Armas No. 1 — Apocalypse not.
Everything that didn't happen in the tumult of 2022.
For everything that happened in the past year, one of the most remarkable things about it was what did not happen. The return of great-power war in the world, and the return of major war to Europe specifically, was reasonably expected to have a series of follow-on effects ranging from the concerning to the disastrous. Yet the truly catastrophic disasters never quite arrived, and it is worth reviewing them — in no particular order — because their absence is as instructive as their presence would have been.
Ukrainian defeat. The one big thing that didn’t happen, of course, was that Ukraine was not defeated by Russia on the battlefield: an outcome that nearly everyone, including me and the American national-security leadership, fully expected. How much did we expect it? Well, Joe Biden spent the first weekend of the war on a Delaware-beach getaway, and I told a friend that within the coming week, the Russians would possess absolutely everything on the First Family’s Ukrainian business dealings. We were both wrong. Ukraine, so pitiable and so corrupt in peacetime, has turned out to be a doughty, resilient, and increasingly winning state at war. Its defeat would have been a genuine catastrophe, for everything that would have signified for the peace of Europe and beyond, to say nothing of the American place in the world. Instead, we have an example of a nation that — to everyone’s surprise — sets the standard in virtuous resistance to aggression, and quite obviously deserves a formal place in the Western Alliance after war’s end.
Global famine. This was another big one that many (rationally) expected, especially in the Middle East and Africa, and has not particularly come to pass. The NYT this weekend ran a story on the Russian war exacerbating the threat of starvation worldwide, and certainly that threat should not be downplayed: but when looking into the data, it is clear that its sources — of the threat, not the reality, as there is apparently no actual famine anywhere in the world — are not at all clear or monocausal. (Data in general on what gets called “food insecurity” in bureaucratese is generally opaque at best.) The war is certainly a factor, but so is the pandemic, and so is drought in the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and elsewhere. The bottom line is that you can draw a line from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to food-price spikes that cause real hardship in certain places — but you can’t point to a famine resultant … no matter the hyperbolic NYT tweets on the topic.
Europe freezing. The Russian bet, endorsed by many observers including American friends in Europe, that Europe would freeze this winter without Russian oil and gas has proven a failure. There have in fact been locally disastrous price spikes in European energy, and we shouldn’t dismiss those: they have a real effect on real people. But all in all, the Continent has (somewhat) weaned itself from Russian energy without incurring a collapse in energy availability for basic needs in this winter. (Unusually warm winter weather has helped a great deal, but it is not the singular cause of the outcome.) Contrary to Russian-propaganda gloating, by mid-autumn there was so much non-Russian natural gas headed for Europe that prices there briefly went negative.
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