Reflections on war
These days the world's hands are drenched in blood. We're all up to it. If you pay taxes, the chances are you're contributing to someone's bloody death in a war, somewhere.
Nevertheless there is less of it than you would think. Since 1945, the number of annual deaths caused by war has generally plummeted and is now usually well below 100,000 people per year. Here is an interactive chart for each year between 1946 and 2020:
Here is the primary chart worthy of study: the basic point is that since 1945, after spikes in the early 1950's (Stalin), 1960's (Indochina) and 1980's (Afghanistan / Reagan), global war deaths per year have seldom crept over 100,000. And all the time the population of the world kept going up.
While the number of deaths through the war in Ukraine in 2022 is still being argued about, it's also going to be a lot fewer than 100,000. Moreover the other main wars that were going on in previous years - e.g. Syria, Libya, CAR, Chad, Mozambique etcetera - have mysteriously quietened down. So 2022 isn't actually going to have turned out to be a particularly bloody year in the global war deaths count, notwithstanding the war in Ukraine.
The main question that arises out of this very curious observation is, is this just an accident or is there a causal connection between the commencement of and activity in Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the increased quietitutde on the world's other war fronts?
The shocked and affronted defender of Ukraine's right to fight back might vigorously assert that there is no connection; Ukraine has a right to fight back against outrageous and appalling Russian aggression irrespective of the status of various other wars around the globe. But this would be a non sequitur. The person who poses the question in these terms is not thinking rationally about the issue.
The question of whether Ukraine is entitled to fight back against Russia and/or should be supported by the international community in doing so (a normative, or moral question) is not directly pertinent to our inquiry, which (at least at the current point in this essay) is an entirely factual question: is it a substantive reason why the world's other wars have gone quiet that the war in Ukraine is taking place? We think it is. And the reason why we think it is, is very important in understanding the dynamics of contemporary global war.
To illustrate the point, let us offer a hypothesis about the connection between the two issues (war in Ukraine and less war elsewhere) that we consider vacuous because it is untestable. (No hypothesis has any value if it cannot be tested by reference to available evidence.) The hypothesis which, while superficially attractive, we wish to deride, is that the participants in other wars in the world have seen the chaos in Ukraine and thought 'we'd better stop fighting because otherwise we will get unwelcome attention due to the carnage in Ukraine'. This hypothesis seems the wrong way round, if anything: you're more likely to get away with a war if there's another particularly bloody one going on that everyone is focused upon.
But more fundamentally, there is no way of testing whether war participants in other countries in the world are actually thinking in this way. It seems unlikely to us that they are; but there is no data one might observe that might confirm or refute the hypothesis. Hence it is empty.
However there is another hypothesis that we can test, which might also explain why the war in Ukraine is associated with a reduction in wars elsewhere in the world. That hypothesis is that the Russian Federation is disproportionately responsible for causing wars worldwide; and she is now bogged down in Ukraine and hence she cannot devote her resources to fighting other wars elsewhere.
In other words, our hypothesis is that Russia is a war state; she causes most of the world's wars (for reasons not immediately obvious but we will come to look at the possibilities) and if she's busy arranging a lot of killing (of her own side and the opposing side) in Ukraine then she is short of resources to perpetuate similar such things in other countries. That is why the uptick in war deaths in Ukraine has been compensated for by a downtick in war deaths in other places.
We should pause now to observe that if this hypothesis has any element of truth, then it implies rather dramatic conclusions. One of those conclusions may be that there is no point suing for peace with Russia in the Ukraine war; because if we do, then that will liberate Russian military and other capacity to go back to fighting other wars in other places. In other words, Russia will keep killing roughly the same number of people in wars even if peace breaks out in Ukraine, because she'll just move her resources onto killing a bunch of different people in different places
What is our evidence for this remarkable hypothesis, namely that most wars are caused by the Russians? Well it's not that simple. But let us try to explain matters.
All the wars we have identified above, that have been mostly responsible for the approximately 100,000 people global war death rate over the last few years, have involved Russia as an aggressor of some kind, interfering in foreign countries' wars.
