Regular readers will know that I take a very close interest in the Russo-Ukraine war. Ukraine’s current counter-offensive has, to date, been focused on degrading Russia’s fuel and ammunition supply chains, aiming to weaken Russia’s ability to fight. Some observers have criticised the slow pace of the counter-offensive, but Ukraine could only move faster if it had the appropriate weapons.
Kyiv has consistently (for the last 18 months) called for extra support from the USA with two specific weapons systems in mind: F-16 jets, to give Ukraine air superiority, and a highly-accurate longer-range tactical missile system called ATACMS.
So far, the US has refused to provide these two systems, arguing that there are other priorities. I can see two possible reasons for this position. First, the US fears that providing these weapons will be seen as an escalation by Putin, encouraging him to promote the use of tactical nuclear weapons. However, I don’t think this is true. China has consistently warned Russia against any nuclear provocation and, so far at least, Russia has not changed its approach to the war as a result of Ukraine’s ability to bring new weapons to the battlefield (such as the UK’s Storm Shadow missiles).
The other possible reason for the US position is that its military strategists are concerned about what will happen in Russia if Putin loses this war too badly. The recent short-lived putsch by the Wagner group showed how fragile Putin’s position is and the US, scarred by its experience of toppling Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship of Iraq, fears the potential impact of a post-Putin world.
Learning from experience is a good thing, but allowing your past experiences to prevent you making the right decisions now is dysfunctional. I have a client who, having struggled to build a European business over 25-years ago, still refuses to consider international expansion, even though it is likely to provide the company’s best route to future growth.
Conversely, Steve Jobs, on his return to Apple, continued to develop physical products – the iPod, Mac, iPhone and iPad – even though the company had been previously outfought by Microsoft in the 1980s in the market that Jobs and Apple had invented, the PC. As a result, many critics in the early noughties were saying that the company should focus on licensing its technology and software rather than selling products.
Jobs, however, had changed the strategy from products to ‘ecosystems’ (e.g. iTunes and iPods) and recognised that this was a new opportunity, rather than a simple rerun of history. And, over the next decade, he was proved right.
Personally, I second the view of Garry Kasparov, the Russian world chess champion and a major critic of the Putin regime, who recently tweeted that far from worsening the situation, “Putin’s fall will provide an opportunity for better, for a path of hope where currently no hope exists. This is what Russians require, what Ukraine deserves, and what the world needs.” But to make that a reality, the US government will need to find a way to both learn from experience while also recognising that the Russ-Ukraine War is not a repeat of the second Iraq War and provide Ukraine with the necessary weapons for victory.
You may or not agree with my assessment, but whatever your views of the war, where are you letting past decisions that didn’t work out affect your current decision-making?
Off The Record: Cue Fanfare by Prefab Sprout
The sweetest moment comes at last – the waiting’s over,
In shock they stare, and cue fanfare.
When Bobby Fischer’s plane (plane, plane),
Touches the ground (plane, plane),
He’ll take those Russian boys and play them out of town,
Playing for blood – as grandmasters should.