Historian Andrew Roberts is the author of more than a dozen major works of history, including Napoleon: A Life, Churchill: Walking with Destiny, and The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III. His latest book, coauthored with General David Petraeus, is Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine, which provides the basis for this interview. Roberts discusses the differences in the way nations and allied forces prosecute wars in the twentieth century vs. today. Roberts also discusses his strong support for Israel in the current conflict in Gaza both in the media and in the House of Lords, where  he is now a member. Roberts also explains (with some understandable exasperation) why Ridley Scott (the director of the recent film biography of Napoleon) is wrong —really wrong—when he says that historians are not to be trusted because “they weren’t there” when they describe historical events.

To view the full transcript of this episode, read below:

Peter Robinson: The United States now finds itself involved in wars in Ukraine and Israel, and plenty worried about the prospect of war in Taiwan. What can the history of war tell us about conflict today? Military historian Andrew Roberts, the Lord Roberts of Belgravia on "Uncommon Knowledge" now. Welcome to "Uncommon Knowledge." I'm Peter Robinson. A graduate of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, the historian Andrew Roberts is a visiting professor at King's College London, a Lehrman Institute distinguished fellow at the New York Historical Society, and a fellow here at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. In 2022, Andrew Roberts entered the House of Lords as the Baron Roberts of Belgravia. Lord Roberts is the author of more than a dozen major works of history, including "Napoleon, a Life," "Churchill, Walking with Destiny," and "The Last King of America, the Misunderstood Reign of George III." Andrew Roberts co-authored his newest book with General David Petraeus, "Conflict, the Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine." Andrew, welcome back.

Andrew Roberts: Thank you. It's great to be on the show again, Peter.

Peter Robinson: You write books by yourself, but this time you had a co-author. How did that come about?

Andrew Roberts: It was shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine that I got onto David, who I'd met several times before, knew fairly well, and said, "Look, there are gonna be lots of geopolitical books and political books about this war, but let's write one just on the military aspects of it, solely that." And we got a publisher, and the publisher understandably said, "How are you going to divvy up the chapters?" And I said, "Well, David's going to write about all the countries he's invaded and I'll do everything else." So he also did the Vietnam chapter as well, actually, which he was too young to invade, but it was great. We sent draft chapters backwards and forwards and worked on each other's, and it actually turned out to be okay.

Peter Robinson: It did turn out to be okay. Chapter one in "Conflict," quote, I'm quoting the chapter title, "The Death of the Dream of Peace." Let me quote Franklin Roosevelt's closest advisor, Harry Hopkins, on the summit that FDR, Churchill and Stalin attended at Yalta toward the end of the Second World War, quote, I'm quoting Harry Hopkins, "In our hearts we really believed a new day had dawned. The Russians had proved they could be reasonable and farsighted and the President had not the slightest doubt that we could get on peaceably with them far into the future," close quote. Instead, we got a Cold War that lasted 45 years. What went wrong?

Andrew Roberts: Stalin lied. That's all that happened at Yalta. He promised the independence and the integrity of Poland. He had no intention whatsoever of allowing Poland or anywhere else in Eastern Europe to have genuine freedom. And he essentially calmed both FDR, but also Winston Churchill, who came back and told the cabinet and people in his entourage that he too believed that Stalin was going to be somebody that they could do business with.

Peter Robinson: This brings us to the house votes. This brings us, I'm sorry, I can't resist it, because I love Churchill almost as much as you do, but only almost because there is this moment in Churchill when he returns from Yalta and really pushes hard to get the House of Commons to endorse the deal that he and Franklin Roosevelt cut with Stalin at Yalta, which is to lay out the framework of the postwar Europe, including a free Eastern Europe, which of course never happened. And it turns out to be quite a close run thing. And Churchill defends Stalin as trustworthy in a famous speech that he delivers in the House of Commons. And the list of dissenters actually is a remarkable list of some of the most serious and impressive men in British politics at the time and indeed later, the Prime Minister briefly-

Andrew Roberts: Alec Douglas Home.

Peter Robinson: Yes. Alec Douglas Home voted against it.

Andrew Roberts: Yeah, he did. Yeah.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so hold that thought for a moment and let me quote "Conflict" again: Leaders "need to grasp the overall strategic situation in a conflict and craft the appropriate strategic approach, in essence, to get the big ideas right." And here we have, at the very onset of the Cold War, there's a moment when even Churchill gets the big ideas wrong. Or you're not gonna let that stand out.

Andrew Roberts: No, I am. That's fine. That is right. Exactly.

Peter Robinson: But by the time he delivers the Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri, and by the time Harry Truman delivers what becomes known as the-

Andrew Roberts: Truman Doctrine.

Peter Robinson: Thank you. The Truman Doctrine in 1947. So very, very quickly they get the big... Could you just discuss this, how do they go from momentary confusion to getting something so right that they set in place the architecture the last 45 years?

Andrew Roberts: Yes. It is one of the most extraordinary years. That period between Yalta in the February of 1945 and the Iron Curtain speech on the 5th of March, 1946, is a period where Churchill's eyes are opened to the reality of what Stalin's wanting to do in Europe and beyond. And he sees things like Hungarian bishops being arrested, and Czech politicians being arrested, and some terrible things happening to the returning Poles, the Polish army, hugely brave people, you know, generals and colonels suddenly being banged up by the communist authorities there and it dawns on him far earlier than anybody else, because the Iron Curtain speech, of course, is denounced by the press and in parliament and in your Congress, and Harry Truman distanced himself very much-

Peter Robinson: Yes, immediately.

Andrew Roberts: From this. And it's only after that that you get the Truman Doctrine. And it's not really until the Berlin airlift of the May of 1948 that people really do recognize, even people on the left recognize that Stalin is not the great Uncle Joe, cuddly bear figure, that he was made out to be, understandably, for political propaganda reasons during the Second World War.