The principal way Russia has been doing this in the last few years, in all of the Middle East, North Africa and subsaharwn Africa, is via the Wagner Group, an organisation we have already studied that recruits as cattle mercenaries local veterans of wars in which Russia has previously played a role, and therefore are skilled in using Russia's distinctive but rather advanced armour and missile technology.
Hence the process is like a spark plug in a hydrogen bomb. Once Russia has invested in one war (the Syrian Civil War, that went on a long time, was one such investment), they have primed the pump with local veterans that can later be hired on frankly atrocious mercenary terms (bad pay;. one-way tickets; high likelihood of prompt death) to keep fighting other wars.
This way, Russia reduced the number of young Russian men who have to die (with the correlative domestic consequences of that in Russian politics) in order for Russia to be able to continue fighting wars.
The expenditure Russia needs to make in continuing to manufacture and develop armour and missiles to continue fighting wars can be paid for with the increased hydrocarbon sale revenues she is rexeiving by reason of the war in Ukraine and the international sanctions that follow. This generatesinflated global hydrocarbon prices, Russia's only real export
Russia has already invested in the manufacturing facilities necessary to perpetuate perpetual war in Ukraine with her advanced kit she has been investing in since V Putin came to power in Moscow in 2000.
Now the Americans have to spend money to catch up. In the interim, the Russians can spend money over-producing. America has still only committed to provide about 60. HIMARS SAM systems to Russia; whereas Russia has deployed thousands of S-400's, the Russian equivalents, that are better. And she has massive manufacturing capacity to. produce ever more, all financed by hydrocarbon sale premiums.
The Kalibr cruise missile is another example. It's much better than American cruise missiles (whether they are called Tomahawks when fired by the Americans or Neptunes when fired by the Ukrainians). The American versions are subsonic, rendering them vulnerable to SAM knock-outs. The Kalibrs are supersonic or even hypersonic, rendering this much more difficult. America needs to get inventing a. hypersonic cruise missile and start mass producing it.
They are doing. The Americans have an unusual form of war economy. In times of peace - which for the Americans (unlike the Russians) are most times, the American military-industrrial complex gets fat producing the same things, or researching the impossible, off the back of federal government grants.
But what the Russians do not understand about America - and they never have and we suspect they never will - is that once her often lethargic and sclerotic bureaucracy has decided to reorientate itself towards war, the country is capable of the most massive and enormous investments in war to the exclusion and domination of any other country.
If we look at the figures, the number of global deaths through war sank between 1953 and 1954. The reason for this is obivious: Stalin was an atrocious war-mongerer, and he died (probably murdered by his own doctors) in 1953. The new government by committee in Moscow that replaced him was much more hesitant about the value of endless war and withdrew from causing wars to continue in various parts of the world..
The next global war death spike was in the 1960's. The Americans got involved in Vietnam and Indochina and that was very bloody. This was the Americans' fault; it was totally unnecessary because they weren't actually fighting either the Soviet Union or China there but just countries that didn't matter geopolitically. However it was an illustration of what happens when the US bureaucracy decides to put itself on a wartime footing. It produces massive quantities of instruments of death, quite beyond anything any other country can produce, and then it uses them.
The problem the Russians have is that they haven't spotted that the change in the US economy from a peacetime architecture to a war footing has been gradually been taking place over the course of 2022. The met result of this is that now the Russians are really going to suffer in Ukraine. And not just them: China will suffer, because America will build more and more ships, aeroplanes, warheads and other things that they can navigate through the straits of Taiwan and lots of other inconvenient places in the South China Sea. The Americans will also turn Western Europe into a heavily armed camp, the ultimate result of which will be the remaining countries in Europe not in the EU / NATO joining those organisations, to Russia's detriment. America will purchase their membership with earmarked European war money.
So in fact Russia has really screwed it up. They should have stayed in their African wars, because Europe didn't really care about those. Now Russia has invaded Ukraone, on the EU's border, the Europeans have a concrete reason to lobby the US relentlessly to invest militarily in Europe. That is what they have been doing; they have been successful; and suddenly Russia has a hyper-militarising United States as an implacable and uncompromising opponent.
