutions in way of charter cities and special economic zones, an idea put forth by the Nobel laureate Paul Romer. If it all works as well in practice as in theory, people living in those areas get to enjoy better governance and economic growth, better-governed cities give the host state more tax revenue, the trustee nation gets part of the tax revenue but less than what kleptocrats would have extracted, and in the process stronger less corrupt institutions and especially trust in those institutions (major reason for corruption is precisely the lack of that trust) are built up such that they can later by adopted by the host country. If it doesn’t work then the host country just cancels the agreement.

      1. The Swedes have done a really bad job of integrating immigrants from other cultures; there is no reason to believe that they would do a good job of governing those same people in their native habitat.

      2. Ukraine also suffered unusually badly because of the acutal economic breakdown of the USSR, in that it was unusually tied to (mainly) Russia, so when the USSR broke down factories were now in different countries than their suppliers and such.

        It was to some extent a problem in all of hte foremr-USSR (and a similar economic issue happened during the collapse of the austro-hungarian empire) but it was, for whatever reason, particularly bad in the case of Ukraine.

      3. Paul Romer – is this guy for real ?!

        Politics are fundamentally a local problem, how would *anyone* think that “trust in institutions” would go with “outsourced (probably) technocrats” ?

        Does he at least addresses the issue that this seems to have been pretty much attempted in 90’s (and somewhat 00’s) Russia, with Putin now getting a lot of his legitimacy from that failure ?

        It doesn’t help that he would share the 2018 (not really) Nobel Economics Prize with the utter bullshit that is Nordhaus’ “analysis” of long-term economic impacts of climate change :

        I was curious about this “charter cities” concept, but I’m going to treat it with suspicion now…

    7. I personally don’t like language police, but harassment for speaking Russian in Ukraine is no different than harassment for speaking English in Quebec, which is relatively common, and doesn’t cause most people to classify Quebec as undemocratic, much less evil.

      1. “Relatively common”? Certainly not. I’m one of those evil Quebec nationalists, and I certainly wouldn’t “harass” someone for speaking English. The average Quebecer who’s much less evil than me almost certainly wouldn’t either.

        On the other hand, I’m pretty sure a good number of English-speaking Canadians would classify Quebec as an undemocratic, evil regime. Keep in mind: a lot of what we know about other parts of the world is propaganda.

        1. I have read stories about people being harassed for speaking English in Quebec, and I have read stories about people being harassed for speaking Russian in Ukraine. Somewhere out there is someone who is fluent in all four languages and has spent significant time in both countries, and when I meet him or her I will defer to his or her judgment as to which is worse, but I doubt that either Frederic or Marc Ethier is that person, so for now I will simply say, “It’s the same everywhere. Suck it up.”

          1. But it’s *not* the same. There are numerous differences between these two situations !

            Is there a term for a logical fallacy where one assumes that things are the same because it’s uncomfortable (?) to admit ignorance under uncertain conditions ?

          2. And what I’ve heard about is anglophones from Canada who *expect* to be treated badly in Quebec, and who end up being surprised when it doesn’t happen. Which, unless they meet some crazy person, is what will almost always happen. Here’s an example, which was posted just yesterday on the Quebec subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/Quebec/comments/to9net/a_friendly_note_to_quebec/i25jsbc/. And why do Canadian anglophones have these weird fears? Ask me, and I’ll tell you it’s because they have a political incentive to.

            I’ll repeat what I’ve said: if there were a person in Quebec who’d mistreat another for speaking English, you’d probably expect (on political grounds) that person to be someone like me. Yet, I’d never do this, because going around harassing people just isn’t something decent people do. So I find it unlikely that this sort of event happened very often. I’m sure it might have happened a few times, but then again, French speakers have also been harassed in Canada as well, and yet we don’t talk about this as a likely risk.

      2. Have spent 4 months in Quebec as an American with only “first day of class” level French, no harassment or hostility.

        Granted I didn’t do something like go to a working class bar, or any bar, and I was mostly in central Montreal or Old Quebec City.

    8. I must say I find it odd that *this* week’s post would provoke this response. Unlike the posts from the first three weeks of this invasion, I found this one to be pretty neutral (not that being blatantly partisan in favor of the guys getting invaded by a brutal autocracy’s friendly neighborhood war crimes brigades is a bad thing, mind you). As for Ukraine’s corruption, how does that justify or excuse Russia’s invasion(s)?

      I’m also a bit bemused that you would malign the Pedant-in-Residence’s lack of respectability and then immediately turn around and request a media review. It makes your earlier complaint come off as somehow dishonest.

      On that note, to our host I would say, good sir, tales of your misdeeds are told from Ireland to Cathay. Now would you pretty please do a media review of the space battles in The Expanse’s fifth season finale? K thxbye

      1. > I must say I find it odd that *this* week’s post would provoke this response.

        It’s not odd if they’re paid per comment.

        1. I’m curious, do we have any actual knowledge of how info warfare is being waged (similar to how we know physical war doctrine of the combatants)? Like I keep seeing the comments saying this or that is a bot or paid shill, but I wonder if this is actually a valid claim or a convenient dismissal? I know about claims that the Chinese use their infamous 50 cent army. Is there any known similar programs for Russia?

          1. There are articles about common themes in Russian propaganda. Other than that, pure experience. Comment sections in Eastern European websites have been flooded for the last several years. They rarely refer to the content of the article, but instead just post the same short, aggressive, stupid messages or a longer narrative that has some internal consistency but just goes over the propaganda checkboxes. They seem to operate based on keywords – if the article contains one of them, they paste their payload. If not, they will likely skip it. Troll messages I’ve seen are rarely customized or respond to what is being said. There’s no nuance (“on one hand…”) because Soviets* regard a compromise as a weakness. So naturally, they encourage the westerners to compromise but never say Russia should compromise.

            I just play propaganda bingo. The points they make are usually incompatible with any western ideas and values, so it tends to be all-or-nothing. I don’t think I’ve seen a mixture of east and west.

            * See the Long Telegram.

          2. Like, personally if I were to bet on it, I’d put my money on the fact that this guy (original poster) is a relatively normal human being who’s just pro-Russia as opposed to a paid shill. Because I have doubts that any info-warfare system would produce a post like the one we see here.

            > “Troll messages I’ve seen are rarely customized or respond to what is being said.”

            Yes I agree that would be a likely troll. This one however seem to demonstrate credible readership of this blog.

            If he were a paid shill this would be like an opportunistic gig, but again I question the existence of such a nuanced internet mercenary system. I expect less sophisticated posts like the one you mentioned.

            The other piece of evidence that makes me assign more likelihood to these people being actual humans instead of shills/bots is that I have IRL acquaintances who’ve been posting things that seem like shilling…like repeating obvious propaganda about de-nazifying Ukraine. So I know there’s relatively normal people who actually believe this. Either this or they’re getting paid a heck of a lot to commit social-media-suicide.

          3. LOL after writing the last comment I scrolled down to see another reply from the OP. I’m 99% confident OP is a real person now. As I suspected this talk about bots is just wishful thinking. We all wished that people saw the world the way we do.

      2. I think the Russian bot farm just found this blog. First comment after the blog, shapes the dialog with a political pay load, then a comment mildly relevant to the blog as a disguise. I think he got targeted by paid Russian propaganda.

        That said I would love a series on Uhtred son of Uhtred. Or Sharpe. Or Hornblower for that matter.

        1. In this case, I don’t think that makes a lot of sense. It’s a fairly lengthy comment that includes clear references to the blog it’s posted on, meaning that whoever wrote it is actually familiar with ACOUP and not copy-pasting the same essay everywhere. There’s no way it makes sense to invest that level of effort in spreading disinfo on a fairly small corner of the internet, especially when the audience is mostly well-informed people who are already against you, not open to being persuaded, and primed to tear you apart with comments of their own.

          It’s always tempting to dismiss the people who disagree with us with an ad hominem that renders their disagreement illegitimate- you don’t really believe that, you’re secretly Russian, you’re not even a real person. It’s a temptation we should resist, for many reasons.

          1. I am not entirely convinced that trollfarm idea should be fully dismissed,.

            But I expect that they are real people that for some reason or another somehow truly follow Russian line that somehow Central Europe belongs to Russia and it has no right to defend itself. With especially vicious parts like blaming Ukraine for not surrendering and therefore being victim of continued war crimes like almost certainly deliberate attacks on hospitals etc.

          2. I am the original poster, and I was trying to respond to the comment by Mateusz the Final below me, but that one has no “reply” button…

            First off, I am serious about asking for Bret a series about “The Last Kingdom.” Seems right up his alley. Best TV I have watched in years.

            On topic, I wish I could say I was surprised at the low level of reasoning in the posts in response to mine, but I can’t. I frankly should have known better, and spelt it out in big letters on an Etch-A-Sketch:

            Just because I despise Ukraine and the knee-jerk, shamefully credulous reactions of uncritical support for it by the West, does not mean I support or even like Russia. To be clear, I DO NOT SUPPORT RUSSIA NOR DO I SUPPORT INVASIONS OF UKRAINE (OR OTHER SOVEREIGN STATES).

            My family suffered tremendously under the russians in the 20th century. My namesake died in one of their gulags. They stole everything from us, multiple times. I have ZERO love for the KGB killer at the helm of Russia.

            But: have you supposedly thinking humans considered that it is possible for conflicts not to have a “good side?” You’re reading a history blog, surely you are aware that Europe has been mired in petit-nationalism and ethno-national wars for millenia? Most of the warring parties historically have been shіtheels all around and this war is no different.

            Instead of constantly shouting out support for an evil Ukrainian regime being invaded by an evil Russian regime, maybe think first, and stay out of it? Instead of trying to increase the slaughter by sending endless mercenaries, weapons, bombs, and missiles into a conflict zone (guaranteed to end up in the hands of non-state criminals and/or terrorists eventually), maybe focus on medical supplies and food, and open up your borders and hospitals to refugees. Instead of mindlessly driving us toward WWIII (nuclear holocaust), with the calls for brinkmanship and no-fly zones, take a moment to think about what your empty virtue-signaling may lead to.

            Yeah, you guys ARE targets in the information war, but not the one you think. The people effortlessly reprogramming your minds are your own governments and their military-industrial complices, who would be perfectly happy to preside over billions of deaths for the sake of trillions in militarisation and war profiteering.


          3. > have you supposedly thinking humans considered that it is possible for conflicts not to have a “good side?

            Obviously. See Syrian civil war for example where no serious power is worth support, as far as I know.

            Or Nazi Germany vs USSR Russia front in WW II where both sides deserved to lose. Or USSR attacking imperial China.

            Also, I am not claiming that Ukraine is ideal (things from blatant corruption to glorifying UPA and entire Azov thing for start).

            But as far as wars goes this one has quite clear good side which can efficiently use provided support.

            > Instead of trying to increase the slaughter by sending endless mercenaries, weapons, bombs, and missiles into a conflict zone

            Well, I am 100% support destroying invading Russian army.

            Destroying their tanks, planes, equipment and killing their soldiers (especially higher ups) is the whole point of sending weaponry. Also when sending so-called nonlethal supplies.

            In fact I support sending more.

            Why? Because I dislike being invaded by Russia, and Russia clearly does not care about this.

            And if I have to decide between war in Ukraine against Russia or war in Poland against Russia I definitely prefer the first one.

            Ukrainians also apparently prefer the first one, and they are ones asking for more supplies. Not for help in negotiating with Russia.

            I do not care what Russian government or Russians prefer.

            Obviously, I would prefer Russia staying in Russia and stopping their demands to rule over central Europe but Russia is not cooperating. And if they are defecting and refusing to cooperate, then their army should be targeted until they change opinion.

            I also would prefer negotiated end to war with credible peace (even if Ukraine gives up for example Crimea). But Russia and credible peace is not an easy combination, and they need to at least stop winning to start negotiating.

            And there are first signs that they are reducing demands, so things are going not horribly wrong. Pity that they murdered thousands (including deaths of Russian soldiers here) on Putin’s orders before getting to that point.

            (I am not sad at all that Russian army is losing equipment, that is great news and a good thing)

            > guaranteed to end up in the hands of non-state criminals and/or terrorists eventually

            Yes, that is a risk but it seems that only small part is captured by Russia and in general it seems to be going better than in Afghanistan/Iraq. Though I am aware that some will leak.

            > medical supplies and food, and open up your borders and hospitals to refugees.

            also done

            > Instead of mindlessly driving us toward WWIII (nuclear holocaust), with the calls for brinkmanship and no-fly zones, take a moment to think about what your empty virtue-signaling may lead to.

            I am not supporting WW III (sometimes referred to as “no fly zone”).

          4. I am pretty much entirely convinced that this specific post isn’t a bot or paid shill, and anyone who continues to think that are just being intellectually lazy. They’re dismissing an opposing view point with a specific dismissal because the real reason, that there are actual people who believe radically different things, is a much tougher pill to swallow. It destroys the notion that they are clearly on the correct side, because if that were so then how can some non-shill/non-bot say this?

            For the record I don’t agree with the OP regarding the invasion, lol. I just think it’s intellectually weak that so many people leapt onto the “fake troll” bandwagon. If you guys think you’re doing some serious thinking here, then think again.

