Putin’s 6-sided box in Ukraine

Western commentators on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing war are frequently using the term, ‘quagmire’ – a bog, swamp or morass, from which, once you have entered, it is between hard and impossible to get out, as every move you make to free yourself sucks you deeper in. The term was widely used in the 1960s about the USA’s war in Vietnam.

As Lawrence Freedman has pointed out in one of his commentaries on the war, the term has a closely related partner – escalation, which might seem to a state stuck in a quagmire like the only way out. Both terms have a history and have considerable currency when analysing the problems and risks big states face in wars with smaller states.

But there is another metaphor from the time of the Vietnam War and all those arguments and debates, which I find even richer – the six-sided box. By invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has taken his country into a box from which it is hard to see the way out. And that is bad news for everyone.

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Nuclear war is unwinnable and must never be fought

On 3 January, the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA, the P5) jointly stated that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. So say we all, I hope. But what does it mean for the P5 to say this, and to say it now?

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North Korea and the US: are there ways out?

Was it a response? Was it not a response? Following a missile test on 15 September, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) went two months without another one. On 20 November, President Trump formally designated the DPRK as a state that sponsors terrorism. On 28 November the DPRK carried out launched what may have been an intercontinental-range missile, reckoned by some reports to be its 20th test-firing of the year. The risk of the US-DPRK face-off leading to conflagration is still not huge but it is increasing. With such high stakes, it is urgent to find a way to cool things down. Continue reading