Tag Archives: Syria

Selection and maintenance of the aim

Strategy, Clausewitz said, is about applying means to achieve ends. It follows that good strategy requires one first to select sensible and achievable ends, and second to ensure that one actually apply one’s resources in such a way as to advance towards those ends. This is what one might call ‘instrumental rationality’. Selecting objectives which don’t benefit you, or deliberately acting in a way which undermines your own objectives, is not instrumentally rational.

For good reason, therefore, the first ‘principle of war’ as taught to British and Canadian military officers is ‘selection and maintenance of the aim’. Pick a bad aim, or fail to maintain a good aim and instead get sidetracked into pursuing something else, and failure will almost certainly ensue.

This is pretty obvious stuff, but what is remarkable is how bad Western leaders are at putting it into practice.

Take, for instance, the so-called ‘War on Terror’. This began in 2001 with an invasion of Afghanistan designed to destroy Al-Qaeda. Having occupied Afghanistan, however, the Americans and their allies decided to shift focus to rebuilding the country, and so became involved in the longest war in American history, fighting an enemy (the Taleban) who don’t pose an obvious threat to the American homeland.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, in 2003, the UK and USA got further distracted and decided to invade Iraq, on the dubious grounds that there was a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda and that Saddam Hussein might provide Al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction. Once Iraq had been defeated, the Anglo-American alliance found itself fighting yet another insurgency. This involved not just Iraq’s Sunni minority, but also its Shia majority, which received support from Iran. Attention therefore now shifted yet again, with Iran being seen as the enemy no. 1. Commentators began stirring up fears of the ‘Shia Crescent’, stretching from Iran through Iraq and into Syria. American security was now associated with defeating those who made up this crescent. This meant undermining Iran and toppling the Assad regime in Syria. In this way, a war on terror originally designed to fight Sunni terrorists morphed into a war against Shia states.

The Arab Spring in 2011 then added yet another objective – democratizing the Middle East. Now the aim became toppling dictatorial regimes wherever they might be, in order to give a boost to the wave of democracy allegedly sweeping the region. Thus, NATO bombed Libya to ensure the overthrow of Colonel Gaddhafi. This, of course, then enabled Al-Qaeda to spread its influence in north Africa, most notably in Mali.

In short, Western states, especially the USA and UK, have changed the aims of their policies in the ‘war on terror’ multiple times over the past 16 years. And they are changing them backwards and forwards as I write. One day, their focus is on toppling Assad in Syria; the next, it’s defeating ISIS; then it’s back to toppling Assad again. It is no wonder that the Brits and the Americans have made such a hash of things. They are incapable of keeping their eye on the ball. They have no strategy worthy of the name.

The problem derives from their inability to choose achievable objectives in the first place. As they fail to reach each objective, they feel obliged to change their target in an effort to avoid admitting defeat.

This fundamental lack of realism can be seen in the Anglo-American approach to Russia, which is based on the assumption that Russia can be coerced into changing its policies in Ukraine and Syria. Boris Johnson’s efforts this week to drum up support for additional sanctions against Russia are a case in point. Yet to date, the policy of coercion has achieved no success, and there is no reason to believe that it will be any more successful in the future. Russia just isn’t going to abandon Donbass or Assad. It’s not going to happen. Wishing it won’t make it so. Boris can demand regime change in Syria all he wants, but he’s not going to achieve it. Regardless of whether it is desirable, by selecting this goal, he is dooming himself to failure.

So why do Western states persist in selecting unachievable objectives, in putting so much stock in what they would desire as opposed to what they can actually do? The answer, I think, is that they seem to be unwilling to admit that the days of their hegemony are over and that they are not the bearers of universal moral truth. Despite all the overwhelming evidence that they are not able to mould the world to their wishes, they fear the consequences of admitting this more than they fear the consequences of trying and failing. That is because the costs of the latter are borne by their publics and by the people at the receiving end of their interventions, but the former are borne by the politicians in the form of a humiliating reduction in prestige. Unsurprisingly, the politicians choose to transfer the costs onto others, aided and abetted by the media and the military-industrial complex, which have similarly invested in current policies and wish to avoid the backlash which an admission of failure would involve.

