How a war ends?

Wars end in different ways. In today’s world they continue indefinitely, with the possibility of a catastrophic outcome for civilization.

Throughout history there were terminable wars, endless wars, and terminal wars.  The formers end in a formal surrender or an armistice; the second ones are prolonged in time until the belligerents bleed (and one surrenders or withdraws) or when other more important events occur; and the terminals run out when one of the belligerents disappears completely, or in extreme cases, all of them disappear (total nuclear war).

I will give some examples as illustrative data: in the first of these cases good examples are WWI with the Treaty of Versailles (1918) and WWII with the unconditional surrender of Germany (1945).  The Hundred Years’ War (France and England between 1337 and 1453) illustrates the second case, and the last Punic War is an example of the third, with the total destruction of Carthage by Rome (146 BC).

Historians debate about the “necessity” of wars, that is, inevitable wars, or conversely wars of choice, or “preventive” wars. In our times, the United States launched several wars of choice for the purpose of extending or over-saving its empire (the main ones were Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq).  In none of them did USA prevail, and they had to retreat after long years, trying to obfuscate being defeated.  In the case of endless wars, they begin with a terminological indistinction between frankly declaring war or calling it something else (“intervention,” “special operation,” etc.), and in the end with another indistinction between failing and being defeated. This linguistic indistinction is the privilege of the most powerful, who disguise their arrogance or humiliation, but not that of their enemies, who when they prevail consider themselves justly liberated.

In this annus horribilis 2022, of the several ongoing wars, the most salient and hottest takes place in Ukraine.  How to characterize this war in the preceding terms?

First, the Russian invasion looks like a war of choice, on the whim of the authoritarian president of the Russian Federation.  However, if we take our consideration further, we see that the aggression was provoked by the inconsiderate and messy extension of NATO in the Russian periphery, by incorporating countries that were once the seat belt of the former Soviet Union, in violation of what then and now could be considered as the equivalent of the American Monroe doctrine in the Western Hemisphere.

In such a belt, Ukraine always held a special position for historical and geographical reasons.  Time and again, Russia warned that Ukraine’s incorporation into the European system, and in particular its military alliance, would be unacceptable to it—something like the last straw that would break the camel’s back.  And the camel’s back finally broke.

Once the Russian invasion was launched, with the surprising resistance of the invaded country and the relative military incompetence of the invader (but not its numerical prevalence and strategic resilience), the war became a process without the expected rapid outcome, that is, a sine die conflict.  It went from a lightning attack (blitzkrieg) to an endless war.  Ukrainian resistance and the increasing supply of sophisticated weapons from the West pushed away any attempt at diplomatic negotiation.  In particular, it pushed away the so-called “Finnish option”[1]: Ukraine’s neutrality with partial loss of territory in exchange for direct Russian cessation of hostility.  Such an option is seen as a strategic capitulation on the part of both the Russian Federation and the United States, the only credible (in firepower) manager within NATO.

Both the Russian Federation and the United States are today in the hands of bellicose power elites that are very difficult to control.  In an aside, I want to point out that the much reviled (by progressive sectors) President Trump did not have such bad instincts in this regard: he hated both NATO and the military-industrial complex of his country, and appreciated with some understanding the strategic position of Russian President Putin.  Even so, Trump (perhaps because of his own incompetence) failed in his attempt to control the American war establishment, today in full swing with the administration of the “nice old man” Joe Biden and the octogenarian House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed to add fuel to the fire of Ukraine with a provocation to China on the other side of the world in the case of Taiwan. The United States today plays with nuclear fire, and Russia, Iran, North Korea and others follow for their own reasons, but no one thinks soberly about the future of humanity.

In Ukraine, an escalation was thus reached whose outcome is unpredictable, with great human suffering, progressive and massive destruction of the country, and the risk of moving to a general conflict of world order, which in this case could be terminal.  It is worth highlighting here the opinions of the Chicago strategist John Mearsheimer,[2] very ignored by the communication apparatus of both parties in the US.  Many of his views are shared by veteran Henry Kissinger, who does not dare to present them with Mearsheimer’s frankness.  The parties behind the conflict ultimately maintain an arsenal of more than 12,000 nuclear warheads. [3] It is the so-called doomsday scenario (end of the world scenario) from which we had moved away at the end of the Cold War[4].

Faced with this dramatic situation, the least sinister but still possible solution after a very prolonged conflict and physical and social destruction of Ukrainian society today, would be what we could call the “Korean option”, namely the division of the territory into two Ukraine, one Russified and one Western, in perennial tension and without official armistice. It is the opinion of another prominent strategist, Admiral Stavridis, a former NATO commander. [5] It will be, if it happens, a sad outcome but not the worst, with disenchantment on both sides, and reluctant acceptance of the international “community” to avoid a world war.

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[1] It refers to the end of the “winter war” between Russia and Finland in 1939-40.


[3] Nations with creative capacity in the nuclear military industry

CountryActive nuclear warheadsTo be dismantle
United States5,800​2,000​

[4] The reader might remember the famous sarcastic-comedy film by director Kubrik entitled Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.


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