          5. Ops, translation error: it was supposed to be USSR vs Imperial Japan, not Imperial China.

          6. Not every war has a good side and a bad side, but this one pretty clearly does. And it is the side not invading or committing mass human atrocities. Ironically, your attempts at a bothsiderism is the best example of ‘low-level reasoning’ found in this replies.

            And before you waste your time replying: I am an anationalist, and I haven’t lived in any country I have a citizenship in for decades. That card simply doesn’t work on me.

    9. I always smile when you mark every Clausewitz reference with “(drink!)” – but I don’t understand the inside joke. What’s up with that?

      1. It’s an old inside joke among military historians that statements beginning with ‘as Clausewitz says’ are so common they could be used as a drinking game to get smashed at conferences (particularly the Society of Military History annual meeting, ‘SMH’).

    10. > The Ukrainian state since the 90s is a truly benighted regime, absolutely corrupt to the core in ways you westerners cannot comprehend, a playground for foreign state agents, and packed with antisemites and neonazis. (…) which is domestically more evil than Putin’s by some margin, just less capable of inflicting it on neighbors

      Please do back that up. When you’re saying it’s more evil than Putin, you’re setting the bar VERY high. We’re talking “hundreds-of-racist-murders” high. I’m really interested. And I happen to live in a country adjacent to Ukraine so I can smell bullshit easier than most others here. And if push comes to shove I can even read cyrillic.

      Frankly, I don’t believe you live in Ukraine.

      Ukrainian citizens successfully ejected Yanukovych, the comically corrupt pro-Russian president from power, using peaceful protests. Ukrainians are really good at peaceful protests. This is unthinkable in Russia.

      Putin’s fascists: the Russian state’s long history of cultivating homegrown neo-Nazis

      1. This is a somewhat funny (?) one :

        “The great irony of this conflict is that [18] years ago Mr Matyushin was on the other side of the political divide which now splits this country in two.

        He used to work with a far-right Ukrainian nationalist, Dmytro Korchynsky. “We had the idea of a Christian Orthodox revolution back then,” explains Mr Matyushin. “Our ambition was to create an Orthodox al-Qaeda.”

        Despite their once-similar vision, the two men have followed very different paths: Mr Korchynsky is on the run while Mr Matyushin commands a military unit and believes he is within touching distance of realising his ambition to the create his dream of a New Russia.”

    11. I suggest that characterizing Zelenskyy as a Nazi is not going to work very well with any audience with access to actual news.

    12. It was pretty strange to ask for a series on “The Last Kingdom” considering the rest of what you said here but since smarter people than me have already debunked your remarks on Ukraine, I do just want to comment to say that I don’t think any of the season from 2-4 did a good job attempting to show Anglo-Saxon combat (have not seen 5 yet but have no reason to think it will be different). While Season 1 did a fantastic job of showing a shield wall, it seemed like every battle in every later season was the same sort of frantic melee you see in any other recent historical drama, with no battle lines and weapons hacking through armour. Which was a shame, because the moment where Uhtred breaks the shield wall in Season 1 was an awesome moment for storytelling, more faithful to the enjoyable books, and a very successful visual scene and I wish the later seasons had kept that style.

  2. This was a very useful explanation! However, when it comes to war crimes, people often forget that the 1864 Geneva Convention and the Hague Conventions existed before WW2 so I think it is important to not minimise that. The Nazis definitely commited things that were war crimes during the War, unlike what some have claimed

    1. “War crimes” always happen in wars. Broadly speaking, it’s supposed to be a war crime to even start a war.

      Attacks on civilians is a war crime; but it’s sometimes unavoidable, and avoiding it probably gets in the way of many legitimate operational objectives. Having said that, it does appear that Russia and at least some sections of the Ukraine military have used deliberate attacks on civilians strategically.

      Crimes such as murdering prisoners of war also happen in all wars. When a force is trying to break through and advance, dealing with prisoners must be all but impossible; your lines of communication are for supplying your force, and moving prisoners back is strictly a low priority. And you obviously can’t just let them go (or can you?) I’ve never been to war, but I imagine surrendering must be a pretty scary decision; you place yourself at the mercy of the people you’ve just been trying to kill.

      Talk of war crimes should always be examined critically; whether an incident really happened as reported, the extent to which reports are selective, and the context in which the report is presented are always in support of some narrative or other; that is, talk of war crimes is always propaganda, even if it’s true.

      I’m glad there is a convention that armies shouldn’t start wars, attack civilians or murder PoWs, but don’t run away with the notion that anyone that does it must be evil.

      1. And you obviously can’t just let them go (or can you?)

        There’s actually been a tradition of parole, where soldiers swear not to take up arms again in exchange for their release, so you can eliminate the burden of supporting them without either killing them or seeing them rejoin the enemy. Of course this means trusting they’ll abide by that. The US currently forbids soldiers accepting parole and I’m not sure if it’s currently practiced anywhere.

      2. There are also plenty of other things that are war crimes, like attacking under a flag of truce, or attacking mediecal personnel (under most conditions) that is obviously still done.

        So yes, “Shoot the healer first” is a war crime.

  3. Regarding the “culmination”, the comment (by the two fellows Bret listened to, not Bret) is wrong, military context or not. I don’t know any context where the term “culmination” is not used as a high point – I’m familiar with the term from the literary theory, where it means the mid-point, climax of the story, whereas the end is the resolution (there being another phase in-between but for the world of me I can’t recalled what it’s called). Apparently it’s also used in astronomy for, you guessed it, apex of a heavenly body. So, yeah, high-point, not end.

    Seems “culmination” is another one of those terms whose meaning is slowly shifting because people keep using it the wrong way…

    1. “(there being another phase in-between but for the world of me I can’t recalled what it’s called)”

      Do you mean the Falling Action?

    2. This is a case where a couple of seemingly different meanings shade into each other.

      If you describe the “culmination” of, say, a project, it implies the point when a project comes together/when you’ve got all the pieces put together and see the result, which is both a high point and the end/close to the end. Probably what happens is an older meaning of “high point” got shaded through what I just described, got used more that way, and shifted to mean “end”. And made another academic/jargony word that means something different in its field than in day to day life.

    3. > 2. Astronomy To reach the highest point above an observer’s horizon. Used of stars and other celestial bodies. v.tr.

      Wow. I’m a professional astronomer, and I’ve never heard culmination used in that sense before, not even during the 6 months I worked as a telescope operator where the time something crosses the meridian might be somewhat important. You learn something new every day!

  4. With regards to those passionate comments on the relative merits of Ukraine and Russia, I tend to agree with the Russian perspective, but have compassion for the average Ukrainian caught in the middle. The reason for the former is that the West has been nibbling away at Russian influence and would love to see Russia fall.

    The trouble with playing ‘The Great Game’ is the unintended consequences, which has meant that the average Ukrainian is going to pay for Western perfidy. I’d apologize for this except that I’m just an average citizen of my country with little or no power to change the human behaviours.

    Now, to an observation of the reporting by the news media and social media. I am a rather avid fan of military developments (Army Barmy as my partner’s Aunt Jane would say). I also write Military Science Fiction, so I read around the subject a lot. Here’s a link to a US Army tank Lt Col on how the media distorts/misunderstands what is recorded.

    Nicholas Moran aka The Chieftain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9pVEP0AzZ4

    1. > has meant that the average Ukrainian is going to pay for Western perfidy

      Derogatory comments like “Western perfidy” without similar comments about Russia which is one that murders and invades is absurd.

      > the West has been nibbling away at Russian influence

      And Russia was doing the same, obviously. That is what any state or actor will do!

      Being surprised by that is weird.

      And clearly, we should be doing more and earlier, then this war would not happen or Russian losses would be greater.

      Russia is not entitled to USSR-sized sphere of influence, Russia is not entitled to territories in central Europe. Hopefully Russia will be pushed back and they will stop trying to be superpower and give up associated delusions.

        1. Everything the US does is wrong, thus anything or enemies do is right.

          Or alternately (from the other side), anything a ruthless autocrat does must be justified because he’s only doing it for his own benefit and he’s a freeman type.

      1. Perfidy here was used because I’m British, and when it comes to Europe my country deserves the title Perfidious Albion. So I’m suggesting that it isn’t about helping.

        As for the rest of your points.

        No country is entitled to a sphere of influence, but all countries aspire to a sphere of influence.

        As for the other comments I refer you to history. That doesn’t excuse anything Russia led by Putin has done, or will do. But, the West is not the white Knight we make ourselves out to be.

        1. The point isn’t that perfidy is a bad word, but that it is being applied very selectively.

          ‘The West’ breaking some supposed unspoken and certainly unwritten commitment to Ukraine (or Russia), you say, is perfidious. What about Russia violating its written-and-signed treaty obligations from the Budapest Memorandum?

          The problem is the selectivity, not the word.

          1. Sure, but we all have double standards, usually called dichotomous thinking.

            I’m human, I can’t escape the fish bowl of human thinking.

            Of course I can be wrong, my point as always is that we are always more likely to be mostly wrong than mostly right.

            “Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems” ― Epictetus

        2. Your reading of history conveniently ignores the agency of all the non-Russian peoples of Europe, whom for their own desires of safety find protection in alliance with the West.

          1. Sure it does. But French, German, and Polish agency over the last couple of centuries (just for easy example) involved invading Russia.

            That doesn’t make them right or wrong, or Russia right or wrong. It is what it is.

        3. > Perfidy here was used because I’m British,

          Oh great! There’s recently something of a Renaissance towards Eastern Europe in British historiography. They’ve concluded they lack English-language historical books on the region, and all they have is German and Russian propaganda. Off top of my head, I can recommend:
          – Norman Davies(East Europe with focus on Poland),
          – Timothy Snyder(American historian specializing in Ukraine, but speaks English pretty well),
          – Robert I. Frost(Scottish; not the US poet; his pet country is Lithuania and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth),
          – Roger Moorhouse(Eastern Europe, Poland, but also interested in Germany)

          If you’re in mood for some self-flagellation, I’d start with Robert Frost, a pro-EU Scotsman who keeps making exotic comparisons between PLC and Great Britain.

      2. > glorifying UPA and entire Azov thing for start

        Mateusz, while you are correct about corruption for example, the other things are totally blown of proportion. I’ve talked to actual Ukrainians on discord and they said only historians knew about Bandera until a couple years ago. The situation is no different to (Polish) AK or “Żołnierze niezłomni”(which is a misrepresentation, because it for example excludes civilian defenders in WW2 such as the employees of postal office in Gdańsk). AK did use terrorist tactics too. And last but not least, most of what we know about Bandera comes from Russian propaganda. Yes, the massacre did happen but we should learn the points of view from different sides.

        The far right politicians in Ukraine (Svoboda party) were there for some weeks, in the temporary government, and subsequently dropped lower than Polish “Konfederacja” party, which is openly putinist and continues to operate in Poland to this day. See for example journalists such as Jan Piński who keep promoting Grzegorz Braun. Very popular on youtube these days, but Braun is promoted elsewhere. Braun is touring the country with a doctor, but doesn’t mention dr Ozdyk has a degree in nazi imagery and operates a security guard company in Germany. Source: Tomasz Piątek, the Macierewicz slayer.

        The Azov battalion does have a bunch of neo-nazis and bigots, which is why they’re fighting to the last man in Mariupol. There will be no mercy for them from Russia.

        This video shows some statistics of far right popularity in Ukraine, as well as some other popular manipulations.

    2. You guys are getting smarter, aren’t you. I could almost believe you’re an American.

        1. You got me here. Although, well, that definitely explains why I saw you pass for a Westerner. Food for thought: turns out’s easy to mistake a Westerner acting like a shill for a shill acting like a Westerner.

        2. Guess we are back to pseudo independent Russian states because the “West” offers carrots and the East just gives the Stick and saying “Look how many civilians you made me kill.” ‘Course, it is somehow the “West” fault for looking more appealing than indiscriminate bombardment to keep one in line after all.

      1. Eh, I’ve gotten similar comments from people I KNOW aren’t Russian bots. Some people just have big giant holes in their bullshit filters like so:

        1. The Neo-Liberal order is bad because *gestures at all the things*

        2. People fighting against the Neo-Liberal order are good because fighting against bad things is good.

        3. Therefore Putin is good.

        4. I shall plug my fingers in my ears now.

        1. There is a strange mentality I call narcissistic self-hatred for a lack of better term. Far left used to be absolutely rife with it, and probably still is, but recently far right has embraced it too.

          1. Everything revolves around West, and small nations have no real agency. So for example countries don’t really seek to join NATO, but rather USA expands it.
          2. West is the absolute worst. See this carefully curated collection of factoids shown in the most cynical light.
          3. Enemies of the West might not always be good, they may even be outright scumbags, but their victories are defeats to late capitalist hegemony / neocon globohomo.
          4. Therefore we must cheer for the likes of Putin. Or, if we’re more weaselly, condemn them briefly, and then spend paragraphs on whataboutism, bothsidesism, and explanations on why we shouldn’t care. “Sure, war is always bad, but can USA really condemn anyone after killing a million civilians in Iraq? And tell me I’m supposed to cheer for a corrupt wreck of a country rife with neo-Nazis? Besides, Putin never called me a racist.”

