The American Strategic Imagination: An Agenda

Depending on how history is written, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may be looked back on as the beginning of a third world war. President Zelensky’s government, along with its advocates in allied governments, has been making this argument since the war’s inception. They frame Ukraine as one battlefield in a larger global struggle, one that pits a growing axis of authoritarian nations against the Western-oriented liberal democracies that have dominated the post-Cold War world order. In this version of history, the war in Ukraine is not the Ukrainians’ war alone but the West’s war, too, an existential struggle for all freedom-loving peoples. There is plenty of evidence that lends credence to this argument. Had Putin’s initial invasion gone according to plan, a year later we would be talking about a similar invasion of Taiwan — as we anyway already are envisioning — and then the question of whether we were in the midst of a third world war would hardly merit debate.  Conditions remain ripe for an upheaval of the global order of the type induced by a world war. These upheavals, in the modern era, have occurred approximately every century. The First and Second World War should more properly be categorized as a single conflict with Versailles more of a ceasefire than a peace, and the twenty years of the Napoleonic Wars that birthed a century of continental stability certainly qualify as a world war. One indicator that we might already be in a world war — or that one is imminent — is that the generation that can remember the last one has died. Without memories to restrain us, we become reliant on our imaginations, not only to prevent war but, if one begins, to help us navigate its exigencies, and to win. Whether the war in Ukraine

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