I'm just reading an article and I see this sentiment expressed:

Ukraine has been let down by a US-led reluctance to supply Ukraine with the weapons it needs, meaning Kyiv lost a golden opportunity to strike earlier before Russia had built its defences.


The article elaborates on this sentiment further, but I'm going to give the idea a name for the purposes of this question: strategism.

It's the idea that advantage is gained in war by acting in a more and more anticipatory way ahead of time, and making more and more material preparations for war.

I see this sentiment expressed often, that if only action had been taken sooner or more quickly, the result would have been more decisively favourable.

What this thinking doesn't seem to account for, is that the enemy can similarly engage in strategism. They too can seek to prepare earlier and act more quickly and decisively, including acting against their opponent's build-up itself (that is, they can attack the strategist simply for building-up and engaging in strategism, with a view to later advantage, even before a specific grievance has arisen that would trigger war in non-strategist circumstances).

The apparent trigger for the Ukraine war was a refusal, when demanded, of the Zelensky regime to desist from the strategism of joining NATO, or of NATO to give a guarantee that any application would be rebuffed.

Therefore, Russia struck against Ukraine before it could conclude its strategist logic of joining NATO. The reason it struck is because NATO membership is seen as a manifestation of strategism - a build-up of strength that would assist Ukraine in a later confrontation.

If there had been more preparations for war sooner (including an earlier application to NATO), then the demand for guarantees may have been lodged by Russia sooner, and the fighting may have commenced sooner (for example, if that demand made even earlier were rebuffed in the same way).

Similarly in WW1, relatively small events triggered general confrontation because all sides knew that strategism would then begin, and it was best to conclude the hostilities under the status quo rather than waiting for anyone else to dig in.

Question: Is there any analysis available, whether looking at historical events or looking at the logic, that this "strategism" actually conveys any advantages to its adherents?

Historical events seem to me to suggest this logic regularly fails. Usually, it touches off war, as the opponent responds in equally strategic terms - either by building up in a way that deprives the strategist first-mover of any additional advantage, or by immediately commencing war before any build-up is achieved by the first-mover.

Therefore, those who wish to engage in strategism, would probably do better to consider it synonymous with an immediate declaration of war (i.e. it will lead to an immediate commitment to fight war with whatever preparations and resources they currently have), rather than a hedge or deterrence against war, or an opportunity to build up against their opponent.

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    In history, there are examples where "strategism" has seemingly worked, such as the Cold War period where the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a long-term military buildup that contributed to a balance of power and deterrence. However, there are also examples, like World War I, where "strategism" may have contributed to the outbreak of conflict due to the perception that delay would result in a disadvantage Sep 30 at 12:38
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    @The'BernieSanders'Party, an event applicable from the Cold War is the NATO missile crisis of 1962-63. That concluded by the US withdrawing nuclear weapons and reducing their strike capabilities in response to Soviet demands - in other words, engaging in the opposite of what I'm calling "strategism". A strategist response would have been to defy the Soviet demand for withdrawal, and add further nuclear weapons at the forefront. Had the US had a reputation for strategism of course, they wouldn't have had time to talk - the Soviets would have launched a total nuclear strike without delay. (1/2)
    – Steve
    Sep 30 at 13:32
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    What I'm calling strategism isn't merely about building up, it's accompanied by a determination to be confrontational or to alter the status quo without consent, and the belief that one will prevail in that confrontation by preparing or acting sooner. Implicitly, there is the belief that the opponent will not or cannot respond to the material preparations or even to the very existence of the strategist mentality before preparations have occurred. (2/2)
    – Steve
    Sep 30 at 13:33
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    I'm not seeing the "strategism" term in that article. Perhaps you've read it somewhere else? Anyhow, based on your comments, it seems to be a notion you came up with. As such it can mean anything you like so attempts to answer your Q rather fall into satisfying the "am I right?" kind of Q.
    – Fizz
    Sep 30 at 17:25
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    I feel like you should geve a more condensed definition of this term in the question, at the very least - include the clarifications you've given in comments. At this point, it is clear that people trying to answer do not grasp your concept ("What I don't see much of here is any clear question", to quote one of the answers), and I am inclined to vtc as "needing clarity". Oct 2 at 4:20

3 Answers 3


In the center is the following mismatch:

You would gain military advantage if you move to the maximum level of escalation, but you do not know in advance what this level would be.

