I am reading a book, Putinism by Laqueur, that gives me a more historically grounded sense of Russia. My feeling is that whatever the professed ideology of a country, there is lots of continuity in changes of regime or power.
Laqueur constantly returns to Russian history of the last 150 years, as well as current writing and arguments within Russia. He would say it is more of the same, albeit with different seasoning. There is a Greater Russia, and also a Russia that included the USSR and its near neighbors (Poland,...).
My reading of Th. Delpech on Nuclear Policy, re China, was illuminating for another reason--a sense of China's historical sense of itself, and its sense of a Greater China (that includes various territories that no longer are part of PRC, often a matter of language or culture, but not always).
In each case, the desire to return to greatness, to restoration of lost territories and prestige, is a dominant theme. Of course, there are present issues, and limits of budget and capability, but the restoration of a past, perhaps an imagined past, is the idee fixe.
Perhaps this applies to many nations--but for the moment I can focus on Russia and China. (By the way, there is always the theme of Rise and Decline, whether of themselves or of their Adversaries (or Allies).)
So when we try to develop defense policy for the US (and those restoration themes are still present these days in the US, even if there is a sense of hegemony), we must understand that our "adversaries" and their actions are informed by what might be called extraordinary expectations. Hence, risks that might well seem foolish or imprudent, might well make sense given those expectations (given that they are seriously entertained by those adversaries, with no sense of extraordinary other than "rightful").
There is a new book out on Hitler's Germany that suggests that Hitler was much influenced by his sense that Germany needed land to grow the food the nation would need (he did not much believe in agricultural science, it seems), and then the author suggests that such issues might influence China as well.
These sorts of considerations will influence our sense of what adversaries might be tempted to do, what makes sense to them, and so we might anticipate how they think.
I have been reading about the Irgun etc in the mid-40s, in Hoffman’s new book on Israel, and also about the years 70-125 CE when the Jews revolted against the Romans, if not revolt then insurgency. The older story says it won’t work, the newer one is about how terrorism succeeded.
The American Revolution was as irritating and distracting to the British as was the Palestine Mandate, and they dumped both since they had larger concerns, the first being a world war (France…), the second being economically and militarily weakened by WWII.
Keep in mind that revolution (and insurgency, and even terrorism) is the founding event, at least in memory, of the US, Russia, France, China,...