#act power thursdays: Blurred lines – The Gerasimov doctrine


Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and
Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov watch military exercises in Russia’s
Zabaykalsky region July 17, 2013.
REUTERS / Aleksey Nikolskyi / RIA Novosti / Kremlin

On Thursdays, I am looking at concrete examples of statecraft – thinking and acting in terms of power. How do states intelligently cope with living in a hyper-competitive, inter-connected world? The case study I am currently working on is Russia. In past posts, I have inspected Russia’s use of information as part of its overall attempt to dismantle the current European security architecture. Since this week is devoted to military matters, a look at Russian military doctrine imposes itself.

In February 2013, Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff and Army General published an article in the Military-Industrial Courier (not a high-brow academic military journal, but rather a journal for military professionals), in which he details his vision of modern war. Mark Galeotti blogged about in summer 2014, providing a blow-by-blow commentary of the whole article (click here to read it; the VPK-article was translated by Rob Coalson of RFE/RL). I am picking out some salient paragraphs.


Valery Gerasimov, Russian Chief of the General Staff, VPK no. 8, 2013

“In the 21st century we have seen a tendency toward
blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. (…) The role of
nonmilitary 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 non-distinction between the states of war and peace is troubling, and has kicked off a seemingly endless discussion on hybrid/ non-linear/ ambiguous war (latest addition to date being the concept of the gray zone). It helps to remind oneself that not distinguishing between war and peace is the hallmark of any revolutionary movement aiming to overthrow an existing order. Any tool available will be harnessed to serve that purpose.

“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.”

So here is where the use of military force fits in. This reads exactly like the script for the invasion of Crimea and Ukraine.

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. 

Note here the emphasis on combined arms and, especially, speed of operations, which is clearly seen as a comparative advantage by the Russians.

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.

Next to blurring the lines between war and peace, the Russian approach to warfare seems to be to compress the tactical, operational and strategic realm, and to do away with the distinction between offense and defense.

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.

Russian lessons learned from the Arab Spring and the “colour revolutions.”

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.

Witness the emphasis on information warfare, both in terms of influence campaigns and more “active” measures in terms of cyber warfare.

In the past, power has
been almost universally associated with military might. What counted
was the number of divisions a nation could field, and the resources,
be they economic, scientific, social or financial that could be
enlisted in the war effort. These days, military campaigns, no matter
how successful, do not on their own deliver decisive strategic
results, a conclusion painfully arrived at recently by many
politicians. It might be tempting, therefore, to dismiss military
force as an outdated vector of influence. But to do so would be a
grave mistake. Coercion certainly remains a vital component of power
in international relations. But in order to be effective, military
force has to be understood as one implement in a large array of tools
– or weapons, if you prefer –  which today’s states or
sub-state actors can employ to reach their goals.

In this respect, Russia seems to be more advanced in its thinking about war than its western competitors.

Johanna M

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