No, it's not another Vietnam
Russia, like the UK and France, is clearly in a period of post-imperial decline.
Putin has had some success in slowing, and even reversing, parts of that decline. Hydrocarbon wealth, and increasingly brutal totalitarian tactics, drove some military successes. But social, political and diplomatic successes haven't followed.
Putin's economic successes are fragile. As in other major hydrocarbon exporters, export revenues flow to a relatively small rentier elite. Other sections of the economy haven't kept up and political repression has restricted the growth of innovative sectors.
The full scale military invasion of Ukraine was a gamble, an unnecessary over-reach, and it is his regime that is under threat.
American 'realists' should be able to recognize that reality.
Whatever happens in Ukraine, Russia's imperial decline is highly likely to continue. There will be more neo-colonial struggles, more fracturing of Russia's borders.
A declining Russia will be a source of many difficulties, for Europe, for China, and potentially for India.
Not so much for the US.
Thank you for your analysis. Ukraine is NOT Viet Nam. It is a nation being threatened by a foreign power. And we Americans should not be surprised that some military analysts still don’t understand the Viet Nam War. Listen to the Eastern Europeans if you want to hear about what life is like under the Russians. The people of Ukraine deserve the support of the US and more support from the Europeans. If the Russians take Ukraine, which country would be next? China has its own problems to deal with. It is a danger, but one that benefits from a aThe US should continue its work with its Asian allies. The Biden administration deserves more support for its policies and hard work.
A concise analysis- thank you!
I think it's evident that a holistic approach has to be taken from now on. At home, we have to consider balancing energy costs with decarbonizing, we have to balance hawkishness on China with preserving a relationship with our most important trading partner, and we have to consider the totality of any moves we make on the international stage.
We have to walk and chew gum at the same time, largely because all of these factors - and our relationship with China, and the war in Ukraine- do not exist in a vacuum. Each decision affects another directly, and for those who suggest that we should abandon Ukraine in order to focus more on China, I push back and suggest that the very way we focus on China is through our consistent support of the rule of international law.
That's what we're doing vis a vis Ukraine today. That's what we need to keep doing, first and foremost. Folks who don't see this are myopic.
Sadly you neglect to mention John Mearsheimer or Jeffrey Sachs and their reasons for opposing the war. You attempt to tarnish opposition by suggesting that only 'right-wingers' like Tucker support peace.
The invasion of Ukraine was both provoked and illegal. Just as our blockade of Cuba was 60 years ago.
It is worse than Vietnam. We left the Vietnamese a country. Ukraine will be a wasteland thanks largely to our geniuses in Washington & London who in addition to depopulating Ukraine have created a Russian-Chinese axis, speeded up de-dollarization, killed upwards of 1/2 a million people, and created millions of refugees.
Much worse than Vietnam and not over yet.
The war has left hundreds of thousands of men dead or disabled, thousands of tanks, aircraft, artillery pieces, and armored vehicles in ruin, and NATO’s weapons stockpiles depleted.
While the war ground on, Russia’s economy surpassed Germany’s and is forecast to surpass Japan’s by the end of next year. Its global economic ties are expanding with BRICS +. Russia now churns-out more weapons, drones, tanks, and artillery shells than all of NATO combined. Russia has an overwhelming advantage in available manpower against Ukraine. Unless NATO sends its own forces and own men to die by the thousands and risk global nuclear annihilation, Russia is unlikely to cede Crimea and the Donbas back to Ukraine.
It makes no difference to label it “anti-Ukraine” and “Russia propaganda”; it’s still reality, and no combination of new weapons shipments, wishful thinking, and anti-Putin invectives will change it.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. We all live in the whole world; drawing lines doesn’t help. I am deeply concerned about analysts who think that letting Putin destroy freedom in other countries will work out well. Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
Great analysis! The issue is not one or the other but to see the inherent linkages between the two theaters of interest and understand the deeper motives and psychology of Russia and China through its actions over time. If Colby is truly interested in deterring China, defeating Russia is a necessary condition. It sends a message that the US and it’s allies will do what it takes to ensure the promotion of countries with their shared values and interests. Demonstration of resolve (from the perspective of Putin and Xi) matters greatly. Putin took the wrong message from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in this sense and blundered into Ukraine. Furthermore, Colby and his ilk fail to understand the fragility of the Russian and Chinese economies based past and recent decisions, and the internal political ramifications and fears of the ruling parties should things spiral out of control.
