May 28, 2024

Organising for Victory

Activists wave Ukrainian flags outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on 23 April 2024.
Activists wave Ukrainian flags outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on 23 April 2024.

Today, the United States and its Allies face global challenges. The question is … do we have the political will, industrial capacity, economic leverage, and military capability to overcome those challenges? Can we organise for victory … or will we just kick the can down the road?

The Kremlin’s war against Ukraine continues, well into its tenth year since Russia first invaded Ukraine, and now more than two years since the start of its large-scale invasion.

Russia is not Alone

Iran, its close ally, delivers Shaheed drones and helpfully distracts western resources and attention away from Ukraine, through the attacks of its proxies Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis. Hamas is actively engaged in a deadly battle with Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in Gaza following the shocking Hamas atrocities of 7 October. The excessive use of force by the IDF in pursuit of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s directive to “destroy Hamas” has added enormous difficulties to the task of finding a solution that brings home hostages, stops the killing of innocent Palestinians, and offers a sustainable two-state solution.

Iran’s other proxies, the Houthis and Hezbollah, launch rockets at Israeli and US troops in the region and at international commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

North Korea provides ammunition, including large ballistic missiles that have been used against Ukrainian cities.

Meanwhile, China brazenly defies red lines from President Biden about material support to Russia’s war effort, openly supplying critical components needed for the production of missiles and drones used to kill innocent Ukrainian civilians. In the longer term, Beijing is watching to see if the west is willing to help Ukraine defeat Russia, limit the war in Gaza from escalating beyond the borders of Israel, bring about a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, deter Iran from further strikes against US forces in Syria, and still have enough left to deter China from its own illegal claims in the South China Sea or aggression against the Philippines and potentially against Taiwan.

China, Iran, and Russia share a disdain for the international rules-based order created after World War II from which so many of us have benefited and prospered and which we seem to take for granted. They see weaknesses in our resolve and vulnerabilities in our societies and use multiple means to exploit the lack of trust and coherence. They see the disastrous conclusion to the 20 years of war in Afghanistan as evidence that no nation can really trust the western powers as reliable partners.

A Strategic Whole

These challenges are linked and so should be seen as parts of a strategic whole. Doing so will help us develop clearly defined strategic objectives and priorities and get our industrial capacity and military capabilities to the necessary levels for effective deterrence and defence.

So, how do we organise for victory? How do we, in the west, muster the combined political will, unlock the enormous industrial capacity, use all of the economic tools at our disposal, and deploy our unmatched military capabilities to meet these threats to our strategic interests?

The Second World War offers an example of how.

In January 1942, after nearly three years of disaster for Great Britain at the hands of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s destruction of most of the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, US President Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in Washington, DC, at the Arcadia Conference to discuss a strategy for winning the War. Without much reason for optimism, and knowing that most Americans opposed a land war in Europe, FDR and Churchill, nonetheless, agreed on the strategic priority of defeating Nazi Germany first.

One year later, in January 1943, at the Casablanca Conference, FDR and Churchill met again to agree on the strategic objective — “Unconditional Surrender” of Nazi Germany and Japan.

Having thus established the War’s strategic objective and priority, the Allied leaders organised their defence industries and built the enormous armies, navies, and air forces needed to win the War.

We need a return to the clarity of Churchill and FDR. The west must defeat Russia first. This is how we deter an expanded war in Europe, in the Middle East, and with China.

Ukraine Can Still Win…

The current situation in Ukraine is obviously very difficult but not lost. In fact, I remain confident that Ukraine will eventually defeat Russia and eject the occupiers back to the 1991 borders.

After 10 years of war, with the Kremlin holding every advantage, Russia still only controls one-fifth of Ukraine. The Russian Navy and Air Force have failed their principal tasks and are suffering huge losses. Ukraine has changed the character of naval warfare, winning the battle of the Black Sea without a traditional navy of its own. Over 500 000 Russian soldiers have been killed and wounded. The Russians have thus far not demonstrated the operational capability to achieve significant exploitation of their local tactical successes in the furthest eastern part of Ukraine, nor do they have the capability to knock Ukraine out of the war.

Ukrainian Armed Forces must use this year to stabilise the situation, to buy time for fixing problems and for building combat power for future offensive operations. Part of the task includes growing the Army in order to reconstitute worn-out units, as well as build and train new ones, and developing capabilities to counter the Russian drone and electronic warfare advantages. This will require the Ukrainian government to fix the personnel system to generate the manpower required to build additional brigades.

… But the West Must Do More

President Biden and his Administration need to clearly declare that its strategic objective is for Ukraine to win this war. The failure of the Administration to explain to the American people that it is in our strategic interest that Ukraine defeats Russia has led to self-deterring policies and incremental decision-making. This failure left open the door for disinformation and for the MAGA-led GOP — despite the support of most Americans, including Democrats and Republicans in Congress — to delay the aid package for Ukraine for nearly eight months.

Ukraine needs the capability to make Crimea, the decisive terrain of this war, untenable for the Russian Navy, Air Force, and Logistics. Ukraine has already proven the concept with just three UK-provided Storm Shadow missiles, destroying both the Black Sea Fleet Headquarters in Sevastopol and their maintenance capability, forcing the Black Sea Fleet to begin withdrawing to Novorossiysk. It also needs the capability to neutralise Russian massed infantry and armoured forces. That means long-range strike capability which will destroy Russian headquarters, Russian artillery, and Russian logistics, without which massed Russian infantry are ineffective. The US and Germany can both provide this capability, in addition to what the UK and France are already supplying.

The Year of Industrial Competition

2024 is also the Year of Industrial Competition and the west must win this competition. As it was at the beginning of World War II, the combined defence industries of the west have enormous potential. But it needs to become an urgent priority, dwarfing that of Russia and its enablers. Expanding industrial capacity in Ukraine and in the west, reliable delivery of ammunition, and moving maintenance capabilities forward into Ukraine are all achievable this year, if the west has the political will.

Ammunition production in Europe and the US is picking up momentum. The US has already quadrupled 155mm ammunition production in the past year. However, 70 percent of what EU nations currently produce goes to customers outside of Europe, for example, to the UAE and Uganda. Nations should reprioritise that ammunition to Ukraine. There is a lot of ammunition already out there. Czech President Pavel has recently found sources for over a million rounds, and nations are queueing to pay for it for Ukraine.

Russia Containment Strategy 2.0

Organising for victory also requires us to anticipate success — that is to think about what should happen after Ukraine has defeated Russia. The requirement for a Russia containment strategy 2.0 is upon us now. Our best partner for understanding Russia and knowing how to fight it will be Ukraine. Ukraine will be a bulwark against Putin’s clearly articulated plans for further European conquest. The survival of Ukraine and the necessity to bring it into NATO is paramount to a new European and global deterrence and containment strategy.

We know from history that War is a test of Will and a test of Logistics. We’ve got the industrial potential to deliver the necessary logistics to defeat Russia first, isolate Iran and North Korea, and deter China. Do we have the political Will to organise ourselves to win?

A Finnish friend once told me that Finns are never scared because they are always prepared.

We need a return to the clarity of Churchill and Roosevelt, who communicated clear strategic priorities to the public, industry, and the military. Our elected leaders must speak to us as adults and explain the threats, costs, and sacrifices we must all make to protect our strategic interests. We don’t need to be scared … we need to be prepared.

This article was written for the Lennart Meri Conference special issue of ICDS Diplomaatia magazine. Views expressed in ICDS publications are those of the author(s).

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