Russian New Generation Warfare: Implications for Europe

Jānis Bērziņš

By Jānis Bērziņš

Managing Director at the Center for Security and Strategic Research, National Defence Academy of Latvia

Tuesday 14 October 2014

With the success of Russia’s New Generation Warfare in Ukraine, the applicability of the same methods in other parts of the world, especially in Europe, comes up as a fair question. The short answer is yes. New Generation Warfare is a combination of both asymmetric and modern forms of warfare, focusing on the weaknesses of an adversary. Since every country has fragilities to be explored, it is possible to employ these tactics in other circumstances. The main question, however, is: to what extent can the New Generation Warfare be successful?
 
The New Generation Warfare has eight distinct phases. The first and second phases consist of non-military asymmetric warfare. They include information warfare, psychological, ideological, diplomatic, and economic measures, but also special operations conducted to mislead political and military leaders. Coordinated measures are carried out by diplomatic channels, media, top government and military agencies; they include leaking false data, orders, directives, and instructions. The third phase’s objective is to consolidate the first two, by intimidating, deceiving, or bribing government and military officers, with the objective of making them abandon their duties. The fourth phase is the one including the “polite green men”. It encompasses destabilizing propaganda to increase discontent among the population, boosted by the arrival of bands of militants to escalate subversion. Only with the fifth phase military action per se begins, although still in an indirect way. It consists of establishing no-fly zones over the country to be attacked, imposing blockades, and extensively using private military companies in close cooperation with armed opposition units. This is as far as events have progressed in Ukraine at this moment. 
 
The sixth phase is the beginning of employing direct military measures, with large-scale reconnaissance and subversive missions, including but not limited to special operations forces. The seventh phase is a combination of targeted information campaign, electronic warfare, and aerospace operations, combined with the use of high-precision weapons (long-range artillery, possibly weapons based on new physical principles, including microwaves, radiation/radiology, non-lethal biological weapons). The eighth phase’s aims are to roll over the remaining points of resistance and destroy surviving enemy units.
 
To answer the question if this strategy can be successful in Europe, it is important to determine the objective. Is it territorial control or influence? The Russian military is openly considering the transatlantic community, and especially the United States, as Russia’s main geopolitical enemy. However, although in Crimea’s case the tactical objective was to gain territorial control, elsewhere in Europe the aim may be rather to gain influence, albeit the exception (in the long run) might be the Baltic States. Far from seeing them as enemies, Russia considers Germany and France the best potential European allies in a multipolar world order, with the United States losing its credibility as world hegemon.
 
The key element of the Russian strategy is the notion that the war is essentially staged in the minds of the participants. In other words, conceptual support for war, both at home and in the country being attacked, is critical to gain victory. Thus, asymmetric and non-linear warfare’s objective is the creation of a sociopolitical environment conducive to destroying the opponent’s economic and political structures.
 
Information operations have a great role to play, and they have reached a point where they can take on strategic tasks. Many Russian military authors stress that they have a very significant role in disorganizing military control over territory and the state administration. They can also more generally mislead the enemy, sway public opinion the attacker’s way, and incite antigovernment demonstrations and other actions to erode the opponent’s willingness to put up resistance.
 
In Europe, the Russian strategy has been focusing on fostering, by political means, divisions regarding common security interests. According to Mark Galeotti, this includes using single-issue lobbies with divisive messages, well-funded fringe parties, global TV network Russia Today, think tanks, and business lobbies, to cite just a few [1]. The objective is not necessarily to stimulate direct support for Russia, but rather to debase national support for NATO (and weaken Article 5’s assurance value) and the European Union (thus undermine the geopolitical influence of the West). In other words, Russia uses democratic tools to fight against democracy itself.
 
What can be done about the new Russian approach to warfare? The security of the transatlantic community is often ignored in favor of national politics. The result is a lack of convergence among European nations regarding security and defense. At the same time as the Baltics remain extremely worried about Russia, Russian sailors are getting trained to operate the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship that France is still hoping to deliver. Germany still believes in de-escalation of tensions, and both countries are waiting for business to come back to usual. 
 
The basic step to counter Russia’s New Generation Warfare in Europe is thus establishing a coherent and clear European defense policy. This means going beyond political rhetoric, and establishing a multi-layered collective strategy to deal with Russia, based on two principles. First, it should acknowledge that Russia’s strategic objectives are not uniform regarding all European countries; therefore there is no universal prescription to counter Russia’s actions. Second, the Armed Force’s mandate to fight New Generation Warfare is limited. Since most of the European countries are NATO members, it should not be a problem from the operational viewpoint for NATO to fight the Russian Armed Forces. However, the new form of warfare focuses on asymmetric operations, including information warfare and a struggle for influence. As a result, the task of countering it relies mostly on the shoulders of non-military security structures. 
 
Finally, democracy is of high importance to Europe. Thus, although some might be tempted to employ harsher methods to deal with Russia’s New Generation Warfare, this cannot be accepted. Our security agencies should not use non-democratic methods, like they do in Russia. The only way to deal with this sort of warfare is more democracy. This means more neutral information, better analysis, more honest and transparent politicians, and wider education about the threat. We cannot jeopardize our democratic values in the fight. If we do, it will be the beginning of our defeat.
 
 
 
[1] See Galeotti, M. (2014, 07 October). “Russia’s Secret Weapon”. The Moscow Times. Retrieved from http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/russias-secret-weapon/508578.html.
 
 
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN's aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe's capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.

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