The Futile Goal of “Winning” Wars

Wars and the technology for fighting them have evolved rapidly in recent decades. “We never win, and we don’t fight to win,” lamented US president Donald Trump shortly before announcing plans to increase US military spending. “We’ve either got to win, or don’t fight it at all.” However, Louis René Beres, author and professor emeritus of international law, describes that assessment as “dangerously simplistic” and suggests that “traditional criteria of winning and losing in war have generally become outdated and counterproductive.” Societies have much to lose with any attack, regardless of whether they win or lose, and “the overriding point of US military involvements must be to blunt or prevent infliction of substantial military harms upon the population, not to flaunt any viscerally satisfying exclamations of machismo.” The United States already spends more on defense than any other nation, almost three times as much as China, the next biggest spender, and strategic calculations are complex and endless. “Going alone is no longer an option,” and “nothing is more practical than a coherent strategic doctrine, nuanced and well thought out.” Beres concludes, “Winning modern wars is an illusory goal.” – YaleGlobal