Commentary: What will it take to end war in Ukraine?

SALZBURG, Austria: In a matter of days, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has escalated to one of the biggest military conflicts in Europe since World War II. The fog of war can obscure our view of who is winning, who is losing and how long all of this will last. 

While no one can provide definitive answers, academic research on war gives us some insights into how the conflict in Ukraine might unfold.

Research suggests that the path to war resembles a bargaining game, where countries compete over issues like territory and resources to patriotism or the style of governance. 

Rather than going to war, which is very costly, competing states prefer to settle these disagreements peacefully. Ideally, the two sides do this based upon their relative probabilities of winning a hypothetical war. Sometimes this is not possible, and war occurs.


War is, usually, the result of one of three problems. First, states may not have enough information to assess their relative probabilities of success. Second, the two sides may not trust that an agreement made today will be honoured tomorrow. Finally, countries may not be able to settle the contentious issue, especially when ethnic, religious or ideological tensions are involved.

According to this approach, wars will end when the problem that caused the war is resolved by fighting on the battlefield. How long the fighting will last and the form it takes depends on the extent and type of the problem.

In the case of Ukraine, it seems that the two sides did not have accurate information about their relative probabilities of success. Success in war is a product of two critical factors: The ability to fight and the willingness to suffer costs.

It was largely apparent that Russia’s army was and is far superior to Ukraine’s in terms of stockpiles of weapons and the number of personnel.

However, what was not apparent to Russia until the fighting began is that the Ukrainian people are far more willing to fight than they anticipated.

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