Pictured above: Guernica, 1937

- by Jamie Arbuckle for Peacehawks
13 March 2022

Show us a vision of a world made new.

- Eleanor Roosevelt (1)


Not so very long ago – mere weeks I think – we thought the Covid pandemic was one of the worst things to have befallen us in this still-young century. If we could just hang on long enough to survive that, we’d never worry again. And, earlier this year, it did seem we had turned some sort of corner, and we could relax just a bit. We still needed to continue to be careful, optimistic and grateful, but still …

How wrong we were. Now we find ourselves involved, peripherally or directly, in the worst humanitarian emergency in Europe since WWII.

Russia has again invaded Ukraine, West Europeans are scrambling with outdated and under strength defense establishments and our modern world seems paralyzed and frightened. The very fabric of a modern grouping of liberal democracies is directly threatened as never before in most of our lifetimes.

It is time for a brief stocktaking before we jump onto too many horses and try to ride off on all of them.

In this brief article, we will look at just two aspects of the current situation:

• We will review the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, which established the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine; and
• We will look at the strategy and the effects of air wars.


When we negotiate, one of the most important things in our tool box is what we call instruments of legitimacy. These may include prior agreements, memoranda, treaties. These are powerful tools for creating, preserving or restoring a desired status quo, especially one which may be in dispute but which it is desired to achieve or to maintain.

Just such an instrument happens to exist in the case of Ukraine.

Meeting in Budapest in December 1994, the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE)(2) agreed on the memorandum which established the modern Ukraine as an independent and sovereign nation. The memorandum recorded the agreement of all signatories:

• to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine;
• to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine;
• to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty;
• to provide assistance if Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used; and
• not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear-weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, except in the case of an attack on themselves, their territories or dependent territories, their armed forces, or their allies, by such a state in association or alliance with a nuclear weapons state. (Ukraine had just acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state.)

The Budapest Memorandum was signed by the presidents of Russia, the United States and Ukraine and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and was conveyed to the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly on 19 December 1994, over the signatures of the Permanent Representatives of the U.K., Ukraine, U.S and the Russian Federation. The then Russian Federation Permanent Representative to the U.N. was Sergey V. Lavrov.(3)

In January 2016 Mr. Lavrov gave a lengthy press conference, which was reported by Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institute:

“Mr. Lavrov was asked how, given Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity (i.e. the Russian invasion of Crimea in February 2014 – JVA) and its failure to observe international agreements, Russia’s neighbors should feel secure. He responded: ‘If you’re referring to the Budapest Memorandum, we have not violated it. It contains only one obligation—i.e., not to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine. No one has made any threats to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine.’”(4)

Mr. Lavrov is not stupid, nor is his memory faulty. He referred fairly accurately to just one of the five key provisions of the Memorandum he signed in 1994.

Whenever and however negotiations on this issue may proceed, the Budapest Memorandum, bearing the signature of the present Foreign Minister of Russia, is the only way ahead – that is what it is there for.


In 1908 H.G. Wells wrote a prophetic novel entitled The War in the Air. Of course, in 1908 there was not an air force anywhere in the world, so most serious folk paid little attention to the book. This was a very great pity, for he described with pith and elegance the very shape of air wars to come:

“Aerial weapons were at once enormously destructive and entirely indecisive.

“From above they could inflict enormous damage, they could reduce any organized government to …incapacity, but they could not disarm, still less could they occupy the surrendered territory below.”(5)

In 1917 the British created almost the first Air Ministry, with the stated purpose of amalgamating the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. The initial direction of the new ministry, written by some who had evidently never heard of H.G. Wells, observed that

“Air power can be used as an independent means of war operations… And the day may not be far off when aerial operations with their devastation of enemy lands and destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale may become the principal operations of war, to which other forms of military operations may become secondary and subordinate.”(6)

The theories of aerial warfare which emerged in the years between the two World Wars were largely framed by three men: an American, an Italian and a Russian. The American, William Mitchell (1879-1936) was a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army; the Italian, Giulio Douhet (1869-1930) was a sometime officer and later full-time essayist and theorist; the Russian, Alexander de Seversky (1894-1974), was a pioneer aviator and engineer. Among the things they had in common were career misfortune come of over-forcefully stating their views to their governments: Mitchel was court martialled in 1925 and left the Army the next year; Douhet was for the same reason imprisoned for a year; de Seversky fled the Revolution to settle in the U.S.(7)

Their theories and their writings were remarkably concurrent – de Seversky was an avowed disciple of Mitchell. Easily the best presenter of the theories they more or less shared was Douhet, who is the best known and still the most influential. They are Douhet’s battles which were fought out in the skies over Germany, Great Britain and Vietnam, and which is being waged today over Ukraine.