Things will only get better when our leaders start selecting sensible aims. When they do so, they will find that they can actually maintain these aims, and so achieve success. But that will only happen when the illusions of military hegemony and moral superiority vanish. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon, due to the psychological distress and political damage it would cause. Alas, therefore, I see no obvious way out of this mess for some time to come.

The peaceful city

The newspapers here in Canada (as elsewhere in the West) have been full of commentary lamenting the recapture of Eastern Aleppo by the forces of the Syrian government. For instance, in today’s copy of The Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders says that ‘The Libyan option was preferable. … Libya is an unstable mess verging on a civil war of its own. But it is not the site of the sort of enormous-scale monstrosities, involving hundreds of thousands of deaths, that it would have been if Moammar Gadhafi had been kept in power.’ Saunders suggests that the Western world should have done in Syria what it did with Gadhafi and overthrown Bashar Al-Assad when it had the chance.

Elsewhere in today’s Globe, though, is an article by reporter Justin Giovannetti entitled ‘What the world lost by ignoring Aleppo’. Despite the headline, this contains a somewhat different message.

The article cites a former resident, Bakri Azzin, saying that before the war, Aleppo ‘was a warm, welcoming city, where you could spend your days in peace’. Giovannetti records that in those days, Aleppo was a ‘cosmopolitan’ city, which was ‘shaped by every major empire since the Roman and thrived through centuries of relative peace and stability.’ It ‘was a city that didn’t sleep’, says Mr Azzin, ‘I’ve never seen it anywhere else, whenever you wanted to go out, you could always find a restaurant that was open.’ Giovannetti writes that, ‘Centuries of trade had made Aleppo a welcoming place, where helping strangers was considered a duty, according to Mr. Azzin. If you got lost, you could knock on a door and get helpful directions.’

Similarly, the article cites a book about the city by British historian Philip Mansel, which says: ‘Until 2012, Aleppo was distinguished by its peaceful character. For 500 years, whatever their origin, its inhabitants had lived together relatively harmoniously.’ Giovannetti then quotes Canadian Tania Frangié, whose family lived in Aleppo for many years:

‘There was a joie de vivre in Aleppo, there was constant excitement,’ Ms. Frangié says of a city that has always loomed large in her life … ‘The biggest part of Aleppo that I remember was the harmony. … There was a marvellous energy everywhere’, she said. When her father returned from a trip to his hometown in 2000, she says he could barely contain his joy about how much the city had changed. Money was pouring in and new districts were going up, while UNESCO’s attention had helped propel conservation efforts in the city. ‘He was just so impressed about how modern it had become’, she said.

Finally, the article cites ‘Len Davis, an American film-maker based out of Seattle’, who ‘visited Aleppo during the same time as Ms Frangié was there.’ Mr Davis ‘says he was struck by its international feeling’, adding that:

Drinking in the shadow of the city’s centuries-old citadel, he later met a gay artist lobbying the government for more liberal acceptance in the art scene. ‘It was a capital of creative thought as I understood it’, he added.

But wait! Who was ruling Aleppo when it was such a booming, ‘modern’, ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘peaceful’ city, in which one could meet ‘gay artists’ lobbying the government for a more liberal arts scene? It was Assad!! And how much of this cosmopolitan ‘creative thought’ would have been likely to survive if the rebels had secured full control of the city? Given the rigid Islamism of many of them, not a lot, I suspect.

After four years of internecine violence, the fighting has now almost come to an end. Peace is returning to Aleppo. Let’s not listen to those who want to unleash the dogs of war all over again, but instead do what we can to see that the cosmopolitan Aleppo of old is reborn from the rubble.

Moronic speech of the day

Amidst hyperbolic, and it has to be said unsubstantiated, claims that the Syrian army is massacring civilians in Aleppo, the British House of Commons held a debate today to discuss taking action to protect the city’s inhabitants. MPs discussed ideas such as creating a ‘humanitarian corridor’ into rebel held areas, ignoring the rather obvious fact that these areas hardly exist anymore. The debate had a distinct air of unreality about it.

Unfortunately, reality doesn’t seem to feature much in Britons’ understanding of international affairs and their country’s role in them. After 20 years of failed military interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia, almost nobody in the upper echelons of British society seems to be willing to question the fundamental principles of the UK’s foreign policy. Perhaps the only prominent figure who does so is the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn, and the general consensus is that this eminent good sense marks him out as an extremist lunatic. The problem, you see, is not that Britain’s military interventions have been wrong per se, but rather that they haven’t been pursued aggressively enough. The world doesn’t need less Anglo-American aggression; it needs more!

