Fourth Generation Warfare

The 2023 Telos-Paul Piccone Institute Conference

March 30–April 1, 2023
The John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, Queens College/CUNY
New York, NY

Forms of War

Conference Description

One of the most challenging aspects of the war in Ukraine is the way in which the conflict has been constantly shifting in its form. In the first place, there is a conventional ground war between Russia and Ukraine, in which the identity and will of the two peoples is at stake. Yet Russia has used weapons supplied by Iran, and Ukraine depends on NATO for its own supplies, indicating that this war depends on the maintenance and expansion of alliances. The stability of these alliances in turn depends on a combination of Realpolitik and shared values as the glue that holds them together. This logic of alliances motivates the energy war that Russia is waging with Europe, revealing that, unbeknownst to Europe, Russian energy policy over the last decade was an early form of the war. Similarly, the threat of nuclear war also tests the resolve of NATO, forcing it to consider the values at stake in the conflict. Is the war about Ukraine’s sovereignty or the principle of nation-state sovereignty itself? Is it about human rights for Ukrainians or the entire human rights project? For Russia, is it about self-defense or a pan-Slavic identity? Is it about the protection of Russian minorities in Ukraine or the threat of Western secularization?

The material form of the war—economic, conventional, nuclear—will depend on the way in which the participants on all sides and in all parts of the world come to an understanding about these questions concerning the moral and spiritual stakes in the war. If it is just a matter of giving up Ukraine, then the economic costs for Europe may not be worth the fight, and Russia’s victory in the energy war could lead to a general NATO capitulation. But if the freedom and security of central and western Europe are also at stake, then even a severe economic recession would be a small price to pay for the reestablishment of a NATO-dominated security order. Is freedom worth the risk of annihilation? Is peace worth the indignities and repression of authoritarianism? As the most serious global conflict since World War II, the war in Ukraine risks going beyond the bounds of all other forms of war before it. What are the resources that are necessary for meeting its challenges? How can the shifting forms of the war be contained and channeled toward a future lasting peace?

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