Modern Diplomacy
Brave Old World: Wars and Historical Normality Without Rose-Coloured Spectacles
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On October 18, the Valdai Club presented a report, titled “Warfare in a New Epoch: The Return of Big Armies”. The moderator was
Andrey Sushentsov, programme director of the Club. He emphasised that the conflict in Ukraine refutes a concept that had prevailed for a long time, according to which modern warfare is a war with small forces, adding that it demonstrates the relevance of large military units. “War remains the same phenomenon that we have observed for centuries. The dominant view in recent years was an illusion,” he concluded.

Co-author of the report Vasily Kashin, Director of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, noted that the events in Ukraine illustrate that conflicts involving states are becoming larger in scale, pursuing more decisive goals and demonstrating the readiness of all players to make sacrifices that for a long time were considered impossible. This is due to the changing balance of power in the world. Much of what seemed unshakable now has been called into question. Alternative views on the world order are emerging. Some countries are forced to defend their positions, while others see new opportunities for themselves. External crises are accompanied by internal ones. As a result, conflicts are escalating around the world. “So we are returning to a kind of normality that existed before the period from the 1970s to the end of the 2010s, when we lived with proverbial rose-tinted glasses, believing that we could build armed forces on a model adapted for local conflicts, and that nuclear weapons guarantee complete security,” Kashin said. According to him, the big countries will have to return to the basics of military-economic planning that were generally accepted in the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.

Lieutenant general (ret.) Evgeniy Buzhinsky, Chairman of the PIR Center Council, pointed out that when in the 2000s Russia suspended the CFE Treaty due to its inconsistency with modern realities, and the process of understanding the new situation began, the expert community spoke not about the scale and duration of conflicts, but about new categories of weapons. Tank battles and artillery duels in Europe seemed unthinkable. The analysis was based on the experience of the Yugoslav and Libyan conflicts, as well as the Second Iraq War, with massive bombing and the use of precision weapons and drones, after which targets “on the ground” should have been achieved relatively easily. “The Ukrainian conflict has shown: the tanks are back, the artillery is back,” he said. According to Buzhinsky, in the next wars, whatever they may be, all current means of armed struggle will remain, but on a qualitatively new level.

Gregory Simons, an independent expert from Sweden, drew parallels between the conflict in Ukraine and the Iran-Iraq war. In his opinion, Iraq was not a subject, but an object in the war and was forced to rely entirely on American support. Similarly, Ukraine is now not a subject, but an object against the backdrop of US attempts to block the movement towards a multipolar world. American politicians, ignoring the media rhetoric about moral confrontation, quite frankly say that they perceive this conflict as a means to wear Russia down. At the same time, according to Simons, the Western leaders could not foresee, for example, such consequences as the deindustrialisation of Europe. “Sooner or later, the West will run out of political will to continue the conflict,” the analyst concluded.

Dmitry Stefanovich, a researcher at the Centre for International Security at IMEMO RAS, noted that the role of external support is important both in the current conflicts and in future conflicts. If this support is not stopped in one way or another, then the conflict can become extremely long-lasting. He also pointed to the high level of transparency in modern conflicts and the enormous amount of available data. However, how much this data helps one get the real picture is not clear: the data is too easy to manipulate. It is even difficult to say how to measure the potentials of the parties at war. In addition, Stefanovich raised the possibility of long-term support for the defence industry and big armies. According to him, there are many statements about this in the West, but they are practically not translated into reality, since the war and peacetime industries are very different. It is difficult to say where to get the resources and people for such a transition, the expert believes.