Peter Robinson: So I want to take you on this kind of... This is frustrating with your books particularly, because one thought leads-

Andrew Roberts: I'm sorry about that, Peter.

Peter Robinson: One chapter leads to, your books are very carefully constructed, even when you're working with a co-author, they're very carefully constructed.

Andrew Roberts: Thank you.

Peter Robinson: But this is television. I have to take these outta gallups. So the notion here is to take a few chapters and treat them as fences and we'll go over them together.

Andrew Roberts: Got it. We can, of course, yeah.

Peter Robinson: So, here's something that's a kind of theme of the whole book. You talked a moment ago about conflict being about the military aspects, but it's about leadership and it's really about political leadership again and again, isn't it?

Andrew Roberts: Yes, yes. Absolutely. No, you've hit the nail on the head there, because soldiers have to be politicians as well, not just in the countries that they're fighting in, but also in a sense they have to be politicians back home domestically with regard to the way that they interact with the political situation at home. You see this as a classic example, of course, being Douglas MacArthur in Korea. But what we have tried to do with this book is to actually look at the fighting on the ground and the way in which the leaders, different leaders, military and political, but primarily military, have tried to get the big picture right. You mentioned that that quote, that is the most important sort of takeaway from this book is that a strategic leadership is so vital, that it can lose a war where you start off with many more men and controlling the cities and having far better equipment and so on, you can still lose if you have the strategic leadership. Classic example is the Chinese Civil War. Equally, if you get it right, you get certain things right. You can win even though you don't have all those things.

Peter Robinson: Afghanistan, terrorists attacked the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001. The Bush administration decides within a day to go into Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and destroy Al-Qaeda. By September 26th, a CIA team is on the ground. It links up with the united front, local forces that oppose the Taliban. And on the night of November 12th, the Taliban abandons Kabul. From the first forces on the ground to victory in less than three weeks. We can come in a moment to everything that went wrong in the years that followed. But those three weeks were an astonishing military achievement, were they not?

Andrew Roberts: You literally have to go back to Napoleon capturing Ulm in 1805 to see something that it was just so well organized, so swiftly done with such extraordinary capacity for, as I say, leadership, but also the coordination of the American forces, I mean, and the coalition forces, but primarily American, of course. Yeah. It was a great victory.

Peter Robinson: And how did that happen? Is this the moment where technology makes new events possible, or are we seeing that the American military has learned lessons from Vietnam about the need for speed and... What's going on?

Andrew Roberts: Yes, the Pentagon learned a lot of lessons, not just from Vietnam, but really from the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. You also actually, although there was a very advanced technological weaponry, of course, you also had some of those CIA guys who were working with the Northern Alliance were actually on horseback, you know, so you could go back to Napoleonic times, essentially in the way in which some of these guys were getting to where they needed to be. The other, of course, very important aspect was the coordination of intelligence with air power. So what the CIA and others were able to do was to pinpoint the exact map locations of where the Taliban were concentrating, and then they were taken out in massive airstrikes. So yeah, I mean, they got it right in those opening weeks.

Peter Robinson: All right. President Biden withdraws from Afghanistan in 2021, after the United States had kept troops on the ground and spent hundreds of billions with a B, billions of dollars in aid for two decades.

Andrew Roberts: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: The government we had attempted to set up for 20 years collapsed immediately, and the Taliban recaptured control in a matter of hours. "Conflict," quote, "President Bush, president George W. Bush, president Bush changed the mission in Afghanistan to one of nation-building and support for the nascent Afghan government. While unavoidable and necessary," you don't give the reader an easy way out on this one, "While unavoidable and necessary, this mission was never properly analyzed or resourced," close quote.

Andrew Roberts: Well, it was resourced, as you say, with hundreds of billions of dollars. But the actual, by the time that the Biden administration scuttled, in my view, from Afghanistan, you'd actually got down to a situation where very, very few, not a single American serviceman had died in the previous 18 months, for example, whereas he lost 13 marines on one day once that decision had been taken. You were spending relatively small amounts. I know 25 billion a year sounds like a huge amount, but actually in the context of your $900 billion a year defense budget, it's peanuts, frankly. And you were able at that stage to keep the Taliban out of power from one decision by your president, suddenly the whole thing gets overturned. And you lose the entire country.

Peter Robinson: I wanna go back to this quotation. "President Bush changed the mission in Afghanistan to one of nation-building and support for the nascent Afghan government." Was that getting the big idea wrong?

Andrew Roberts: No, no-

Peter Robinson: 'Cause the moment later you say, "While unavoidable and necessary."

Andrew Roberts: No, it wasn't getting the big idea wrong. The big idea that was got wrong was Biden leaving.

Peter Robinson: Alright. Iraq. "Conflict," quote: "Air attacks on Iraq commenced on 19 March, 2003, and the ground invasion was launched less than 24 hours later. Although not every aspect went according to plan the operation succeeded well beyond the most optimistic expectations of coalition commanders. The operation went so successfully that the United States captured Baghdad on April 9th." Another astonishing three weeks. Is that correct?

Andrew Roberts: Again, up there with Napoleon at Ulm. It really is an incredible thing. Saddam's overthrown. Of course, they don't capture him until later on. I think it's December that they actually find him hiding in the hole where he'd gone back to his hometown. But essentially, the apparatus had been dismantled.

Peter Robinson: Okay. General Petraeus wrote the chapter on Iraq. So quoting him-

Andrew Roberts: And Afghanistan.

Peter Robinson: And Afghanistan, I'm quoting him once again. "The Bush administration embarked on regime change in Iraq for a number of reasons. But on reflection, especially given the intelligence failure regarding weapons of mass destruction, one can ask whether any of those reasons represented an existential threat to the United States and its vital national interest," close quote. Well, coming from a man who commanded the Iraqi Theater, that is quite a statement.

Andrew Roberts: It is a major statement. I think it's right. But they didn't know that at the time. That's the key thing. You know, the people who believed that there were existential threats, that weapons of mass destruction did exist, believed it wholeheartedly. And so that's the explanation really, for why it was not some kind of an evil war crime for America to do what it did.