          1. > Everything revolves around West

            I saw the opposite from a Russian friend of mine from about 30 years ago. Completely convinced that the entire world was fixated on bringing Russia down while I took the side of “they don’t even think of you at all” (which was mean, but he was quite over the top).

            But it was the same, nobody had any agency except USA and Russia. And was quite convinced America would invade us (Canada) if we ever failed to obey US orders.

            I talked with him whenever I wanted to contact a reality that resembled, but was apparently utterly unlike, my own. Always wondered what engendered a mindset like that. Being a former empire perhaps?

        2. To be sure, there are people trying to win on issues by claiming that if Putin supports something, you must attack it or support him. They get into snits about how it is unjust to compare this to his drinking water but never give any clear reason why.

        3. Honestly, a that is, at least, a sensical position. It’snot one I *agree* with but “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” at least has a logic to it.

        4. Indeed, I’ve even seen some journalists that *really* should know better *still* trying to push in offhand comments the “but Ukrainians were shelling the Donbass !” line *after* this new Russian invasion !

          (At least they have the excuse of Eastern Europe being far from their interests… and hopefully now that everyone is paying attention we’ll get at least *some* people competent in covering it in a few years.)

    3. “the Russian perspective”

      Which one? Putin, the Russian state apparatus, and Putin-sympathetic commentators in the west have offered nearly a dozen different explanations for this invasion. Some of them are false; others morally bankrupt; others laughable. But the very variety means that one can’t simply pick “the Russian side”—one has to think more deeply about which rationales are justified and which are unjustified, and which played a real role in the war.

      That’s not even to unpick the casual cruelty of framing the Putin regime’s interests as “the Russian perspective”. Does “the Russian perspective” belong to Vladimir Putin or Yelena Osipova? To Margarita Simonyan or Oksana Baulina? To Ramzan Kadryov or Adam Osmayev? To hospice-care kids shuffled out into a Z in the courtyard, or to a St. Petersburg IT admin deleting Facebook while waiting to board a flight to Yerevan? To mothers calling the Ukrainian army to see if their kid is dead?

      One of the things I most appreciate about ACOUP is how our host insists on maintaining the proper perspective on history. History happens to everyone. It happens for every reason.

      As one writer to another: it can only help your work to think more seriously about that.

      1. 1. Separate assumptions from assessments
        2. Ask the right questions
        3. Determine what is fact and what is fiction
        4. Understand the numbers
        5. Engage in deliberate dialogue

        What I see in your answer is two things you may not be aware of.

        The Western Halo and one’s own cognitive biases.

        Just because I can put myself inside the Russian military perspective, doesn’t mean that I endorse in anyway, shape or form what they do.

        However, I have no power to change Putin’s mind, and neither do I feel the need to waste my time expressing outrage over an event that I have no control over.

        My background predisposes me to to be non-judgemental. I feel sorry for the people caught in the middle of this conflict, but beyond that anything I say or do is platitudes.

        1. “Just because I can put myself inside the Russian military perspective, doesn’t mean that I endorse in anyway, shape or form what they do . . . My background predisposes me to to be non-judgemental.”


          “I tend to agree with the Russian perspective.”

          These are not consistent statements. I encourage you to work on sorting out your own thinking before attempting to apply CBT techniques to your interlocutors.

          1. I suggest that you are reading more into my statement than anything I intended to imply. That may be down to me being an arsehole, stupid, ill informed etc ( I’m confident you have made an opinion and will seek to find evidence to support your opinion, but that’s not my concern).

          2. Okay. What did you mean when you said “I tend to agree with the Russian perspective?” And which “Russian perspective” did you have in mind?

            I wasn’t being facile when I named nine different Russians with very different perspectives on the current war. I was being quite serious. There are many Russian perspectives at stake. Which ones do you agree with? Which ones do you take seriously?

            In another thread, you characterized the current situation as the result of “poking the bear”. But there are no bears; only people. People on every side; people with every opinion.

            I don’t think you’re an arsehole. I don’t think you’re stupid. I don’t think you’re ill-informed. In fact, it’s pretty clear to me that none of those things are true. I think you are working hard to put yourself in another person’s shoes. I think you see your community consumed by a particular narrative and so you ask yourself: what are other narratives? What are opposing perspectives? This is a laudable instinct! I share it myself.

            But I think you have let yourself get stuck just one step down that all-important road. You have allowed yourself to inhabit the perspective you attribute to Putin and his allies in the Russian state apparatus. In this perspective the West is slowly throttling your country until you have no choice but to violently lash out. If only the West hadn’t encroached on Russian interests, there would be no need for violence.

            This is a real perspective. Real human beings think this way. Some of them are leading the Russian state.

            But this war—like all wars—is not a story with two sides. It is a story with seven billion sides.

            There’s Putin’s perspective, where the West is crushing Russia. There’s Nemetzov’s perspective, where the West is a beacon and a lifeline; you can read it here: https://meduza.io/en/feature/2022/02/28/it-s-not-our-war-it-s-putin-s-war

            There’s Shoigu’s stated perspective, where “all is going according to the plan”. There’s Ivashov’s pre-war letter, where he wrote that “the use of military force against Ukraine, firstly, will call into question the existence of Russia itself as a state; secondly, it will forever make Russians and Ukrainians mortal enemies. Thirdly, there will be thousands (tens of thousands) of dead young, healthy guys on one side and on the other”; you can read that here: http://ooc.su/news/obrashhenie_obshherossijskogo_oficerskogo_sobranija_k_prezidentu_i_grazhdanam_rossijskoj_federacii/2022-01-31-79-0-1

            There are grandmas who survived Leningrad getting arrested at anti-war protests. https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2022/mar/02/russian-activist-77-detained-by-police-while-protesting-against-ukraine-war-video

            There are Holocaust survivors dying from Russian missiles. https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-03-24/a-youth-blighted-by-war-robbed-of-life-in-old-age-96-year-old-holocaust-survivor-is-laid-to-rest

            There’s guys in tanks killing each other in fields. You can listen to a few of them swear at each other on unsecured radio, here: https://www.reddit.com/r/nextfuckinglevel/comments/t4u75s/ukrainian_and_russian_radio_exchanges_during/ There’s some ugly language; it’s an ugly situation. They are strangers, who might easily have been friends, trying to kill each other dead.

            There are mothers whose sons have been taken unexpectedly to another country, killed in a suburb or a forest, and burned in a truck.

            None of these statements are assessments. They’re just facts. They’re just other perspectives that other people might have.

            I urge you to consider what these perspectives might have to offer.

          3. Ms. Pollard, the fact remains that you have, point blank, and in so many words stated that you “tend to agree with the Russian perspective.”

            By which you clearly implied that you mean “the perspective of Vladimir Putin’s aspirations to be supreme autocrat of a great power,” as opposed to, say, “the perspective of a nameless Russian citizen who would like to have free and fair elections” or “the perspective of a Russian housewife who would like her son to not be blown apart by a missile for the sake of Putin getting to paint a stripe of the map of Europe in a color of his choice.”

            For you to then turn around and say “Just because I can put myself inside the Russian military perspective, doesn’t mean that I endorse in anyway, shape or form what they do,” just seems like an attempt to backpedal after being called out on the contradictions in the worldview you express.

            Let us live up to your own alleged standards.

            1. Separate assumptions from assessments

            When you talk about historical ‘Western perfidy,’ you seem to be making the assumption that Putin (here a metonym for both Putin and the Russian oligarchs who back him) are motivated to attempt to conquer Ukraine because of ‘Western perfidy.’ There is no evidence for this. Russia has attempted to conquer areas on its borders several times since World War Two. There is no clear link between their attempts to do so and any ‘perfidy’ on the part of ‘the West.’ It is hard to see how ‘Western perfidy’ was involved Chechnya or Ossetia, or (if one wishes to stretch back in time) to the initial Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I do not think you have stopped to assess whether Putin is genuinely motivated by ‘Western perfidy’ or whether he is in any sense reacting to it, as opposed to just having a fully general desire to make a land grab and seizing on any excuse available.

            2. Ask the right questions

            Very well, let us ask.
            -Is the invasion of the Ukraine justified, either by Russia’s rational interests, by some offense against Russia that merits such a deadly response, or by some abstract desire to maximize human welfare?
            -Is there some necessary and logical chain of cause and effect between any specific thing ‘the West’ has done, and Putin having an actual, objectively extant need to invade Ukraine? This ties into the previous question, of course.

            As far as I can determine, the answers to these questions are ‘no’ and ‘no.’ Putin may harbor some personal belief that ‘the West’ has in some sense deprived his nation of its metaphorical manhood, or that ‘the West’ is in some sense sabotaging him, or what have you. But we are under no obligation to identify with the paranoia, greed, and power-lust of a dictator, while doing nothing but making sad and meaningless noises about ‘how tragic’ it is that millions of people are victimized when he seeks to satisfy that greed, paranoia, and power-lust.

            3. Determine what is fact and what is fiction.

            It is trivially easy to determine that quasi-official Russian media constantly misrepresent almost every facet of this situation on which they can be fact-checked. They have claimed to be suffering minimal military losses, while in reality suffering many more. They have claimed to be on a humanitarian aid mission or a ‘de-Nazification’ mission, when it is obvious that they are doing no such thing. De-Nazification does not require you to get caught on camera lobbing bombardment rockets into apartment buildings. The Russians have claimed not to be at war at all- laughable. The Russians have not only lied for internal consumption, but also lied externally. They have threatened to use nuclear weapons in response to ‘provocations’ such as foreign countries refusing to trade with them. They have claimed to be willing to honor various peace treaties, which they subsequently broke. the list goes on.

            The general recurring pattern is that any narrative shaped by a media entity beholden to the Russian state is likely to be fiction. A statistical sample of Russian claims involving Ukraine, the war, and the general geopolitical state of Eastern Europe reveals a carousel of lies, fabrications, and pathetic excuses. As such, any good faith attempt to identify fiction must lead to us rejecting most official Russian narratives. The Russian national media have no inherent right to be listened to or taken seriously… And if they are not, then the claim that Russia is responding to nebulous ‘Western perfidy’ collapses.

            I think we’ve done enough for now.

        2. This generally overlooks the actions of Russia and Ukraine. It’s all well and good to be aware of western cognitive biases, but the one I think you’re overlooking is the notion that the ‘west’/US/UK/EU are the only people with historical agency.

          The thing about this is that it’s not really about us, or our actions, which is very hard for folks used to being the ‘main characters of history’ to accept.

          I’ll also point out, you aren’t being nonjudgmental, you’re judging the UK/US/EU, at least in your original comment.

          1. Okay…

            Yes, but no, and maybe.

            So, I can’t say anything critical about my own side (and just to be clear NATO i my side) and I can’t say anything about the other side that’s critical because they’re the enemy.

            Sure. That totally makes me a shill for Russian propaganda.

          2. You can say anything you want, but if you claim to be nonjudgmental, while simultaneously judging one side and agreeing with the other, I will think that you are not, in fact, being nonjudgmental and that you are not, in fact, on the side you criticize, but rather on the side you agree with.

      2. Haha great point, Russia keeps using the Kettle Logic(a barrage of arguments inconsistent with each other; see wikipedia). And surprisingly, it works. The key is not to use two self-contradictory arguments at the same time.

        1. You should read Dr Paul Myron Linebarger’s Psychological Warfare, available courtesy of the good folks at Project Gutenberg. He mentions some examples where propagandists on both sides in the Second World War employed contradictory thus self-defeating arguments. JRR Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, The Voice of Saruman, gives some examples, when Saruman, Propagandist Supremo, is forced to deal with a large group of opponents on his own doorstep, and fails to adapt, contradicting himself in the process. (It’s one of the things that leads me to believe that Tolkien was an active member of Britain’s own propaganda corps; like John Buchan in his Richard Hannay series of novels, he knows too much to be merely an observer.)

          1. If somebody doesn’t know it, the same dr Linebarger wrote excellent science fiction under the pen name Cordwainer Smith.

        2. It also helps to direct different arguments to different audiences, though many people are quite good of tuning out what they don’t want to hear, and latching to what makes sense to them.

          Westerners disillusioned with their wars? Just defending against NATO expansionism.
          Indians or some other people with great aspirations? Fighting for a multipolar world.
          Older Russians who tear up when thinking of Great Patriotic War? It’s Nazis, of course.
          Christian conservatives? Crusade for traditional values and against liberal degeneracy.
          Russian ethnonationalists? Reuniting the Russkiy mir.

          Sometimes you meet one of the dimmer bulbs in a box, though. My personal favorite so far was, when talking of civilian casualties in Ukraine, a guy made the classic claim that Russia goes to great extremes in avoiding them, but Ukrainians in general and Azov in particular use civilians as human shields. And then proceeded to claim that there were only Nazis in Mariupol’s maternity hospital, which “was used by Azov as command centre”. Besides any blood marks were just red paint and the wounded woman carried out a crisis actor. So, the hospital had both Nazis and civilian human shields, only Nazis, and nobody in it. Somehow an entire building existed in a state of quantum indeterminacy.

          1. Putin (and to some extent some other far-right groups internationally) seem to have gone for the kind of strategy where they don’t even bother targeting or having a consistent line, they just throw enough shit at the wall and hope something sticks, or perhaps not even that, just trying to confuse or delay thier oppponents (“hilw they are sorting out the arguments I am actually doing what I want to do”)

            This also helps on some level to obfuscate their actual goals

    4. Why is “nibbling away at Russian influence” a bad thing? Do you think Russia is entitled to control its neighbors? Shouldn’t the people who actually live in those neighboring countries get a say?

        1. It isn’t, in its own right. If Russia were to do that by convincing other countries that allying with it would make them freer, more prosperous, etc. more power too them. That’s how the West was winning Ukraine.

          On the other hand what Russia is actually doing is starting a war, killing thousands of people, and viciously cracking down on internal dissent. Those are bad things.

          1. “If Russia were to do that by convincing other countries that allying with it would make them freer, more prosperous, etc. more power too them. That’s how the West was winning Ukraine.”

            I won’t pretend to know much about the situation in Ukraine. But as someone with strong ties with another country in a perpetual tug of war between the west and Russia, I have my doubts that this is correct. In my part of the world, the west was winning “the country” over by winning over the political elites and the establishment, mostly with loads of money and promises of mutually beneficial business arrangements like corrupt privatisations, enabling predatory lending, arms deals etc, – everything, of course, to be paid in the end by the general population.

            And then there’s violence, of course. While it is no justification for the present Russian aggression, let’s not forget that the west supported what really amounted to a violent coup in 2014. If Russia did that, say, in the US’ backyard, you can guess what would happen. Except you don’t have to because the exact same thing did happen in 1961 in Cuba.

            For a historical blog comment section, I would really expect that people would not think in childish good vs evil, but rather recognize that most conflicts boil down to different shades of bad. In this case, greedy vs evil.

          2. Drauger,

            I can’t speak to the situation in an unidentified country, but putting aside the question of what happened in 2014 (suffice to say, I disagree with your interpretation of events) I’ll point out there was, in fact, a subsequent election with no suggestion of corruption occurred and power transferred peacefully.

            It was that elected administration which Russia is attempting to remove, not anything that came about due to what happened in 2014.

          3. @Draugdur

            Whatever you think of the legitimacy of the 2014 Maidan uprising it clearly wasn’t a coup by a small group of elites, so it doesn’t really fit your model of the West winning over the leadership at the expense of the common people. And as ECD points out Ukraine has held free and fair elections since then.

          4. “the west supported what really amounted to a violent coup in 2014”

            Which was immediately preceded by police and special forces using live ammunition including sniper rifles on protesters, killing about a hundred of them :


            Or are you willing to believe the pro-Putin version of the events that it was somehow CIA operatives that did this or some of the protesters themselves (?!) AND that *nobody* leaked anything yet that could prove that kind of odious operation ?! (in a Wikileaks and post-Snowden world no less !)

          5. @ECD and Paul Goodman: well, there’s corruption, and then there are various forms of voter suppression. If your preferred candidate gets ousted and people that support him get burned to death, you may think twice about voting for him or his party (or at all). Referring mainly to the election in 2014. I honestly can’t tell about 2019, seems to me too that Zelenskiy was/is genuinely popular. But my argument was not about the legitimacy of the subsequent elections anyway, it was specifically about the claim that the West was winning influence by “convincing other countries that allying with it would make them freer, more prosperous”. While this is of course one of the ways that happens – although I do note you did not say anything on this being true (and also carefully avoiding “happier” – it’s not the only way, and the West also uses less savory means quite often. Including outright marching in and overthrowing the government.

            @Peak Singularity: no, I was not referring to the conspiracy theory that the snipers were undercover CIA agents, I was referring to the fact that the protesters used violent action before or at the latest concurrently with the police, which you conveniently ignore. I guess the few people getting burned to death are a small price to pay for “freedom”, eh? Especially if they happen to like Russia.

          6. Draugdur, if you’re talking about the Odessa Trade Unions House fire, then I don’t see the (direct) relevance to the coup, that happened 3 months later !
            And while *those* ~40 deaths are bad too, at least the fighters seem to have been more evenly matched in terms of weapons, and those who set the building on fire were NOT law enforcement !
            (And there’s even some chance that it was the fighters holed up in the building themselves that did it, not intentionally.)

        2. > Why is nibbling away at American/British/French influence a bad thing?

          I would not assume that it a bad thing, specific would depend on situation

          “giving weapons so I can defend against invading Russia” is a good thing, “torturing people like in Abu Ghraib” is a bad things.

          Though in this cases their influence ranges from very good to terrible and depends on situation, in case of Russian government it is overwhelmingly bad/terrible,

          1. That is assuming that there is an absolute definition of good versus bad.

            As Mel Brooks said, if I fall down an open manhole it is a tragedy, if you fall down an open manhole it is comedy.

        3. It’s a bad thing because it results in the levelling of cities by artillery, the bombardment of maternity wards, the brutal slaughter of children, the killing of innocent civilians, the creation of orphans, the dislocation of millions of people, and all the other acts of evil committed by Russian forces.

          If Russia nibbled away at that influence by successfully suborning Ukrainian democracy and bribing its oligarch class or whatever it’d still be sort of bad, but it’d be part of the way the world turns. But this active war – on a flimsy pretext, with all the atrocities committed – is what makes it evil – or as you say “a bad thing.”

          1. But surely, the conclusion here is that the people who chose to level cities with artillery and then make excuses for it, when no one was actually forcing them to do so, were in the wrong.

            Mankind rationalizes its actions. “I was forced to invade a country that had offered me no provocation other than existing independent of my rule” is a rationalization. Why try to dignify and promote it?

        4. @AshleyRPollard. Nibbling is not a problem, but do you really all what Putin is doing in the Ukraine “nibbling”?

          1. Yeah, like from the post two weeks ago, “salami slicing” went straight out of the window at this point !

    5. With regards to those passionate comments on the relative merits of Ukraine and Russia, I tend to agree with the Russian perspective,

      Wow. Just… putting it out there that you agree with the perspective that Russia should be able to whip the tar out of Ukraine and murder and pillage their way across the country if Ukraine refuses to place itself within its sphere of influence.

      The reason for the former is that the West has been nibbling away at Russian influence and would love to see Russia fall.

      Fall from what to what, precisely?

      I mean, yes, the West has clearly been nibbling away at Russian influence. I guess my response to that is “should this influence be nibbled away at?” Because it sure as hell seems like it should be, especially in Ukraine, which Russia has been kicking around for the past eight years.

      The trouble with playing ‘The Great Game’ is the unintended consequences, which has meant that the average Ukrainian is going to pay for Western perfidy.

      What specific Western perfidy is the average Ukrainian paying for, precisely? Like what has the West done that has imposed some kind of suffering on them?

        1. Let’s roll this back, what actual thing has ‘the west’ done to poke the bear since, say 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimea?

          1. Go away and do a Google search. I’m not here to do your research for you. Or, more importantly, engage in a useless debate with someone I don’t know whose only motive is to prove that they are right.

          2. Confrontational much?

            I’ve answered as best I can the points raised, but clearly my use of the words “tend to” etc riled up people good an proper.

            If I were Putin, and if I were about to lose my only ice free winter port, and if a country I subjugated was fleeing my control, and if I wanted to keep said subjugated country out of NATOs jurisdiction, then I could see how Putin would feel justified in invading the Ukraine.

            I absolutely, categorically disagree that this was the right thing to do. But Putin’s a dick, and what can I do?

            Russia has nukes. That means the stakes are high, and I, like every one else in the world, fears the worse, feels helpless.

            Mt cavalier use of language is because I think that shouting at the crazy shit that is frightening the world is not productive.

          3. If you don’t wish to engage, that’s certainly your right. I would however, politely request that you not attempt to engage in mind reading and then criticize me for motives you have imputed to me.

        2. Except their is an intermediate aspect their in your cause and effect. The part were an unnamed third party launches an unprovoked war on Ukraine murdering thousands.

          You’re claim, explicitly, is that “the West” is responsible for Russian action. As if the Russian people, their state, or their leaders have no agency.

          Clearly the Pacific War was America’s fault, they had an embargo.

          Clearly the French and British are responsible for the horrors of this war, they, didn’t respect the understandable concerns for a corridor to East Prussia.

          1. Not explicitly in the sense that I think you may be suggesting, only that countries leaderships look to maximize their influence while minimizing the influence of other countries that they are in competition with.

            For Japan, back then it got its knickers in a twist over its goals and how to achieve them. American leadership thought wrongly that an embargo would send a heavy hint to stop the Japanese, but leaders are people, and people are emotional, and wham bang thank you ma’am, Japan lashes out.

            Now I don’t pretend that I have any answers as to how to sort that issue out, but I can observe that this was an ideal learning opportunity.

            My main issue with the debate here and on social media is the emotional lashing out on all sides. It’s like listening to children blaming each other; he hit me first Miss.

            And as for the French and British responsibilities; both countries have been dicks.

          2. I have to ask, do you believe the objectives of the Nation state to be beyond some sort of moral judgement?

            Is it equally valid for the US to attempt to end the Sino-Japanesse war by economic means as it is for Japan to continue it’s aggression against China by attacking Pearl Harbor and launching the larger Pacific War?

            Is it equally reasonable for Ukraine to peacefully seek non-Russian alliances as it is for Russia to interfere violently the Ukrianian state up to and including a general invasion killing tens of thousands a month?

            Because your ‘non judgement’ only makes sense if these positions are on their face potentially equivalent.

        3. Poking the Bear has led to Ukrainians dying. That is a bad thing. Cause and effect.

          The bear has agency. In what way was it poked that justifies its response?

          1. How far do you want to go back?

            Russians (all people’s) have pride. Pride before the fall, and Russia is going to fall for its pride.

        4. Are you claiming that endless appeasement and following all Russian demands would result in lower suffering in Ukraine? And in general in Europe?

          1. Given that you discard appeasement as solution and considers current strategy as bad – what you would propose to actually do?

            Ignore problem and hope it will go away on its own?

        5. “A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, ‘Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!'”

          -Abraham Lincoln

          1. People, leaders etc are irrational and emotional. We think we’re smart, but we are not as smart as we think we are.

            Fortunately (sarcasm), there’s more than enough stupidity for every one to have plenty enough to make fools of themselves and others.

          2. https://xkcd.com/774/

            Leader A invades a country. Leader B fights back. Leader C helps Leader B.

            But the important thing is that we’ve found a way to feel superior to all of them by pointing out how irrational and emotional their answers are?

        6. So you’re going to blame every Ukrainian death on the West despite it entirely being up to Russia to indiscriminately start shelling and bombing Ukrainian cities over some perceived slight to Russia’s “imperial” territorial claims.

    6. Things that can be true at the same time:
      1. Russia feels threatened by the prospect of NATO on its border, and its desire to not have NATO, an alliance founded to fight Russia, on its border is not illegitimate.
      2. The West has not always been fair in its dealings with Russia, and its handling of the Ukraine situation has been reckless and feckless.
      3. The situation described in (1) came about not as a result of Western “perfidy,” but as a result of the not illegitimate desire of the Baltic States and Eastern Europe to not be dominated by Russia again, and to avoid the fate of Moldova. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transnistria.
      4. Western influence and Russian domination are very different. Note that Poland and Hungary, both EU members, feel free to make policies that Brussels does not like, while CIS states do not ever go against Moscow.
      5. “We’re going to invade you in order to keep you from getting into a position where we can’t invade you” is a completely illegitimate reason to start a war against a smaller, weaker country, and Putin has just demonstrated to everyone that joining NATO is actually a Very Good Idea, because that way you don’t get invaded whenever your friendly next-door dictator decides you’re getting too independent.

      1. +1, I would just add

        1b “Small countries near to Russia feel threatened by Russia, and their desire to join NATO or preserve independence in other ways is not illegitimate”

        2b Russia rarely was fair, and its handling of the Ukraine situation has been reckless and feckless. And murderous. And involved massive amount of blatant lies (se various Lavrov quotes)

      2. At last, someone who gets it. My use of perfidy, was an allusion to my country and its relationship to Europe. We’re stupid and dicks. Sorry, I can’t do anything bout it. I’m a little person who stands on the losing side of Brexit.

        But, it’s not just about Europe, Russia, this conflict is about nation states projection of power.

        Invasions are often done for reasons that are not ‘legitimate.’ Iraq might be one such example, occupying Afghanistan for 20 years another.

        I’m not arguing that invasions are legitimate, legal, justified, or moral. I’m only saying that if I put myself in Putin’s shoes (eeuw) I can see why he felt he had to do this, even if I think it was the wrong thing to do.

        Change is difficult for everybody to except. Change in power for leaderships of has been countries even more so.

        PS: Britain is a has been country, but please don’t tell anyone I said so. 😉

      3. “Russia feels threatened by the prospect of NATO on its border, and its desire to not have NATO, an alliance founded to fight Russia, on its border is not illegitimate.”

        Please can you explain why Ukraine is not at all worried or threatened by having NATO on its borders, as NATO is, in fact, an alliance founded to fight Ukraine?

        1. I mean, if you buy into the weird notion that the Ukrainian SSR was actually an independent country, I suppose that what you’re saying could make sense, but everybody knew good and well that in the late ’40s it was Moscow giving the orders.

