Samuel Charap responds to responses to “An Unwinnable War,” published in Foreign Affairs in June.
I welcome these responses to my article and Foreign Affairs' initiative to further the debate on the important issues at stake. My argument begins with an analysis of the likely trajectory of the Russian-Ukrainian war based on the evidence available after 15 months of fighting. It is now clear that neither side is capable of a decisive military victory, whether in the form of regime change or demilitarization of the enemy. Both countries will likely retain significant capabilities after the hot phase of the war ends—capabilities that will allow each to pose a threat to the other indefinitely. Further, neither Moscow nor Kyiv is likely to fully achieve its stated territorial goals and therefore will not recognize the line of contact at the time of cessation of hostilities as an agreed border. As a result, they will be locked in a tense confrontation for the long term.
These fundamental drivers—the mutual ability to impose significant military costs and the persistence of unbridgeable political divides—could produce a years-long conflict that causes immense human suffering, economic hardship, and international instability. But even a long war will not change those fundamentals. Therefore, the United States and its allies should begin to try to steer the conflict toward an endgame. Since talks will be needed but a peace treaty is out of the question, the most plausible ending is an armistice agreement. An armistice—essentially a durable cease-fire agreement that does not address political disputes—would not end the conflict, but it would stop the bloodshed.…
The remainder of this commentary is available at foreignaffairs.com.
Samuel Charap is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and a coauthor of “Everyone Loses: The Ukraine Crisis and the Ruinous Contest for Post-Soviet Eurasia.” He served on the policy planning staff of the U.S. Department of State during the Obama administration.
This commentary originally appeared on Foreign Affairs on July 13, 2023. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.