One of the most important exercises in any war is also one of the most difficult: assessing its progress. The same “fog” that makes the conduct of war so hazardous also often obscures the criteria by which we may judge the fighting’s outcomes, especially when that judgment takes place while the hostilities continue.
Yet such an assessment is essential to determining whether initial objectives have been achieved, as well as identifying future goals and how to pursue them. It is also critical to determining whether mistakes have been made, and if so, how to correct them. Finally, assessing a war’s progress can help identify the risks that lie ahead and how to avoid them.
The war in Ukraine is no exception, and in the past month we have seen no shortage of interim assessments, many linked to a chronological milestone—the war’s six-month mark in late August—and others to the Ukrainian military’s recent successful counteroffensive around Kharkiv. If the first wave was based on an arbitrary benchmark, the second runs the risk of being overly exuberant. However, with Ukraine’s lightning gains having slowed somewhat and a lull having set in at the front, it seems like a good time to make a cautious attempt to take stock of where things stand.