In the current conflict, it is quite obvious there are a lot of still untapped escalation levels. Should NATO open a second front on Russia and occupy part of its territory? Would China step in there? Would nukes fly?

I think that most people would not want to have that without sufficient motivation, such as exhausting all other options. If Russia were strategizing as the question expects, all of the airport/ammo depots strikes of 24 Feb 2022 would be nuclear. Who wants that, out of blue?

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    Russia will not escalate to maximum unless it thinks Zelensky's Western backers are engaging in strategism. In fact, the US's mulish support for this conflict suggests it isn't controlled by such logic. Indeed, it suggests the opposite - that the US is controlled by the logic that strategism against Russia is synonymous with US war against Russia, and therefore synonymous with immediate nuclear winter. Meantime, Ukraine is invaded and annexed - Russia doesn't need to go higher, unless the West tip the balance against Russia winning with just the current level of escalation.
    – Steve
    Sep 30 at 10:42
  • @Steve It appears as if you're relying on quite a few inaccurate facts. The US doesn't have the capability to give Ukraine a swift victory. So that was never an option to consider. The US support for Ukraine has received unexpectedly huge returns on investment. Here, the "strategism" is the depletion of Russia military assets. In the terms of US vs Russia, Russia has to somehow save its economy and its military readiness to not lose. It appears like they are well on their way to a loss.
    – David S
    Oct 2 at 22:35
  • @DavidS So the US is basically expecting an AFK win now?
    – alamar
    Oct 2 at 23:49
  • @DavidS, I wouldn't disagree with your analysis, but people might not be happy that the US strategy is to settle into a slow grind, least of all Ukrainian soldiers at the forefront. That's why pundits are saying "if only we'd had larger munitions stockpiles; if only we'd prepared more; if only we'd hit bigger and harder" - that's the fallacious logic to which I refer, which doesn't factor that Russia could have observed these preparatory acts and this kind of thinking, and respond in kind with more preparations and more devastating initial hits inflicted sooner than in fact they were.
    – Steve
    Oct 3 at 7:26
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    @DavidS, it's worth remembering that "MAD" was an after-the-fact analysis of why nuclear winter never occurred in the 50s, and it rested on the fact that each side had a secure sphere of its own which it didn't need to proceed to nuclear war to defend. Russia is at war on its own doorstep in a territory it formerly controlled, whilst the West is becoming politically unstable and feels it must win the war on principle to demonstrate its supremacy, so it's not clear that the foundations for MAD are in place.
    – Steve
    Oct 3 at 16:46

A lack of planning and anticipation certainly did much to precipitate the events of World War 2.

France and the UK had plenty of opportunities to nip the issue in the bud, starting for example with the Ruhr remilitarization in 1936. Or not selling out Czechoslovakia in 1938.

NATO, in the 50s and up, did much to anticipate, and counteract, the expansion of the Soviet Union, a country dedicated to exporting Communism upon the world, whether it wished to or not. This was largely done via a policy of containment and defensive militarization which kept the issue at bay.

Likewise one could argue that the Baltics were probably quite clever in expecting the worst of their eastern neighbor and joining NATO asap.

Of course, there are risks to over-militarization, even for ostensibly defensive purposes and the sustainment and triggering of arms races. The very catastrophe that is meant to be avoided can be instead triggered, if slowly.