    7. This war isn’t about the “Great Game” or the “West vs. Russia” and the only people who are framing it that way are those making excuses for Putin. It is fundamentally about the right of the Ukrainian people to decide for themselves who runs their country. Putin does not respect that right. He cannot accept it without having to explain why (lowly) Ukraine can have a free government but (mighty) Russia has to live with a dictator.

      This is one of many political reasons why he chose to go to war. It also explains why the people in Ukraine are willing to fight back while government in Afghanistan (for example) didn’t last two weeks without the U.S. backing them up.

      1. I’ll repeat, I’m not making excuses for Putin. Any such reading of my comments is down to assumptions and cognitive bias within the reader.

        I’m clearly a poor writer who can’t seem to communicate clearly my thought, but at least I know I’m unable to clearly communicate my thoughts.

        1. What you are ultimately saying is as a empathetic human you can imagine why Putin is invading Ukraine. That is a much simpler statement than your initial comments on which you have back tracked. I think you are confusing people with now explaining the obvious, because the rest of us also have enough imagination to see why Putin is invading Ukraine.

          The same way i understand why someone might borrow money with no intention of paying back, or drink drive or scam an elderly widow out of her life savings. Where you tripped up is implying being able to understand someones mindset somehoe justifies that persons horrible behaviour.
          Multiple backpedalling plus a sort of emotional fallacy in your reasoning has confused people.

          1. Yeah, you’re right. I should’ve said it that other way. Unfortunately I wasn’t as clever as you, so I stuffed it up. Not back tracking, just explaining.

            What I meant to imply versus what the readers inferred is just part of the difficulties of communication that creates conflict.

  5. It was back during Desert Shield that Young Me realized that the news media doesn’t know jack about military stuff. I wasn’t totally naive. I already had a list of such topics. And it was Older Me who realized that domestic politics holds a place of honor on that list, while Young Me thought that surely that was something they were good at. (So what are they good at? Sports scores, mostly. Not analysis, of course. But they are very good about sports factual data.) In the case of Desert Storm, it was the repeated footage of a wide array of military vehicles invariably called “tanks.” For a while I thought that anything with a turret would be called a tank, but upon closer scrutiny the turret proved unnecessary.

    This is a roundabout way of saying that one undiluted good to come from the rise of the internet is that it allows direct outlets for people who know what they are talking about. This forces us, the readers, to actively work at discerning these from the BSers, but the old gatekeepers were pretty bad at this too, so I would rather do it myself. I hadn’t been paying close attention to military affairs in recent years, so with the outbreak of the Russo-Ukraine War I have been scrambling to catch up. Thank you for helping out.

    1. >> This is a roundabout way of saying that one undiluted good to come from the rise of the internet is that it allows direct outlets for people who know what they are talking about.

      Well, I wouldn’t say it’s an undiluted good, because it’s fairly heavily diluted by also allowing direct outlets for people who kniow even less than the commentators in the age of gatekeeping, and there are a lot of them than there are people who do know what they’re talking about. So sorting the useful from the drivel is just as hard as it ever was.

      1. Yeah, and sadly we’ve also seen the ideals of the World Wide Web diluted by the rise of platforms. Twitter being a prime example of what is wrong about it, as it combines at least 4 bad characteristics :
        1.) It’s closed (see in particular how it closed its public programming interface a few months before its public offering).
        2.) It’s centralized.
        3.) It’s USA-based (post Patriot Act and Snowden).
        4.) Its format is even more toxic than is usual for social media. It pains me that our host would stoop so low as to use it ! It has been made slightly better by the recent doubling to 280 characters per tweet, but at the cost of breaking compatibility with SMS (which I guess had already been mostly broken with the public API closure in 2014 ?), which is at least something that Twitter was good at – see the 2009-2013 “Twitter revolutions”. (Arguably Twitter has a legitimate use for artists, especially those specializing in parody.)

  6. Not super-relevant, but one minor point I would add is that the earlier incarnations of the Geneva Conventions (starting in 1864, with the most recent pre-WW2 one being in 1929) were solely concerned with activities that belligerents took towards prisoners of war or other belligerent soldiers in their power. The Hague Conventions were the ones that were broader in scope, and covered things like when and how it was appropriate to bombard a city, and what steps attackers had to use to minimize civilian damage.

    For reasons I do not understand, the Geneva Conventions were expanded in 1949 to include laws of war pursuant to all military interactions, while the Hague Conventions just kind of got swallowed up. I understand the need to update the laws of war post WW2, but does anyone know why it was the Geneva Conventions that got expanded rather than the Hague Conventions?

    1. If I understand it right, the 4 Geneva conventions and 2 the Hague conventions are all named after *where* they happened. Thus the 4th Geneva convention (the one we still think of, the 1949 one), is one that happened in Geneva, Zwitserland. I think that makes sense compared to the Hague since Zwitserland was neutral in WWII and the cold war so it was a better “neutral party” to host it than the Netherlands which was rebuilding.

        1. Although, as an anglophone who is encountering this spelling for the first time today, Zwitzerland is way cooler looking.

          Even if the Russians have temporarily soured me on the otherwise-noble letter Z.

    2. The Hague Conventions were at that point considered “customary international law” and thus non-binding on signatories. Expanded protections, however, would have to go through the ratification process.

      1. How does being customary mean it’s nonbinding on signatories? If anything I’d expect “customary international law” to mean binding on nonsignatories at least according to signatories

        1. “Customary international law” is that which is expected all nation-states, by virtue of being nation-states recognizable and thus recognized by other nation-states, will do. Ie, exchange embassies, proceed to treaty relations, accept and send trade delegations and then trade, hold the other nation-states’ laws in respect and expect their own laws to be respected as well. Thus it is expected that non-signatories to any such treaty covering customary international law will be bound by its provisions as a part of ordinary existence as a nation-state.

          Treaty law tends to be that which is established by treaty – thus we have the Antarctic Treaty regime, the Outer Space Treaty regime, the Nuclear Weapons Nonproliferation regime, etc, all of which establish regimes of international law which are based on the treaties and not on prior habit – if not for the Antarctic Treaty regime, I expect Antarctica would’ve seen more than a few wars over access to the minerals under the ice cap …

          Just my 0.02c worth

          1. Antarctica doesn’t have anything worth fighting over. If mining companies thought it would be profitable to mine their, they would get their governments to amend the treaty.

            I figure Antarctica’s mineral wealth would be worth plenty if it were in a better location, but it’s not.

  7. Hey Dr Bret, I thought your definitions were pretty much spot on for an academic (no offence intended; I was seriously impressed). I read the combined arms section with interest and was disappointed not to see a reference to General Sir John Monash.
    It took me a while but I’m now up to date. Thank you so very much for this awesome instructive platform.

    1. I’ll note that he includes direct fire as part of maneuver, but does not bother to put a definition of maneuver in his list, which obviously means more than just movement in this case.

  8. On the “Mission Command” stuff, how specific do the objectives tend to be? Is it just stuff like “take that neighborhood” or the like?

    Interesting stuff. Reminds me of your earlier argument about how dictatorships tend to struggle with Modern Warfare, because they don’t necessarily trust their lower-level commanders with enough autonomy to be good at it.

    1. A proper mission command includes both a “what” and a “why”. For example, “block any enemy traffic through that intersection” and “in order to protect the supply point to the north”.

      The commander given the mission then has latitude to figure out the “how” – whether to set up the roadblock at the intersection itself, or block each path leading to it except for the road going north, or lay a minefield in the roads and position to fire on anyone clearing the minefield, or any of several other approaches.

      The commander also has the latitude to adjust the “what” to suit the “why” if the situation changes. For example, our roadblock commander might allow enemy traffic to pass through his area with only minor harassment as long as it’s heading south, or even observe enemy traffic entering the road north of the intersection and abandon his ambush to stop them.

    2. Depends on the army, and the level, and the larger framework. Getting this right is part of the art of being an officer.

      A company officer who is part of a brigade-level advance to contact may only get a corridor as their company’s AO, and told to advance until hitting phase line Alpha, then report this to higher and push forward some more. No further than that phase line Delta, though, so they don’t run away from their supply line.
      Identified enemy units are to be engaged and destroyed. Surrendering enemy units are to be disarmed, any vehicles destroyed and reported to higher, so they can be picked up by follow-on forces (this is more RoE than mission orders, though).

      Platoon orders are likely to be more specific, since the platoons are to advance as a coherent whole. Assuming three platoons of tanks, the centre may advance in line, with left and right platoons echeloned, so that the company as a whole resembled an inverted V with the point cut off.

      As a rule, mission orders get less specific the higher you go.

      1. This is why chain of command is so important. Each level breaks down the orders to more concrete actions.

    1. This is quite the staggering hypocrisy : criticizing Kyiv Independent’s propaganda, while at the same time trying to push their own about how supposedly it was the [West] that organized the Maidan massacre that directly caused the coup, without any concrete evidence 8 years later ; and also while minimizing Russian actions since before even 2014 ?

      Also I’m wondering about he use of “liberal” here – “liberal interventionism” is quite a contradiction, isn’t it ? Not to mention that CIA-backed coups have tended to result in quite anti-liberal regimes ! But maybe they take this meaning from the Reagan era, whose presidency in the USA was a 180° change towards extremely liberal domestic policies *at home* but also an increase of foreign interventionism ?

  9. A fantastic glossary of terms for those of us without a deep grounding in military theory. And I’m excited to see the video game on the docket for next week!

  10. > to protract a war is to prolong it, typically in the hopes that a victory can be achieved in a ‘slow’ war that could not be achieved in a long one

    Presumably you mean “that could not be achieved in a short one” (or “fast one”). Unless you’re making a distinction between “slow” and “long” that isn’t clear to me even from reading your piece on protracted war.

  11. On thing that jumped out in your definition of Political Object, “As Clausewitz notes (drink!) the role of political leadership in war is to tailor the methods and means employed to obtaining the political object they have set (see Strategy).”

    As seen in the invasion of Ukraine there’s a second important role political leadership plays, which is to negotiate with non-parties to the hostilities (other nations) for support. Not that this is a new thing in any way; back in WWI the Allies and Central Powers were in a bidding war to gain the support of various nations. I’d be interested to know how this sort of work, which can very directly feed into the war itself (see all the supplies flowing into Ukraine) is understood in a military theory sense. When do you change your military strategy and operations based on actual or anticipated diplomatic results and how is it talked about in the grand theory of war? It seems like this sort of work uses Information Warfare as a tool, but then the politicians actually have to cut deals and get commitments.

    1. Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction, has an very instructive running discussion of how Hitler took heavily into account the likelihood that Britain and France – if he attacked them – would receive material support from the U.S.A. (the world’s largest economy already then) while it was a noncombatant.
      The 1937 U.S. Neutrality Act was hailed as a godsend in Berlin.

    2. Political Object is a good way to judge the success or failure of any given military undertaking. If, like the Vietnam and second Iraq War, the stated Political Object keeps changing, you can be sure that said war is a failure. If on the other hand, the Political Object remains the same, you know that it is likely it will succeed, eg, the Allied objectives in the European/Mediterranean and Pacific theatres of the Second World War. An example of the Political Object changing midstream is of course the Third Reich’s assault on Britain aka the Battle of Britain, which tailed off after inflicting severe but not overwhelming ie fatal damage to the RAF defense, switched objectives to destroying London’s morale, then ceased when Hitler decided to turn on the Soviet Union, leaving a large and undefeated enemy on his Western flank.

  12. While it may be true the Fourth Geneva Convention was even stricter than the norms that existed prior to WWII, I think you make it sound more novel than it actually was. For example, in 1938 Neville Chamberlain said in parliament that:

    “In the first place, it is against international law to bomb civilians as such and to make deliberate attacks upon civilian populations. That is undoubtedly a violation of international law. In the second place, targets which are aimed at from the air must be legitimate military objectives and must be capable of identification. In the third place, reasonable care must be taken in attacking those military objectives so that by carelessness a civilian population in the neighbourhood is not bombed.”

    (Source: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1938/jun/21/foreign-office#S5CV0337P0_19380621_HOC_328)

    Throughout the war, both the British and Americans tended to publicly insist that their bombing campaigns were not aimed at civilians but at legitimate military targets. Privately, the British talked about deliberately terrorizing civilians in hopes of breaking German morale, but from what I’ve read the American leadership may actually have believed what they were saying about legitimate military objectives. It’s not clear to me that the strategic bombing of Japan would have been illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention—or at least, it’s not clear than it was any *more* illegal than say Operation Rolling Thunder, which admittedly some people view as criminal.

    1. “Throughout the war, both the British and Americans tended to publicly insist that their bombing campaigns were not aimed at civilians but at legitimate military targets. ”

      Just how meaningful was that distinction when only half your bombs could be expected to land within five miles of the aim point?

      1. Arguably not very meaningful! But that issue didn’t suddenly disappear with the Fourth Geneva Convention. Which is why I think it’s important not to overstate its significance, and why I mentioned Operation Rolling Thunder as a point of comparison.

      2. A bit.

        This gets into the “collateral damage” bit. If your bombs land within five miles of the aim point, you put the aim point on the center of a legitimate military target and civilians within five miles are out of luck. You’re supposed to limit collateral damage as much as possible while achieving your military aims, but the laws of war bow to the reality that nations will use the most effective weapons at their disposal.

