Intervening to Forestall an Attack

Countries can try to protect themselves by intervening to forestall an attack, perhaps using military force – although that is risky

Individual countries or groups of countries have several ways of taking pre-emptive action to put pressure on others, outside the framework of formal governance.  Some of the political techniques used in a coercive foreign policy ( can equally be categorised as ungoverned force outside the scope of international law, so there are several grey areas:

●  Governments can offer economic inducements, apply tariffs or apply economic sanctions (, without the prior agreement of the UN Security Council or the World Trade Organisation to legalise the action.

●  They can threaten to use such tactics.

●  Propaganda can easily tip over into subversion.  It can be focused on destabilising an adversary, whilst remaining deniable because the use of social media is hard to trace.  Several ways of making covert interventions in other countries’ affairs are described later (7.3.4).

Governments can go further, and openly make a pre-emptive military intervention.  The political calculation to do so is part of realpolitik (  It balances the political consequences against the likely chance of military success.  Putin  has been able to persuade Russians to fight, in the belief that the invasion of Ukraine is a patriotic war: Putin casts war as a battle for Russia’s survival.

It has been argued in the West that Russia’s Ukraine war [was] based on ‘a disastrous miscalculation’, underestimating the strength of Ukraine’s resistance and the degree of western support that it has received.  Such analysis, though, ignores the fact that Russia has been openly supported by China, as described earlier (  Both Russia and China wanted to prevent NATO from expanding any further eastwards.  Even if Russia succeeds in keeping some of the territory that it currently occupies, though, the invasion will have been very costly:

●  It is likely that Ukraine would join NATO as a part of a negotiated peace deal, as described above.

●  Although the SCO members have been buying Russian oil and gas (at reduced prices), countries in the West have found alternative sources of energy.

●  The damage to Russia’s reputation has been enormous and cannot be easily or quickly repaired.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7273.htm.