Ukraine's defense minister Oleksiy Reznikov made some comments last week that caught my attention. He said that in preparation for a "new, long phase of war" Ukraine will arm a million soldiers. The equipment for this huge army will come from foreign weapons and "stimulating Ukrainian producers." Reznikov also echoed some comments made by President Zelensky, that Ukraine will keep fighting until it takes back every square inch of its territory.
First, I wanted to note how hard it is to actually destroy a modern industrial economy. Russia has struck many of Ukraine's older, larger defense factories with missiles, doing heavy damage to them. But reports indicate that Ukraine's overall production of arms is rising rapidly. Items I have seen mentioned include helmets, bulletproof vests, and small-arms ammunition. We know that Ukraine continues to manufacture its own drones and missiles as well. Just as in World War II, it is proving very difficult to disarm any nation by bombing its factories. Most industrial production can be dispersed among many small facilities with only a small loss in efficiency.
Second, this business of raising a million-man army to fight for every square inch of land makes me queasy. I of course fully support Ukraine's war against Russia's perfidious invasion, which only gets more disturbing as time goes on. The theft of tens of thousands of Ukrainians, including children, strikes me as a new level of atrocity.
It is nonetheless possible for even a just war to turn to evil.
Consider this scenario: in a few months, Russian advances have completely stopped, while Ukraine continues to make incremental reconquests in some areas. With Ukraine mainly on the offensive, the casualty ratio has reversed, with Ukraine suffering most combat losses. Russia signals its willingness to make peace with only modest territorial gains. Ukraine insists on pushing forward until every square inch of its territory is recaptured, no matter the cost.
You can say, Ukraine is a democracy, that's their call, but as with any nation in a terrible war the right of dissent has already been curtailed and this could easily go further.
What would the west's responsibility here be? Public support for providing more arms would probably fade; in fact I think Biden sought such a big package now because he knows that getting additional support will grow increasingly difficult. Emanuel Macron already seems to be thinking about this scenario, positioning himself to broker a peace once the two sides are fought out.
But suppose Ukraine fights on anyway, supported by the old Warsaw Pact states. How far would this have to go, with how many losses, before it came to seem worse than occupation? Thinking back to World War I, most of us do not have fond thoughts about the French commanders who sent tens of thousands to their deaths to drive the Germans away from Verdun. There is a horror to even the most necessary war.
Obviously I am getting far ahead of events, and there are much more immediate worries. But some of the words I am hearing bother me, and it does sometimes happen that even a very good goal turns out to be not worth the cost.