Peter Robinson: So, let me ask you about the element of time, because in Afghanistan and Iraq, we had two brilliant beginnings. I mean, people were killed. It was horrible. It was war. But as a military matter, you have two brilliant rapid accomplishments followed by years and years and years in which things go sideways. And so tell me why we should not conclude that the United States is good for a few moments, but must avoid at all costs, engagements that last years and years.

Andrew Roberts: Because-

Peter Robinson: That really isn't the lesson.

Andrew Roberts: We are able to learn the lessons of history. That's the key thing. That's what history's all about. It's what it's for, really. And so what happened in Iraq where the both party was sent home essentially, the army itself was sent home with their weapons. They weren't paid properly. All of the mistakes that were made in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad would not be made again by anybody, but certainly not by the United States.

Peter Robinson: Mm. Alright. Now we come to present-day Ukraine. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, massive invasion. It includes airstrikes across the country and an attempt to capture the capital city of Kyiv, which is after all quite far in the west. It's not close to the Russian border at all. And this takes place in February, 2022. But there was a precursor. "Conflict," quote, "On 18 March, 2014, Putin ordered Russian forces to take control of the Crimean Peninsula." This is the peninsula that extends from the main body of Ukraine down into the Black Sea. I'm continuing the quotation, "an action the Ukrainian government decided not to resist. The USA and Europe responded with a degree of timidity," close quote. Now, Crimea had been Russian. Well, Sevastopol was established as the Russian port on the Black Sea by Catherine the Great in 1783. So Lord Roberts does not wish us to suppose that we, the Ukrainians themselves really ought to have insisted on retaining a bit of the world that had been Russian, since five years before we ratified the Constitution. Does he?

Andrew Roberts: Yes. Yes, he does.

Peter Robinson: He does?!

Andrew Roberts: Yes, he does. He does. Because it's been Ukrainian for the last 30 years. And that was agreed by the Russians. It was part of Ukraine when the Russians attacked and took the Donbas as well in 2022. You have what is essentially an incredibly aggressive neighbor ripping up a treaty that's been around for the majority, almost the majority of the life of most Russians. So I think the last 30 years do matter enormously. And you can see from what's happened since that they obviously matter enormously to the Ukrainians as well.

Peter Robinson: Alright. I'm quoting now Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, quote, "The Russians now..." I'm departing a little bit from your book to push you around a bit.

Andrew Roberts: Love it. Love it. I wanna be pushed around.

Peter Robinson: I want to see what you really... Well, let me just ask the question. We'll see how you reply. John Mearsheimer quote, "The Russians did not have enough forces to conquer Ukraine, nor did they have enough forces to conquer Kyiv. They had a very small force. What the Russians were interested in doing was trying to coerce the Ukrainians and Americans into accepting a neutral Ukraine." Putin may have miscalculated, but not in the way we so often suppose. And that you and your co-authors suggest. He didn't go in and fail in an invasion. He never wanted an invasion in the first place.

Andrew Roberts: Then why unleash 160 to 190,000 people across the border?

Peter Robinson: Just to get our attention.

Andrew Roberts: Well, I think I've read Mearsheimer's views on this. Needless to say, I completely disagree with them. And if it were true, in the first three weeks or so, when that great Russian convoy came to within 34 miles of central Kyiv and was turned back by the Ukrainians, that's the point. If all he was trying to do was to gain our attention, when he wouldn't, when Putin wouldn't double down with the large scale bombing of civilian areas and residential districts and markets and so on in Ukrainian towns. This is the point at which he would've stopped the demarcation line and stopped fighting essentially. But he hasn't. The last two years, he's upped the stakes every single time.

Peter Robinson: Okay. So now we depart... No, we don't depart from "Conflict"-

Andrew Roberts: Sorry, there was something you said earlier, right at the beginning when you said massive invasion. And you are absolutely right. It was not a massive invasion. It was, as I say, you are fighting against a country of 40 million people and you go in with 160,000, that is not a massive invasion. And also he went in on five different axes. And as we point out in the book, that's a pretty stupid way to go about trying to carry out an invasion with relatively few forces. But what they do have, of course, is massive amounts of ordinance. And that's what we've seen as being the make-or-break in this war is artillery.

Peter Robinson: So what... I mean, you'll know this, I can't... It's in your biography of Napoleon, but Napoleon said to one of his marshals, "If you mean to take Vienna, take Vienna."

Andrew Roberts: Yes.

Peter Robinson: And the notion should have been to Putin, if you mean to take Kyiv, take Kyiv. Don't divide your forces into five different assailants. Correct?

Andrew Roberts: Precisely that. Yeah.

Peter Robinson: So what did Putin want? He simply did want to subdue the entire country.

Andrew Roberts: He thought that he would be able to decapitate the leadership by taking Kyiv. That's why he sent the planes into Hostomel Airport, why he sent the assassination gangs into central Kyiv right at the beginning, because he thought that it would be the same thing as happened in Afghanistan where the president stuffs his millions of dollars into a suitcase, gets on a helicopter and gets out. Instead, what he had was this tremendous Churchill with an iPhone, as Zelenskyy is called, who stays in Kyiv, keeps his family in Kyiv, tells Ukrainian men they're not to leave the country, and fights back.

Peter Robinson: Got it. Alright. So from this point on, I'd like to use the book "Conflict" as an instruction manual for the conflicts the United States faces today. All right, so we're departing from history and moving into the realm of applied history, so to speak.

Andrew Roberts: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: Okay. So the war in Ukraine today, and gimme just a moment with this, if I may, to set it up for you. The war in Ukraine is now lasted more than two years. This is two years during which the United States has provided some 30 billion in aid and another 46 billion in military assistance. And as we speak, the Biden administration is still urging Congress to approve another $60 billion for Ukraine. But the Ukrainian counteroffensive of last summer fizzled, and here we are, right where we've been for about 18 months with Russia occupying between a sixth and a fifth of Ukraine. And the Ukrainians unable to dislodge them. So is-

Andrew Roberts: Yeah, unable to dislodge them because they haven't been given the 60 billion, because the United States has the really top class kit, the long range weaponry, the weapon systems like the ATACMS that the Ukrainians need in order to hit Russian territory, far deep into Russian territory. We've still got 300 billion that is tied up in Brussels in Euroclear of Russian frozen assets, which the previous World Bank chairman Bob Zoellick has pointed out, is not going to have great legal or economic reasons if we were to sequester that and give it to the Ukrainians to help fight their-

Peter Robinson: Legal objections to sequestering.

Andrew Roberts: Yeah, yeah. He knocked them to and and demolished them. And obviously there's a huge moral reason why this Russian money should be used for defeating the Russians, especially now, since the death of Alexei Navalny. We know exactly what Putin's all about. And historically, you enjoyed making your historical point, so could I make mine, when in the summer of 2021, just a few months before the invasion, Putin wrote his 6,500-word article entitled, "On the Historical Unity of the Ukrainians and Russians," trying to make out essentially that Ukrainian sovereignty didn't exist, he mentioned Lithuania no fewer than 17 times in that article. So we aren't talking about somebody who, if he were victorious in Ukraine, would just stop.

Peter Robinson: Lithuania would be next. He'd go after the Baltic states.

Andrew Roberts: Absolutely, some of which have very large Russian populations. And it would be classically irredentist of them in that part of the world, which is yet another reason why we have to win. Can I just give another couple of reasons?

Peter Robinson: Of course you may.

Andrew Roberts: Well, you know, return on investment for the United States. Yes, you are right that you've put 76 billion in out of the 1,800 billion that you spend on defense over the last two years. But you've also taken out, or at least the Ukrainians have taken out, without any American lives being lost, 3,000 Russian tanks. The return on investment is extraordinary. Any previous president would've leapt at the idea of spending such a relatively small proportion of the American defense budget to destroy quite as much and degrade quite as much of the Russian armor fleet.

Peter Robinson: I am now going to open a debate between Lord Roberts and Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio. And J.D. Vance gets to go first. Here he is writing in the Financial Times, just last month, quote, "The United States has provided security to Europe for far too long. We ought to view the money Europe hasn't spent on defense." That's a sentence that follows, he details the number of countries that have failed to come up to the 2% of GDP that all NATO members are pledged to spend, and most don't. Or at least half, roughly half don't. "We ought to view the money Europe hasn't spent on defense for what it really is: a tax on the American people." A tax, T-A-X, not an attack. "A tax on the American people. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the war in Ukraine. Europe is made of many great nations with productive economies. There is frankly no good reason, there is frankly no good reason that aid from the US should be needed," close quote. Andrew-

Andrew Roberts: There are so many good reasons why, not least because, yes, you are right, Lithuania will only be paying 1.1 or something percent. Overall, now it's 18 of the 31 NATO countries-

Peter Robinson: Are up to the 2%.

Andrew Roberts: Have gone up to the 2%.

Peter Robinson: The Germans still are not there yet.

Andrew Roberts: No, but Schultz at Berlin... Was it the Berlin conference? They had one or Dresden conference, the security one that they met in February said that Germany was going up to 2%. And considering Germany is the third largest economy in the world, that's obviously huge, that means, it's gonna be a huge amount. But more importantly, the reason that J.D. Vance is wrong, is that the United States is the leader of the free world. Liechtenstein and Luxembourg and these other places that pay 1.1% are not. If you have created a global system, which you did, we were talking about Yalta earlier, in that period. You have Bretton Woods, you have Dumbarton Oaks, you have the creation of NATO in 1949, you have the-

Peter Robinson: Marshall Plan.

Andrew Roberts: The Marshall plan, exactly. You have the institutions, which create the post-war settlement essentially. And America is at the absolute heart of doing that. It's the leader in doing that. It then leads the free world. It wins the Cold War. And you can't just sort of abdicate responsibility now if you've led the free world, because, this is the key thing, there's a great quote from Trotsky, I wish I put it in the book, which says that "You might not be interested in war but war is interested in you." And there's simply no way that the mullahs in Iran are not going to, they're gonna say, "Oh, well, America has abdicated responsibility, so we are not going to try and destroy the great Satan," that the Chinese are not going to look at what's happening in Ukraine and see Western weakness, especially American weakness, and that will give them a boost. You are not going to have the Russians themselves, if they see that the United States just drops out of this in the same way that one of your presidential candidates a couple of days ago said that he was going to, that that is not going to be taken as a signal by the rest of the world, by people who want to do America harm as a green light for them.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so let me... We have in the Republican party, J.D. Vance was of course elected as a republican, J.D. Vance, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton. The cheap or crude way of putting it is to say that they're becoming Trumpy or that they're in some way or another ratifying Donald Trump's views. That is true, because in those three men in particular, J.D. Vance and Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley, you have highly intelligent individuals.

Andrew Roberts: I would put them more to, I think I would be much more kind to them and say that they are in the long tradition of like Charles Lindberg and the American first isolationists before the Second World War, maybe even you go back to the Washington Farewell Address about not having-

Peter Robinson: Avoid foreign entanglements.

Andrew Roberts: Exactly. I mean, there's a respectable argument that can be made for isolationism in the United States, I think up until 1938. But not today, the world's so much smaller.

Peter Robinson: So let's put the argument and then you tell me how you would address this tendency in the Republican party, because I think... Well, no, let's just take this as well. Can you rely entirely on the Democratic party? And it seems to me that you have Joe Biden being very careful, particularly about Israel and Gaza because he's a Democrat, and he's going to have a left flank of his own party. So what I'm saying is it's very important for the Republican party, if you want your view to prevail, it's very important to persuade J.D. Vance and Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton. And the argument would go something like, let me make their argument if I-

Andrew Roberts: Okay, yeah.

