Geopolitical risk, conflict and leadership – a conversation with Sir Lawrence Freedman
Our latest Critical Conversation podcast features an exclusive discussion with Sir Lawrence Freedman on the war in Ukraine, potential conflict over Taiwan, and potential lessons in corporate leadership from military strategy.
Sir Lawrence Freedman is a leading authority on military conflict and strategy and Emeritus Professor of War Studies at Kings College London. Among his books are ‘Strategy: A History’ (2013), ‘The Future of War: A History’ (2017), ‘Ukraine and the Art of Strategy’ (2019) and ‘Command: The Politics of Military Operations from Korea to Ukraine’ (2022).
The discussion, recorded on 24th November 2022, was moderated by Daniel Litvin, Founder of Critical Resource and Senior Advisor to the Executive Committee of ERM.
Please note, as with our other podcast interviewees, the views expressed by Sir Lawrence do not necessarily reflect the views either of Critical Resource or ERM.
Among the key points raised by Sir Lawrence:
- The war in Ukraine started because of the decisions of one man and will likely end by his decision – although we cannot be sure how that decision making process will unfold. Currently, the war on the ground appears to favour Ukraine, but the fighting is grueling and the outcomes uncertain.
- Russia is also escalating by destroying critical Ukrainian infrastructure, while continuing to target the West’s energy supplies. Despite its potential to cause a cold and bleak winter for many, this escalation has not yet had a political effect, for example, leading the Europeans to abandon Ukraine or demand peace, nor has it persuaded the Ukrainians to back down.
- Most people would like to see a negotiated end to this war, but this is hard to imagine right now. One possibility, albeit remote and theoretical at this stage, is that the Russian military, finding it difficult to sustain the war, seeks a deal with the Ukrainian military involving mutual disengagement and the Russians returning to their own borders without Ukrainian pursuit.
- The nuclear threat has subsided, although it has been quite effective for both sides, keeping Russia from attacking bordering countries supplying Ukraine, and keeping NATO from putting boots on the ground.
- The United States and China have been on a potential collision course over Taiwan. Recently, China appears less confident, possibly due to seeing the western response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, or due to the internal implications of its own ongoing mismanagement of Covid. For the time being, it seems that China is leaving things as they are.
- In terms of the link between natural resources and conflict, weaponisation of natural resources seems unavoidable, especially energy, since in a conflict, everybody looks for dependencies. However, natural resources are not necessarily in themselves reshaping the nature of conflict in the modern world.
- Some executives may seek management lessons from military strategy, but businesses that organize themselves as military operations tend to be too hierarchical and inflexible. You need to have understanding and empathy, even with competitors and rivals, if you are going to anticipate their decisions.