When to question fundamentals
Thinking the unthinkable thought
Sometimes it’s time to question the fundamentals.
I work in national security strategy. Deterrence is a fundamental principle, the idea that a combination of capability, credibility, and communicated threats of pain or failure can discourage certain adversary behavior(s). If there is bedrock to national security thinking, deterrence would be granite.
I’m not sure I believe in it much anymore.
When I came back from a work-research trip to Ukraine in August of last year, I thought there was no way Russia would invade.
Our team met with dozens of Ukrainians all up and down the spectrum of national security—civilians, soldiers, and government officials.
We met a woman who helped lead a non-profit that supplied equipment and arms to volunteers at the front line. We met a recent college graduate who couldn’t be prouder to soon join the Army’s reserve forces. We met the leadership team of a group waging open-source-intelligence warfare against the Russian state. We met a pediatrician and banker, turned battlefield surgeon and platoon leader, respectively, that learned on-the-job to fight Russian-backed-separatists starting in 2015. We met Ukrainian generals who’s soldiers on the trenchline wore patches that translated as “Ukraine or Death,” and who clearly were willing to go that far to defend their homeland.
Then we went to the parade. August 24, 2021, Ukrainian Independence Day, 30 years to the day since their vote to leave the Soviet Union and go fully independent. I’ve never seen a crowd so large, so proud, so loud, in all my life.
A diplomatic event the day prior meant 46 allies and partners were present for the festivities, assembled to watch Ukraine’s heaviest military hardware rolling down the boulevard on display.
The parade itself was deterrence’s embodiment. Capabilities being showcased; the credible will to fight and use that equipment; and visual communication so obvious that anyone, regardless of language barrier, could see.