Peter Robinson: As best I can and briefly. Ukraine isn't our business. Germany does have the third biggest economy in the world. It also is in Europe. Let them deal with it. Let them pull themselves together and deal with it. I'm paraphrasing J.D. Vance who said something striking the other day, that we want allies in Europe, not dependents. We don't want us to establish satraps in Europe. In Israel and Gaza we have a situation that could get very much worse, very quickly, very easily, particularly if Hezbollah becomes activated in Lebanon. And we have Taiwan. The United States armed forces used to be designed to operate in two theaters at once, that a retrenchment has taken place under Secretary of Defense Mattis under Trump, in fact, simply to equilibrate means with ends. So that now actually it's designed to operate in one theater at once, the North Atlantic with Ukraine, the Mediterranean with Israel and Gaza, the Pacific with Taiwan, that is asking too much of our military establishment and of the American taxpayer.

Andrew Roberts: Firstly, actually the Europeans-

Peter Robinson: This doesn't even phase you.

Andrew Roberts: Firstly... Well, no, the concept ultimately of what might happen if that argument prevails, phases me entirely, of course. It's completely nerve wracking. But let's just look at some of the things. Firstly, the Europeans have actually spent more than the United States in Ukraine. It's not true to say that they haven't. With regard to both kinetic and humanitarian assistance and economic assistance, they've actually put in more money than the Americans have. And yes, you are right. Geography does play a part. But it plays a less and less smaller and smaller part as history goes on, as the capacity to send missiles across oceans has been developing. And that's only gonna go one way. And so to look at this in terms of geography is a diminishing return-

Peter Robinson: Historical mistake.

Andrew Roberts: Historical mistake and a diminishing return, essentially. Also, the importance of Europe as a trading partner for the United States is vital. You can't have a Europe where great chunks of a country like Ukraine, and possibly as we mentioned earlier, Lithuania, if it goes badly, are are taken out of peace-loving democracies by a dictator like Putin, who obviously wants a Cold War II in order to get back what his country lost in Cold War I. And Cold War I was won by Ronald Reagan and by the United States and its allies and friends like Margaret Thatcher in Britain. And if you let down your allies and friends, which the United States has done a bit in the past, you know, Vietnam and now Afghanistan, if you continue to do that, there will be a moment where a lot of countries, not Britain, of course, or Canada or New Zealand or Australia, but other countries will think, "Well, hang on. Actually, it's probably in our better long term interest to side with the Chinese here. Maybe there is a fulcrum moment here. And the long wonderful history, a hundred year history of American involvement in the world that was started by Theodore Roosevelt and the Great White Fleet in 1909 has come to an end. And we ought to actually look towards the rising power. And that would be a completely disastrous thing, not just for America and the West, but for concepts like civilization and democracy.

Peter Robinson: All right. Israel and then Taiwan. Israel, again, I'll set it up to remind everyone, remind myself, October 7th of last year, Hamas stages a brutal raid from Gaza into Israel, killing some 1,200 Israelis. In response, Israel has taken the war to Gaza, determined to destroy Hamas, even though Hamas has buried itself deep inside civilian structures such as hospitals and shopping malls, and all the rest. Casualty reports vary, but it seems clear that many thousands of Arabs, some high multiple of the Israeli casualties have lost their lives. Now we have an exchange last month in the House of Lords.

Andrew Roberts: Even if we were to take Hamas' statistics as accurate, the 27,500 figure, and there's no reason why we should, if we don't do that with Putin, we don't do that with ISIS. If one subtracts, the number of Gazans who've been killed by the quarter or so of Islamic jihad and Hamas rockets that fall short, one's left with a fewer than two to one ratio of civilians to Hamas terrorists killed of whom they've been over 9,000 so far. My lords, war is hell. And every individual civilian death is a tragedy. But speaking as a military historian, less than two to one, is an astonishingly low ratio for modern urban warfare where the terrorists routinely use civilians as human shields. And it's a testament to the professionalism, ethics, and values of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Peter Robinson: "A testament to the Israeli Defense Forces." Explain that ratio business again.

Andrew Roberts: Oh, well it's pretty straightforward. If you divide the number of people who've been killed, innocent people who've been killed in Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces, by the number of Hamas terrorists that they've killed, you get to a number that is less than two to one. And this is an extraordinarily low number, in terms of urban warfare, especially when Hamas uses, as you mentioned earlier, hospitals and so on as a way of trying to have human shields.

Peter Robinson: So the notion that the Israeli Defense Forces are engaged in indiscriminate slaughter-

Andrew Roberts: Is rubbish.

Peter Robinson: Is demonstrably.

Andrew Roberts: Demonstrably false.

Peter Robinson: Untrue.

Andrew Roberts: Exactly. And in fact, one needs to go a little bit further. I can't think of another army, including the British army and the American army who, when faced with similar fighting in the past, has actually managed to keep the numbers-

Peter Robinson: Keep ratio so low. All right. So let me ask now about Israel and this question, to which we keep returning, of leadership. It's a book about the military, you're a military historian, but it keeps coming back to politics. So we have, in this country, in Israel, we have the amazing thing, the remarkable thing, not amazing, but remarkable that before the attack by Hamas, Israel seemed deeply divided politically on all kinds of fault lines, religious versus secular, pro-supreme court, all of this. Now, Israel appears completely united. Is this true?

Andrew Roberts: It's united as a nation in its decision that it wants to fight to the bitter end to take out Hamas entirely and destroy it. When I say Hamas, obviously, I mean its military capacity in Gaza. You can't take it out as a political unit all over the Arab world. But yes, Israelis are not split at all on the ultimate need to essentially go into Rafah, which is where six of the last of the Hamas battalions are and to root them out and destroy them. It's not true, of course, to say that Israel is united politically, because-

Peter Robinson: The question, true enough, is the question of Bibi Netanyahu as prime minister conducting this war, when the country seemed, he'd been prime minister for a long time, the country seemed tired of him. He had allied himself with the more religious parties. So you have the split, he's on one side of the split, which means about half of the country is against him. And he's blamed, rightly or wrongly, I don't know, you may have seen intelligence or formed a judgment on this, but he seems to be widely blamed for permitting Hamas to stage an attack of that scale and scope on October 7th. And yet here he is, the man leading the country in war.

