Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian General Staff, has published a new article on the nature of modern warfare. Given how much attention has been paid to his 2013 article on this topic, it seems worthwhile to quickly review what’s changed in the last four years.
The most important observation, though, is how much hasn’t changed. Gerasimov still focuses on the American origin of hybrid warfare, both attributing the origin of the term to American theoretical writings and discussing its implementation in the Middle East, and particularly in Syria.
Gerasimov’s discussion of the origins of the conflict in Syria is worth citing at length. He notes that in the first stage, internal Syrian tensions were transformed into armed actions by the opposition. The opposition was supported by foreign trainers and an active information war from abroad. Subsequently, terrorist groups supplied and organized from abroad then entered the conflict against Syrian government forces. The conclusion that Gerasimov draws is that hybrid warfare is actively practiced by the United States and other NATO members, in large part because this type of action does not fall under the definition of aggression.
Nevertheless, Gerasimov isn’t eager to assume that the hybrid warfare concept is here to stay or to introduce it into official Russian discourse. Instead he focuses (as in the 2013 article) on the continuing erasure of the boundary between conditions of war and peace. He highlights that it is more and more common for a country’s sovereignty and national security to be threatened in peacetime. The spectrum of reasons for use of military force is continually expanding, with force being more often used to secure a state’s economic interests or to enforce democratic values in another country.
Much of this is a repeat of the 2013 argument, with the focus on Western states using a wide spectrum of measures (political, economic, diplomatic, informational) combined with the “protest potential of the population,” to ensure that their interests are observed. Cyber warfare is added to this list, with an example of cyber attacks on Iranian energy infrastructure.
What seems interesting to me is the second half of the article, where Gerasimov discusses how Russia is responding to this heightened risk of “new generation” warfare. Here, Gerasimov drops all the discussion of hybrid and information warfare. Instead, his focus is very much old school: a discussion of strategic deterrence with nuclear weapons and long range aviation. To this is added the development of long range cruise missiles and other precision-guided munitions, next generation fighter aircraft, modern ships, etc. There is also a discussion of advances in automation and electronic warfare. In other words, Russia is preparing to respond to this threat environment by strengthening its conventional and nuclear military capability. There is virtually no discussion of Russian efforts to engage in information warfare or hybrid warfare of any kind. “Little green men” play no role in this vision of Russian military power. Instead, we are given to understand that Russia will respond to any aggression with overwhelming force.