Podcast: Does Military Intervention Work?

A few weeks ago I recorded an interview for The Curious Task podcast of the Institute of Liberal Studies here in Ottawa. It’s now available online. I think that the interviewer, Alex Aragona, did a great job in drawing out my philosophy of war and peace. I encourage you all to listen to it here.

19 thoughts on “Podcast: Does Military Intervention Work?”

  1. Dear Professor,

    Interesting conversation about Military intervention looking at Canada.

    I do have a question – are Canada’s weapons manufacturers private corporations or are they owned by the state?

    I ask because unfortunately with the manufacture of weapons, provide jobs and contribute to GDP.

    Weapons manufacturers will lobby the government for contracts to produce weapons.

    They need war (and enemies) to justify expenditure


    1. Canadian weapons manufacturers are private corporations. Overall, though, the size and consequent political influence of our military industrial complex is substantially smaller than that of the USA.


  2. Hello Professor,

    I have a somewhat generalized question to you.

    How much stronger then Russia is, by your estimation, A) the USA and b) the “collective west”?

    My own guess is about 2 for A and about 3 for b, which, if one looks at history, puts Russia in a pretty reasonable spot to resist western aims (plenty of conflicts where the weaker side wins in history, and Russia is arguably more unified and certainly more motivated then the west is) as perceived by Russia.


    1. A.I.S:
      plenty of conflicts where the weaker side wins in history

      I could ask my historical encyclopida on two legs. Maybe I will.

      But would you give me your list? Put another way what pops up on your mind? No need to concentrate on the ME or more recent times, like Lebanon. …


    2. ‘How much stronger then Russia is, by your estimation, A) the USA and b) the “collective west”?’

      Depends what you’re talking about. In terms of hard power, especially military power, but also financial, Russia’s ability to project power globally is many times lower than that of the USA, let alone of US + allies. As you get closer to Russia’s borders, however, the balance somewhat shifts in Russia’s favour. In the ex-Soviet states in eastern Europe, Russia probably has more immediate ability to project military power than NATO, but only for a very short distance. In the case of, say, a Russian attack on the EU, Russia could make some immediate gains, but eventually the European states, even without US help, would have greater power.

      Financially speaking, of course, US + allies have much more power than Russia.

      That said, in some very limited parts of the world, e.g. Central Asia, Russian hard power is probably greater than US.

      As for soft power – the attraction of culture, etc – there’s really no comparison. I don’t see anybody very much saying ‘I want us to be like Russia’, whereas huge numbers say ‘I want us to be like the West’. There are, of course, some exceptions, particularly parts of the former Soviet Union (Donbass, some of Central Asia), where Russian soft power is influential. But these are few in number.

      So, overall, US/NATO power of all types is much greater than that of Russia except for some limited geographic regions, mostly in the post-Soviet space,


      1. “As for soft power – the attraction of culture, etc – there’s really no comparison. I don’t see anybody very much saying ‘I want us to be like Russia’, whereas huge numbers say ‘I want us to be like the West’”


        Why, yes, professor, you are 146% right! Russia has nothing to offer to the bourgeois intelligentsia in pay of the international capital, who’s ideal is turning world into a “society” of rut-less cosmopolites.


        Your (i.e. Western) propaganda outlets, made by the representatives of said bourgeois intelligentsia (acting as mouthpieces of their international capital owners) tries very hard to convince us that Russia (“Putin”, “Regime” etc.) is singlehandedly responsible for the “surge” of the right-wing, “filthy nativist” movements in Blessed Yurrup. These people argue, that “Putin’s Russia” became “a model” for the “modern authoritarianism”, that what happened in Hungary, Poland, Turkey and, yes, US of A has been (somehow!) enabled by Russia simply existing. These people want everyone to believe that “Russian Propaganda” is so powerful and dangerous, that requires multi-million dollar/euro tithes from the taxpayers in order to prop (or not) various think-tanks, sites, forums and NGOs in order to “combat Russian fake news”. If you what they write, then it turns out that the tidal wave of dezinformatsiaya, active measures and memes coming from “Russian trolls” are ready to tear apart the very social fabric of the Western societies. Finally, shy and conscientious Western intilligents rave incessantly about authoritarians of the world forming Legion of Doom “Conservative Internatsional”, threatening the very existence of the Forces of Progress. Hell, even such things as studying Russian, having Russian cultural events or the Immortal Regiment are viewed as parts of the terrible, horrible “Russki Mir” and, therefore, as a form of a hybrid warfare against the West and its value.

