Modern Diplomacy
The World in Search of a New Balance of Power

The impossibility of achieving a strategic victory over the enemy through military means, the continuing interconnectedness of the world, the constant military conflict as one of the tools of grand strategy introduces us to the era of constant indirect war, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

The military crisis raging in Eastern Europe has dispelled the illusion that the era of large armies is becoming a thing of the past. Military thinking among the leading powers is beginning to move away from the maxim of the 2000s, according to which the goal of war was to blind and stun the enemy’s sensors in order to technologically incapacitate him, precluding his ability to fight using 21st century methods (high-precision, mobile, deep coverage), and sending him back to paper maps. Achieving this goal with a discrepancy between the levels of military readiness and the development of military equipment does not guarantee a strategic result.

Can we, observing these trends, state that the war of the 21st century remains highly mobile and will be high-tech, that it will be fought with small numbers? Or have we seen a return to the historical norm of large armies — where the risk of wars between great powers increases, and small and mobile armies do not have significant advantages over large armies that rely on the mobilisation of the population? The experience of the 21st century shows that the features of a major military conflict between powers of comparable power will be exactly the same as they have been throughout history.

In previous decades, much attention was paid to the virtual dimension of conflicts and victory in the information environment. It remains an important dimension of military confrontation, but is not decisive. Psychological confrontation existed in Ancient Greece and Ancient China: to defeat the enemy’s plans, disorganise his society, sow distrust — this remains one of the key goals of war.

To summarise, we have a picture in which decisive strategic victory through armed conflict involves the use of the same amount of material resources that have always been required throughout history for strategic victory. Leading German generals, already at the beginning of the implementation of the Barbarossa plan, realised that strategically this was a defeat, since the key goals of the war were not achieved immediately. Modern society, influenced by consumer practices, has difficulty moving along the path of mobilisation, and this is a stress for most governments. 

Modern Diplomacy
Why Does Zelensky Need a Long Conflict With Russia?
Andrey Sushentsov
It is unlikely that Zelensky is counting on a military victory for his country. For this, Ukraine does not have its own military-economic resources, and the funds provided by the West will never be sufficient to inflict a final defeat on Russia. Probably, the calculation of the president of Ukraine is based on offering Ukraine as a tool for the West in the fight against Russia, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

Mobilisation in modern political and international conditions is a major challenge for any state, and the open question remains how mobilisation would be reacted to in the countries most actively supporting Ukraine — the United States, Britain, Lithuania and Poland. We see the difficulties facing the mobilisation of those liable for military service in Ukraine, whose society is now being processed by a large-scale propaganda campaign. Perhaps the most resilient of states is the one that can afford to mobilise while maintaining internal stability and conditions for economic growth.

At the same time, globalisation has not disappeared; the world is still interconnected through gateway zones — even opponents are interconnected.

The impossibility of achieving a strategic victory over the enemy through military means, the continuing interconnectedness of the world, the constant military conflict as one of the tools of grand strategy introduces us to the era of constant indirect war. That is not the eschatological Manichaean confrontation between black and white, as in World War II, but a system of constant rebalancing of players.

Moreover, victory can only be achieved by undermining the internal vitality of one of the opponents, when he himself admits that the goals were not achieved by military means. The conditions for normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Iran arose when Saudi Arabia realised that in Yemen, with the available resources, it could not defeat the Houthis militarily. It is worth considering that the balance in relations between the United States on the one hand and China and Russia on the other also rests on the impossibility of a decisive victory in the context of military conflict.

Can we state that military conflict is the norm of the 21st century? Perhaps the Indo-Pakistani relations of mutual containment and constant hostility will eventually serve as the prototype for the great confrontation between Russia and the West. However, this does not mean that a rapid spiral into nuclear war, catastrophic for everyone, is likely. The world has entered a period of constant power rebalancing without major breakthroughs. War is again a constant, but a very narrow circle of countries will be capable of a truly major war.

Economic Statecraft
Hybrid War and Hybrid Peace
Ivan Timofeev
The main problem of hybrid warfare is that it is easy to start and even easier to accelerate its momentum. Stopping it is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Moreover, a smouldering and self-sustaining hybrid war may well devalue political agreements and diplomatic efforts, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.