Why the fundamentals of war haven’t changed

The reality, of course, is that ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons do not exist – they are all strategic weapons – and, as such, come under the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction which ably governed the nuclear relationship between the superpowers during the Cold War. Putin won’t use a nuclear weapon, because he can’t be sure that it won’t mean the end of him, and possibly of Moscow. 

Finally, we come to information and cyber warfare. Many warned that Ukraine’s critical infrastructure could be destroyed by Russian cyber attacks in the first weeks of the war. But, in fact, we have seen that moderate cyber defences, as enacted by the Ukrainians, are sufficient to protect critical systems. 

And as for the importance of information—or propaganda as it used to be called: is President Zelensky any different to a Churchill or De Gaulle in the way he uses technology to rally his country and generate support around the world?

The reality is that all of these things – and more – are changes of degree. They are changes of mode in the manner of prosecution of war. But they are not changes to the substance of warfare. The nature of war has not changed since man fought as bands of hunter-gatherers on the African savannah. It is still – primarily and fundamentally – a deeply psychological phenomenon. It is still a contest between evolved human brains. 

The same dynamics of advance, retreat, feint, ruse, confidence and fear decide the outcomes of battles, and of wars. The physicality of war – the bombs, bullets and bayonets – are merely there to affect your enemy’s state of mind, as was illustrated so clearly two weeks ago when Ukraine’s recapture of Russian-occupied territory prompted many frightened Russian soldiers to surrender or flee their positions.  

This fundamental psychological truth about warfare tells us some other things as well. It tells us that strategy – how you change your enemy’s psychology and make them do what you want – is supreme. It also tells us that logistics – your resources or tools for the job – are of crucial importance. And it tells us that morale – that ancient intangible of camaraderie and esprit de corps – is a battle…