Credit where credit is due: Make America Great Again was a brilliant slogan, precisely because no one knew what it meant. Was it about bringing back jobs in manufacturing? Was it about restoring straight, white, Christian men to what some of them thought was their natural position of social dominance? MAGA became the all-purpose code for reversing whatever was bothering you about 21st century America.

And an important strain of Magism was and is the belief that complacency is making America militarily weak. Back in 2021 Senator Ted Cruz famously shared video Compare Russian military ads, showing manly men doing manly jobs, with an American ad telling the story of a female recruit raised by two mothers. Cruz declared, “Maybe a weak, weak army isn’t the best idea.”

Remarkably, the idea that awakening makes us weak despite the failures of a decidedly awakened Russian military in Ukraine. Senator Tom Cotton, who recently published a book titled “Only the Strong: Reversing the Left’s Plot to Sabotage American Power”. announced that “soldiers join the military to kill bad guys—not to learn to speak like they’re in a faculty lounge.”

Well, there are so many things wrong with this worldview that it’s hard to know where to start. National power in the modern world has much more to do with economic power than military power and reflects this as well”soft power”—the influence of the values ​​and culture of a country. Even when it comes to military prowess, modern warfare does not involve hand-to-hand combat between people with bulging muscles. What they involve, primarily, are strategic duels using long-range weapons aided by a lot of technology. And winning such duels certainly depends on leadership that is smart and well-informed – i.e. an officer corps that has really learned to speak as if it belongs in a faculty lounge.

I am No It is said that modern warfare is like a video game. If you need proof of both this and the importance of a smart, dedicated military, I’d recommend the recent illustration The brutal, terrifying battle is currently underway for Bakhmut, by The Kyiv Independent’s Ilya Ponomarenko. Courage and stamina are as important as ever. But bicep-flexing and bombast, not so much.

However, in that case, what determines military power? Obviously, I’m no defense expert. But I do know something about applied math – and contemporary wars are largely about arithmetic.

Even before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, I was a fan of military historian Phillips O’Brien, who has a 2015 book about World War II, “how the war was won,” has a memorable opening sentence: “There was no decisive battle in World War II.” What he meant was that the conflict was primarily a war of attrition, in which a single battle did little to shift the balance of power. It did, especially considering the rate at which all the main players were producing new weapons until late in the game.

O’Brien, as it happens, was one of the few commentators rejected The idea that Russia could overrun Ukraine in a matter of days. Instead, he predicted that Russia–Ukraine would turn into a war of attrition – and that Ukraine stood a good chance of winning such a war.

Let’s look at some numbers.

First, if you compare the Russian and Ukrainian military budgets on the eve of the war, it is not hard to see why many analysts expect a quick Russian victory:

But a quick, decisive victory is harder to achieve than armchair generals imagine. Russia’s performance was crippled by a complete failure to think things through enough to appreciate how vulnerable a strung-out column of vehicles would be to hit-and-run attacks by defenders armed with modern antitank missiles. Maybe Putin’s generals should have spent more time in the faculty lounge.

And here’s the thing: Once Ukraine repulsed the initial attack and the invasion became a war of attrition, it wasn’t even a simple war between Russia and Ukraine. It is true that on the Ukrainian side, Ukrainians are all fighting and dying. But he did not have to rely on his own military-industrial base.

Thanks to a form of soft power — Ukraine’s ability to portray itself as a defender of democracy against a ruthless tyrant — the country is getting plenty of arms from the West. And when you look at these military resources in a broader sense, that picture of Russian dominance vanishes:

Furthermore, Russia’s military may be even weaker than the spending deficit suggests. On the one hand, NATO’s military technology—particularly its ability to deliver precision strikes on targets from incredible distances—seems to be further along than most people realize, and through the exchange of equipment and intelligence with NATO countries Ukraine has benefited from this.

Ukrainians, on the other hand, have shown an unexpected talent for “MacGyvering”, improvising effective military technology from civilian equipment.

But wait, there’s more. Then again, one thing I learned from O’Brien is that modern wars burn through military equipment at an incredible rate. Russia started this war with a large number of tanks and heavy artillery. But many tanks were destroyed in the disastrous initial attempt to capture Kyiv, and Institute for the Study of War Now believes the Russians are “depleting their reserves of artillery ammunition” to the point where they “will struggle to continue their current pace of operations.” (To be fair, the Ukrainians, who still use a lot of Soviet-era artillery, are having problems too.)

This means that productive capacity – ultimately, economic power – is decisive in a war of attrition. And Russia has gone way beyond that measure:

All that said, thankfully, this is not an open war between Russia and the liberal-democratic West, in which the full force of these GDP and military disparities will be in play. So it’s hard to see how the conflict between Russia and Ukraine really ends.

During World War II, Nazi military power did not truly end until 1944, when Allied aircraft achieved air dominance over Germany and were able to destroy the country’s war-fighting capability. Ukraine will not be able to do this with Russia, nor can Russia do this with NATO, whose members will likely continue to send supplies to Ukraine. In such a situation, this brutal slogging match can continue for a long time.

But like I said, it’s largely about the math. And the arithmetic, incredibly, seems to be in favor of Ukraine.

#opinion #Ukraine #War #Teaches #Military #Power #Economics

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