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Posted by Jack Heslin on 15:18:00 06/20/22

Whose definition of victory will prevail?

We are now listening to a plethora of end game scenarios for the Ukraine/NATO Russia conflict. It seems there are changing narratives to define what victory will look like for the respective sides.

It is critical in any conflict that the political leadership accurately states their definition of victory; because, if they don t, others will offer a definition which may not match their definition. In fact, it may be the one accepted by the world community of nations as the definition. Once there is a definition of victory, it automatically defines what will be a defeat.

History may not repeat but it can certainly inform.

In order to place this concept into a perspective, I believe it may be helpful to look back on the French experience in the first Indochina War.

It is important to understand that France as a world power, even in the post-WWII period, had a great potential for force in the form of military power. However, the actualization of that potential was quite limited. On the other hand, the Vietminh force potential had its basis not only in themselves but also in their allies, especially China. They elected to actualize as much force as they possibly could. Thus, they drew on their own potential for manpower and relied on China for most of their weapons. When evaluating relative combat power, one must not confuse actualized force with potential. There appears to have been a tendency on the part of many observers to measure the potential of France against the potential of the Vietminh. This often resulted in the erroneous perception that the balance was clearly in favor of the French. This misunderstanding worked for the Vietminh and against the French. Vietminh losses were expected and, therefore, minimized; however, French losses were not expected, and an inordinate weight was attached to them. In addition, one must understand the purpose or intent of the respective opponents. If we understand their purpose for actualizing force, then we can understand how they defined victory as well as defeat. It seems the French labored under a post-World War conventional definition of victory and therefore applied combat power to create an imbalance in which the Vietminh would admit defeat. The French definition of victory was predicated on an admission of defeat by their opponent. If the objective is to defeat an enemy force rather than denying it victory, then the eventual cost depends as much on the enemy as on one s own plans.

The Vietminh defined the situation very differently from the French. For them, victory was simply the ability to survive, to maintain a balance of combat power with the French. Their definition of victory was not dependent on any admission from the French. The situation was exacerbated for the French in that the rest of the world accepted the Vietminh definition. They did not have to create an imbalance in order to defeat the French. They merely had to remain viable in the face of what was perceived by the world as superior French combat power. The longer they survived, the more recognized their victory became. Thus, with respect to combat power, the French were committed to achieve an imbalance in their favor; whereas, the Vietminh were committed to survival and balance. In the end, the battlefield victory achieved by the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 was decisive and proved that they could not only survive against French military power but they could dominate.

As Robert Thompson rightly states in his book No Exit From Vietnam, The Vietminh were, therefore, prepared to settle for what they had already gained on the battlefield, thereby obtaining international recognition of their victory.

If America had truly understood the French situation, America s use of combat power in the Second Indochina War might have been more successful in achieving political objectives. The definition of victory for the Americans was completely lacking, so the definition offered in the world press was the accepted definition which required North Vietnam to admit defeat and end its campaign of unifying Vietnam under a Communist government in order for America to achieve victory. The political objectives of Ho Chi Minh remained constant throughout the struggle: Defend the North, Free the South, and Unite the Country.

Although the Paris Peace Accords, which were signed on January 27, 1973, was a peace treaty to end the Vietnam War it did not end the war and it did not acknowledge defeat of the North Vietnamese and therefore, by definition, it was commonly accepted that America lost the war. The defeat of the South Vietnamese government in April 1975 brought about an unconditional surrender and the achievement of all three of the Communists goals. There was no question their definition of victory prevailed.

In a recent statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said: All the objectives of the special military operation will be unconditionally achieved.

Is this the Russian definition of victory? Are the numerous statements by the Ukraine president about regaining lost territory to include the Crimea their definition of victory?

In the end, whose definition of victory will prevail? Will the end of the conflict simply be a declaration of victory by one side or the other? Will it be simply a cessation of the violence like the previous Minsk agreements? I believe the Russians will not declare a military victory as such. I believe the evidence of what they control on the ground, as a result of their special military operation, will tell the world who won the conflict. Ukraine/NATO attempts to regain lost areas will fail and by definition they will have lost the conflict.

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