War: Too Big to Fail

05 May 2023

The current wars Russia/Ukraine and Sudan are unlikely to end any time soon. Neither are they likely–I think–to spill over into neighboring countries, although they have stressed their neighbors in a variety of ways.

In both instances, the combatants are not unequally matched. In the Ukraine conflict, Russia has more manpower, but the soldiers are very poorly trained, equipped and led; by comparison Ukraine’s troops are smaller in number, but have access to significant weaponry, are well motivated, and seemingly well led. The conflict has drug on for a year and is, in my view, unlikely to be quickly decided on the strength of capacities alone. In the Sudan conflict, while I know less about the individual combatants, most analysis I read suggests a similar disparity–the Sudan Armed Forces are larger, but the RSF while smaller is more ably led and has the more experienced fighters.

In both instances, outside forces have a vested interest in one or the other side. Russia obviously has its own capacity to raise up and deploy troops and equipment, and Ukraine has NATO and the US supplying it with arms and other supplies (though not troops). It’s obviously in the interests of Western military contractors to continue doing so (there’s a lot of money involved). Likewise in Sudan, there are vested interests on both sides: Egypt and certain others supporting the Sudan Armed Forces, Libya and others supporting the RSF. The RSF has more money (by all appearances), so outsiders are perfectly happy to sell them weapons.

In both instances, there are key leaders at the top who are strong personalities inspiring their troops and world opinion. Those leaders appear to be immune to (or have the support of) public opinion. They don’t have to deal with a pending election, or ‘war weariness,’ to bring an end to the war at the negotiating table.

Indeed, in neither of the two wars does there seem to be any interest in truces, cease-fires, or negotiation at all. In fact, one might think that in each conflict, the primary and most obvious way to bring an end to the war is the elimination of one of the leaders. (I am not advocating that–just saying that of all the ways for these wars to end, that does appear to be the shortest route.)

The outside interests are seemingly okay with ‘egging on their side’–by overt statements of support, writing checks, and providing arms, equipment, supplies, and training. But no outside interest seems particularly interested in the fall of the countries involved. For example, while most seem to want Russia to withdraw from Ukraine, no one seems to particularly be really desiring Putin’s removal from power.

While it seems less likely to end up with a situation where Russia or Ukraine change governments (absent a really wildcard event like nukes), when the fighting in Sudan is done, there’s some possibility that the two armies will have bludgeoned each other into near non-existence, and Sudan as a country could fracture into a failed state, whereas it looks like Ukraine, when the war is done, will have a functioning state, but a large and expensive job to rebuild (and many countries will be very interested in the rebuilding of Ukraine–it’s uncertain what sort of future Sudan will have, even though it has a lot of resources that many will be interested in).

Finally, whatever the various interests do or don’t do in support of the wars or the sides in specific countries, all seem completely uninterested and opposed to the wars expanding beyond the borders of these countries. Obviously there are lots of refugees, which is a stress on the humanitarian relief side of things. But I don’t think any power is going to permit the war to expand into other countries. I think it’s pretty obvious that’s a “red line” that would cause other countries to step in and DO SOMETHING more overt to stop it spreading.

For now, I continue to think the fighting will keep on as it has. The war in Sudan is now in its third week, and so I suspect weeks and months of conflict are in the offing. Ukraine is making noises about a massive counter-offensive in the spring, so months more of fighting are likely there, too. The church should continue to plan for refugees, economic and travel impacts.