By William S. Lind, Traditional Right
As of this writing (March 19), the Russian invasion of Ukraine is stuck in the mud. That is bad news for Russia, because time favors Ukraine. As Western military aid pours in and Ukraine mobilizes all its resources, the correlation of forces shifts in Ukraine’s favor. With the typical Russian logistical collapse, it is hard to see how it can regain the initiative. This is a problem with Blitzkrieg-type offenses: if they fail, the next move is not obvious.
Russia’s failure to date raises a broader question: is the defense now dominant? If it is, that would come as no surprise to Clausewitz: he argued that the defense is inherently stronger than the offense. Were not that the case, we would routinely see the weaker side in a conflict take the offensive.
What we’ve seen so far in Ukraine makes it tempting to think the defense is now generally stronger. The ability of Ukrainian forces armed with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to stop Russia’s armored offensive appears to suggest that is the case. Broadly, the packaging of firepower in smaller containers has historically helped the defenders. In World War I, where the defense was dominant, developments such as land mines, barbed wire, and machine guns enabled individual soldiers or small groups to lay down firepower or create fortifications that previously would have required much larger units. In 1914, a German infantry regiment was armed almost exclusively with rifles. By 1918, it had many machine guns, trench mortars, and hand grenades, plus a few artillery pieces (Sturmartillerie). This pushing down of firepower to lower levels made the 1918 regiment far more powerful than its 1914 counterpart.
A hypothetical situation allows us to see the same phenomenon: what if at Stalingrad Germany and its allies had Panzerfausts in large numbers? Would the Soviet armored forces that created the encirclement still have been able to break through the Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian units holding the flanks?