This is a notion the USA/West, and China, ought to take deeply to heart in plotting their courses for the coming decades: the world could easily live with both systems (even though I'd much rather not live under "Chinese democracy"). It quite likely could not survive a full war between both blocs. That doesn't mean that the West can't take steps to deter possible Chinese aggressions, such as invading Taiwan. That might, instead, trigger such aggression.

Honestly, I don't exactly know what this question is asking. It starts out by citing a clear issue - the impact of ongoing short term planning by NATO's political leaders wrt Ukraine (for example a lack of foresight by Europe in retooling their munitions industry from the start, from March 2022 on).

On the other hand, NATO is dealing with a nuclear country so a policy of gradually increasing support, while regrettable to Ukraine, might be better for everyone else. This in line with Alamar's answer - which I've upvoted - better to risk anticipation by your opponent than risking nuclear war by sudden escalation.

Then it saunters by WW1, failing to note that European nationalism, militarism and national hatreds had reached a boiling point which had no easy answer. The alliance bloc system was supposed to deter it, along with a large volume of trade amongst the affected states. It did not, but what would have been the alternative, besides cooler heads and wisdom amongst European countries? Wisdom that only came in the 1950s.

Then the Q seemingly blames the whole mess on Ukraine, ignoring that, by 2022, it had been suffering from Russian depredations since 2014. Depredations also visited upon Georgia in 2008.

The apparent trigger for the Ukraine war was a refusal, when demanded, of the Zelensky regime to desist from the strategism of joining NATO, or of NATO to give a guarantee that any application would be rebuffed.

Now, I do happen to think that the Bush pushing accession for Ukraine and Georgia in 2008 was an unwise move, especially as it could not in fact be followed up on and apparently started the path to major confrontations with Russia. You will rarely find me defending many of Bush, Cheney's and Rumsfeld's policies. Also, in 2021, a more realistic West might have pursued a less coy approach than claiming Ukraine accession was none of Russia's business. Still, was that a cause for the invasion in 2022? Was Putin's insistence on NATO withdrawing its - limited - troops from the Baltics, to pre-1997 lines, realistic? Keeping also in mind the need for unanimity to accept new countries into NATO, was Ukrainian accession indeed an immediate risk?

What I don't see much of here is any clear question. The following hardly counts:

Question: Is there any analysis available, whether looking at historical events or looking at the logic, that this "strategism" actually conveys any advantages to its adherents?

Of course, preparing for war can lead to war. So can not preparing for war. This is so obvious, and specific better courses of action so hard to answer that I wonder what the point of this question was, besides blaming the "special military operation" on the West and Ukraine.

Even the recent question about the EU being short sighted in not treating Russia better in the 90s, while unclearly stated, had more "meat" to it than this one.

p.s. Come to think of it, what can also avoid war is not invading your neighbor.

p.p.s And please forego coining neologisms just for the sake of it. Or at least try coming up with better ones, if you absolutely must.