Andrew Roberts: Yes. I mean he has the majority of the Likud, which is obviously the thing that keeps him as prime minister. I don't for one moment believe any of the conspiracy theories about him having the tiniest inkling.

Peter Robinson: That's nonsense.

Andrew Roberts: It's absolute nonsense. And really pretty sort of low and despicable things-

Peter Robinson: So what do we have here that's admirable? We have the toughness and determination of Bibi Netanyahu that's admirable.

Andrew Roberts: It's refusal to have ceasefires until either the hostages are released, which isn't gonna happen, at least in the near term, or the destruction of Hamas in Rafah.

Peter Robinson: And then don't we also have to say that we also see admirable behavior on other members of the war cabinet, which include Benny Gantz, who is a member of a different party from that.

Andrew Roberts: Correct.

Peter Robinson: And don't we also have to say that the Israeli, populists, the voters, I mean the whole, from top to bottom, this politics, you are really seeing, the whole thing is admirable.

Andrew Roberts: It's fantastic.

Peter Robinson: Is it not?

Andrew Roberts: I mean, look at what some ordinary reservists did whilst the Israeli army was, unfortunately, taking quite a long time to respond to the 7th of October on the 7th of October. You saw reservists just grabbing their rifles and driving north to do whatever they could to, sorry, south, to do whatever they could to help the situation. So immense bravery. As I've already said, the IDF, I think, are conducting an extremely impressive operation in Gaza. Also people like Ron Dermer.

Peter Robinson: Ron Dermer is?

Andrew Roberts: Ron Derma is the cabinet minister from the Likud Party who's in the war cabinet with Bibi and is a tremendously impressive performer, I think, a future prime minister of Israel, perhaps one day. And as you say, the other members of the war cabinet, although they're having rows about incredibly important aspects, nonetheless, this is what a war cabinet does. I myself discovered the verbatim accounts of Winston Churchill's war cabinet, and they were going at it hammer and tongs the entire time. And of course they were, because there are the lives of thousands of people at stake. There's no rule of war, and the historian wrote, that says that men should die in battle, but that staff officers should not be vexed. And that also true, of course, of cabinet ministers.

Peter Robinson: Right. So can I ask them about the pol... We're staying in Israel for a moment longer. What do you make about the political leadership in this country, where you have the Biden administration continuing to support Israel in material terms, but rhetorically seeming to want to have it both ways? And indeed even sending a kind of series of envoys to Dearborn, Michigan, where there are a quarter of a million Arab Americans, Michigan being an important state, likely to prove a very important role in the presidential election. So you have this rhetorically, we have to have a ceasefire. The Israelis must commit themselves to certain Palestinian statehood. All of this talking... Now again, I repeat substantively, as best I can make out, we continue to give them the money and equipment they need to wage this war, but rhetorically... So what do you make of this?

Andrew Roberts: We've got exactly the same thing in England, where the Labor Party has some 40 seats, which have very substantial Muslim populations. And we've got the situation where a maverick politician, George Galloway has just won a constituency in Rochdale with a big swing. That was basically the whole thing was about Gaza. And so understandably, a lot of labor politicians are very worried that this is going to happen in their constituencies as well. The conservative party is, I think, a bit like the Republican party, pretty solid and pro-Israel. Although there are people of course who aren't. But overall, I think that they've both been pretty stalwart when it comes to supporting Israel.

Peter Robinson: Alright, Taiwan, two quotations, "Conflict." I'm going back to the book. "The Chinese, always astute students of history, have probably seen what has transpired in Ukraine as a cautionary tale."

Andrew Roberts: Up till now. This was published in October. I'm now presently actually started this morning writing the paper back, the-

Peter Robinson: Oh, the update with the new afterward. Or you're gonna include new-

Andrew Roberts: New chapters, new chapters, 'cause there's a new chapter on Gaza that I've got to write. And obviously there's also a new chapter regarding what Xi will be thinking, if Ukraine goes wrong.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so here's the question or the argument that's taking place here is, on the one hand, if you got the argument that the defense of Taiwan runs through Ukraine, on the other hand, here's strategist Elbridge Colby, brilliant person, has written a marvelous book on strategy. We're not talking about some kind of fringe figure here, quote, "Europe is less important than Asia economically and geopolitically. Everything should be going to Asia to deal with the Chinese threat, we ought to deprioritize everything else," close quote.

Andrew Roberts: You are a major world power. You are the major world power. You are able to operate on more than one front. And if you are not, then this is gonna be ugly, disastrous for you, because you've got China, you've got Russia, you've got Iran, in a lesser way, you've got North Korea, even Venezuela. There are loads of countries in the world who hate America. And in order to keep them in their box, you have to be up for opposing them in each of the theaters, which you've managed to do for 70 plus years. I can't see why suddenly there's this sort of collective nervous breakdown about America being able to fight in more than one place. And by the way, you are not even fighting. That's the other thing. There are no American troops who've died in Ukraine, none that have died in Gaza, and so far none that have died in Taiwan either. It's not like Iraq and Afghanistan, the War Against Terror where you actually have Americans bleeding and coming back in body bags. All these people, all that the rest of the world needs at the moment, a free world that is, is your money rather than your blood.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so I'm going to ask you, since you make this argument, I'm going to ask you to comment on the American psyche, because an answer to the point you just made, brilliantly, eloquently, as if you were in the House of Lords, I'll give you all of that, but here's the answer. You are asking us to go save the world when our own southern border has become open. During the entire administration of Donald Trump, as I recall, the number about a million people came to this country illegally. And that number fell during the administration, as the Trump people got the border under control. And under the Biden administration, so far, some 7 million people have entered this country illegally. 7 million people. That's seven times the population of Wyoming. It's as big as a major state. And Americans just say, "I do not trust the federal government. There is no venture anywhere in the world that is as important as securing the rule of law to our own border."