At least that’s what former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said in today’s debate.  According to Osborne, the destruction/liberation (depending on your point of view) of Aleppo was a direct result of the British parliament’s prior refusal to bomb Syria. Osborne said:

We lack the political will as a West to intervene. … I have some hope out of this terrible tragedy in Syria, which is we are beginning to learn the price of not intervening.

We did not intervene in Syria: tens of thousands of people have been killed as a result, millions of refugees have been sent from their homes across the world; we have allowed a terrorist state to emerge in the form of Isis, which we are now trying to defeat; key allies like Lebanon and Jordan are destabilised; the refugee crisis has transformed the politics of Europe, allowed fascism to rise in eastern Europe, created extremist parties in western Europe; and Russia, for the first time since Henry Kissinger kicked them out of the Middle East in the 1970s, is back as the decisive player in that region.

That is the price of not intervening. … let’s be clear now that if you don’t shape the world, you will be shaped by it.

If by ‘we’, Osborne means only the United Kingdom, he is thoroughly deluded about the UK’s capacity to control international events. If by ‘we’, he means ‘the West’, then he’s just talking out of his hat. The ‘West’, in the form of the United States, has intervened in Syria from the start of the civil war there, providing arms, money, and training to rebel forces. In any event, Britain has not stayed out of the war, as reports suggest that British special forces have been operating in Syria. Britain’s Foreign Office has also been helping the Syrian rebels in their propaganda efforts.

Osborne’s claim that ISIS was a product of Western failure to intervene in Syria is also bizarre. ISIS is a product in large part of the chaos created in Iraq by the Anglo-American invasion of 2003 and of the subsequent failed counterinsurgency campaign. The British Army spent several years fighting to gain control of Basra province. Its efforts achieved absolutely nothing. Similarly, the British Army’s campaign in Helmand province in Afghanistan was a dismal failure, and several former British officers (most notably Frank Ledwidge) have credibly demonstrated that the British Army actually helped to destabilize Helmand rather than the opposite.

What good precisely did British intervention do in these cases? How did it help bring law, order, and good government to Iraq and Afghanistan? And how did it help bring any of those benefits in other cases such as Libya?

The recent dismal record of the British military is not an aberration. In fact, the overall historical record of British military involvement in other countries’ affairs is decidedly poor. In a study published in International Studies Quarterly, Jeffrey Pickering  and Mark Peceny concluded that of the all the cases studied,

Not a single target of hostile British military intervention liberalized or became a democracy. Hostile British intervention consequently drops out of [our model] because it predicts failure perfectly. Furthermore, hostile British intervention has a negative and significant impact on political liberalization.

Other states have been a bit more successful, but not a lot. As Stephen Walt points out:

Similarly, George Downs, and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of New York University found that U.S. interventions since World War II led to stable democracies within ten years less than 3 percent of the time, and a separate study by their NYU colleague William Easterly and several associates found that both U.S and Soviet interventions during the Cold War generally led to “significant declines in democracy.” Finally, a 2010 article by Goran Piec and Daniel Reiter examines forty-two “foreign imposed regime changes” since 1920 and finds that when interventions “damage state infrastructural power” they also increase the risk of subsequent civil war. 

What then explains the continuing belief in the value of bombing, invading, and occupying foreign countries? I find I cannot easily explain it, except perhaps in terms of post-imperial delusions of grandeur combined with an arrogance brought about by the West’s victory in the Cold War and by the West’s belief in the universal supremacy of its own supposed value system. The combination of untrammelled military supremacy and a total belief in their own moral superiority has created an incentive to act which some find too tempting to resist, despite the fact that acting has been shown to fail again and again.

I registered as a British overseas voter in order to vote in the Brexit referendum. That means I will get a vote in the next general election (in East Hull). For the first time in my life, I will vote Labour – not because of the mass of Labour MPs, most of whom remain committed interventionists, but because in Corbyn they have a leader who actually realizes how counterproductive British policy has been. I disagree with just about everything else Corbyn stands for, but at least he’s right on this. It makes me understand why Americans voted Trump.

