This corporatization of the war effort by Western powers, whatever their individual motives might be, has demonstrated that today even a weaker party to the war can stand up to a great power, and fight
For politicians, diplomats and military leaders alike, the Russo-Ukraine War has been most instructive. As we look back, while several old military beliefs and strategies have stood the test of this war, others stand challenged. Each of these perspectives are likely to be colored by individual country’s past experience and outlook, yet these are important enough to reflect on the Ukrainian war. On its part, the Ukrainian state seems to be doing all things right.
By leveraging its strong national will and societal resilience, the Ukrainian military’s ingenuity and battlefield dynamism, the steady sourcing and induction of the right war-fighting technologies, and ensuring a regular supply of munitions and logistic wherewithal, the Ukrainians have spelt out the blueprint for fighting future wars. The Russians have struggled to leverage their superior war waging potential to achieve the initial war aims and objectives, thereby resulting in frequent change of the war plans and theatre level leadership.
A key learning from the Ukrainian war is that weaker states today can afford to stick their neck out, provided ideologically or strategically aligned bigger powers are willing to commit long-term support to them. Above all, the power of crowdsourcing budgetary support, technology, training, and logistic wherewithal, while at war, has emerged as an important lesson in this war. If this is partly true, the idea of non-alignment or un-alignment as a state’s external policy might well become detrimental to fight successful wars in future.
An analytical framework is perhaps required to explain the lessons of this war and analyze its impact on the future of warfare. Money, men, machines, and material (4Ms) is possibly a suitable construct to study this war. Warfare will always remain an interplay of these four vital components, and any significant deficiency in any of these components can impact the war-fighting capabilities of the state, and in turn, the military outcomes in field.
Firstly, the Ukrainian war has given a new meaning to military budgeting and expenditure. In this war, interestingly, budgeting the war effort has become a collective endeavor for nations with the same ideological belief or interests. The West, led by the US, has demonstrated that the threats to its values can coalesce like-minded countries to put their money on the table or create a piggy bank to budget the cost of war. Till date, approximately US$ 50 billion worth of support from several Western countries has come to the aid of Ukraine. The total aid to Ukraine is several times its domestic capacity to sustain the war.
This corporatization of the war effort by Western powers, whatever their individual motives might be, has demonstrated that today even a weaker party to the war can stand up to a great power, and fight. This raises a few issues. One, military budgets in the future could well carry a virtual value, buttressed by the defense networks and collaboration pacts drawn up by a country, globally or regionally. Two, as money will flow in from different states displaced globally, the utilization of it is likely to be driven by the ideological proclivities of the donor states. And three, this might prompt like-minded states to look at the creation of a global fund for security, akin to NATO’s two percent pledge, to meet unforeseen threats and challenges. Money matters in war, but whose money, will have a little meaning in future wars.
Secondly, this war has been particularly instructive on the military ingenuity and resolve demonstrated by the Ukrainian armed forces in deterring rapid Russian advances. The community-sizing of war by Ukraine demonstrates how a state leverages its political will and societal resilience to alter military outcomes. The Ukrainian military has been most successful in integrating its civilians into an effective territorial force. Further, by leveraging its citizenry on social media, Ukraine has expanded its strategic reach and influence, which is symbolic of the role of societal culture in the future of warfare. As Mick Ryan, a well-known military commentator argues, while machines might be important, unlike men, they do not plan, fight or win wars.
Thirdly, the Ukrainian state also seems to be doing well in acquiring the right war-fighting technologies that provide their armed forces with a decisive military advantage. Initially, the Javelins and Stingers, then HIMARS, and now tanks, and possibly fighter aircraft, point towards the right choice of technology. The Ukrainians have demonstrated an extraordinary acumen to meld technologies obtained from diverse sources, with little training and logistical support on the battlefield. Moreover, the Ukrainians have been smart to never look at weapon platforms in isolation, without taking into account where and when these and other complementing capabilities have to be employed. Military technology will always matter on the battlefield, but which ones, along with which other technologies, will be most important in these new-age wars.
And fourthly, the fact that for Ukraine, a steady supply of war-fighting material in terms of munitions, spare parts, and a surge in industrial capacities has emerged as another crucial factor in winning a war. The fact that Western countries are drawing down on their own stocks of munitions to support Ukraine, in a way, highlights the sheer importance of uninterrupted supply of war-fighting material in long-drawn wars. This war is replete with examples of what happens when a nation tries to fight a war without fully considering the impact of logistics and sustainment. Munition and material are the new oil for war; you need it more than ever before, at industrial scales, and no less.
In the coming months, the Ukrainian war will be shaped by the evolving balance of military power between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine will benefit from new hardware inductions, including battle tanks, infantry vehicles, air defense systems and long-range munitions supplied by Europeans and the United States. Russia could also be expected to substantially ramp up its production capacities and match the Ukrainians in numbers, if not in quality.
In the meantime, Ukraine will have to cope with a new Russian offensive. As civilian casualties mount, availability of conscripts depletes and the war-fighting wherewithal exhausts, the incentive to find a battle-winning strategy will only grow. While there are several important contributory factors to a successful war fighting strategy, it is always the terrain and territory, where soldiers will have to fight to win or lose, where territorial sovereignty will be preserved or lost, and where the leaders would recalibrate or standby their objectives to accept the outcomes of war.
Thus far, Russia has not abandoned its war objectives, in the belief that its sheer size and military wherewithal matters. But then, Russia lacks the capability to defeat Ukraine. On the other hand, Ukraine with a steady supply of weapons arms, lacks the combat power to push back the Russian forces from its territory. A military stalemate could well emerge. The prospects of a stalemate might then open doors to negotiations. Enormous death and destruction in this war, the risk of nuclear escalation, and the economic disruptions caused by the conflict might expedite this prospect.
Till the time the parties to conflict decide to cease fire, the ongoing corporatization of war effort in Ukraine will continue to escalate and shape the character of this war.
Lt Gen Harinder Singh, Retd, is Former DGMI and Commandant IMA. He has tenanted several important command and staff assignments in the Indian Army.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.
This article first appeared in the Comments section of the website (www.idsa.in) of Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi on March 22, 2023