Andrew Roberts: There is obviously a security aspect as well to this massive invasion on your border. We in Britain also have these small boats that have been bringing over tens of thousands of people illegally as well. And the British government doesn't seem to be able to get a handle on that. I'm actually voting on it next week. We are trying to, but the opposition and the courts and the press and the BBC and so on seem to be completely opposed to us doing anything serious about it. So yeah, I mean, I'm certainly not gonna wade into the domestic political argument of this, not least because I don't want to put 50% of your viewers off by my book. But nonetheless, of course, I-

Peter Robinson: See the weight of the argument, the psychological weight of the argument.

Andrew Roberts: Of course, and not least because in the American case, it's not just as it was for a long time people from South America, and nowadays you're getting people from all over the world, including-

Peter Robinson: Large numbers from China, it turns out, in recent months. Alright, last questions, but now let me return to the book. I'll give you a few quotations from the book and ask you to expand upon them. "Conflict" quote, "A recurring theme of this book is that money spent on deterrence is seldom wasted."

Andrew Roberts: Well, and Taiwan being the classic example of that, and not least actually Taiwan should be doing more about its own deterrent. It should have a proper conscription program, for example.

Peter Robinson: By the way, Israel spends about 5% of GDP, probably higher now during the war, but pre-war about 5% of GDP on defense, and Taiwan is under 3%.

Andrew Roberts: Yeah, well that's insane, considering the threats that are very obvious. I mean, one of the things you should learn from history is to listen to what dictators say. When President Xi again and again makes straightforward statements about how they China will be reunited and it'll be done by the time of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, we should be listening to him. The other thing is that, I mean, we slightly manipulate our figures. We bring in things like war widows and intelligence to try and make sure that we are above the 2%. There's a lot of frankly sort of, you know, diddling the books-

Peter Robinson: We mean in Britain,

Andrew Roberts: We in Britain. And so I totally understand why the American taxpayer, who's paying twice as much as this in defense, might think that they're on a hiding to nothing. But you are the great world power. You are the leader of the free world and you have therefore, with that enormous power and wealth comes responsibility

Peter Robinson: "Conflict": "By the late 1980s, America had emerged as so far in the lead in military technology that the Soviet Union could barely compete." Do we possess any such lead over China today?

Andrew Roberts: Yes.

Peter Robinson: We do?

Andrew Roberts: Yes you do. Absolutely. Your long range missiles are as good as theirs. Your navy, although you are cutting back your navy in an extremely dangerous way and they're building up theirs. But still, any American aircraft carrier would be able to take on any Chinese aircraft carrier, and obviously their supportive fleets. That's one of the reasons I suspect why Xi isn't trying a naval blockade, because if it did turn into

Peter Robinson: Ship by ship, we're still better.

Andrew Roberts: Ship by ship, you're still better. Absolutely, yes. And in lots of other areas too, in the high tech. But you also have to worry, of course, that the Chinese are stealing a lot of the technology, and some of our universities, both in Britain and America, seem to have be falling over backwards to try and help them even in sensitive defense areas.

Peter Robinson: "Conflict," quote: "Plato was right, only the dead have seen the end of war," close quote. That's a rather grim comment from my usually cheerful friend.

Andrew Roberts: It's a grim comment. We'll blame Plato, I suppose.

Peter Robinson: Fair enough.

Andrew Roberts: But I don't think human nature has changed that dramatically. It's one of the reasons that we still read ancient history and read Thucydides and Herodotus and so on, is because human nature hasn't kept up with our technological advances. And so war is going to be there, which is why we need to study it. And as I mentioned with the Trotsky quotes, we might not be interested in it, but it's interested in us.

Peter Robinson: A few last questions about... Well, one question about the nature of history. I don't know if this is, if I were a student and you were a don you might bat this away as poorly formed, but I'm going to ask it anyway. How does history move such that we go from Margaret Thatcher, figure of staggering strength and importance and clarity, to Rishi Sunak, the current prime minister. We go from Ronald Reagan to Joe Biden. We go from... Well, this goes on and on. But we go from Charles de Gaulle to Emmanuel Macron. We go from Helmut Kohl to Olaf Scholz, who doesn't, he's fumbling around. How does it... How did we feel... How is it that we have lived to see what feels like a kind of decline?

Andrew Roberts: Two things. First of all, obviously, I'm going to pick you up, because my party leader, Rishi Sunak, is a highly intelligent and impressive man who does things strategically-

Peter Robinson: He's not Margaret Thatcher.

Andrew Roberts: He's not Margaret Thatcher.

Peter Robinson: All right, that's-

Andrew Roberts: I agree with that, of course I do. But the second-

Peter Robinson: He's a graduate of Stanford Business School, by the way.

Andrew Roberts: Well, exactly. I didn't just chuck in that intelligence phrase, he is highly intelligent. But, as you say, he's not Margaret Thatcher. And one of the reasons for that is that until recently until, essentially, the recent rise of China over the last 15 years, we haven't had the threats necessary to throw up the greats, the great men and women. Look at the 19-

Peter Robinson: It's the time that produces the leader.

Andrew Roberts: It's the time that produces the leader. So look at the 1930s, where the British prime ministers were Ramsey McDonald, Stanley Baldwin, and Neville Chamberlain. But when you get to the crisis, you get Winston Churchill. So in your revolution is the classic example where for, you know, 150 years or so, you have some important and interesting leaders up until the 1770s, American leaders. But then suddenly in one decade you have a constellation of giants, and infuriatingly-

Peter Robinson: Adams, Jefferson, Madison, on and on.