Western power. What use is it?

There is ‘no need to fear Russia’, which is ‘much weaker than is commonly thought’ says economist Tim Congdon in the British weekly political magazine Standpoint. Claims that Russia is about to ‘overtake the US in power and prestige’ are ‘bizarre’, he says. While the Russian economy is the sixth largest in the world based on purchasing power parity, ‘the countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have a combined national output that is at least 15 times (and perhaps 30) Russia’s. … Russia can never outspend the West in weaponry.’ Media talk of the Russian threat, Congdon concludes, is ‘hyperbolic and overstated.’

Congdon’s article contains some typical Russia-bashing accusations. ‘When its stooge in Kiev was removed by democratic elections [???!!!], Russia ignored the niceties and just walked in’, Congdon writes. ‘Russia’s alignment with Assad in the Syrian conflict has resulted in barbarism’, he says. But his basic point is correct. Economically and militarily, Russia is much weaker than NATO. The idea that the Russian government would risk a direct military confrontation, or even seek to wage some form of ‘hybrid war’ against the West, would only make sense if Russian leaders were completely out of touch with reality. The ‘Russian threat’ is indeed exaggerated.

And yet, I think that Congdon is missing something. The Western dominance he speaks of may matter much less than he thinks. Western countries, most notably the United States, the United Kingdom, and France,  have spent the last four years trying to overthrow the government of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, and also to roll back the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). For all their enormous military and economic power, they have been remarkably unsuccessful. Assad is stronger now than at any time since the start of the Syrian civil war, and the West’s ‘moderate rebel’ allies in Syria have failed to make any significant advances into ISIS territory. By contrast, in the one year in which its air force has been operating in Syria, Russia has enabled the Syrian government to recapture Palmyra from ISIS and is on the verge of helping it recapture all of Aleppo. In short, despite its vastly inferior power, Russia has been far more successful, and could even be said to have inflicted a ‘defeat’ upon Western strategy.

More generally, Western economic and military power has proven to be useless in transforming the Middle East and Central Asia in the direction desired by policy makers. In the past 15 years, the United States and its allies have spent hundreds of billions, perhaps even trillions, of dollars waging wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. They have absolutely nothing to show for it. The Taleban are no weaker than they were 10 years ago; Iraq is a bloody mess; Libya has descended into civil war, which has spread south into Mali; and Assad still rules in Damascus.

What this reveals is that, while raw power matters, it isn’t enough. What’s even more important is how one uses it. In recent years, the Russians have proven to be far cleverer in using their power than the West has. This may even be because their power is so comparatively limited, a fact which has forced them to think before acting. The West, by contrast, has become arrogant; its uncontested military hegemony has encouraged it to think that there are no problems it cannot fix. Its power has thus become a source of danger to itself, rather than a benefit.

Congdon challenges the idea that Russia has used its power wisely. He remarks that it may come to regret its interventions in Ukraine and Syria, which he describes as ‘barmy’. But if so (and there are some good reasons for questioning this judgment), his argument just highlights another point: the relative uselessness of military power in the modern world. Congdon complains that ‘far too many journalists are swayed by military fireworks and glorify aggressors’. It’s a complaint that could just as easily be made about the West as about Russia. We in the West outspend Russia on defence, and we have been waging war in various parts of the globe for years, but it doesn’t do any of us any good. Congdon remarks that ‘Ultimately, the dominance of “the West” … has been based on economics’. This is entirely true, but it’s a point too many of our liberal interventionists and neoconservative strategists have forgotten in their pursuit of military glory. NATO countries spend about a trillion dollars a year on defence, and yet their military endeavours have been repeatedly unsuccessful. If we spent that trillion dollars on something more productive, imagine how much better off we would be!

Trading insults

This week, American and Russian diplomats have been trading insults, accusing each other of barbaric behaviour. Referring to the fighting in Aleppo, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, said that, ‘what Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism.’ In reply, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mariia Zakharova stated that, ‘the world has seen nothing more barbaric in modern history than Iraq and Libya done the Washington way.’

The two diplomats were speaking past each other. Powers was commenting on alleged breaches of the laws dictating what people can do during a war – jus in bello. Zakharova was complaining about alleged breaches of the laws dictating when people can wage war – jus ad bellum.

