Projecting how a war will end can be a fraught enterprise. Hoping for the complete collapse of the Russian military and a putsch overthrowing Vladimir Putin is pure fantasy at this point. It is also absolute hubris to argue that the next “new” weapon will transform the conflict, providing either Ukraine or Russia a free run at the opposition.
Initially, it was the grand hopes of artificial intelligence and cyber operations, with cyber providing a “thunder run” opportunity for Russia to open the gates of Kyiv. At this point, a laughable conjecture is offered by very serious pundits. AI has also proven just as frustrating, playing a more significant role in battle coordination behind the scenes or for facial recognition of the dead rather than facilitating the emergence of a modern AI general to lead the military.
While the precision strike complex has transformed modern combat since the 1980s, enabling the massive destruction of armor on the battlefield, mines and layers of trenches remain the natural obstacles. Active surveillance facilitated by drones and satellites helps keep constant eyes on the battlefield, lessening the fog of war. Yet, this has been true since the advent of old-fashioned balloons and reconnaissance aircraft, as old as World War I.
The latest hope is delivering the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMs). An advance in the range from the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), an ATACM can reach 190 miles behind the front lines while HIMARS can reach forty-three miles. Unfortunately, these are not transformative weapons because the United States has too few, and Ukraine needs to advance further to hit critical targets deep in Crimea.
Instead of advanced weapons transforming the war, we are witnessing the continuation of the security dilemma. As John Herz argued, advances in security cause a perceived decrease in the opposition’s security, facilitating a constant action-reaction search for a way out of the conflict spiral. Sadly, conflict spirals never end. Likewise, no magic weapon will facilitate the termination of this war.
Advanced or even primary weapons supplied by the West will not win the war for Ukraine, nor will emergency supplies from North Korea or Iran deliver victory to the Russian side. All these developments will achieve is the revival of the military-industrial complex worldwide. There is no magic solution; the only thing left is to settle for a political solution or the slow attrition of either side’s will to fight. As Margaret Mead argued so long ago, war is a social invention, a poor and inefficient one that will only facilitate constant suffering and death until humans develop a better way.
Brandon Valeriano specializes in military innovation and cyber security. He teaches at Seton Hall University and is also a Senior Fellow at the Royal Danish Defense College, the Marine Corps University, Gray Space Strategies, and the Cyberspace Solarium Commission 2.0.