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A Better Analogy?
The War in Ukraine (2014-2023)
Pace Ibn Khaldun, analogies prove nothing. They can, however, provide perspective, and this is what I hope to do with the following comparison.
The phase of the war in Ukraine that began with the Russian invasion of 24 February 2022 looks a lot like the Korean War. First there was a surprise attack and the rapid capture of a lot of territory. Then there was a big withdrawal, as well as several smaller ones. Finally, there was a sustained period of position warfare, punctuated, at times, by fierce fights for small pieces of ground.
Both the current war in Ukraine and the Korean War could be characterized as “civil wars.” That is, each of the combatant coalitions included a large number of local people who, within living memory, had been compatriots. At the same time, both conflicts might also be described as “lopsided proxy wars.” That is, while the great powers on each side provided the funding that kept the fighters fighting, only one great power in each conflict put substantial numbers of its own troops into the field.1
In the Korean War, many American leaders thought that the Communist invasion of South Korea was a distraction, a gambit designed to reduce the size and strength of American forces in Europe. Thus, substantial forces that might otherwise have been sent to Asia were used to bolster the defenses of NATO. Similarly, Russian leaders, have devoted but a fraction of the forces available to them to the war in Ukraine.
Soviet pilots flew combat aircraft in the Korean War. However, Soviet authorities took great pains to hide this fact and, in particular, to keep Soviet pilots from missions that put them in danger of capture.