Andrew Roberts: Yeah, yeah, Franklin, Hamilton, they just go, as you say, Monroe, they just go on and on. And it's infuriating that you did manage to do that, by the way. But look at Periclean Athens, for the previous century and a half, there's very little that comes out of Athens. Then you have Themistocles, and Cimon, and Pericles and giants, you know, Alcibiades. You can argue over... But if-

Peter Robinson: It was Persia that brought them forth.

Andrew Roberts: And it was Persia, it was a threat from Persia. Exactly. And battles like Marathon and Salamis let people recognize that they have to step forward, the best people have to step forward. We are not getting the best people stepping forward, certainly in British politics at the moment. We have personal threats. We have the Palestinians organization that demonstrates outside MP's homes. We have ghastly attacks on social media and so on. That speech that you very kindly showed earlier, I've had lots of physical threats sent to me, because of that.

Peter Robinson: Because you rose and spoke in the House of Lords.

Andrew Roberts: 'Cause I've spoken in favor of the Israeli Defense Forces. I mean, people, good people are not going into politics, because it's a pretty terrible job. But they should be now, because we are starting to see threats to the western way of the world that, unless we do get good leaders, we are not going to be able to survive.

Peter Robinson: So that old phrase, cometh the hour, cometh the man. Cometh the person, I suppose we have to say now.

Andrew Roberts: Yeah. Well, Margaret Thatcher, cometh the woman.

Peter Robinson: Cometh the woman. Yeah, cometh the woman. The challenge brings forth, calls forth the leaders.

Andrew Roberts: It should do. But the trouble is obviously, if you have a system like we both have, where you don't really get a chance to become a leader of a country, unless you're in your 40s or 50s, in your case, considerably older than that, in the case of United States at the moment, it takes some time for these leaders to come forward.

Peter Robinson: They need to have learned politics, they need to have learned the crafts-

Andrew Roberts: They need to have read history.

Peter Robinson: And read history. The role of the historian, an exchange between Lord Roberts of Belgravia and a certain movie director. This is you commenting on, you, the author of "Napoleon: a Life," which we discussed on a program here some years ago, and this is you commenting on last year's big movie "Napoleon," quote, this is just, quote, "Of the two hours and 38 minutes, I'd say 38 minutes were accurate." Ridley Scott, who was the director of the movie, "Napoleon," quote, "When I have issues with historians, I ask, 'Excuse me, mate, were you there? No? Well, shut the, up.'"

Andrew Roberts: I know, I know. Amazing. Isn't it? I think that when he made "Gladiator," he didn't need historians terribly much, because we don't really know that much about ancient Rome, compared to Napoleon. But with Napoleon we have well over 500 sources of people who knew Napoleon, worked with Napoleon, served under Napoleon, and wrote about him, and wrote letters and diaries and so on. And so actually we shouldn't be shutting the F up. We should be looking at the sources, which he could have done, Ridley Scott, when he was making this 300 plus million dollar movie.

Peter Robinson: A mere pittance for you as technical as his historical advisor.

Andrew Roberts: It was 1% of that, less, probably 0.1% of that. But instead he decided not to hire any historians. And the result is a film with lots of very nice uniforms and dresses and palaces and so on. But as far as the history is concerned, it's completely trite from beginning to end.

Peter Robinson: Alright, last question, Andrew. Back to military history. As conflict makes clear, the pace of change keeps increasing. The crossbow became a common feature on the European battlefields in the 12th century, gunpowder in the 14th, it's two centuries, you've got to adjust there. But since 1945, we've seen the development of nuclear weapons, of smart ordinance, now of artificial intelligence. "Conflict," quote: "With AI, warfare will almost certainly evolve beyond recognition," close quote.

Andrew Roberts: And space.

Peter Robinson: And space. So we've added a dimension, so to speak. Land, sea, air, space. Now consider a passage, I'm going to give this to you in a moment, but I'll finish setting it up. Now, consider a passage from Clausewitz, quote: "If one side uses force without compunction, that side will force the other to follow suit. Even the most civilized of peoples can be fired with passionate hatred of each other. This thesis must be repeated: War is an act of force, and there is no logical limit to ​​the application of that force," close quote. So we have Russia, Israel, China, India, Pakistan, all nuclear powers, Iran seeking to become a nuclear power. And I think it's fair to say, although I couldn't prove this, maybe there's polling somewhere, but I think it's fair to say that people feel, there's a palpable sense of danger now, in this country, certainly, I think, that didn't exist 10 years ago. The world is getting dangerous. Now this notion, this kind of tit for tat notion, you move, he must move. This is the logic of war and there's no ceiling on it. Against that we have the Cold War, where the two major superpowers were both sitting on arsenals of thousands, literally thousands of nuclear weapons and didn't use them. So how does it all end?

Andrew Roberts: Well, you are right. I mean, is there such a thing as Thucydidean Trap, as Graham Allison say, brilliantly-

Peter Robinson: Explain that concept.

Andrew Roberts: Thucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian War, in which Athens fought Sparta and argues that they had to fight because they were of equal and competing strength and power. And so you see, sometimes in history, rising powers like Wilhemine Germany, Imperial Germany in 1914, taking on the established powers of Britain and France, because it can, because it's sort of forced to by an electable drive. But the invention of nuclear weapons, I think, that film "Oppenheimer'' shows this very well, especially that last scene, should have essentially stopped all that, should have ensured that the Thucydidean Trap was something we could all escape, because we know that it ends ultimately in mutually assured destruction. So the key thing is again and again to ensure that when President Xi wakes up in the morning, he thinks, "Is today the day I'm going to invade Taiwan?" And he looks at the powers, and the deterrence that the United States and others have put forward, and he always, every single day says "No." And so, it goes back to your original point about the importance of deterrence, in there is nothing that is inherent in the human condition that wants to commit suicide, and therefore, we should be able to get through this.

Peter Robinson: Andrew Roberts, co-author of "Conflict: the Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine," now working on the paperback edition. Thank you. For "Uncommon Knowledge," the Hoover Institution and Fox Nation, I'm Peter Robinson.

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