        They call it “malign influence”. But if you remove the hysterics, they are talking about soft power. By acting as if Russia’s soft power is tremendous they (bourgeois intelligentsia in pay of the international capital), invariably, make something belonging to the world of ideas, a part of reality. Because, while for them (bourgeois intelligentsia in pay of the international capital) Russia has nothing to offer, the world, for the most part, does not consist of the people belonging to their tiny-whiney strata. And, as of lately, their tiny-whiney strata has less and less (sometimes – nothing) to offer to the rest of the world. Meaning – people might want (idealized) Western prosperity, but without become Gayropa.


      2. It seems to me, these days any political force denounced by the western establishment possesses significant “soft power”. Just by the virtue of being vilified by the western establishment hated by most, even in the west itself. Although, it probably should be described as the west having significant negative “soft power”.

        Russia, perhaps, is the main beneficiary of this phenomenon. If you watched the Sakhnin video I posted here somewhere, he tells a good anecdote on this subject, where the janitor woman on a Swedish ship says: ‘look at them cursing Putin on TV. I bet he’s the greatest guy, if they hate him so much.’


      3. It is my considered opinion, which I stated here many times, that all the talk of Russian propaganda’s ‘malign influence’ is a load of guff. All the Trump/Brexit/Orban stuff is very much a product of issues arising within Western states, not Russian ‘soft power’.


      4. I am aware of that. Meaning – I’m aware, Professor, that you keep saying that. But you can’t have it both ways. Either:

        A) We accept that the ruling elites in the West are rational actors, capable of understanding the reality “As It Is”, and who, rationally, make decisions based on that aware of consequences and possible pitfalls.

        OR (as you keep claiming in some other parts of this blog)

        B) The political elite of the West is NOT rational, often takes the worst possible options either because of being self-serving dumbasses or because they perceive the reality not “As It Is”, but “As They Want To Imagine It”.

        Because, previously you’ve been arguing for the (B) option to be the correct one (remember out old debate about European missile def?), therefore, we have to accept that in their (movers and shakers of the Free World) worldview Russian soft power matters and makes them crap bricks. Therefore, if, as per the movie “Wag the Dog”, something is so widely believe to be real to have immediate real-world consequences to the effect as if it was real – IT IS AS GOOD AS REAL.


  3. 7 years war, Russian revolution, revolutionary wars, russo japanese war, vietnam war, Chinese Civil War, Allied intervention again Turkey after world war 1, thats like, stuff that popped in my head during 15 minutes


    1. Thanks, A.I.,
      I felt a bit silly for asking the question. Vietnam popped up on my head too. … ???

      The Spanish Armada vs the Kingdom in the North? Who was the stronger at the time? …

      My human encyclopedia came immediately up with Marathon, Salamis, Hannibal, not sure if I would accept his Caesar. 😉 Beyond his schooldays starting with ancient Greek and Latin as first languages, he apparently didn’t much care for war as central in human history.

      I’ll check your 7 years war. I may not have given it enough attention other then as a footnote in history.


      1. Ok, maybe I am wrong. The 7 years war triggered a chain of associations. Unfortunately personally I only interested in history when I studied literature. Thus there was a empty space on my head.


  4. Arguably also the war of the Austrian succession. Mongol Invasion of Vietnam, That one italian coaltion war of everyone and the emperor vs Venice and Venice won, a couple of Ottoman fails in the Balkans, Ain Jalut

    There is an perhaps even longer list where the weaker side fought way harder then expected, Great Nordic War, war of the quadruple alliance (both should have been curb stomps on paper, Sweden/Paraguy had other ideas).


  5. Austria was pretty massively outmatched (on its own against most of Germany, Prussia and France) but basically managed a draw with her enemies failing to achieve their objectives.

    Austria was no longer outmatched after Russia decided to say “Alo”, but this was due to adroit diplomacy (as well as a desire of Russia that Austria should not be destroyed) of the Austrians. I think the current Russians have considerable advantadges vis a vis the west in terms of “adroit diplomacy”.

    Russias current position, well, it is hardly unfeasable that China will have some on/off interventions in Russias favor should Russias conflict the greater west go contrary to Chinese intentions.


    1. Re: War of the Austrian Succession (WotAS)

      This particular war and its treatment by armachair strategist and military historians (particularly – British ones) is one of the reasons I’ve learned to despise the “Gallant Century”. Of course, the fact, that warfare became the closes analogue of tabletop wargame (only with live “miniatures”), and that one could treat any piece of territory as the proverbial “clay”, instead of a land populated with real thinking human beings, are all the reasons why XVIII century is so dear in the hearts of the auti aforementioned categories of people. Moreover, reading the usual diatribes by various think-tankers about modern day international relations and military, I can only conclude that this particular XVIII c. way of thinking is alive and (un)well.

      WotAS was in many ways a facepalm inducing slugfest fought in accordance with (officers and gentlemen) honour and traditions. But besides the dynastic aspect of the war (i.e. the desire to redistribute European “clay” under tenuous pretenses related to the sexual activity of the crowned persons now long dead) there was also a brand new one – the colonial. It all comes down to money in the end. In this case – English crown being its typical a…arch-successful capitalist self, in expanding the global reach of the entrepreneurship with blatant tax free contraband in the Spanish colonies. The UK even back then was very “progressive” country, compared to the stuffy Continentals with their close-to-the-chest cabinet policy – the so-called “War of Jenkins Ear” (1739) is one of the earliest examples in modern period of media induced nation-wide hysteria, the proverbial “fake news” that “forced” honest and hardworking elected officials to declare war upon the “ancient enemy”, who’s been vilified and demonized in the British English collective psyche for centuries.

      This time – the Spanish (who were ruled by the Bourbons now), who were in official (dynastic) alliance with France since 1733 and spoiling for the fight to retake Gibraltar. Then comes 1740 and Frederick II of Prussia wipes his royal arse with the “Pragmatic Sanction” by taking Silesian “clay”. Through the war he behaves like an opportunistic bastard, and, frankly, that kind of behavior is akin to a gust of fresh air compared to the bloody (literally) buffoonery of all the others. The way how the French captured Prague early in the war – well, that’s kind of facepalm inducing stuff I’ve meant earlier.

      Why Russia didn’t participate in the “signature, identity building all-European event” (and Russia as a country often gets dissed by the Westerners for failing doing exactly this kind of thing – e.g. Russia is dissed for not having Reformation) is also “delightful” topic, demonstrating that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose . By early XVIII c. France acquired a full set of wind-up toys for its geopolitical theater – namely, such limitrophes as Sweden, the PLC and the Ottoman Turkey. Not puppets – their respective governments (mostly) enjoyed complete independence and sovereignty. It’s just at the important “Year X” this country’s ruling elite experienced “winding up” via judicial infusion of the French money, and then they would march forward (on their own accord!) towards current enemies of France – to the West (against Austria) or to the East (against Russia) of their borders. Of course, the obvious drawback of such brilliant strategy, is that these wind-up toys would be in the need of (lengthy) repair afterwards given all the beating they’d have to sustain, that’s not His Most Christian Majesty’s problem…

      Hey, who said “proxy wars”? Because, yup, pretty much, that was it. Only this time France screwed up by winding up all of its toys prior to the WotAS. First came the Polish dynastic kerfuffle, when Russia (this time – for real) interfered in other country’s elections – by sending troops across the border and deposing this age’s version of Saakashvili – Stanislaw Leshchinsky. Which, naturellement resulted in 1733-35 French-Austrian war, fought, mostly, in Italy and at the Rhine. And while France mostly won while Austria mostly lost this conflict, the results of “electoral meddling” in Poland became internationally recognized as legitimate, while Leshchinsky got a consolation prize in the form of Odessa oblast title of non-hereditary duke of Lorraine. Then came the time for Turkey to become “wind-up” for war against Austria – and Russia (1735-1739). In the end, Austria suffered several defeats and had to cede Serbia, which impacted Russia’s war and diplomatic efforts, resulting only in recapture of Azov, but without the right to have military ships in Azov sea and with the obligation to demolish all fortifications of the city.

      People with no knowledge of history whatsoever, like to repeat the “well-known truth”, that the Westphalian system of international relations precluded interference in the internal affairs of other sovereign countries. These people are, naturally, idiots. For the very moment Sweden limited king’s power and became a parliamentary monarchy, it didn’t result in the triumph of democracy and liberalism in XVIII century. It only meant that that party of the “hats” were in pocket of the Brits and Russians, while the party of the “caps” had been wined and dined in Spaso House by the French ambassador. Generous infusion of the French king loyal subject’s money, resulted in free and honest democratic elections (“with two or more candidates”) that lead the party of the “caps” to the victory in 1738. Immediately (like on cue!), they began preparations for the war with Russia, which broke out in 1741 – right during the early phase of the WotAS, thus living Austria without allies.

      The narrative about “plucky Austria against the world” is undermined by the fact, that it was ultimately Britain taking its side even before officially joining the war, that helped it to survive. It was, mostly, British diplomatic efforts, that lead (temporarily) for Prussia’s withdrawal from the conflict, and for Saxony and Sardinia to change sides. Ultimately, it was not about Austria’s survival – it was all about France getting hegemonistic (again). Both sides scored “draw”, winning somewhere, losing somewhere else, and totally bankrupting their respective nations. Hurray for the Gallant Century!

      [On a plus side – all territorial conflicts became kinda-sorta resolved in Italy, which will remain peaceful till the Napoleonic wars]

      Tl;dr – Austria survived/waddled through the WotAS as a sovereign Great Power under Habsburg dynasty mostly not on its own, but thanks for the (rather belated) multi-level allied assistance. Not because it was a “plucky underdog” and all that jazz.


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