The moral posturing concerning the war in Syria is entirely unwarranted. Neither side is in the clear, although for different reasons.

When it comes to jus in bello, the Americans on the whole behave fairly well. They make mistakes – intelligence is wrong and they strike the wrong target, or missiles go astray and kill civilians. But a lot of effort is put into avoiding civilian casualties, and military lawyers are normally consulted before any major targeting decision is made.  By contrast, judging by its behaviour during the battle for Grozny in the second Chechen war and during the current fighting in Aleppo, the Russian military seems somewhat less restrained in the use of force in bello. This may be a matter of culture and ethics, or it may simply be a question of potential (Russian military technology and the particular nature of the battles Russia fights may not allow for as much restraint). Nevertheless, from an American perspective, the Russian way of war seems relatively indiscriminate.

On the other hand, there can be little doubt that the Americans have consistently broken the rules of jus ad bellum. The bombings of Yugoslavia and Libya, the invasion of Iraq, and the support given to Syrian rebels, as well as other examples, indicate an unhealthy willingness to start wars. And in recent years, the Americans have definitely started far more wars than have the Russians. Regardless of how well its troops have obeyed the rules of jus in bello, the United States has thus ended up causing far more destruction than Russia.

The words of Justice Robert Jackson at the Nuremburg Tribunal come to mind:To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.’

Sun Tzu in Syria

‘What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy’, wrote Sun Tzu. ‘Next best is to disrupt his alliances. The next best is to attack his army.’ Sun Tzu urged generals to avoid direct confrontation with their enemies as much as possible, as well as to avoid the obvious. ‘March by an indirect route’, Sun Tzu wrote, ‘War is based on deception … He who knows the art of the direct and indirect approach will be victorious’. Judging by a report it issued this week entitled ‘Distract, Deceive, Destroy: Putin’s War in Syria’, the Atlantic Council, a fiercely anti-Russian think tank, appears to be no big fan of Sun Tzu.

The Atlantic Council’s report was written with the support of the ‘citizen investigative journalists’ organization Bellingcat. It analyzes the targets struck by the Russian airforce during its six-month long bombing campaign in Syria. The Russian government has accused Bellingcat of fabricating data for the report. For simplicity’s sake, however, I will assume that the document is accurate in its claims concerning whom and what the Russians bombed and judge it purely on its own terms. The information in the report raises significant questions about the accuracy and competency of the Russians, and about the ethics and legality of their targeting decisions but although the Council hints at such matters it doesn’t seem desperately interested in them. Instead, its primary complaint is that Russia has been practising deception in Syria (Sun Tzu would approve!), and has not been attacking ISIS but rather the ‘moderate rebels’.  Consequently, the report says, ‘The Russian bombing had minimal effect on ISIS’ and ‘it weakened the US-backed opposition significantly more than it did ISIS’.

This does not appear to be true. In the past two weeks, the Syrian Army has won a couple of major victories against ISIS, recapturing the towns of Palmyra and al-Qaryatain. It seems possible that the army may now advance still further into ISIS territory. The Atlantic Council’s report seems to provide a clue as to why these recent victories were possible.

‘In the early summer of 2015’, the report says, ‘Assad’s forces suffered a series of major defeats at the hands of ISIS, the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra front and US-backed armed opposition groups. Many of these defeats were close to Assad’s heartland on the western coastline.’ This suggests that ISIS, the Nusra front and the ‘US-backed armed opposition groups’ were in effect allied against the Syrian government. The Syrian Army lost ground to ISIS because it was under threat close to its centre of gravity from the other groups. Only by first neutralizing those others could the army have any hope of striking back against ISIS. This is what Russia did by striking the Nusra front and US-supported ‘moderate opposition’. The result was that the Russians were able to force the ‘moderates’ to agree to a ceasefire. This then freed the Syrian Army to attack ISIS. In short, the Russians followed Sun Tzu, taking the indirect approach by attacking ISIS’s allies rather than ISIS itself. The result was a military success.

The authors of the Atlantic Council’s report think that the Russians should have gone directly after ISIS, and that they somehow behaved badly by failing to do so. It seems to me that all the authors actually prove is that the Russian general staff are better strategists than them.

