Episode 8, Season 1 of the Social Science of War podcast is the second in a two-part series that examines land warfare in Europe, and the focus of this episode turns to the lessons learned from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The first part of this series released two weeks ago and explores the strategic and political dynamics of the NATO alliance. Today’s episode zooms in to examine what tactical and operational lessons the war in Ukraine can teach us about large-scale combat operations. The conversation starts with tactical observations from the current fight on topics such as mission command, logistics, air defense, and synchronizing combined arms across dispersed tactical units. It then shifts to the theory of conventional deterrence and how to shape US force posture in Europe moving forward, to include a discussion on whether the United States should posture permanent or rotational US forces in Europe.
Our guests bring recent perspective from the tactical to strategic levels in Europe, and all three have conducted research and published about Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Lieutenant General Ben Hodges is a retired United States Army officer. His flag officer assignments include time as the commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command, and then as the commander of United States Army Europe from 2014 to 2017.
Major Ryan Van Wie is a US Army infantry officer and a former assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point, where he published multiple articles on the war in Ukraine. He served as a company commander in Operation Atlantic Resolve in Europe in 2017 and is currently the operations officer of 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, deployed under Operation European Assure, Deter, and Reinforce.
Dr. Jack Watling is senior research fellow for land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute. Jack works closely with the British military on preparing for the future of land warfare, and he has published and spoken extensively on lessons learned from the Russian war in Ukraine.
The Social Science of War podcast is produced by the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. Visit our website if you would like to be a student or teach in the department, or if you would like to connect with any of our instructors based on their expertise.
Kyle Atwell created and is the host of the Social Science of War. Please reach out to Kyle with any questions about this episode or the Science of War podcast in general.
Image credit: Mil.gov.ua, via Wikimedia Commons
At approximately the 37:55 or so section of this podcast, the topic of "deterrence" is addressed.
As to this such discussion of "deterrence," consider the following two questions:
a. In the Old Cold War of yesterday, when the U.S./the West, back then, was existentially threatened by the efforts of the Soviets/the communists to transform the world more along modern Soviet/communist political, economic, social and value lines, back then, what — exactly — would have "deterred" the U.S./the West — this, from fighting back against the Soviets/the communists — and, this, so as to not be so "transformed? (The answer here seeming to be that absolutely NOTHING could, and/or would, "deter" us — this, from fighting back against such unwanted transformation?)
b. In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, when now it is such diverse entities as Russia, China, Iran, N. Korea, the Islamists — and even conservatives/traditionalists here at home in the U.S./the West — who are existentially threatened; in this case, by the efforts of the U.S./the West to transform the world more along contemporary U.S./Western political, economic, social and value lines (ex: "diversity, equity and inclusion"), what — exactly — will "deter" these such diverse entities (again, see Russia, China, etc., above) — this, from fighting back against the U.S./the West — this, so as to not be so "transformed." (Again, the answer here being that absolutely NOTHING can, and/or will, "deter" these such diverse entities — this, from fighting back against these such unwanted transformations?)
Thus, the appropriate follow-on question would seem to be:
a. If "deterrence" clearly will not work; this,
b. Given the "transformative" nature of the political objective of one's opponent,
c. Then, what does one do now; this, given that "deterrence" has effectively been taken off of the table?
Another way of looking at the matters that I present above:
a. In the Old Cold War of yesterday, what would have "deterred" President Reagan — from adopting "roll back" measures against the Soviets/the communists in places like Central America back then; herein, President Reagan employing U.S. military forces — in one form or another — in these such "roll back" endeavors?
b. In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, what would have "deterred" President Putin — from adopting "roll back" measures against the U.S./the West in places such Ukraine; herein, President Putin employing Russian military forces — in one form or another — in these such "roll back" endeavors?
As I have attempted to suggest in my comments above:
If one wishes to understand "the social science of war" — and such things as "large-scale combat operations" in relation to same — then one must consider these — yesterday as today — more from the perspective of:
a. Those seeking to achieve "revolutionary change" both at home and abroad (to wit: the Soviets/the communists, in the name of communism, in the Old Cold War of yesterday — and the U.S./the West, in the name of market-democracy, in the New/Reverse Cold War of today) and:
b. Those seeking to prevent — and/or to reverse — such "revolutionary changes" both at home and abroad (i.e., the U.S./the West in the Old Cold War of yesterday — and such diverse entities as Russia, China, Iran, N. Korea and the Islamists in the New/Reverse Cold War of today).
Herein to understand that one — not having significant power, influence and control presently — can gain same; this, via a successful revolution. Likewise to understand that one — presently having significant power, influence and control — can lose same; this via this self-same successful revolution.
In the Old Cold War of yesterday, such things as "large-scale combat operations" (etc., etc., etc.) , these were understood largely from the "social science"/"human motivation and related behavior" perspective that I provide above?
In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, such things as "large-scale combat operations" (etc., etc., etc.), these, once again, are best understood from this such "social science"/"human motivation and related behavior" point of view?
As to my thoughts immediately above, you might reasonably ask:
With the Soviets/the communists having significant power, influence and control in the Old Cold War of yesterday — and with the U.S./the West having significant power, influence and control in the New/Reverse Cold War of today — why would these folks, in spite of this, drive blindly on with their "achieve revolutionary change" ambitions/goals anyway — and risk war both at home and abroad — accordingly?
This, I do not know. Maybe because these folks felt insecure from not having achieved complete, comprehensive and ultimately "revolutionary change" — and thus not having achieved complete, comprehensive and ultimately power, influence and control — and were prepared to still risk/engage in "war" — both at home and abroad — so as to achieve same?