Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

The Top 5 Lessons from Year 1 of Ukraine’s War

February 09, 2023
Stephen M. Walt

This is a summary of an article originally published by Foreign Policy, with the subheading, "Europe’s brutal conflict has been a harsh but instructive teacher."

The author, the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University, writes:

  • “Lesson No. 1: It is very easy for leaders to miscalculate. As I wrote late last year: It is now obvious that Russian President Vladimir Putin erred when he assumed Ukraine could not mount a serious resistance and that it wouldn’t matter if it tried.”
  • “Lesson No. 2: States unite to counter aggression. The Ukraine war also reminds us that states in the international system typically unite to oppose overt acts of aggression. This is another lesson that Putin overlooked.”
  • “Lesson No. 3: ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’ Outside support may enable Kyiv to hold the line and make limited gains come spring, but ousting Russia from all the territory it now controls may be impossible, no matter how much aid is sent. There is also the continued possibility of escalation (including the use of a nuclear weapon).”
  • “Lesson No. 4: War empowers extremists and makes compromise harder.”
  • “Lesson No. 5: … This war would have been far less likely if the United States had adopted a strategy of foreign-policy restraint. Had U.S. and Western policymakers heeded repeated warnings about the consequences of open-ended NATO enlargement … instead of trying to incorporate Ukraine into Western security and economic institutions, Russia’s incentive to invade would have been greatly reduced.”
  • “Bonus Lesson: Leaders matter (duh). ... Would Poroshenko have been able to rally his fellow citizens and win outside backing as effectively as Zelensky has? Seems unlikely. Or what if Donald Trump were in the White House instead of Joe Biden? ... This war is not over yet, and what we see as bold and effective leadership (or incompetent malfeasance) today may look somewhat different once the guns have fallen silent and the final costs are tallied.”

Read the full article at Foreign Policy.


Stephen M. Walt

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author. Photo shared in the public domain.