This entails that the only way Russia is going to be able to hold its own in Ukraine (and hence in Europe) is by investing ever more in the military to try to counterbalance the uncompromising hyper-militarisation of Europe (and indeed the rest of the world) that America cannot stop itself from doing because her bureaucracy, once it has made a decision of this kind, is almost totally inflexible.
The Americans will soon embrace the logic that Russia must be relentlessly fought against in Ukraine in order to prevent her from fighting other deadly wars elsewhere in the world.
China will be upset, because she won't be able to sell as many Mickey Mouse dolls to an America with a wartime economy footing. She may try to pressurise Russia into stepping down the war in Ukraine for this reason; but it is not clear what leverage China has to do this. She could stop buying Russian hydrocarbons; but then she would pay more for non-sanctioned hydrocarbons and that is not in her interests.
This is particularly so when to withdraw from Russian hydrocarbon purchase would give China's principal opponent in the global consumer sales market, India, an even greater advantage as India could screw Russia down still further on the prices she pays for sanctioned Russian hydrocarbons.
Hence Russia will keep fighting Europe and the United States in Ukraine, at increasing cost for herself because Russia is not good at arms races as we saw in the 1980's. She just builds more nuclear weapons as an ad hoc response to massive American militarisation. And nuclear weapons are useless because you can't use them (or everybody does including you). This was the point John Bolton spotted when advising President Trump to withdraw from the US-Russia strategic arms reduction treaty. There is no reason why such a treaty could be useful to the West, because Russia has never complied with it and never will. Moreover the fact that they won't is their weakness, because they end up building lots of totally useless nuclear weapons which ultimately in the 1980's led to the Soviet Union's total collapse (nuclear warheads are not an adequate substitute for empty shelves in Russian department stores) and the enfeeblement of Russia that followed.
Russia simply cannot escape her propensity to have wars and to conduct a wartime economy. America is not locked into the same cycle, despite her sclerotic war bureaucracy: and when she is in a wartime economic cycle, she's a lot better at wartime economic activity than virtually any other country. That is demonstrated by the fact that she continues comfortably to spend more than all the other countries in the world combined on the military. No other country could get away with this politically or economically.
Russia is basically back where she was in the early 1950's; locked in a not very efficient war economy because she is run by a war-mongerer. Then it was Stalin; now it's Putin. But it's worse than that, because in the 1950's the US was transitioning back to a civilian economy under post- war pacifists like President Eisenhower. President Biden's regime is more like that of President Johnson in Vietnam: keep spending to reduce the monolithic opponent to smithereens. The main problem with Johnson doing that era was that in Indochina there was no monolithic opponent. The Russians weren't involved and the Chinese - then nowhere near the Superpower they are now - tried to stay away as much as they could.
In other words the current era is actually less like Johnson and more like Reagan. The Americans will now start more and more wars against the Russians on more and more fronts. And the Russians, for all their cleverness with the Wagner Group (which has stopped working outside Ukraine during the course of 2022), won't be able to handle it.
Russia under Putin is a country whose modus operandi is war. And the Americans have geared themselves gradually into a mentality in which they're going to beat them at it.
The conclusion is that because Russia is currently a warmongering state, the Americans should in fact fight war with the Russians on every single front they can, in order to degrade Russia's capacity to wage war and - which is a necessary prerequisite under this Russian President because otherwise he will keep spending money on war - to decimate Russia economically in the course of doing so.
This is a game the Russians can only lose. One proximate juncture will be the assassination of Vladimie Putin by some Russians who are sick of all of this. We cannot predict when this might happen. But we in the West must not try to help them, or they'll keep falling down stairs or out of windows. We have to let the Russians get on with their brutally Russian business of regime change on their own. And then we'll just have to deal with whatever comes next in Moscow.
At this point one might be reminded of George Orwell's discussion of the Internationalist Wars in his brilliant political pseudo-novel 1984. Let it be. That is how geopolitical events will undoubtedly unfold.