        1. It is a little difficult to argue with a straight face that Dresden and Hamburg, or Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were “collateral damage” to attacks on military targets. Not that I have ever been particular enamored of this particular rule of international law: why is it admirable to kill 18-year-old conscripts but not the 50-year-old civilians who draft, equip, and dispatch them?

          1. It’s not, people working directly in military-adjacent industries (with certain excetpions, like medical workers) are valid military targets. There’s a certain level of difference here (someone making guns is a fair target, if they’re making shoes it might start getting into questions of “How much of the shoe production goes to the army vs. civilian useage?”

      3. I take it for granted that if you have run a sales campaign on the accuracy of your weaponry, and it turns out that at least 50% of those precision-guided munitions have fallen not the military target but on civilians, you have openly confessed to targeting civilians. And have thus committing the war crime of targeting civilians. That the US High Command in both Gulf Wars seem not to agree doesn’t alter that – if they are genuine high-precision guided weapons and they hit civilian targets while aimed by soldiers who are themselves not under immediate threat – which would provide the mitigating circumstance of the “fog of war” – those soldiers have committed murder.

        1. That’s where it actually gets a bit more… Squidgely. (and I think “intentionally targeting civilians” is a bit wrong)

          They kewyords tends to be stuff like “proportionality” and such. (and compounded by the fact that intentionally trying to use civilians as a shield for military objectives is *also* a war crime, note that this does not negate the attacker’s responsiiblity either: It’s possible for one side to try to hide among civilians and thus be using them as human shields while the attacker is recklessly attacking them with no regard for the human shields nad for both to be war criminials)

          The distinction between intentional targeting of civilians and mere “collateral damage” isn’t quite as robust either: You *can* to some extent “legitmitely” intentionally cause civilian casualties (“The enemy has their artillery holed up in a residential area, we can be pretty sure if we blow it up we will kill some number of civilians, so attacking it will be intentional in the broader sense, but it’s still okay to do so since it’s a valid military target”) so longa s they are in proportion to the valid military objective (and that is, largely, a judgement call) you’re supposed to try to limit civilian casualties *as far as possible* (and failing to do so is a war-crime) but it’s a bit looser than “No intentional killing of civilians”

          I do note that urban combat *by it’s very nature* is probably going to involve civilian casualties. And so to some extent chosing to defend a city means *knowingly* putting them in harm’s way; For military reasons it is rarely done but technically if you *really* want to avoid civilian casualties the proper course is to abondon the city and go fight somwehre else. (which did happen a few times in WWII for specific cases, Rome and Paris most famously)

          1. Choosing to not attack a city is even quicker.

            After all, the civilians may decide that fighting is the better option, given they know the attacker would endanger their lives.

          2. Well, if you don’t go to war you don’t kill any civilians at all. But if you do go to war and the enemy stations forces in a city you either have to attack the city, starve it out (which is not great for the civilians either) or negotiate a surrender or peace settlement.

            However, even when you’re attacking a city firing shells at areas you know don’t have enemy forces in them is still a war crime. And the US attempts to use more precise and guided weapons to minimize collateral damage, but they sometimes go astray, they can have large blast radii and fling deadly shrapenal long distances, and are subject to target misidentification; in one incident soldiers called for an airstrike on a white building and the fighter pilots targeted a different white building, which was a hospital.

            Ultimately the laws of war are a construct of nations that expect to fight wars and will only agree to a limited set of restrictions. Civilian casualties are inevitable in war and that must be considered when deciding to start one.

          3. Mary: Theoretically possible of course, but that means the enemy is de-facto in an invulnerable position (since you’re not attacking them, and they can still attack you from the city)

            You can try to bypass or ignore their position or deal with it indirectly of course, but that’s not always possible.

          4. Nice double standard there. If you tell the defenders not to defend on the grounds of civilians, the attackers are effectively in an invulnerable position.

          5. Theoretically the defenders are supposed to meet the attackers in the open field and the attackers are supposed to fight them there and not damage the city. In practice cities are excellent defensive positions so defenders usually use them and attackers attack them. Sometimes with more restraint than they’d show in the open field but still using aircraft and artillery, sometimes aiming a guided missile at hospitals not being used as fighting positions on purpose.

            Ultimately, wars involve a lot of sufferring and death, and the laws of war only constrain it to a limited extent. If that’s morally unacceptable then the war itself is morally unacceptable and shouldn’t be waged.

          6. “civilian casualties the proper course is to abondon the city and go fight somwehre else”

            I would like to raise the possibility of issuing a formal declaration of war (or equivalent*) sufficiently before beginning of the hostilities so that defender has time to evacuate the civilian population at risk. If the defender won’t do that, it is a clear failure on their part to protect their population.

            * Conditional declaration of war, for example ultimatum pending on the result of negotiations, could also work.

    2. “Privately, the British talked about deliberately terrorizing civilians in hopes of breaking German morale, but from what I’ve read the American leadership may actually have believed what they were saying about legitimate military objectives.”
      Uh, how does this fit with the firebombing that AFAIK razed Tokyo (and other Japanese cities ?) – IIRC that did way more damage than Hiroshima + Nagasaki ?

      1. It was late in the war, the Japanese had committed much worse war crimes than the Germans (not the Holocaust, but their treatment of enemy civilians and POWs generally), and there is generally less humanity displayed to members of alien ethnic groups. Those are probably the main reasons why the Japanese cities were treated more brutally than the German ones. Also, to be fair, Berlin with its wide boulevards was immune to firestorm, or it might have suffered as badly as Tokyo.

        1. When it comes to the great crimes of state, ‘better’ or ‘worse’ is pretty much a numbers game. By that metric – and by their stated intentions and actions, hard to say that Japan – brutal as its troops were – was worse than Nazi Germany. The city-bombing efforts against both were much the same, but Japanese cities were denser and more fire-prone. Not just Hamburg and Desden, but just about every German city of any size saw its centre destroyed.

          1. Were they “pretty much the same” ? Weren’t incendiary bombs specifically used against Japan because of their buildings being mostly made of wood ?

          2. Incendiary bombs were also used in Dresden and Hamburg. First you drop explosives to create kindling, then incendiary bombs which will, if conditions, create a firestorm.

        2. Levels of tonnage and bomb types dropped on cities were not hit differently. The main reason Japanese cities were blasted worse than German ones had little to do with differing levels of brutality and a lot to do with greater reliance on wooden construction in Japan, as well as generally less effective flak and damage repair systems.

      2. Also, Japanese war production was a bit more scattered about their cities than German war production was, so there was something of a fig leaf there.

  13. It would be nice if the media could get the hardware terms correct at least occasionally. Every armored vehicle is called a tank. In one video I saw a self propelled howitzer called a tank.

    I have heard that we are getting lots of data on the use of shoulder fired weapons.

  14. Your mention of Command & Conquer made me realize that’d be a really fun series to see you analyze on your blog. They start out with modern (1990s) wars with some sci-fi elements, then become increasingly over-the-top throughout the series. There’s asymmetrical warfare, resource conflicts, differing combat doctrines, all sorts of reasonable things to analyze (whether or not they’re realistically realized). But also the fun stuff of whether they’re making appropriate use of all those orbital laser cannons and mind control rays.

    1. The key lesson to learn is that when you have a very powerful defensive system, such as a massive array of orbital death lasers with additional interceptors for antisatellite weapons, you should ideally place as much of its critical support systems behind it.

      1. You know how it is, with the shift in focus from defense to ecology there just wasn’t money in the budget for another orbital platform. Besides it’s not like the Brotherhood of Nod is suddenly going to come back and start another war… again.

    2. Sadly as products of the 90s and 00s the C&C games were sadly part of the media environment that manufactured consent for the quagmires in the middle east. RA2’s expansion had the Iraqi desolators that sprayed radiation. And the Generals series pushed the WMD angle in the lead-up and wake of the 2nd Iraq invasion.

      1. C&C Generals is I think one of the most *interesting* period documents of a particular time. Not just the jingoism and the specific beats, but also an RTS in the tail end of that genre´s heyday. I’d really like some to write a long form analysis of… Everything… That went into that game.

        1. I’m not sure that C&C Generals is actually that jingoistic, especially when you consider the fact that in the sequel/expansion pack, Zero Hour, the US gets its tail kicked by the GLA, and the Chinese end up defeating the GLA and becoming the global hegemon.

          1. Now this is hearsay, but I was told that the Devs for C&C generals contacted the Chinese military to ask if they could use their stuff in the game and were met with suspicion. So while the US faction has actual F-22’s and Patriot missions, the Chinese faction is based more on Red China memes than actual RL military.

            Which is hilarious, because China is arguably the most powerful faction mechanically.

            humor aside, I would point out that Generals is functionally an entirely different franchise under the same brand, as it shared neither narrative nor game engine with the OG C&C games. As such, an analysis of C&C is perfectly fine to ignore generals entirely.

          2. Satori, at least it seems to have been developed by the same people as Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, under Burst Studios => Westwood Pacific => Electronic Arts Pacific ?

  15. Just wanted to mention something real quick: In western (typically US) doctrine, fires enables maneuvers, however Russian doctrine typically dictates that maneuver elements should enable fires. A seemingly small difference, but one that can make a rather critical difference in how forces plan and maneuver

  16. “especially since the public perception of the idea is rooted in (mis)perceptions about American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

    I’d be interested to hear you expand on this at some point in time.

  17. In popular culture, “Strategy” means “A plan I want you to think is smart”. The word “tactic” is not used, because “everyone knows” strategy is better than tactics, so if you say you have a tactic you admit your inferiority. If I could put it into snarkier, wittier words, I would add an entry on nonsensopedia or urbandictionary.

    1. For me as a lawyer, strategy are the big decisions: Whom to sue for what. Where to sue. When to sue.
      Tactic is how I behave in negotiations or in the courtroom.

    2. Certainly in the corporate world you’re absolutely right. Most strategy documents I’ve come across have been tactical in nature. I think it’s leading to general perception that strategy is a bit ‘woolly’ and worthless, when really it’s stuff that’s been written with a poor grasp of what ‘strategy’ is.

      1. I’ve heard the Civilization games described as “turn-based strategy” games, and in those, you very much can decide whether or not to have a war (well, unless a rival attacks you). In which case the shoe would fit.

        But then, Starcraft is also described as “real-time strategy,” and there’s no way to not be at war there, yes.

        1. Starcraft makes you spend so much effort producing and organizing units, compared to fighting with them, that it’s closer to “real-time operations”.

          1. Production (~operations) being called in Starcraft slang “macro(management)” and fighting (~tactics) – “micro(management)”.

            Technically the default Melee mode allows for strategy via on the fly alliances
            (which enforce that units from different forced don’t start to automatically engage and fire on each other – alliance without that feature are still *technically* possible in “Free For All” games too, which don’t allow that – but you can still decide to gang up on another player from different directions, for instance)
            – as well as giving resources, but Starcraft (like most RTS) is such a fast-paced game
            (1vs1 matches that aren’t artificially extended are often around half an hour, and it’s rare for matches involving enough players for serious diplomacy to last hours)
            – that there’s hardly any time left for diplomacy…

      2. Interesting. Does this definition mean that there is no strategy in “Lord of the Rings” or games based thereon? (I am old enough to have board games based on that book, though not computer games.) Would it count as strategy if the player could decide to use the Ring to establish himself as a great warlord and fight Sauron on that basis? (Not sure if any games allow that choice.)

        1. The Shadow of Mordor games basically do that with Talion dominating the orcs and forging the Two Ring to wield against Sauron, plus the Bright Lord DLC has Celebrimbor(the games take extreme liberties) do it but ultimately fail because the One Ring is loyal to its master and falls off his finger and onto Sauron’s at a critical moment.

        2. I think the War of the Ring tabletop game has stuff that counts as strategy. There’s a mechanic where the nations don’t start out “at war” with Mordor, and aren’t allowed to leave their borders until they get invaded or events draw them into the war.

        3. In Lord of the Rings itself, there is a good deal of strategy, because the forces opposed to Mordor are part of a complicated coalition that has to make a lot of decisions about how much to trust each other, and how much to do to influence the outcome and in what manner. Sauron’s unrelenting aggression and will to dominate means that “don’t have a war at all” isn’t really on the table as a good choice, sure. But plenty of factions within the setting are effectively making that choice anyway (e.g. the Ents), or other important strategic choices about how to balance “commit their own forces” questions (e.g. Theoden’s ride).

      3. Eh, I wouldn’t quite say that (though there are distinctions here between strategy and grand strategy I guess) even if the victory condition is “set” there are still various ways of achieving these conditions that still fall under strategy rather than operations. A classical RTS has a set victory condition (usually “destroy all the enemy’s buildings”) but there are still strategies involved (such as going for a rush, or trying to pick some kind of speciifc timing where you have an advantage, or trying to play defensively and boom) that aren’t operational decisions per se.

        This is also relevant because a lot of military planners have to devise strategy under these sorts of conditions; Becuase they aren’tt he ones making the political calls. “Are we going to win defend europe from the Soviets with nukes or tanks” is a strategic-level decdision, even if the overal goal (“We are going to defend europe from the soviets” is already set by someone else.

        1. Yeah, I feel like there’s a space between super-high-level goals and operations that deserves its own name.

          Maybe a difference is that in games, the high-level goal of winning is a given, but in the real world, deciding which high-level goals are worth achieving and figuring out how we might achieve them are very much related.

