Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2023-06-01

Lessons from the War in Ukraine: the Changeable Character of War

Dr. John R. Ballard,
Former Dean of the National Defense College The conflict in Ukraine demonstrates one of the most important and enduring of the principles of warfare: the character of war effects its outcomes. Warfare can take many forms; most recently insurgency and preci-sion strikes have been common, but the most typical form of warfare through history has been force-on-force, such as in Ukraine today, and that style of fighting often favours the defence. Ukraine’s offensive now underway shows how character of war can alter the out-comes of conflict.
 
Russia had tremendous advantages in the beginning of the conflict. Russia controlled the timing – it chose when to strike, and it also had a more formidable array of armed forces that were technologically more advanced than those of Ukraine. Russia’s strategic position was also a less important but initially very advantageous benefit for President Putin, because he could choose where to strike around Ukraine’s borders.
 
Ukraine had few initial strengths. Its forces were not well prepared, and it lacked critical intelligence about the timing and axis of the Rus-sian assault. Its leadership was also completely untried in warfare. Ukraine did have sympathetic support from other nations, but that support was initially more sympathy than power. Importantly, Ukraine also had a credible tactical defence given that it had been engaged in ongoing fighting since the invasion of its Crimean provinces in 2014.
 
Once the initial dual axis invasion was stunted by Ukrainian heroism and poor coordination and weak logistics within the Russian forces, the power relationship began to change. Given time, international support slowly, but importantly shifted to provide Ukraine’s real mili-tary power. With the attack slowed, the defensive capabilities of the Ukrainian forces began to wear down the poorly trained Russian units. Due to poor training and morale among its conscripts, Russian atrocities became public worldwide; in today’s information-rich me-dia environment, that generated even more international military support for Ukraine.
 
NATO shifted from a protectionist stance, to first strengthen itself by joining new members, and then to providing armaments directly to Ukrainian command. The Ukrainian armed forces even conducted a few well targeted and well publicised strikes into Russia to increase the cost of the war on Russian citizens. Growing casualties within the Russian forces also began to increase popular opposition within Russia. 
 
Russia may yet triumph in the conflict with Ukraine, but by losing control of the character of the conflict and shifting to an attrition cam-paign intended to grind up the Ukrainian people, it has given up its greatest natural advantages and allowed Ukraine to continue the fight under circumstances allowing it to persevere. 
 
Although nations must provide for the security of their land and people, and may be required to engage in conflict, the character of every conflict can be adjusted by adaptive strategic planning and effective leadership. The ongoing conflict in the Ukraine illustrates how the character of conflict can alter the balance of power and change the outcome of even the most lopsided struggle. The enduring nature of war ensures that it can never be controlled, but the dynamic shift of the character of the fighting in Ukraine should serve as a warning to every nation that they must effectively manage the character of any future conflict in order to win .
 

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