Edward Luttwak's take on Ukraine
Edward Luttwak, the famed author of books on history and strategy including The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire (1976), Strategy and Politics (1980), The Grand Strategy of the Soviet Union (1983), The Pentagon and the Art of War (1985), On the Meaning of Victory (1986), and The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy (2012), recently assessed the Ukraine war in an essay in UnHerd and in interviews published in the Tablet and on the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website.
Luttwak's mind and grasp of strategic and military realities are as sharp as ever. He has spent decades consulting with military and intelligence officials in the United States, Israel, and other Western nations. He understands both the uses and limits of power, is familiar with the political systems and many of the political leaders throughout the world, and combines the insights of Machiavellian power politics with an understanding of geopolitical realities reminiscent of Halford Mackinder. He is a geostrategist of the first rank.
Luttwak's piece in UnHerd is titled "How the Ukraine War Must End." He begins by noting that both Russian and American intelligence officials and their military counterparts assumed that Russian forces would achieve their military goals swiftly and with little effective resistance. These officials "were intoxicated by the techy verbiage of 'Fourth Generation,' 'post-modern information,' and 'hybrid' warfare." Their flawed assumptions were based on the results of "war games, cyberwar attacks and social-media disinformation," which when combined with precision missile strikes would supposedly "paralyze the Ukrainian resistance." They were badly mistaken in all these assumptions — the Americans were so mistaken that President Biden even offered to evacuate Ukrainian president Zelensky when the fighting started.
Moreover, according to Luttwak, American intelligence officials have failed to accurately report that "increasingly uncontrollable escalation processes are underway," which could lead to Russian use of tactical nuclear weapons.
Luttwak thinks the Biden administration was right to reject calls for "no-fly zones" and other suggestions that could lead to direct Russian-NATO conflict, but as the war continued, that clarity dissipated. Now, what Luttwak calls "the growing Ukraine-victory lobby that stretches from the US to Finland" publicly proclaims that "victory for Ukraine is a victory for NATO and the West, so defeat for Ukraine must mean their defeat as well." This Ukraine victory lobby, he writes, wants the U.S. and the West to increase military support for Ukraine with the goal of pushing all Russian troops out of Ukraine and driving Russian president Vladimir Putin from office. This is both unrealistic and dangerous.
In the Tablet interview, Luttwak reiterates his criticism of the American Intelligence Community. He blames these intelligence errors on "a complete absence of human intelligence."
Luttwak also reiterated his criticism of both Russian and American military leaders, who, he contends, "all belong to the same [hybrid warfare] church," but who know very little about real kinetic warfare. This led them to overestimate the Russian soldier and underestimate the Ukrainian soldier. "Both the Russians and the Americans," Luttwak says, "were intoxicated with false war doctrines, which were given a false idea of veracity, because they supposedly came from combat experience."
And in his most recent interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Luttwak stressed that intelligence officials and military professionals in Russia and the United States should have known that when you "invade Europe's biggest country with a very small army" — as Russia did — that invasion will fail. Ukrainians, Luttwak says, "behaved like patriotic Europeans with weapons," and such kinetic wars in Europe have a tendency to "last for years."
Luttwak contends that the best approach for the West is to help both sides negotiate a peace plan that will assure that Ukraine does not join NATO but is permitted to join the European Union, and that will leave the dispositions of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to plebiscites where the regions' voting-age residents can decide their political fate. Luttwak believes that both Putin and Zelensky could be brought around to accepting such a compromise, especially if the war grinds on with no victory for either side in sight.
Luttwak ridicules those in the West who compare Putin to Hitler or even Napoleon. Russia is a great power, he writes, but Putin does not want to conquer Europe. "He lives with reality and maneuvers within that reality." Let's hope Luttwak is right.