          1. I think you’re talking about the distinction between Strategy and Grand Strategy. Classic RTS games don’t have any grand strategy, as the start, end and high-level objectives of the war are all predetermined. But they do have some regular strategy, in the sense of developing your own military capabilities (which happens a lot more locally that is realistic, but that’s OK). Arguably, high-level timing is strategy too (e.g. rush, boom, turtle) though specific timing attacks are probably operational decisions, rather than strategic ones.

            Some games, like Civilization and various Paradox Interactive games, do have grand strategy layers to their mechanics, with diplomacy, war goals, and peace treaties. So it’s not that games can’t let the player get involved at that level, it’s just not part of the traditional RTS formula.

            One reason I suspect that a lot of “war games” leave out the grand strategy side of things is that it’s not something that’s handled by the military in most modern nations. If you’re a General, you only get to advise your nation’s civilian political leaders on how to do grand strategy, you don’t get to do it yourself. So reining in the scope of the strategy makes it a little easier to imagine the player as one of the people involved in the campaign. With a few exceptions (like the Crusader Kings series) games that do have grand strategy mechanics tend have the player representing some abstract “spirit” of the nation, not any individual person that could plausibly exist in its government.

          2. BlckKnght, your impression might be warped by the games developed by Paradox Development Studio games recently getting fairly popular, who AFAIK exclusively used the “Grand Strategy” moniker to stand out.
            (Not to be confused with Paradox Interactive, the publisher, which publishes lots of games from *other* developers – including other strategy and 4X games !)
            4X games (and AFAIK, Total War games ?) have always featured a (more or less) strong strategy layer (and sometimes even some logistics !)

            One particularly impressive recent game would be Shadow Empire with its wargame/4X/”Crusader Kings”-like blend, where, among other things, you have to manage your leaders : various Directors in charge of your country, city Governors, Strategic and Operational HeadQuarters Commanders… all which have various likes and dislikes which might oppose *your* desired course in Psychology/Society/Politics Profiles, and join factions competing for power and Demands they ask of you.

            I wrote a more detailed review here :

    1. Don’t think that’s quite the case, since there are several levels of strategy and different levels of objectives.

      Eg. a country can have a broader strategy (what it is tryibng to do in general) and a narrower strategy (what it tries to achieve in a particular conflict) and those two can interact in complicated ways.

      Similarily, even in a relatively simple game like Starcraft there are a variety of possible strategies (eg. whether to “turtle” or going for a rush, trying to overhwelm your enemy quickly or try to destroy their reosurce gathering operations and such. While operational would be more “So I have decided to destroy the enemy resource gathering operations now wich of his bases do I attack and with what forces?” and tactical would be the actual micro-level carrying out of that.

      1. I think most arguments that these games are tactical rather than strategic are thinking bigger scale. In the campaign your series of battles is almost totally set for you. Whomever chose those battles may be engaging in strategy, but that isn’t the player. The player’s job is to win each battle.

        1. I suppose the single-player campaigns technically have a strategy layer then, since you do get a choice of what order to do the missions in and what units or upgrades to invest in. WoL also has a couple of mutually exclusive missions where you have to choose a side in a conflict.

          (I’m not sure I’ve ever played a mission-based wargame where “make peace” is a possible outcome, though. I wonder if it would be possible to make a game like that.)

      2. I think the context is the use of the term “strategy” in the military lexicon as opposed to general use. In the lexicon of games, Chess is widely called a strategy game despite also being a tactical level game in military parlance.

  18. I noticed similar behaviour on some other platforms. Broadly speaking people imply that there are some objectively existing motivations on the Russian side, and a rational actors should respect them because they exist even if those motivations are irrational.

    In that case it seems to demand from “the West” to respect the pride of the Russian side but not the pride of Ukrainian side, or even (gasp shock horror) respect for the “Western” pride from the Russian side.

    1. This is of course entirely unsurprising, and must seem very natural in a framework in which every country except Russia has no honor and no rights. Where even if Russia is wrong, you have to listen to them because they’re the country that really matters.

      So it’s a great sign that whoever is talking like this has completely internalized the Russian perspective. Either because they are Russian themselves, or because they are engaged in a misplaced veneration. Which often occurs when a person from some other grouping but have so much self-scorn for the grouping they live in that they ‘reason’ along the lines of “_____ cannot be right, the Russian perspective is the opposite of the _____ perspective, so the Russian perspective must be right.

    2. I do think that there is a potential realpolitical argument that you kinda need to “respect Russia’s framingof the thing” simply because Russia is a big country with nukes. And regardless of how illogical their position is or isn’t, that needs to be taken into account.

      1. The rest of the world is *much bigger* than Russia, and has nukes. Clearly Russia needs to respect the rest of the world’s framing of things.

        1. Yeah, that’s the counterargument. (and Russia’s well… spectacular failuret o actually achieve it’s goals quickly kind of justifies the actions at least for now) but I think the appeasement logic is well, *at least a logic*. That of course requires you to both not care about what actual Ukrainians want AND think that the cost of the western support is “too high” (be it in economic or political terms or whatever) which is a very niché position to hold.

        2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but, with the exception of the United States, doesn’t Russia have more nukes than the rest of the world combined? Given that, its geographical size is of little importance (except in making it harder to take out all of their strike capacity).

          But if Russia did not have nukes, I believe we’d be replaying the 90s, already in the middle of Operation Slavic Shield, and preparing for Operation Slavic Storm. The thing that keeps us from treating Vladimir Putin like Saddam Hussein, is the nukes.

    3. It depends whether the question you are answering is ‘How should we morally assess the actions taken by various countries?’ or ‘What should Western leaders do in this situation?’. In the latter case presumably they should take Russian motivations (if knowable) as a given, regardless of whether those motivations are ethical or rational or whatever, and make decisions based on that understanding.

  19. Footnote because I wanted to know more:

    Army Doctrine Publication ADP 3-0 Unified Land Operations provides an operational concept for and a description of the Army’s mission. It is also contains a description of the Six Warfighting Functions that should be engaged to accomplish the mission: mission command, movement and maneuver, fires, sustainment, protection, and intelligence.


    1. Thank you, as someone who never heard of these “Six Warfighting Functions” before, it was frustrating to not have a dedicated entry here which would have spelled out all six of them !

    2. … except you seem to have given the wrong link ?

      That one seems to be only about an “ADP 2-0”, which seems to concern itself exclusively with “Intelligence”, and doesn’t seem to contain that list nor description ?

      That would be this one, Chapter 5 ?

      (With a nice chart and everything !)


      (I like the lack of page numbers – those are a quite a trap for the digital documents, which might have the number of pages change by merely selecting a different font/zoom !)

      1. Apologies, I appear to have copied the wrong link; and not gone to the source direct. Thanks for the save.

  20. Just how 3rd system are the militaries fighting in Ukraine? In the past you’ve made a distinction between static system and modern system. To this admittedly under informed observer it looks like a mix of those two. And Russia’s saber rattling about chemical weapons, which are counter productive to a modern system army, reads like implicit acknowledgement that they aren’t executing the modern system effectively.

    1. My own largely uninformed opinion is that the Russian initial attacks TRIED to be modern system, lots of quick, deep strikes aimed at C3 centers to disorient and take out the Ukrainian command structure and bypass their defenses. It mostly didn’t work. The Ukrainians appear to have known what was coming and have largely countered these early fast moves.

      Lots of dead Russian airborne.

      The Russian ground forces are using conscripts and short service non-comms with poor communications. This really doesn’t allow modern system to work, Ukraine I’m not as sure of, but they’ve been getting US/NATO training and arms since 2014 or so, they should at least be trying to use the modern system.

      I wonder if what we’re seeing is that modern system vs. modern system is almost impossible to have, the side with the slower OODA cycle is almost immediately forced back into something that looks a lot like static system because TRYING modern system with a slower decision cycle is simply suicidal.

      1. >My own largely uninformed opinion is that the Russian initial attacks TRIED to be modern system, lots of quick, deep strikes aimed at C3 centers to disorient and take out the Ukrainian command structure and bypass their defenses. It mostly didn’t work. The Ukrainians appear to have known what was coming and have largely countered these early fast moves.

        Something that has gone under-remarked in the surface-level commentary on the war I’ve seen is that prior to the commencement of hostilities, Russian troops were massed most heavily in the south-east and in Crimea. These are also the areas where they have seen most success.

        It seems possible therefore that the capital strike on Kyiv – worth making in any event in the hope of capturing Zelenskyy or other key Ukrainian commanders – was at least partially a diversion, intending to draw Ukraine’s troops back to defend Kyiv while Russia secured the Azov coast and could then drive up to encircle any Ukrainian forces remaining in the Donbas. Since the divisions there are, as I understand it, Ukraine’s best troops, trapping and eliminating them would be a disaster for the continuing defence of the cities in the north and west.

        This is also an operational objective that remains on the cards. If that was really always plan A – with the more audacious attacks being just optimistic attempts to end the war more quickly – then the Ukrainian victories to date look rather more hollow.

        > I wonder if what we’re seeing is that modern system vs. modern system is almost impossible to have

        I seem to recall Bret referencing the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020 as an example of two modern systems clashing and of interest for that reason since it was one of the first examples of its happening. Perhaps worth noting that in that conflict the Russian-backed Armenians came off worse: to what extent that offers a preview of Russia’s travails in this war though I have no idea.

        1. I think it more likely Putin intended and expected to win on all three fronts; his internal purges of generals and high-level intelligence personnel are not a sign of someone who didn’t win the outside bet but still thinks things are going to plan. And while Russia is currently advancing on the other two fronts they’re still having a lot of problems.

          1. Come to think of it, I’ve been wondering if the northern front was a late add. It’s not going well, it seemingly had the most drastic supply troubles, and it was apparently scraped together from assorted units all over Russia while more elite units were deployed as full divisions on the other fronts. It seems a bit underplanned, and there’s been unrest in Belarus that’s been theorized to have driven its president closer to Putin.

            Maybe the war planning started in 2014* intent on striking through Crimea and the Donbas, and the changing situation made the northern front politically possible in the recent past, so it was hastily penciled in but there wasn’t enough time between then and when the troops needed to move into position to properly assess the terrain, redo everyone’s transport schedules, and assign the most elite forces to decapitate the government and presumably push south to cut the supply lines to deny Ukraine’s eastern armies NATO resupply.

            *I don’t mean in 2014 Putin decided he’d invade in 2022, but it’s pretty normal to draw up war plans directed against neighbors as a contingency and if they didn’t already have one they’d certainly have started in 2014.

        2. That does not explain many things like units carrying parade uniforms rather than food, VDV landing to their deaths, police units attacking as first and getting massacred…

          All points to that they seriously expected to take Kiev easily.

      2. Interestingly, the Red Army by 44/45 was the best practitioner of the modern system – a lot of local initiative, quick decisions and combined arms in the context of an integrated strategic/operational doctrine (the picture of a Soviet battering ram is largely from German sources – once looked at in detail it’s very different). They did reasonably well up to the early 80s in various proxy contests and not too badly in Afghanistan. It’s been downhill from there.

          1. The Allies had more planes and tanks on the western fronts (and the Soviets had more planes and tanks in 42 and 43). The link shows operations against a series of fortified positions in terrain that favours the defender. They broke through and forced Finland from the war. The casualty figures for the Soviets are Finnish estimates: in the 90s the Red Army records were opened and studied in detail. Their figures are much lower (see G Krivosheev).
            There were a few brutal frontal assaults (eg Zhukov at the Seelow Heights), but also a lot of deft manoeuvre warfare.

        1. Peter T, your claim was that ” the Red Army by 44/45 was the best practitioner of the modern system”, an assertion that would require them to be better than the Germans. Arguing that the Germans were better than the Western Allies does not really demonstrate that.

          And it is not obvious to me that the Red Army did better against the Finns in defensible Finland than the Allies did against the Germans in defensible Italy. If you then say that the Allies were worse skilled than the Germans, it would seem that the Red Army was worse skilled than the Finns.

          1. Since the Soviet army captured Berlin in 1945, I suggest yes they were better than the German army in the period 1944 – 45!

            The Soviets in 1941 had a huge numerical superiority over the German army in tanks and airplanes and artillery, but lost repeatedly and with massive casualties. By 1944 the Soviets were usually winning. The German army was still fighting very hard and effectively against the western allies, so I doubt it was because the Germans were significantly worse than before.

          2. scifihughf, you mean the Soviet Army was better than the German Army in 1945, in the same sense in which it was better than the Finnish Army in 1940?

          3. The Soviet army was better than the German army in 1945, yes that is what I mean. As for “in the same sense” I don’t see any connection at all. Would the Soviet army being worse than the Finns at some point in 1941 change in any way the relative performance of the German and Soviet armies in 1944-45?

            A quick look at maps of Finland before 1939 and post 1945 show that a big chunk changed ownership from Finland to the Soviet Union. I’m no expert, but the Finns had the advantage of a powerful ally (Germany) supplying them with equipment, defensive terrain which if they’d been anywhere close to equal would have allowed them to grind down the Soviets and then counter-attack. Most of all Finland after 1941 was never a major front for the Soviets, the war against Germany was far more important and got far more resources. So if Peter T says that the Soviets continued to push the Finns back, I see no reason to doubt him.

