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  • Geoff Mulgan

The Boomerang Law of War

The invasion of Ukraine may be another example of what could be called the ‘Boomerang Law of War’ which states that most aggressive wars achieve effects opposite to those intended by the leaders who initiate them.

Napoleon left Britain dominant globally for the rest of the 19th century, precisely the opposite of what he wanted. Hitler aimed to destroy communism but instead left communism dramatically strengthened and running half of Germany. The US in Iraq promised to destroy Islamic extremism but instead fuelled it and gave birth to Isis. Putin in 2022 will probably leave his enemies stronger & more united, and Ukraine more certain than ever of its status as a true nation.

There are many other examples: US involvement in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s was inspired by the ‘domino theory’, but fed rather than prevented a domino effect. The Egypt/Syria attacks on Israel 1973 immediately backfired. China’s invasion of Vietnam 1979 strengthened Vietnam’s hold on Cambodia. General Galtieri’s invasion of Falklands/Malvinas in 1982 rapidly led to his downfall. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait 1990 ended with him being humiliated.

Is this pattern of hubris leading to nemesis (almost) an iron law of modern warfare? There are plenty of past examples of the boomerang effect, from the Persian invasion of ancient Greece to the Spanish Armada. War often seems to confuse the warmakers, with the fog of testosterone-driven aggression preceding the fog of war.

But the pattern is much clearer now in an era when aggressive war has lost whatever legitimacy it once had.


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