Russian strategic culture 2.0

In March last year I wrote a piece about Russian strategic culture. Events this week make this a good time to return to the subject.

Over the weekend, the news from Syria was of continued advances by the Syrian army and of its impending encirclement of the city of Aleppo. The general feeling was that the Syrian government would in due course recapture the whole of Aleppo. This would be a significant victory for the government and its Russian allies. Moscow’s military support has clearly played a crucial role in turning the fortunes of war in Bashar al-Assad’s favour.

It was, therefore, something of a surprise when Russian president Vladimir Putin agreed with US president Barack Obama to a ceasefire which will come into effect in a few days’ time. After all, when you are winning, it makes sense to keep on going, rather than stop. A ceasefire will hamper the Syrian army from continuing its advance and securing full control of Aleppo. It seems to rob Assad of victory just when it is in his grasp.

Yet this fits with a pattern of Russian behaviour. In August 2014, rebel forces in Ukraine, almost certainly with Russian help, smashed the Ukrainian Army south of Donetsk and advanced to the outskirts of the port of Mariupol. By the start of September, the rebels were on the verge of entering the town. The Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian Army, General Muzhenko, later admitted that ‘after 29 August [2014] we had no combat-worthy units from Ilovaisk as far as Nikolaev and Odessa’. This may have been an exaggeration, but it is nevertheless clear that the rebels probably could have pushed further had they been allowed to. Instead, on 5 September 2014, Russia signed the Minsk-1 peace agreement and got the rebels to do likewise.

Similarly, the Minsk-2 agreement came just when the rebels were on the verge of recapturing the town of Debaltsevo in February 2015, at a time when they were wanting to advance still further. And back in 2008, Russian troops responding to Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia pulled back just before reaching the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. In all of these cases, what we see is Russia achieving a military victory and then refusing to press the advantage militarily but instead halting in order to convert military success into diplomatic success. I think that this pattern reveals something about Russian objectives and how Moscow views the use of force in international relations.

First, Russia seems to be aware of the limitations of its power, and to be cautious about sticking its neck out too far.

Second, for all the complaints that Russia wishes to destroy the existing international order, conquer large parts of Ukraine, and so on, its behaviour suggests that its objectives are far more limited. Once Russia has achieved these limited objectives, it sees no need to continue using force.

Third, this means that Russia views military power as an extension of diplomacy, not a substitute for it. Whereas modern Western states often pursue absolutist goals – regime change in Iraq and Libya, for instance – Russia seems to view the purpose of force not as being to destroy its enemies but rather to get them to talk. Once the enemy agrees to talk, Russia is prepared to talk back. In the event that no deal proves possible, it can and will turn the violence back on.

Fourth, Russia is serious about striking diplomatic deals with Western states. When it gets the opportunity to make a deal, it does.

The terms of the Syrian ceasefire state that ‘the cessation of hostilities does not apply to Daesh [Islamic State], Jabhat al-Nusra, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.’  This means that the US and its allies can continue to strike against those terrorist organizations but they can’t fight against the Syrian army. In effect, the agreement amounts to an abandonment of the Americans’ objective of regime change. This represents a diplomatic victory for Russia, which it is happy to seize, even if that means halting the Syrian army’s advances. But we should not imagine that Russia will simply send its troops back home. If the ceasefire unravels, Moscow will then pursue further military successes which can be translated into diplomatic gains, in an incremental process.

The absolutist goals pursued by Western states are to some degree a product of a concept of war which defines it as something which can only be justified by extremely important goals. One cannot wage war just to secure some minor diplomatic advantage, only to fight some evil, which much be destroyed or forced to submit entirely. When that proves impossible, as it often is, Western states, unable to give up for fear of losing face, are left floundering.

By contrast, Russia appears to view war in a manner more in keeping with a Realist, one might say Clausewitzian, definition as a continuation of political discourse by other means. Military force is used to achieve limited military objectives, which are closely tied to political ones. In some respects, that could be seen as a cause for alarm. The idea that force is just another tool of diplomacy which can be turned on and off in pursuit of incremental gains is that one many may find uncomfortable. On the other hand, war of this sort does have the merit of being limited in its objectives. If my analysis is correct, then this should provide some reassurance to those who imagine that Russia is embarked on a grandiose strategy of aggression.