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Viewpoint: Is Military Aid Really the Best Way to Help Ukraine?

May 03, 2023
Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, Molly Wallace, and Ned Dobos


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, reader in politics and international relations at Loughborough University, Molly Wallace, adjunct assistant professor in conflict resolution at Portland State Univerisity, and Ned Dobos, senior lecturer in international and political studies at UNSW Canberra, discuss alternatives to military aid in Ukraine, including nonviolent resistance against Russia, and why they may/may not work.

Ukraine has received tens of billions of dollars worth of military aid since the Russian invasion began one year ago. The international consensus seems to be that supporting Ukraine means financing its war effort. But a few dissenting voices have emerged of late, more ambivalent about the prudence—and ethics—of the current policy. Colonel Douglas MacGregor, a former advisor to the US Secretary of Defence, has warned that the choice of cure could turn out to be worse than the disease.

At least 7,000 Ukrainian civilians have already perished in the war. Thousands more have been injured, and millions have been displaced. MacGregor’s primary concern is that the bleeding will continue for as long as the fighting does. Russian forces advance, Ukrainian forces resist with violence, Russia responds with counter-violence, and the bodies continue to pile up. The Ukrainian state retains its sovereignty, but eventually we get to a point where, to quote MacGregor, “There are no longer any Ukrainians left!” This is hyperbole, of course, but that should not distract from the valid point MacGregor is making. States exist for the sake of their citizens, not the other way around. Therefore, if a given method of defending the state is causing its citizens to be killed or to flee en masse, that is a compelling reason to explore alternatives.

What is often overlooked about armed resistance is that, when it “works,” it does so by producing a mental rather than physical effect. Wars are won by breaking the enemy’s will to fight, not necessarily its ability to fight. Victory usually comes, if it comes, long before there are no enemy soldiers left; it comes when those soldiers who remain and/or their leaders are no longer motivated to fight, or in more extreme cases, when the soldiers are so demoralized that the leaders can no longer mount enough coercive pressure to make them continue fighting. Everything hinges on how the remaining members of the opponent group react to the destruction of their compatriots’ lives and their military or civilian infrastructure, not on the destruction itself.

Once we realize that the condition of surrender is not physical but psychological, it is only natural to wonder: Is there no way to change minds except through violence against bodies?

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.