No more stupid wars: The West must not allow itself to be dragged further into the Russia-Ukraine war

Oleksandr Gusev/Global Images Ukraine via Getty


It would stupid for the West to get further dragged into the Russian-Ukraine war.

The war is stupid in the same way that most wars since the end of the Cold War have been stupid. They have been wars of choice, not wars of necessity.

They are, as the writer Sir Lawrence Freedman who first used the term put it, “without strategic imperative.”

They are the wars when something awful is happening a long way away and Western leaders, usually American leaders, say “something must be done”.

Libya, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, hell, all the way back to Vietnam, none of those conflicts would threaten the countries of America or Europe. Yet Western soldiers, mostly American soldiers, piled in and died.

As David Betz – Professor of War in the Modern World at King’s College London – reminds us, stupid wars end badly. Just look at America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan: “A humiliatingly pell-mell withdrawal, replete with scenes of desperate people plummeting from the wheel wells of departing transport aircraft, leaving behind billions of dollars’ worth of military assets, and a population that hates you more than when you started.”

Yet America and the rest of NATO look at that fiasco and still think they must “do something” about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


Since the end of the Cold War, Betz defines Western policy towards Russia as “three parts dishonest, to two parts ignorance, and one part neglect with a dash of high-handed contempt.”

Dig back to observations by the CIA director William Burns and former defence secretary Robert Gates and others and you will find that the West has acted provocatively towards Russia and knew it was being provocative.

They treated Russia with contempt because they were strong, and Russia was weak.

Not anymore.

Betz has it: “Wars…are not won by tactics and weapons per se, it is with logistics with which serious professionals are preoccupied.”

“In this respect, Russia’s lead over the West is simply astonishing. Its production of artillery shells outstrips the whole of the West by something like eight to one at present, a lead which is still increasing.”

“In tanks and other armoured vehicles, Russian production relative to the West is about five to one.”

“In missiles of a range of types, including hypersonics, short-range conventional ballistics, and cruise systems, production is again outpacing the West by a factor of five to one.”

Or as Putin might put it, “Who’s weak now, Yankee?”

Western Europe has been ignoring Russian logistics strength because they are certain America would come in if a NATO state were invaded by Russia. European states are building their own army strength, too, so, give it another five years (if Moscow is that patient) and the European armies would be stronger.

That is delusion.

Go over to another defence brain, Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Writing in the American Conservative, Bandow notes “Washington has turned an alliance intended to augment U.S. security into an international dole.”

“While NATO officials proudly boast about the alliance’s capabilities, many of its members matter not at all.”

Some European forces are rounding errors.

He lists off some: Croatia, 16,700, Denmark, 15,400, Sweden, 14,600, North Macedonia, 8,000, Albania, 7,500, Estonia, 7,200, Latvia 6,600, Slovenia, 6,400, Montenegro, 2,350, Luxembourg, 410.

I leave to one side Finland’s reserve forces of 300,000. They reckon they could hold off a Russian invasion for a month. Well done, Finns. Still, I must wonder who is going to help the Finns after that month is up.

Not their NATO partner Iceland. They have zero forces.

Meanwhile America’s forces number 1,359,600.

European forces next to American forces are Munchkins.

Worse, mean Munchkins. They do not want to pay the cost of establishing armies that could defeat a Russian invasion.

Earlier this my Brussels Signal colleague Gawain Towler listed military spending by NATO members. A level set after the Cold War ended was two per cent of their GDP. Last year only 11 of the 30 members met it.

Start the list. France (paying 1.90 per cent), Montenegro (1.87 per cent), North Macedonia (1.87 per cent), Bulgaria (1.84 per cent), Croatia (1.79 per cent), Albania (1.76 per cent), the Netherlands (1.70 per cent)…that’s enough, it is too disheartening.

The numbers are tiny, even with the level at just two per cent the members do not bother to reach it.

There you have it, the war in Ukraine is stupid, the European armies are Munchkins, and the defence budgets are mean.

Let us end with Betz: “A main quality of stupid wars is that they are chosen – not forced. The West provoked a conflict against the serious warning, by its own leading experts, that it ought not.”

“Another main quality of them is that they are pervaded by delusionary wishful thinking. In war it is perfectly acceptable to lie to your enemy. Lying to yourself, though, is the kiss of death.”