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War is a dying business

By Keith Suter - posted Friday, 1 April 2022

Russia's failure to secure a quick victory in Ukraine is another reminder that war is a dying business. It just does not pay. Very rarely have recent wars achieved the successes their initiators had planned.

Part of the explanation is that the nature of warfare has again changed.

Over the millennia there have been occasions when success could come from attack; other times when it comes from defence.


Trends in warfare form a pendulum moving between offence and defence.

For example, French knights in the Middle Ages were a formidable fighting force. But then Welsh archers with their long bows were recruited into the English army. They could bring down knights, who were not agile when forced off their horses. The knights were captured and then ransomed back to their serfs to pay for their freedom.

Leaping ahead to the 19th century, the emphasis was on offensive operations led by cavalry regiments.

World War I (1914-18) saw the pendulum swing back to defence and the use of trench warfare. World War II (1939-45) saw the pendulum swing back to offensive operations, such as the use of the tank in "blitzkrieg" attacks and aerial bombardment, culminating in the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Since 1945 the pendulum has swung back to defence. In particular, guerrilla fighters have been difficult to defeat. A guerrilla group fighting on their own terrain, with high morale, and with the support of the local population are almost impossible to defeat.

Guerrillas and other defensive operations have defeated both superpowers. Indeed, Russia is now doing so badly in Ukraine that it no longer deserves the title of "superpower". 40 million Ukrainians are beating 140 million Russians.


Ukraine is putting up more resistance than Putin expected. This is not a rerun of Russia's Crimean operation in 2014, when the west led by President Obama did nothing to resist the Russian take over in Crimea and other parts of eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian resistance this time has galvanised the international community. It has been Ukraine's spirited defence that has obliged the international community (minus China and India, which are running with own pro-Russian agendas) to force the international community to avoid a rerun of 2014.

Putin has been stunned by the international community's unified reaction to the Ukraine invasion. Even if Putin were to be shot today by one of his bodyguards, it will take years for Russia to be accepted back into the international community.

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About the Author

Dr Keith Suter is a futurist, thought leader and media personality in the areas of social policy and foreign affairs. He is a prolific and well-respected writer and social commentator appearing on radio and television most weeks.

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