Douhet’s theories can be summed up in two principles:
• aircraft are instruments of offence of incomparable potentialities, against which no effective defence can be foreseen;
• Civilian morale will be shattered by bombardment of centres of population.

A particular point on which all three agreed was the extreme fragility of civilian morale. Again, Douhet put it best:

“A complete breakdown of the social structure cannot but take place in a country subjected to this kind of merciless pounding from the air. The time would soon come when, to put an end to the horror and suffering, the people themselves, driven by the instinct of self-preservation, would rise up and demand an end to the war – and this before their army and navy had time to mobilize at all!”


“It is unnecessary that these cities be destroyed, in the sense that every house will be levelled with the ground. It will be sufficient to have the civilian population driven out so that they cannot carry on their usual vocations. A few gas bombs will do that.”

It is noteworthy that these two “thinkers”, like their 1917 predecessors in that brand new British Air Ministry, automatically assumed that civilians, their homes and manufacturing infrastructure would be the strategic and decisive targets. And so did nearly all succeeding 20th Century air strategists and staffs. The problem is that they were wrong, and their inheritor advocates have persisted in their errors.

First, strategic bombing campaigns have seldom decisively broken civilian morale: not in Guernica, not in London, not in Coventry, not in Cologne, not in Berlin and not in Hanoi – and, so far, not in Ukraine.

Second, the desired destruction seldom has the expected effect.

The dénouement of the British strategic bombing campaign in WWII was the Thousand Bomber Raid launched on Cologne on the night of 30/31 May 1942. A major objective was the destruction of Cologne as a major hub for the support and supply of the entire Western Front, especially the destruction of the railway lines leading to and through Cologne. That night the RAF dropped 1,455 tons of bombs, destroying or damaging over 12,000 non-residential buildings and just over 13,000 homes. 625 square kilometres were devastated. The next day, captured air crewmen, survivors of some of the 43 British aircraft lost the previous night, were moved through Cologne and into captivity – by rail.

Despite the continuing ferocity of the Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign, German aircraft production rose almost four-fold from 1940-1944; British aircraft production, relatively safe from attack after 1941, rose in that period less than two-fold. In 1944 German aircraft production out-produced Britain by more than 50%.(8)

So it just didn’t work: the civilians didn’t break, production didn’t fail, and air campaigns divorced from land and sea campaigns were as Wells said: “… at once enormously destructive and entirely indecisive.”

Vladimir Putin may never have heard of Giulio Douhet, but Douhet’s failed strategies must be a severe disappointment to him. He should have read Wells.


German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced that Germany will increase defence spending by Euro 100 billion, raising German defence spending from 1.5 to over 2% of GDP. Sweden and Denmark have also announced similar increases to their defence budgets.

This is a very young subject, and we will write of this issue soon when it is more clear – watch this space!


It is not now possible even to guess how this will all work out, if it will ever finally work out at all.

Putin can, when he is through rampaging in the ruins he has created, establish some sort of brutalised satellite there, and he can probably even find – may already have found – a Quisling government to run the place for him, as in days of yore. His apparent goal of “re-unification” of Ukraine with an ahistorical pan-Russia has been placed forever beyond possibility by his own massive cruelty. He may then partition the country, based on the pro-Russian enclaves in the east of Ukraine. He may deliberately be reaching to exceed his grasp; those who are preparing to negotiate often do that, bringing more to the table, even if it is stolen goods. The fate of Odessa is probably key. Putin cannot recreate the Soviet Union, but he can recreate the Iron Curtain, and this he probably will do – and call it victory.

The third rail Putin must not step on is what we might call the NATO Line, now the borders of Poland and the Baltics. The new Iron Curtain will, as in those days of yore, work both ways.

We are now being more thoroughly tested than we had expected to be in this century we thought we had made new. We have only our courage, and we fortunately do not lack for examples of this, now all around us.

End Notes

[1] From Eleanor Rooosevelt’s nightly prayer, quoted in A World Made New,: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by Mary Ann Glendon, Random House, New York, 2001

[2] At that meeting it was decided to institutionalize the CSCE as the Organization, hence OSCE, the modern title.

[3]  A/49/765 and S/1994/1369, 19 December 1994.

[4] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2016/01/28/mr-lavrov-russia-and-the- budapest-memorandum/ (accessed 12.03.22)

[5] Wells, H.G., The War in the Air, Harmondsworth, 1908 and 1941

[6] Deighton, Len, Blood, Tears and Folly: An Objective Look at World War II, Willian Collins, London, 1993, p. 386

[7] For most of this section, I am indebted to Edward Warner for his excellent resume of emerging air war theory in “Mitchell, Douhet, Seversky: Theories of Air Warfare”, as it appeared in Makers of Modern Strategy, ed. Edward Mead Earle, Athenaeum, 1941, Chapter 20.

[8]Deighton, op. cit , p. 484

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