Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent attritional war has upended pre-war assumptions about “future war.” Futurologists within the broad security penumbra increasingly argued that conflict was becoming hybrid, ambiguous and shadowy, with some arguing that the tools and assumptions of major war were becoming obsolete. While all wars to some degree are “hybrid”, the unambiguous, industrial-scale clash in Ukraine is emphatically not what they expected. Why did bright minds fall prey to such expectations? The failure had several causes. One of them is an intellectual failure, either to assume war’s form was determined by the tools of globalisation, thereby losing sight of war’s political essence, or to assume that the conditions of the unipolar era would endure. This delusion has not gone away, however, and has implications for how we prepare for future conflicts.
Patrick Porter is Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham.