PRAGUE -- When the crisis in Ukraine dramatically heated up last November and in the ensuing weeks, I was impressed by the ability of the Russian state to mobilize so many different tools in its bid to destabilize its neighbor. It became clear very quickly that Russian politicians, journalists, purportedly nongovernmental organizations, state companies, think tanks, the military, the courts, government agencies and the Duma were all working from the same instructions for the same goals. At the time I remarked on Twitter that the crisis showed the tactical effectiveness of the "unitary state" Russian President Vladimir Putin has been building since 1999.
In June, I came across a fairly obscure article by General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of the Russian Federation, and was struck by how closely it mirrored my observations of the unfolding Ukraine crisis.
Gerasimov writes about how "a perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war."
This is achieved, Gerasimov writes, by "the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other non-military measures applied in coordination with the protest potential of the population." The goal is "to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state."
Gerasimov's article is of great interest to military specialists, but it is of broader interest as well. It reveals much about Russia's view of the West -- particularly the United States -- which the Kremlin believes carries out such operations regularly around the world. The view of global affairs presented in this article, I think, accurately reflects an important strain of Kremlin thinking. After all, it is presented in an obscure publication and its exposure to foreign audiences could not have been foreseen.
It also presents a candid and fairly negative assessment of Russian military science. Gerasimov notes the field has been stymied in the past by "a scornful attitude toward new ideas," for which the Soviet Union paid "in great quantities of blood" during World War II. Reading between the lines, one might learn a lot from this article about relations between the military and the government and about competing schools within security structure itself.
Finally, I think this article offers a lesson for the West. The Russian government is intentionally shrouded in secrecy, but it is not nearly as inscrutable as the Soviet government was. There is a huge amount of important and revealing information to be found that needs to be researched, translated, and brought into the larger discussion of Russia's relations with the West and its role in the world. But very little of this information ever gets beyond a small circle of specialists. And that is proving to be a very costly mistake.
Here is my translation of key portions of General Gerasimov's article, which appeared on "Military-Industrial Kurier" on February 27, 2013
In the 21st century we have seen a tendency toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template. The experience of military conflicts -- including those connected with the so-called colored revolutions in north Africa and the Middle East -- confirm that a perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war. The Lessons of the "Arab Spring" Of course, it would be easiest of all to say that the events of the "Arab Spring" are not war and so there are no lessons for us -- military men -- to learn. But maybe the opposite is true -- that precisely these events are typical of warfare in the 21st century. In terms of the scale of the casualties and destruction -- the catastrophic social, economic, and political consequences -- such new-type conflicts are comparable with the consequences of any real war. The very "rules of war" have changed. The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness. The focus of applied methods of conflict has altered in the direction of the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other non-military measures -- applied in coordination with the protest potential of the population. All this is supplemented by military means of a concealed character, including carrying out actions of informational conflict and the actions of special operations forces. The open use of forces -- often under the guise of peacekeeping and crisis regulation -- is resorted to only at a certain stage, primarily for the achievement of final success in the conflict. From this proceed logical questions: What is modern war? What should the army be prepared for? How should it be armed? Only after answering these questions can we determine the directions of the construction and development of the armed forces over the long term. To do this, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the forms and methods of the use of the application of force. These days, together with traditional devices, nonstandard ones are being developed. The role of mobile, mixed-type groups of forces, acting in a single intelligence-information space because of the use of the new possibilities of command-and-control systems has been strengthened. Military actions are becoming more dynamic, active, and fruitful. Tactical and operational pauses that the enemy could exploit are disappearing. New information technologies have enabled significant reductions in the spatial, temporal, and informational gaps between forces and control organs. Frontal engagements of large formations of forces at the strategic and operational level are gradually becoming a thing of the past. Long-distance, contactless actions against the enemy are becoming the main means of achieving combat and operational goals.
