понеділок, 31 жовтня 2022 р.

Putin's attempt to conquer Ukraine ignores the lessons of history

In the past 200 years interstate wars have cost more than 30m lives on the battlefield. But they are becoming less common and less deadly. The circles on the globe represent conflicts between two or more countries that resulted in at least 1,000 combat deaths in any one year.

Casualties from interstate wars around the world have plummeted in recent decades, though civil wars and violence persist. With his war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is dragging the world back to a deadlier time.

Franco-Spanish War 1,000 deaths
WWI WWII WWII in Asia Russo-Ukrainian War
Vladimir putin is a keen reader of history. In long months of isolation during the covid-19 pandemic, say some, Russia’s president lingered in the Kremlin archives brooding over his country’s past as a great power and dreaming of restoring it. He admires the early Romanovs, who cemented their rule at the turn of the 17th century following a dynastic crisis marked by violence and lawlessness in Russia and then set off conquering their way to the Pacific Ocean. In particular he has compared himself to Peter the Great, the tsar who seized land from Sweden and turned Russia into the dominant power in the Baltic region.

In 2014 Mr Putin’s forces seized Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine. People there were eventually handed Russian passports. At the time, the move seemed simply opportunistic. Conquering Crimea was popular among Russians, many of whom considered the territory’s transfer from the Russian Soviet Federation of Socialist Republics to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 as illegitimate. But the taking of Crimea, and the support provided by Russia to rebels in Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, now look more like steps in a grand plan to seize Ukrainian land.
In a rambling speech three days before Russian missiles started falling on Ukrainian cities in February, Mr Putin lamented the loss of the “territory of the former Russian empire”. Eight months into the invasion his forces now occupy some 15% of Ukrainian soil. But it is not going according to plan. Ukraine’s counter-offensive continues to push back Russian troops. On September 30th, following sham referendums, Russia announced it had annexed four eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, though it does not wholly control them. Announcing the move, Mr Putin decried the West’s “fake rules”, including the inviolability of borders. But his invasion has weakened Russia, not strengthened it. In attempting to conquer a neighbouring sovereign country, he tried bucking history. He is failing.
Since the end of the second world war, wars between countries have, for many reasons, become rarer. That is not to say they have disappeared, and the decline in interstate war is not the same as peace: civil wars (such as the one now raging in Ethiopia), state repression and other mass violence continue to inflict enormous human suffering. Wars of independence from colonial repression were often extremely deadly too. But examples of one state sending its armed forces over a border to fight those of another have become far less common.

Even rarer than war between countries, however, is what Mr Putin is trying to do: imperial conquest, or invading a country to make its territory his own. As Yuval Noah Harari, a historian and author, wrote this year, “most governments stopped seeing wars of aggression as an acceptable tool to advance their interests, and most nations stopped fantasising about conquering and annexing their neighbours.” Saddam Hussein believed, wrongly, that Iraq would be permitted by other states to swallow up Kuwait in 1990. Most other examples of such efforts—such as India absorbing Goa in 1961 and Sikkim in 1975—are older still. China might yet try it in Taiwan. But with the exception of Mr Putin’s efforts, and clashes over uninhabited border areas or small islands, the phenomenon has all but disappeared.
The dramatic decline did not happen by chance. The reasons behind it explain something about how states now interact with each other. They also point to why Mr Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine is so exceptional, and unlikely to end in success.

Evidence for the decline in war is not hard to find. The Correlates of War Project, an international research outfit, has collected data on every interstate war fought since 1816, after the Napoleonic wars. These data confirm that wars—meaning conflicts between states with at least 1,000 battle deaths in one year—are becoming much rarer.

The causes are many. Where economies rely on international trade which can be disrupted by conflict, the cost of war increases. In turn, lower trade barriers help to reduce the potential spoils. After all, invading territory in order to impose trade terms, or to access new markets, is hardly rewarding if markets were already open. This is not a sufficient condition for peace, as the first world war showed, but it does reduce the incentives for conflict. War is also rare between democracies (the number of which has increased in the past 200 years), perhaps because voters tend not to like the costs of it and boot out their belligerent leaders. Some scholars even argue that, depending on how strictly you define democracy, two have never gone to war with each other. Finally, strategic nuclear weapons would make total war so destructive as to be hard to imagine.

Smaller conflicts remain common, but even counting all interstate clashes with over 25 deaths, the proportion of the world’s population killed in battle has sharply declined (see chart). This is in part because improved training and equipment protect soldiers better than ever, and medicine has improved. Researchers estimate the wounded-to-killed ratio in wars has more than doubled over the past 50 years.
In Ukraine, however, the human cost has already been extraordinarily high. Estimates vary, but at least 16,500 soldiers have died from both sides, and that number may be as high as 50,000. In September Ben Wallace, Britain’s defence minister, claimed that Russian casualties (the dead and the wounded) amounted to 80,000.
The Economist

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