We know that, other things equal, war should be avoided because blowing up things and people is not the way to prosperity and liberty. By “we,” I mean those who have reflected on this issue with the benefit of some economic knowledge. The negative impact on (individual) liberty, besides the direct effects of war violence, works through the increased power that the state, victorious or not, grabs during a war and generally maintains afterwards, active or dormant. We can see this not only in Russia but also, as the war continues, on the Ukrainian side.

Besides that, it seems to me that the war in Ukraine should have taught us two basic lessons. By “us,” I mean libertarians and classical liberals. One lesson is that, except if prevented by force or the threat of force, foreign tyrants will wage wars to grab resources and extend their dominion. Hence, if one lives in a somewhat free society, one should want it to be defended against these foreign tyrants. As Adam Smith said, “defence … is of much more importance than opulence”—if only because tyranny prevents opulence.

It is not without reason that Anthony de Jasay, a liberal or perhaps conservative anarchist, sees the main problem of anarchy as the protection against foreign states. It is also a problem, although not necessarily the main one, for our current more or less free societies.

In my opinion, it is a lame argument that foreign tyrants only show their teeth when states of (more or less) free societies organize or strengthen their defense capabilities; they would never attack doves. Not only history illustrates the contrary, but economic theory suggests that foreign tyrannical regimes will have less incentive to attack the more costly it is likely to be for them (just as would-be tyrants in our own societies will attack our liberties less if their expected costs of doing so are higher). Raising war disincentives for foreign tyrants quite certainly requires not to wait until one is at our shores or has conquered part of the world: alliances and treaties can be be a less costly way.

Of course, if our society becomes as unfree as those who live under foreign tyrants, there will be no point fighting them.

Another basic lesson of the war in Ukraine is that the distinction between soldiers and civilians has continued to shrink, despite the pronouncements of international law and Bertrand de Jouvenel’s fears. And this is truer the freer and the more prosperous a society is: as we have seen in Ukraine, for the enemy, every civilian with a cell phone can be, and can be presumed to be, an enemy combatant. An occupier in the United States would have still another reason to consider any individual as a combatant: the guns he has at home or is carrying. (In other more or less free countries, civilians have been disarmed by their own governments.)