The defeat of the enemy's objects is conducted throughout the entire depth of his territory. The differences between strategic, operational, and tactical levels, as well as between offensive and defensive operations, are being erased. The application of high-precision weaponry is taking on a mass character. Weapons based on new physical principals and automatized systems are being actively incorporated into military activity. Asymmetrical actions have come into widespread use, enabling the nullification of an enemy's advantages in armed conflict. Among such actions are the use of special operations forces and internal opposition to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state, as well as informational actions, devices, and means that are constantly being perfected. These ongoing changes are reflected in the doctrinal views of the world's leading states and are being used in military conflicts. Already in 1991, during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, the U.S. military realized the concept of "global sweep, global power" and "air-ground operations." In 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, military operations were conducted in accordance with the so-called Single Perspective 2020. Now, the concepts of "global strike" and "global missile defense" have been worked out, which foresee the defeat of enemy objects and forces in a matter of hours from almost any point on the globe, while at the same time ensuring the prevention of unacceptable harm from an enemy counterstrike. The United States is also enacting the principles of the doctrine of global integration of operations aimed at creating in a very short time highly mobile, mixed-type groups of forces. In recent conflicts, new means of conducting military operations have appeared that cannot be considered purely military. An example of this is the operation in Libya, where a no-fly zone was created, a sea blockade imposed, [and] private military contractors were widely used in close interaction with armed formations of the opposition. We must acknowledge that, while we understand the essence of traditional military actions carried out by regular armed forces, we have only a superficial understanding of asymmetrical forms and means. In this connection, the importance of military science -- which must create a comprehensive theory of such actions -- is growing. The work and research of the Academy of Military Science can help with this. The Tasks of Military Science In a discussion of the forms and means of military conflict, we must not forget about our own experience. I mean the use of partisan units during the Great Patriotic War and the fight against irregular formations in Afghanistan and the North Caucasus. I would emphasize that during the Afghanistan War specific forms and means of conducting military operations were worked out. At their heart lay speed, quick movements, the smart use of tactical paratroops and encircling forces, which all together enable the interruption of the enemy's plans and brought him significant losses. Another factor influencing the essence of modern means of armed conflict is the use of modern automated complexes of military equipment and research in the area of artificial intelligence. While today we have flying drones, tomorrow's battlefields will be filled with walking, crawling, jumping, and flying robots. In the near future it is possible a fully robotized unit will be created, capable of independently conducting military operations. How shall we fight under such conditions? What forms and means should be used against a robotized enemy? What sort of robots do we need and how can they be developed? Already today our military minds must be thinking about these questions. The most important set of problems, requiring intense attention, is connected with perfecting the forms and means of applying groups of forces. It is necessary to rethink the content of the strategic activities of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Already now questions are arising: Is such a number of strategic operations necessary? Which ones and how many of them will we need in the future? So far, there are no answers. There are also other problems that we are encountering in our daily activities. We are currently in the final phase of the formation of a system of air-space defense (VKO). Because of this, the question of the development of forms and means of action using VKO forces and tools has become actual. The General Staff is already working on this. I propose that the Academy of Military Science also take active part. The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy. In North Africa, we witnessed the use of technologies for influencing state structures and the population with the help of information networks. It is necessary to perfect activities in the information space, including the defense of our own objects. The operation to force Georgia to peace exposed the absence of unified approaches to the use of formations of the Armed Forces outside of the Russian Federation. The September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, the activization of piracy activities, [and] the recent hostage taking in Algeria all confirm the importance of creating a system of armed defense of the interests of the state outside the borders of its territory. Although the additions to the federal law "On Defense" adopted in 2009 allow the operational use of the Armed Forces of Russia outside of its borders, the forms and means of their activity are not defined. In addition, matters of facilitating their operational use have not been settled on the inter-ministerial level. This includes simplifying the procedure