One of the commonplaces in the public conversation over Ukraine is the care-more theory. Some thinker will declare that “Russia cares more” than we do (or the Europeans do) and will therefore prevail. Davos-man archetype Ian Bremmer says it1. Dmitri Alperovitch, “a cyber expert at Silverado Policy Accelerator” — exactly the sort of forpol subject-matter expert who’d appear on local news in Little Rock, Arkansas! — says it2. The NYT’s Moscow-bureau chief says it3. The New Yorker’s Moscow correspondent says it4. The list goes on and on, but you get the picture. The promulgators of the “Russia cares more” line appear to be mostly people who think it signifies a locked-in Russian advantage in the crisis — it gives them escalation dominance — and the Russians themselves, who like what that thinking signifies for them.
There’s a Taiwan version of this too, in the “China cares more” vein, and it mostly finds purchase among Americans who have only the most tenuous grasp of that topic.
It’s true that national will — caring, if you prefer — means a great deal. Sometimes it really does make the difference in outcomes: ask Lê Duẩn about that sometime in late-April 1975, or ask Adolphe Thiers in January 1871. But it is usually not determinative in itself. The foremost modern devotee of the thesis of the superiority of the will shot himself in a bunker in late-spring 1945, and that ought to be the last word on the matter. It isn’t enough to want something more. You must be able to do something about it. Sometimes that means a political machine willing and able to harvest the youth of the Red River Delta and send them south to die, continuously, from 1954 to 1975. Sometimes that means the capacity to build bomber fleets. Sometimes that means a domestic political structure capable of withstanding the stresses of war.