            It’s also possible that the Finns improved during WW2 – most armies did – but the Soviets improved more.

      3. Since I didn’t know :


        The OODA loop is the cycle observe–orient–decide–act, developed by military strategist and United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Boyd applied the concept to the combat operations process, often at the operational level during military campaigns. It is now also often applied to understand commercial operations and learning processes. The approach explains how agility can overcome raw power in dealing with human opponents. It is especially applicable to cyber security and cyberwarfare.[1]

        The OODA loop has become an important concept in litigation,[2] business,[3] law enforcement,[4] and military strategy. According to Boyd, decision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe–orient–decide–act. An entity (whether an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby “get inside” the opponent’s decision cycle and gain the advantage.

    2. What “Russia’s saber rattling about chemical weapons” ?

      Unlike for nukes, AFAIK they even *deny* still having chemical weapons ?

  21. If a surface to air missile is indirect fire, what is considered direct fire against air? Air to air missiles? Autocanons? Air to air guns? Does it depend on whether the the weapon “sees” the target vs getting telemetry from an external source?

    1. If there is direct fires in the air environment, and I do not presume to know the answer here, then I’d assume it is air to air and perhaps air to ground fire suppression. Because in that situation you are attempting to control space from within rather than denying that space from the exterior.

    2. Direct vs Indirect first started being used AFAIK for artillery around the start of the 20th C. “Direct” artillery fire was the norm for most of history, the heavy catapults / guns were aimed and fired by the crew. They could see the target, the target could usually see them and perhaps shoot back. (Since this is a pedantic blog, you get a couple of weird edge cases where at night or in thick fog the artillery couldn’t actually see the target but fired anyway.)
      Indirect artillery fire became common starting in WW1. Artillery would fire at coordinates on a map. They didn’t try to observe the target themselves, a “forward observer” of some kind would be telling them to adjust the range up or down, left or right. The targets usually couldn’t see the artillery that were firing at them either.
      Applied to air combat, direct combat would be fighter aircraft firing guns or missiles directly at each other, at least theoretically able to see each other visually or on radar. For air vs ground it would be aircraft bombing or strafing a target, which could shoot back with short range AA guns or portable SAMs.
      Stealth and Beyond Visual Range air to air missiles are an attempt by fighter aircraft to turn direct combat into indirect, being able to shoot at someone who can’t see you. The long range air to ground missiles likewise let aircraft attack targets that can’t see them, but who can in turn call on their own long range SAM batteries to shoot back.

      1. It seems like this distinction now gets a new complication again, with televisual electronic devices (less crude than radar ?) allowing remote operators to “directly” see the target even if they don’t have direct line of sight (that telescopes require), and if not too far (speed of light still matters) – in real time !
        I guess that those would still be considered “direct fire”, since it’s the same person observing the target and doing the aiming ?

        But here we have yet another complication introduced even more recently by digital devices : computer programs can replace an arbitrarily large fraction of humans, both on the observing and the aiming side !
        (Though this is not completely new, consider the use of non-human animals in war.)

        1. The drone question is easily answered by making this about the target, rather than the one firing: If the target can see the position of the ones firing at them and shoot back with their own direct fire, it’s direct fire. If it can’t, then it’s indirect fire.

          Of course, in a way, what we’re really trying to do there is redraw a box so that mortars and howitzers are in the indirect fire box and then deciding whether the other stuff in the box is reasonable.

          I saw someone mention in another comment that, in US doctrine, fires are used to support maneuver, while in Russian doctrine, maneuver is done to facilitate fires. It’s easier for me (as not an expert) to think of stuff that comes from the proverbial “off-screen” as “supporting”, but regardless I think it really is about things where you can’t just draw a line straight to the target, and therefore you definitely can’t draw a line straight back from the target to the source.

          1. If the target can see the position of the ones firing at them and shoot back with their own direct fire, it’s direct fire.
            You can’t define direct fire like this though, because you get in a circular reasoning paradox (what is target’s own “direct fire” ?).

            so that mortars and howitzers are in the indirect fire box
            I would expect that these days it’s mostly about self-propelled munitions ?
            (Are direct fire rockets still used sometimes ?)

          2. Hmm, the quote tags have been stripped out ?
            Do I need to use blocquote tags ?


  22. “Clausewitz supposes the political object to be rightly ruled by reason and calculation, rather than emotion or instinct.”

    I was slightly confused by this sentence; do you mean to say, that Clausewitz thinks that the political object *should properly* be determined (and re-evaluated) using reason rather than emotion (even if, in practice it sometimes/often isn’t)? I.e., that considerations of political objectives should (ideally) not be made in anger or by hasty reaction, but as a result of a logical consideration? Cheers.

  23. “maybe think first, and stay out of it”

    Putin thanks you for your support.

    There is a good and bad side here: the one being invaded, and the one doing the invading. The ‘good’ side may be deeply flawed, but defending it against aggression, and resisting aggression in general, are good things. Especially when our help is basically giving weapons so the Ukrainian people can defend themselves. To only give humanitarian aid and accept refugees is to acquiesce in Putin’s attempt to take over and cleanse another country.

    1. And from pure geopolitics: supporting Ukraine would make sense for Central Europe even if they would be equally bad as Russia.

      Because Russia is a clear danger and invasion happy and Ukraine is not. That is part if reason why Poland gave Ukraine MANPADs and so on.

      Because Russian government would happily invade Poland if they could anyway – and every destroyed Russian plane or tanks makes this harder to achieve.

      1. And that’s not even getting into the downstream effects of likely nuclear proliferation should Putin’s invasion of Ukraine be successful. Widespread nuclear proliferation is probably bad news for most people and definitely such for the U.S. security establishment from a realpolitik standpoint.

        1. It’s interesting how Putin has, in a lot of ways actually *strengthened* the US lead world order and security system. Simply by showing smaller countries what the alternative is.

          1. This is the thing that gets me. As far as strategic decision-making goes, the war is a naked blunder. If ‘The West’ has been successful in ‘nibbling away’ at Russian influence such that Ukraine was considering aligning itself with Europe, perhaps their methods of doing so might be more effective than Russia’s and perhaps they should try those.

            I suppose it could also be the case that it’s only clear the war is a naked blunder after it’s taken place, which is quite likely.

  24. If you played a fallen wizard or the balrog in Iron Crown Enterprises’ 1990′ Middle Earth collectible card game, then one of the options available to you (if you owned the right cards, of course) was to make yourself into ‘a new ringlord’.
    Alternatively, you could go for wins by trying to find and destroy The One Ring, by collecting more ;victory points’ than other players, or by (if the situation permitted) eliminating all the companies (or incarnation/leader) of the other players.

    1. ME:CCG is amazing. There’s actually still an active community for it online, with e-versions of the entire cardset and if you are interested, fan-made cards created over the past 20ish years. https://cardnum.net/ Check it out if you get a moment and are interested.

  25. Browsers playing up again here. My previous post was an attempt to respond to this comment/question by ey81: Interesting. Does this definition mean that there is no strategy in “Lord of the Rings” or games based thereon? (I am old enough to have board games based on that book, though not computer games.) Would it count as strategy if the player could decide to use the Ring to establish himself as a great warlord and fight Sauron on that basis? (Not sure if any games allow that choice.)

  26. Doctor Devereux:
    Interesting entry I thought, this week. ‘Strategy’ has for me been something of a confusing term, always seeming to shapeshift, to mean different things in different contexts. If, as you say, it actually has three different versions, that may be where some of my confusion is coming from.
    I’m surprised you left ‘Fog of War’ out of your glossary though since this seems to me to be something very important to wars (and indeed important to understanding why some of those involved may act in the ways in which they do.)

    1. People are sometimes familiar with the concept of tactics too – it’s usually operations that tend to be completely ignored – it doesn’t help that often these concepts are learned in video games, where logistics tend to be poorly developed…

      1. I think the operations distinction is a fairly modern one, while strategy and tactics as concepts are older?

        1. Huh, indeed – I had automatically assumed that it was from Clausewitz… so long enough ago to have had plenty of opportunity to have seeped into the folklore… but not this time !


          So, looks like Operations as a full-blown level were only officially recognized in the 1920’s in the Soviet Union and in the 1980’s (!) in the rest of the West ?!

          ( Fine, you can drink now, but that will be vodka – I suggest this one :
          https://www.atomikvodka.com/ )

          Also, props to the 1999 Sid Meier’s Brian Reynolds’ Alpha Centauri 4X video game for having been yet again streets ahead : featuring several “Doctrines” :

  27. Very ‘interesting’ assortment of comments this week. I’d just like to commend you Bret on your glossary; as someone who has spent three decades in the military, I think you did a fine job.

  28. My pet peeve with war reporting are all those “strategically important” places, without explaining for which strategy they are important in what way and under what circumstances.
    Very often they are not, it seems to me. Many of the “strategically important” towns are just towns that happen to be on the way from the border to Kyiv, for example.
    Or it is blatantly obvious. Like with airports or seaports.

    Written from my strategically important home office…

  29. On a blog priding itself for its pedantry, which I applaud, I wish I wouldn’t have to read statements like “X is a violation of the Geneva Convention”.
    There are plenty of those conventions, and all of them have plenty of articles. Citing the exact source of law would make it easier for people to check the source, to engage in debate, and it would force the author to doublecheck their claim.

  30. After reading the Cohesion and Morale entries, I wondered if it is possible to have a military force with low cohesion but high morale?

    I can sort of imagine that situation with high-level cohesion on the level of an alliance or army (where e.g. the generals are each willing to attack, but can’t agree on how to run joint operations), but not too well at the level of soldiers on the ground. Internal conflict in a unit (e.g. the power struggles between the sergeants in the movie Platoon) seems like it would directly turn low cohesion into low morale.

    1. I think that’d manifest as soldiers who believe strongly in the cause and the plan but not each other. They’d be easy to persuade to participate in battles but brittle in the face of reversals because the soldiers don’t want to personally risk themselves for their squadmates.

      Seeing as boot camp and training and exercises are meant to build cohesion, I’d guess you’d see it if you grabbed a bunch of troops from different units, put them together, and sent them into the field right away without any shakedown exercises. That’s one of the canonical things you Do Not Do.

    2. A Bronze Age warrior band is just that. Each warrior has high morale, but they have little commitment to the larger army. Consider Achilles and Agamemnon – when Achilles is offended he goes into a sulk, the army takes sides in the dispute and the Trojans nearly burn the Achaean ships.

      1. Yep, though in this case it’s arguably more that while ach sub-unit has high cohesion but they don’t share that with the overall army. (which is pretty common for those kinds of forces)

    3. It’d probably be soldiers who are believe in the cause and are eager for battle, but have not been able to form bonds with each other for successful teamwork.

      1. There’s a passage in “Cast a Giant Shadow” where some commander describes grabbing men from the refugee boats, putting rifles in their hands, and marching them to the front. He says, “We shouted instructions in six different languages, but many died with the safety catches still on.” That would be a force with presumably high morale, but no cohesion (and also no training).

    4. The confusing bit here is that some (especially older stuff) sometimes use “cohesion” ina more physical sense, IE: how well a unit “holds togethe” in actual battle (obviously more important when formations are a thing) and where eg. fire is often supposed to degrade this cohesion (partially physically, by causing casualties and makiing gaps the enemy has to fill) in that sense you sometimes see high morale poor cohesion units (volunteers, enthusiastic irregulars, who might go off to loot or make suicdiial attacks but barely keeps together) high cohesion low morale units (who stick together, but might refuse attacks or try to retreat in somewhat good order) etc.

      1. No, I think it is the same concept. Groups of soldiers / warriors with high cohesion don’t break and run “every man for himself” because that is abandoning your comrades.
        From ancient times through to napoleonic until the 20th C this meant infantry literally had to cohere together, stay in close formation. As Bret has discussed previously, an infantry formation that breaks up movie style into individuals, even if they are charging fiercely 300 Spartan style, in reality will most often lose to disciplined infantry such as Romans. Against cavalry, it is even more important for the infantry to stay in tight formation that cavalry horses won’t charge.
        Since the late 19th / early 20th C the infantry need to disperse because explosives are just too deadly to tightly packed groups, but it’s still the same cultural ? psychological ? mechanism. Good infantry trust that their comrades will stay where they’re supposed to be and support you.

    5. I’d suggest that perhaps the French Resistance would be an example of this. I’d be confident in saying that the overwhelming majority of resistance fighters were committed to the goal of removing the Germans from France. However, from my limited understanding of their composition, they seemed to be comprised of multifarious different factions who were often quite strongly politically opposed to one another (nationalists, anarchists, communists etc.). This led to an effort that had nil endemic co-ordination and frequent infighting between factions in order to gain advantage over one-another once the Germans had been ousted. From what I gather, their impact on the war is a matter of debate (and one that is fraught by its importance to French national image). If they weren’t externally co-ordinated, I’d wager their impact would have been far less.

  31. “when the troops needed to move into position”

    The troops never needed to move into position. There is no external pressure forcing Russia to go to war at a certain time, it is entirely a war of choice. If Russia went to war with poor planning, that is entirely on Putin and his generals.

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