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    "for example a lack of foresight by Europe in retooling their munitions industry from the start" - but faced with an enemy tooling up for war and interfering in Ukraine, would Russia have then prepared better itself, or struck earlier, so that the tooling was once again incomplete or inadequate at the outset of war? I appreciate the long answer although it meanders somewhat, but the quoted remark here is an instance of what I'm suspecting is the fallacy of "strategism". It doesn't account that the opponent can also adjust dynamically, by themselves upping the ante or striking sooner.
    – Steve
    Sep 30 at 16:29
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    Well, one problem with your Q is that it is really, really, unclear whether it is asking about the run up to the war. Or the conduct of actions since the start of the war. Retooling munitions factories from March 2022 on absolutely should have been on the menu and has zero bearing on actions undertaken by Russia in February 2022. What was Russia going to do extra? Double-plus invasion? Sep 30 at 16:38
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    My question is whether there is any evidence that attempting this tooling-up avoids war, instead of bringing it forward? Or if it did bring it forward, that it was possible to significantly out-prepare the enemy before they triggered the war due to the preparations? People, yourself included, speculate that better preparations may have avoided war or resolved it to Ukraine's benefit. It's not unreasonable to ask, when in history was the last time this approach seemed to work? What seemingly oncoming or simmering conflict died down, once either side turned its munitions factories up to 11?
    – Steve
    Sep 30 at 16:50
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    As I say, in the NATO missile crisis of 62-63, the response to the US stationing nukes in Turkey was that the Soviets stationed some in Cuba, depriving the US of any preparatory advantage, but significantly reducing the time either side had to think (or call the other side) and make decisions before any nukes launched would hit. They disengaged from this dangerous situation by moving back from each other again, not by beginning to make further preparations to win the nuclear exchange (which had either side seemed to do so at that crucial moment, would likely have triggered that exchange).
    – Steve
    Sep 30 at 17:03
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    "What I don't see much of here is any clear question". Indeed. But it's usually better to VTC such "questions". The OP is already well-known on this site for "discussion starters" and drowning any Q&A with dozens if not hundreds of comments.
    – Fizz
    Sep 30 at 17:28


Is there any analysis available, whether looking at historical events or looking at the logic, that this "strategism" actually conveys any advantages to its adherents?


Ukraine has been let down by a US-led reluctance to supply Ukraine with the weapons it needs, meaning Kyiv lost a golden opportunity to strike earlier before Russia had built its defences.

Short Answer: You think this is bad. Get yourself a history book on WWII. Now that was ugly. This is downright orderly compared to that!

Leading a democracy has been said to be akin to herding cats. You tell them to go one way and pretty much each does whatever they want. So you can fathom the complexity in leading 30 democracies in NATO. Not only do they each have independent and strong beliefs in the best path forward they are by nature conflicting beliefs, reflecting individual concerns and interests. Building a common vision is a necessary and proper priority. It's also frustrating and unfathomably inefficient. Yes if we all lived in one grand NATO dictatorship we would be much more orderly. But such systems are what lead to the formation of NATO. Those forms of governance are fraught with their own inherent difficulties. So as much as it pains everyone, we all move slowly forward together as issues are debated and common interests come into greater focus.


What you refer to as "strategism" isn't a strategy so much as the nature of the democracies which are supporting Ukraine. While supply and sensitive nature of some weapons technologies certainly have played a role in the slow rolling of systems, the over arching issue has been building and maintaining political consensus inside NATO. Support for Ukraine with in NATO is dependent on keeping the alliance togethed. If Ukraine is saved and NATO is left fractured, Ukraine and all of Europe is left in peril. The hawks among the alliance thus must negotiate the path forward with members who's governments and populations are less convinced on the best way forward to achieve not only Ukrainian security but that for all of NATO.

In the United States making this leap has been controversial and is increasingly impactful on the next election cycle; and the United States is many thousands of miles removed from the war. Think of how more fractured political support would be if the country closer and it's near term security was even more threatened.

The same debates active in the United States are playing outmore intensively insidemanyy NATO statse. Pit that against ongoing or impending elections, economic downturns, the cost of aid and a myriad of other domestic political issues which must be balanced and calculated for each of the country's support. These are some of the perfectly valid yet very frustrating reasons for NATO to be moving slowly on some very expensive and controversial weapons Ukraine badly needs. For some of us we perhaps translate this intransigence into cowardice, unfathomable inefficiencies, or just moral bankruptcy of our elected officials; in politics it's just called work.

Look at Poland. There has been no country which has sacrificed more and given a higher percentage of their total ability to benefit Ukraine. They are being ripped apart right now by internal politics and it's even threatening their continued support, currently discontinued. The majority of all NATO aid, be it from the Uk, Canada, Germany or US flows through Poland. If Poland is lost from the alliance it impacts every other nations continued support for Ukraine. Thus for those who support Ukraine, we must all move forward together; as cumbersome as that entails.

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