Step 1 in Conquering the World
some remarks about military strategy
Imagine that you’re the ruler of a large country with a large (but not world-beating) army and your goal is to conquer the rest of the world. How do you start? Who should you attack first, and how?
The first country you attack should be the one that gains you the most advantage to attack the second country. For example, consider this plan:
Start by invading a weaker country in a shocking and illegal way. Act like a villain by spouting fascist rhetoric and killing civilians.
But, despite your overall military superiority, slow-walk the invasion. Send your B team into a quagmire with old equipment, inadequate supplies, and inexperienced recruits.
Let the invasion stall while causing steady civilian casualties and daily visuals of destruction. It should seem, to the rest of the world, like the defenders have a chance.
The rest of the world will be outraged and send the defenders weapons.
Once a significant quantity of weapons have accumulated, you send in your A team, decapitate the government, install a puppet regime, and add the new weapons to your own arsenal.
You can then proceed on your own timetable to country #2 with two major advantages. First, a substantial transfer of weapons from your ultimate adversaries to your own army. Second, your army has learned to fight against those weapons and acquired experience with combat, invasion, and suppressing resistance.
Invading a small country in order to capture their weapons has worked splendidly before. In WWII, "by occupying Czechoslovakia, Germany gained 2,175 field cannons, 469 tanks, 500 anti-aircraft artillery pieces, 43,000 machine guns, 1,090,000 military rifles, 114,000 pistols, about a billion rounds of ammunition and three million anti-aircraft shells. This amount of weaponry would be sufficient to arm about half of the then Wehrmacht. Czechoslovak weaponry later played a major part in the German conquests of Poland (1939) and France (1940)—countries that had pressured Czechoslovakia's surrender to Germany in 1938" . The plan proposed here depends on an influx of weapons from other countries more than directly capturing factories (though Ukraine also has impressive factories), but the advantage gained could be similar.
Is this part of Putin's strategy in Ukraine? Some observations to suggest so are:
Many experts say the invasion force is weaker than they expected, with poorly maintained vehicles, unencrypted radios, and clumsy tactics. While that could be due to incompetence and kleptocracy, it could be that the good divisions are being held back.
Performative evil: targeting hospitals, monuments, and children to generate maximum sympathy for Ukraine.
Not decapitating the Ukraine government while it lobbies for more help.
The invasion has stalled for unclear reasons while the West is busy arming Ukraine.
Russia has more generals in the field than normal, at the expense of some casualties, but with the advantage of seeing hostile weapons systems up close.
I’m always skeptical of elaborate schemes. Occam’s razor is usually right, at least in ordinary human affairs. But war is full of second- and third-order strategies and deception. The strategy proposed here is no more complex than historically documented strategies. And my sense of Putin is that he’s likely to err on the side of strategies that are too clever and cynical, rather than too straightforward and constrained by ethical norms.
The high bit is: for the rest of the world, supplying weapons to Ukraine can help or hurt our own security. If it's enough to soundly defeat the invader or bring in a more liberal regime, it helps. If the weapons are only enough to delay the inevitable while providing stocks of weapons (and experience in countering those weapons) we may come to regret it.
Deciding exactly what weapons to supply when to a country that might get taken over is complex. But I'm pretty sure that "Send EveRYTHing wE've got noW!" isn't the right strategy. We probably want to do just-in-time delivery to minimize what can be captured, and hold some types back entirely so Russia doesn't learn to defend against them. And the optimal strategy is probably 100x more complex.
We’ve just come out of a pandemic where doing the obvious thing sooner would have been good in every single instance. While public health experts hummed and hawed and waited for more data, some sensible outsiders  were basically right about everything. That may often be the case when data is publicly available, but military intelligence is not (and cannot be) publicly available. Trusting the experts can be painful, but in this case they have much more information than we do.
Many people will hate the thought that we should do anything less than our very best to help defend a westernizing country of mostly nice people led by a relatable, progressive leader. I know I do. But we should be wary of Putin having a grander plan than we can see. Would he lure us into supplying him weapons to use against us? As Fiona Hill says about Putin generally, “Yes he would.”