What the Pacific firsters are telegraphing is the belief that US, NATO, AUKUS industrial output is nowhere ready to meet the challenges of ramped up conflict. This is not entirely wrong, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the impetus to get that started and to learn from AFU new tactics and ideas that can blunt any advantages in industrial output China may have in the pacific region.
The bottom line is there is too much one or two dimensional thinking and failure to see linkages and how all these challenges and needs are intertwined across the globe. Sir Lawrence is right, we need to be “little r” realistic about the world as it presents itself today. Yet, the world as it presents itself is far more complex than those like Colby see it or would have us believe it.
Great and thorough analysis.
We cannot ignore the behind the lines impacts of the War on Russias internal infrastructure.
Putin’s narrowing revenues as a result of the sanctions will continue to wear down their ability to maintain some semblance of civilization.
I still wonder how long remaining internal alliances can hold. Some further fragmentation of the former Union is certain to weaken the central authority.
“Ukraine is not divided and it has a stable leadership.”
I don’t know. That’s a very, very loaded sentence.
Really? Take the first part: “Ukraine is not divided.” Have you never heard of Western Ukraine and Eastern? One is predominantly Russian-speaking and pro-Russian (East) and the other is not. Have you looked at Eastern Ukraine’s election history versus West? This is evidence, to my mind, of a very divided nation.
“Has stable leadership.” Man, are we still talking about a Ukraine that recently went through a coup and has—for decades—struggled with enormous corruption? I mean, read articles pre-2022 invasion. Post-2022 most western coverage called Ukraine a “democracy,” only second after the U.S. This has *not* been western coverage of Ukrainian government historically. Not at all. It’s not part of the EU for reasons I mentioned—that have been self-evident for decades. But, as I’ve said, post-2022, the coverage has been nothing short of illusory. There’s reality and there’s illusion. Post-2022 coverage has, sadly, been detached from reality. So, yes, the Realists have valid points.
As an aside, if the US (or any other country) really believed in Ukraine’s government—and actually wanted to help Ukraine defend its territorial integrity—we’d be doing what France did with Israel: helped Israel build nukes. Until Ukraine gets nukes, it will almost certainly never be safe.
The key point for me is the extent to which Russia winning in Ukraine, or failing to lose, is a good thing or a bad thing for possible Chinese ambitions in the pacific. If you agree that Russia failing to lose in Ukraine is a positive signal for China then the cost to America in blood and treasure is small.
Amidst this high level intellectual analysis, the end state is nothing but destruction of Ukraine. Intellectuals, scholars and policymakers will keep on talking like this and on the ground its Ukrainian who will suffer. This strategy of the West does not have well defined 'ends'. Nor it has viable 'ways'. It only has 'means'. However, only having 'means' is not enough to craft better strategy.
American Realists engaged in this debate believe it is in America’s interest to withdraw the US from NATO (formally or simply by announcing the end of America’s engagement in European security). Pulling support for Ukraine is simply a means to undermine the Western Alliance, or at least Washington’s participation in it.
This is an excellent article from the Professor, as always, but I’m not sure he appreciates the radicalism of the Realists he’s describing.
This is a tricky subject - because any analysis that is not pro-Ukrainian can be misconstrued as pro-Russian.
A different basis for comparing the medium or long-run viability of Ukraine’s defence effort is Ukraine’s economic base.
Russia’s focus on disrupting electricity supply last winter had a secondary effect of disrupting heavy industry and manufacturing - beyond hitting the high end command and control infrastructure and logistics.
This suggests that a “total war” model of the conflict taking into account economic aspects should be adopted - less Vietnam than the Ruhr in the Second World War.
Any analysis of the war should take into account the economic geography of Ukraine - the Donbas used to account for almost half the country’s economy.
Are Slovyansk, Kramatorsk and Kharkiv military objectives for the Russians because of their strategic or economic importance?
Depriving Ukraine of the Donbas would ultimately deprive her of the means of funding its army - creating a long-term dependency upon military (and economic) aid.
Which is where some of the South Vietnam comparisons might begin to apply.
Apologies for sounding downbeat
JDL: "America and her allies need to rethink their actions and tread lightly. Proxy War geopolitical gamesmanship can easily unlock the irreversible Pandora's box and unleash WWII.”
You're probably right that choices in foreign policy are never simple. I nevertheless need a clear answer to "why it is best to confront aggression sooner rather than later," which I did not find in your essay. Something about keeping China out of Taiwan...which we've officially recognized as part of China for 50 years? Something about saving face for the Western Alliance...already so far gone that its members are now bombing each others' pipelines? Your reasoning is too subtle for me to grasp, I'm afraid.