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Ukraine counteroffensive: can there be a decisive battle in the modern era?

How are wars won in the modern era? As Ukraine’s counteroffensive reports significant gains, especially in its Kharkiv offensive, we look at the concept of a decisive battle, and whether it is possible in the modern era - and what a decisive battle might look like if so.

As news filters through from the north-eastern frontier of the Russia-Ukraine war, and Ukrainian forces reportedly take back large amounts of territory in its Kharkiv offensive, how likely is it that we will see a decisive battle take place in the war in Ukraine? Could it happen during the Ukrainian counteroffensive? And is a ‘decisive battle’ something that is still possible in the modern era?

In this episode of The Roundtable podcast, Intelligence Fusion analysts Max Taylor, Matt Pratten and Alex Smith sit down to discuss the concept of a decisive battle – what does it mean, is a military victory achieved through a single decisive battle or through a process of attrition, and is it still how wars are won?

Recorded in two parts, and covering past conflicts from the modern era including the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, and the recent Nagorno-Karabakh War, the intelligence analysts explore the ideas of and differences between a tactical and strategic victory, and how these ideas will relate to the Russia-Ukraine war, particularly with regard to the purported Kherson offensive in the south of the country, and the subsequent tactical victories being reported by the Ukrainian armed forces in the Kharkiv offensive in the north in recent days.

Of key importance is the difference between tactical and strategic victories, and which holds more importance in modern conflicts. For example, Alex notes, while the US won every major military engagement in Vietnam, they still lost the war, as strategic and political factors ultimately proved more decisive. With Ukrainian armed forces seemingly holding a significant advantage at the tactical level, will it be Russia’s strategic power and economic leverage over Ukraine and its allies that still prove decisive in the overall Russia-Ukraine conflict?

Listen to the full episode of The Roundtable now.

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