for crossing state borders, the use of the airspace and territorial waters of foreign states, the procedures for interacting with the authorities of the state of destination, and so on. It is necessary to convene the joint work of the research organizations of the pertinent ministries and agencies on such matters. One of the forms of the use of military force outside the country is peacekeeping. In addition to traditional tasks, their activity could include more specific tasks such as specialized, humanitarian, rescue, evacuation, sanitation and other tasks. At present, their classification, essence and content have not been defined. Moreover, the complex and multifarious tasks of peacekeeping which, possibly, regular troops will have to carry out, presume the creation of a fundamentally new system for preparing them. After all, the task of a peacekeeping force is to disengage conflicting sides, protect and save the civilian population, cooperate in reducing potential violence and reestablish peaceful life. All this demands academic preparation. Controlling Territory It is becoming increasingly important in modern conflicts to be capable of defending one's population, objects, and communications from the activity of special operations forces, in view of their increasing use. Resolving this problem envisions the organization and introduction of territorial defense. Before 2008, when the army at war time numbered more than 4.5 million men, these tasks were handled exclusively by the armed forces. But conditions have changed. Now, countering diversionary-reconnaissance and terroristic forces can only be organized by the complex involvement of all the security and law enforcement forces of the country. The General Staff has begun this work. It is based on defining the approaches to the organization of territorial defense that were reflected in the changes to the federal law "On Defense." Since the adoption of that law, it is necessary to define the system of managing territorial defense and to legally enforce the role and location in it of other forces, military formations, and the organs of other state structures. We need well-grounded recommendations on the use of interagency forces and means for the fulfillment of territorial defense, methods for combatting the terrorist and diversionary forces of the enemy under modern conditions. The experience of conducting military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq has shown the necessity of working out -- together with the research bodies of other ministries and agencies of the Russian Federation -- the role and extent of participation of the armed forces in post-conflict regulation, working out the priority of tasks, the methods for activation of forces, and establishing the limits of the use of armed force. [...] You Can't Generate Ideas On Command The state of Russian military science today cannot be compared with the flowering of military-theoretical thought in our country on the eve of World War II. Of course, there are objective and subjective reasons for this, and it is not possible to blame anyone in particular for it. I am not the one who said it is not possible to generate ideas on command. I agree with that, but I also must acknowledge something else: at that time, there were no people with higher degrees and there were no academic schools or departments. There were extraordinary personalities with brilliant ideas. I would call them fanatics in the best sense of the word. Maybe we just don't have enough people like that today. People like, for instance, Georgy Isserson, who, despite the views he formed in the prewar years, published the book "New Forms Of Combat." In it, this Soviet military theoretician predicted:
"War in general is not declared. It simply begins with already developed military forces. Mobilization and concentration is not part of the period after the onset of the state of war as was the case in 1914 but rather, unnoticed, proceeds long before that."
The fate of this "prophet of the Fatherland" unfolded tragically. Our country paid in great quantities of blood for not listening to the conclusions of this professor of the General Staff Academy. What can we conclude from this? A scornful attitude toward new ideas, to nonstandard approaches, to other points of view is unacceptable in military science. And it is even more unacceptable for practitioners to have this attitude toward science. In conclusion, I would like to say that no matter what forces the enemy has, no matter how well-developed his forces and means of armed conflict may be, forms and methods for overcoming them can be found. He will always have vulnerabilities and that means that adequate means of opposing him exist. We must not copy foreign experience and chase after leading countries, but we must outstrip them and occupy leading positions ourselves. This is where military science takes on a crucial role. The outstanding Soviet military scholar Aleksandr Svechin wrote:
"It is extraordinarily hard to predict the conditions of war. For each war it is necessary to work out a particular line for its strategic conduct. Each war is a unique case, demanding the establishment of a particular logic and not the application of some template." This approach continues to be correct. Each war does present itself as a unique case, demanding the comprehension of its particular logic, its uniqueness. That is why the character of a war that Russia or its allies might be drawn into is very hard to predict. Nonetheless, we must. Any academic pronouncements in military science are worthless if military theory is not backed by the function of prediction.[...]
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