The biggest lesson that we can learn from the Russia-Ukraine war is to have clear and unambiguous national interests

by Lt Col JS Sodhi

Otto von Bismarck famously remarked, “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise learns from the mistakes of others.” The Russia-Ukraine war that erupted on 24 February 2022 once again brought to fore the fact that in this highly technological world, the basic principle of war, as in life, remains the same as formulated centuries ago — and that is never to compromise upon the basics and always strive to learn from others.

The causes of this conflict have been discussed in various details all over the media. Let us look specifically as to what are the lessons India can learn from this conflict.

Though war is the last option for any nation when all other measures like dialogue and diplomacy have failed, it remains the most potent option even in these modern times. Hence this fact must never be lost sight of.

Mark Esper’s statement — “Clearly, we need a strong economy to build a strong military” — echoes much louder in these times too. No nation in this world is strong which has focussed only on its economy. Both go hand in hand. In the ancient times the most powerful kingdoms had a strong military which ensured a prosperous regime for their kingdom. Nothing much has changed in these modern times too.

Those who repeatedly ask for a cut in defence budgets should now understand that this will be at the cost of the nation’s security.

According to data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia devotes 4.3 per cent of GDP to its military. In contrast, India spends 2.1 per cent of its GDP on defence. Clearly, we have a long road to travel if we are thinking of becoming a superpower in the near future.

A strong military can only be made if there is a strong economy to sustain it. We have seen the mess that Pakistan is today. The quote of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — “We (Pakistan) will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own (atom bomb) …. We have no other choice” — has a direct consequence on the present dire economic condition of Pakistan which focuses only on its military and not on its economy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Aatmanirbhar Bharat has to be fructified in case India wants to be a superpower. And this can happen when huge tax benefits are given for manufacturing in India. We should make manufacturing cheaper in India than it is in China. Any entrepreneur will choose a place for manufacturing his products based on only two things — cheap cost in manufacturing and cheap labour. India is well poised to offer both. No other high sounding financial jargon is of any interest to any entrepreneur except these two.

Russian President Vladimir Putin could defy all threats of sanctions and military action by the NATO forces only because he had a strong economy aided by a strong military.

Another lesson that we can learn from the Russia-Ukraine war is to increase our defence budget. Our present GDP expenditure on defence is abysmally low. It has to be scaled up immediately as we have two hostile neighbours on our western and the eastern borders.

The Russian RS-28 Sarmat Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) is one of the most lethal weapons that any modern army has. The Avangard missile system of Russia which has been inducted into the Russian military in 2019 has the unique feature that it follows a ballistic trajectory outside of the earth’s atmosphere for a large portion of its flight, unlike the conventional ICBMs. Ukraine is not even a fraction closer to Russia on this.

The Russian Army is a well-trained and highly motivated army. The Indian Army is no less. And this can be further sharpened by making our officers interact with world class professional armies by sending the Indian Army officers on frequent courses of instruction to these countries and having frequent interactions with them, both abroad and domestically too. We learn better by being with the best. It is like a game of golf. If one plays with a better handicap player, one improves his game of golf.

Since 2014 Russia had a clear-cut national interest regarding Ukraine and it made no bones about it which resulted in the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Another important lesson to learn from this conflict is the need to have a clear and concise national security architectural plan in the public domain, even if it ruffles a few feathers. Once again, the words of Mark Esper have a deep meaning: “You have to give the soldiers, the Army, a clear vision.”

The words of Chris Colfer — “But one of the lessons I have learned from my journey is you can’t please everyone. So don’t try” — should serve as a guideline for our national interests. The biggest lesson that we can learn from the Russia-Ukraine war is to have clear and unambiguous national interests.

There is nothing bigger for a nation than its national interests.

The writer, who retired from the Indian Army's Corps of Engineers, is an alumnus of NDA, Khadakwasla and IIT Kanpur. The views expressed are personal