Rich, sedentary civilizations have always been vulnerable. Plato wrote that the gods destroyed Atlantis because it had become rich and licentious. The more a civilization produces, the more tempting a target it becomes: Bronze Age kingdoms fell to the Sea Peoples; Germanic barbarians dismembered the Roman Empire; the Mongols conquered China’s empires. In the Islamic world, the succession of Umayyads, Abbasids, Mamluks and Ghaznavids reflected Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical theory of history – bloated sedentary economies being mined and consumed by predatory barbarians.
This cycle was broken by the development of firearms. Technological progress became the instrument of successful conquests. The Vikings left North America because of the ferocity of the natives, but the next wave of invaders conquered the Indians with ease. The difference? Weapons.
No zealot or rogue king who sells his followers the certainty of victory in war can stand against superior technology. When the Mahdi attempted to establish an Islamic state in Sudan in the late 19th century, Major General Horatio Herbert Kitchener’s machine guns secured British victory at the Battle of Omdurman. A similar fate befell rebels in Matabeleland, present-day Zimbabwe, in 1896-97. The leaders of the 1899 Boxer Rebellion in China promised their followers invulnerability to bullets from foreign devils. This turned out to be an exaggeration.
For much of recent history, technological advancement was the only route to a nation’s success. Even the Soviet Union understood. The Vietnam War, the Iranian Revolution and 9/11 each turned the wheel again. The barbarians had the advantage because their opponent had grown weary and content. It was impossible to fight Osama bin Laden the way Kitchener fought the Mahdi’s followers, not because al Qaeda had advanced weaponry, but because a civilized nation could not wage an uncivilized war.
The only war a modern, prosperous, open society is willing to wage is a comfortable one. This has been noticed by the rogue dictators of the world. Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine challenges the prevailing international order, which is run by a sedentary, wealthy US hegemon. Unless superior technology meets this challenge, it is likely to succeed.
A new arms race is the only option for the West. The Russian offensive fails due to superior firepower. On battlefields devoid of modern weaponry, the barbaric Russian army’s tactics of cannon fodder and indiscriminate shelling are slowly gaining ground. Where the Ukrainian defenders are armed with Western artillery, Russia’s supplies explode like fireworks and its fodder troops burn like chaff.
A world without war is just a dream. When the strong and just refuse to fight with the weapons they have, thugs and thugs can do as they please. The West needs to build precision weapons that can take down Russia’s nuclear silos — and let Putin know he’s not afraid to use them. Develop drones that can hunt and kill terrorists. An open society cannot tell rogue states how to live. But it should be able to prevent aggression like the invasion of Ukraine.
Ms. Latynina was a journalist at Echo of Moscow and Novaya Gazeta, Russian press offices that closed during Russia’s war with Ukraine.
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https://www.wsj.com/articles/arms-race-ukraine-russia-himars-conquer-conquest-invade-nuclear-drones-11657119063 The West Needs an Arms Race