the lighter side of the russia-ukraine conflict, or steven pinker wins again
This week, I’ll focus my attention on war and conflict. Today’s post will be on the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Then we’ll talk about ISIS’ leadership, Soviet Deep Battle doctrine, and then wrap up with a revisiting of the Powell doctrine.
I used to teach a book called The Rise and Decline of the State by Martin Van Creveld, one of the leading military and political historians. It’s an old style magisterial survey of the state. I used to teach it to explore the reasons for why the state exists and to help students see that strong nation-states are a very specific historical phenomena. Usually, students would get depressed because they realized that state building and warfare go hand in hand.
Then, one of my students offered this rather insightful analysis of war in the historical perspective. It went something like this:
Look, war is horrible but this book actually can be viewed in a positive light. Early on, wars happened all the time and for insanely long periods of time. Rome was perpetually at war; medieval states would fight decades long wars; and so forth. But something important has happened in the last two hundred years. People started regulating war. Treaties were invented. Then, rules of war were introduced. Then, war prevention organizations like NATO and the UN. Then, wars that minimized civilian casualties. In other words, the nation state system has been, slowly, developing a number of successful mechanisms for preventing wars.
To this correct and insightful analysis, I add a new development: making wars (relatively) invisible. Think about it. Inter-state conflict is so discouraged, compared to the past, that Putin had to pay people to pretend that they were actually Ukrainian. Instead of just invading, as Peter the Great or Stalin might have done, he had to be invited. The international environment so discourages wars that you have to pretend to not to invade a country when you are invading a country.