Before invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin would have done well listening to Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Success in any conflict is decided by a host of factors, not simply military strength.
First, there is the moral factor, or the way the world perceives the conflict, which essentially is a subjective question based on the weight of world opinion. A sage political mind stated once, “Diplomacy is war without the guns.”
Superpowers cannot today afford to ignore the world view, or the views of various actors who may or may not have a stake in a conflict. The reason for diplomacy is to avoid war and its tragic consequences.
The opinion of the public within a national border today is just as greatly impacted by digital media as the opinion of people outside that country’s borders. News in 2022 travels at the speed of light. Opinion today knows no geographic boundary, as newspapers are increasingly digital and global, and read cross border.
When the people of a country back a war the country is fighting, the prospect for success is greater than when the people are not in favour of the conflict. When public morale is low, that in turn affects the morale of the troops.
Adolf Hitler may have continued for many more years in his ultimately futile attempt to conquer and rule Europe if he had not initiated a massacre of European Jewry. That act of genocide was a moral albatross that led to low morale among his soldiers and may have even led to an attempt on his life by insiders.
That act of genocide raised the stakes and the determination of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill to crush the Nazis.
In fact, Holocaust apart, Hitler’s quest for a “greater Germany” was always going to fail, because it went against the idea of self-determination and freedom which held the moral high ground, even in 1939.
The man with resources has the bigger club. Russia may sit on a trillion-dollar petroleum economy. However, the Russian economy is dwarfed by the economic might of the US and its western European allies.
It takes money to fight an effective military campaign, and the US has the resources to fund war many times more than Russia.
At the very basic — with weapons and equipment aside — armies require three types of resource to fight a war: food, water and fuel. These are resources that guarantee continuity in life and war and can swiftly become scarce when war is long and hard fought.
The adversary with the greater supply of water, food and fuel is usually the side with the bigger economy.
One reason Japan acted so desperately in the Pacific in the early 1940s was in order to secure the oil resources of Borneo, Burma and Malay, as the Japanese knew the natural oil resources owned and controlled by the Allies would offer western forces a huge military advantage.
The third factor of importance is military strength, which today is decided by strategy, technology and logistics.
However, all three factors — moral, economic and military — are tied together in systemic fashion. The nation that has the advantage of possessing all three factors to the optimum will frequently be victorious.
Mr. Putin has inadvertently taken on the west in his attempt to subjugate Ukraine. It appears the tyrant is severely lacking in what it takes to win a long and drawn-out conflict.
The west, on the other hand, has the primacy in the first two factors — world public opinion and economics — and can easily use that primacy to build and tool its joint forces to prevail against the tyrant in the long run.
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