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Fighting a modern war with a WWII economy
On Clausewitz, the Kremlin, and putting some economic perspective on helping Ukraine
Carl Von Clausewitz wrote that "War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means". Often, the "commerce" part is applicable in a literal sense: Wars are probably more often fought over contests for resources than for any other reason -- including religion.
■ Whether the Kremlin decided to attack Ukraine over natural resources, to satisfy a sadistic territorial lust, or for other reasons (and, indeed, it's folly to look for a single cause all on its own), the economic disparity between the aggressor and the defender is large.
■ Russia's gross domestic product is estimated at almost $4 trillion a year, while Ukraine's is about half a trillion. That's an 8-to-1 advantage for Russia.
■ But it's interesting to examine another aspect to the economic matchup, to help put the war in context. Ukraine's per-capita GDP is around $12,000 per year. That makes it a squarely middle-class country: Far from wealthy, but not poor, either. In historical terms, Ukraine's per-capita economic strength is not altogether different from that of the United States around the time of World War II (when adjusted for inflation).
■ The comparison isn't perfect, of course, but it isn't entirely misleading, either. Imagine the economic commitment required of the United States in order to secure victory in World War II -- it was enormous, but it was also achievable.
■ In the current instance, Ukraine is trying to stave off an existential threat from an economic power eight times its size with something like America's economy under Franklin Roosevelt. That's where the pipeline of resources from other countries comes in: The Ukrainians have shown considerable adaptability and willingness to learn. But they need the outside boost of foreign support in order to secure a definitive outcome, and the more open-ended that commitment to support the effort with necessary war materiel, the better.
■ Everything about the invasion remains nonsensical, not least because it has become clear that there is almost no remaining chance of a total capitulation by Ukraine. Whatever is eventually resolved through battle or negotiation, there will still be two states side-by-side, sharing a border more than a thousand miles long.
■ The destruction taking place is pure waste. But to the extent that the free world believes in stopping the bleeding, wealthier countries that are committed to a peaceful future need to continue looking at the grit and determination Ukraine is bringing to its own defense and see themselves as subsidizing efforts that are parallel to those of the Allied nations in World War II. It costs the wealthy nations relatively little to offer aid, but its impact is magnified by the economic disparity. Ultimately, Ukraine's defense against assault is also the defense of many others.