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Putin and the Future of War

March 11th, 2014 - 6:10 am

Analysts Molly K. McKew and Gregory A. Maniatis for WaPo:

Putin is no longer bound by the constraints of nation-state warfare. Years of confrontations with separatists, militants, terrorists and stateless actors influenced his thinking. In Crimea, Putin debuted a pop-up war — nimble and covert — that is likely to be the design of the future.

First, the hidden army appeared out of nowhere. Soldiers-of-no-nation were outfitted for troublemaking and street-fighting. These troops, denied by Putin, are also seemingly unconstrained by the laws, rules and conventions governing warfare — Putin’s biggest brush-off yet to international order. They are Putin’s hybrid of soldiers and terrorists: hidden faces, hidden command-and-control, hidden orders, but undoubtedly activated to achieve state objectives. The lack of an identified leader gums up the international community’s response: There is no general with whom to negotiate a cease-fire or surrender; if violence erupts, there is potentially no way to end it short of stopping each gunman.

These irregular forces are also a psychological menace for the local population and Ukrainians nationwide, who don’t know where else the hidden army awaits.

The second component of Putin’s 21st-century warfare is cyber. Calling it propaganda diminishes the insidious and poisonous nature of this information battle.

Two decades ago or more, James Dunnigan and Austin Bay wrote about our future of fighting “little wars” against non-traditional (and possibly non-state) actors. They couldn’t have been more correct in their assessments.

What Putin has done is quite remarkable. He’s taken the little war concepts traditionally used by small nations, rebels, or terror groups, and adapted them for use by a large nation-state.

These tactics act as a force multiplier, especially since the cyber actions and the semi-demi-guerrilla army require less force — and less logistical strain — than a conventional war does. Added to the mix what the authors describe as Putin’s talent for “using financial markets as a polemical tool” to keep himself enriched and in power.

Combatting this multi-layered and asymmetrical warfare, scaled up to continental size, is going to require a much more nimble White House, State Department, and Pentagon than we currently enjoy.

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All Comments   (4)
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Also pure genius to use the ruse of protecting Sochi from terrorist attacks to amass the military forces in the area before hand....
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment

Combating this is a piece of cake:

First, start hanging "gunmen" as illegal combatants. Next, declare cyber attacks to be an act of war and start bombarding data centers in retaliation. Ditto for financial attacks.

These tactics are being used by the Great Powers (including China) because they believe we've made the choice to let them get away with it. I'm not sure how effective they really are--did anybody believe that the "gunmen" weren't a Russian invasion force? Not in the slightest, and the West's response would have been no different if they'd gone in flying the Russian tricolor. But before long we're going to have to pick a time and place of our choosing to let everybody know that this stuff doesn't fly, or else they're going to carry it too far.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
"[D]id anybody believe that the "gunmen" weren't a Russian invasion force?"

I pointed out somewhere (maybe here) that those no-name troops were guarding the Sevastopol airport with no magazines in their rifles. That shows official policy and professional discipline, not a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Excellent commentary and analysis. Brilliantly played by Putin as well. I especially like the story heard last week that airports in Crimea began listing flights to Kiev as "International". Simple. Elegant. Flawless attention to detail.

Putin and Russia now own Crimea simply because they're standing in it and are pretending as if they always have been, to the point that the physical trappings of "nation-hood" (flags, borders, "international travel") have subtley shifted to a Russian identity.

Meanwhile, President Obama and John Kerry are blubbering about "21st Century behavior" or some such BS. In military parlance, what Russia has done is gotten "inside our decision loop" and we can't react fast enough to one thing before another thing happens.

Historically, this is how the US won engagements. Not so much anymore, huh?
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
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