The New Cold War Pits a U.S. General Against His Longtime Russian Nemesis by Nathan Hodge and Julian E. Barnes, Wall Street Journal
A quarter-century after the Cold War ended, U.S. and Russian tank formations are once again squaring off.
This spring, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization moved armored forces to the Russian border, where they are conducting daily drills from Poland to Estonia. Less than 100 miles away, Moscow’s forces are preparing for large-scale maneuvers in the autumn, a demonstration of the country’s revitalized might, including new equipment and improved tactics meant to keep the West guessing in the event of a clash.
Facing off behind these front lines and shaping each side’s grand strategy are two of this generation’s most influential officers in Washington and Moscow: U.S. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov.
The two men’s lives have evolved in parallel. Both began their careers as junior armor officers at the height of the Cold War. Both were tested in irregular warfare against separatists and militant groups. Both have coped with the rise of disruptive battlefield technologies including drones, precision bombs and sophisticated new forms of propaganda.
They haven’t ever met. But each—like Patton and Rommel or John Le Carré’s fictional Smiley and Karla—has made a career of studying his opponent’s moves.
Their dynamic sheds light on the evolving military competition between the world’s two biggest nuclear powers at a time of rising diplomatic tension. Moscow has narrowed a yawning gap in the quality of its conventional forces, but the U.S. remains far more powerful in that category. It is this imbalance that has shaped the strategic thinking of the two generals. It’s American force and resolve against Russian cunning and diversion.
Gen. McMaster, now President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, has emphasized that America’s true strength lies not in shadowy commando raids or pinprick drone strikes, but in well-equipped land, air and naval forces working together to clearly demonstrate overwhelming superiority.
Military officers who know Gen. McMaster said they believe he will help shape the Trump administration strategy and influence the Pentagon’s spending. Already the administration, which has been critical of allied defense budgets, has proposed a 40% increase in U.S. military spending in Europe, money that will pay for additional forces—from Army helicopters to Navy sub-hunters—to deploy there.
Gen. McMaster was a hero of the first Gulf War’s most important tank battle. He later honed his reputation in Iraq, implementing one of the first counterinsurgency campaigns in the city of Tal Afar, which later became a model for the 2007 troop surge. More recently Gen. McMaster has overseen two critical Army initiatives to prepare America for wars of the future and counter Russia’s military advances.
Gen. Gerasimov, by contrast, has always looked for American weaknesses and how Russian prowess can overcome American power. The chief of Russia’s General Staff, he has been the most articulate proponent of Russia’s emerging vision of conflict, something Western observers dub “hybrid warfare.” In conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, he has pioneered new approaches to hybrid war by combining traditional military weaponry with powerful nonlethal tools such as cyberwarfare, fake news and elaborate deception…