Small Wars Journal

Russian Hybrid Warfare as Unconventional Warfare: Implementing a Counter-Unconventional Warfare Strategy

Share this Post

Russian Hybrid Warfare as Unconventional Warfare: Implementing a Counter-Unconventional Warfare Strategy

Drew Shepler

Introduction

In a 2013 article, Russian General Valery Gerasimov published an article, “The Value of Science Is in the Foresight: New Challenges Demand Rethinking the Forms and Methods of Carrying out Combat Operations.” Western media frequently cite this article as laying out a new Russian-specific method of hybrid warfare.[i] Labeled the “Gerasimov Doctrine” or Russian Hybrid Warfare, Western discourse has subsequently focused on debating whether “Gerasimov’s ideas represent old or new ways of war.”[ii][iii] This discourse has contributed to decision-making paralysis, as policymakers struggle to find appropriate responses for a “new type of warfare.” According to Dr. Damien Van Puyvelde, “when any threat or use of force is defined as hybrid, the term loses its value and confuses instead of clarifying.”[iv] Despite the fact that Russian hybrid actions caught the United States (U.S.) off guard, Russian hybrid warfare doctrine is not particularly innovative and is comparable to U.S. military unconventional warfare (UW) doctrine.[v] Instead of continuing to focus on defining the nature of Russian Hybrid Warfare, policymakers in the U.S. should recognize that U.S. military doctrine has already defined the principles of Russian Hybrid Warfare in U.S. UW doctrine and they should now focus on implementing a strategy of counter-unconventional warfare.

U.S. Unconventional Warfare Doctrine

UW has been a part of U.S. military doctrine since 1961, but as a concept, it was first officially applied by the Office of Strategic Services during World War II.[vi] Joint Publication 3-05 describes UW: “UW is those activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, and guerilla force in a denied area.”[vii] UW is distinct from irregular warfare in that UW can be waged to support insurrectional operations and includes both military and non-military activities such as guerrilla and subversive operations, sabotage, and unconventional assistance and intelligence operations. UW uses all available instruments with military, political, economic, and psychological impact.[viii] UW is essentially the conduct of war using unorthodox methods. UW methods can support a resistance movement in which direct involvement by U.S. conventional units is not anticipated.[ix]

The U.S. Army’s UW field manual describes psychological operations (PSYOPS) as something that “should begin as early as possible” in a UW campaign. PSYOPS can be conducted using both traditional and new media, and coordination with military cyber forces is a primary tenet of PSYOPS doctrine. Suggested UW PSYOPS objectives include creating popular support for an insurgency movement, discrediting a government, introducing a shadow government, winning the support of an uncommitted population, and dividing enemy forces. Additionally, the UW manual includes extensive annexes and appendixes describing the need to synchronize all diplomatic, informational, military, and economic instruments of national power in support of a UW campaign.[x]

The Gerasimov Doctrine and Russian Hybrid Warfare

The concept of hybrid warfare or even UW is not new. Armies throughout history have used unconventional methods to defeat adversaries. Contemporarily, hybrid warfare is a term used to describe the “increasing sophistication and lethality of violent non-state actors and the growing potential of cyber warfare.”[xi] According to James Wither, Russian Hybrid Warfare is distinct from the traditional hybrid warfare definition because of its emphasis on non-military methods and information warfare.[xii]This focus on the “hybridization of information” includes both cyber and traditional media operations such as denial of service attacks on Western media, traditional and social media disinformation campaigns, and political influence campaigns.[xiii] This is in addition to military support in places like Ukraine, where Russian forces provided weapons, support, and funding to Ukrainian separatists during the conflict.[xiv]

According to Keir Giles, Russian “techniques and methods displayed in Ukraine have roots in traditional Soviet approaches,” such as the Soviet active measures applied during the Cold War.[xv] Additionally, Giles states: “Russia learns from the West and sometimes appears to be mimicking it.”[xvi] According to Mark Galeotti, in Gerasimov’s article, the General was not describing a Russian warfare doctrine but rather, advocating for a need to respond to what he saw as U.S. meddling in regional affairs.[xvii] The meddling that he described and the Russian military doctrine that developed after his article all closely resemble U.S. UW doctrine. The blending of diplomatic, informational, military, and economic elements to induce a desired political outcome in conflict short of a declared war is clearly a central premise of U.S. UW doctrine. These tenets are also clearly reflected in Russian “hybrid warfare” doctrine, which discusses the need to employ concepts of “information-psychological action,” “indirect action, i.e., wrecking, sabotage, the organization of irregular armed formations,” and “informational-technological action.”[xviii]

Conclusion and Recommendations

“In their eagerness to defeat la guerre révolutionnaire French officers overlooked the fact that Mao’s writings were inspired by Clausewitz,” leading to their inability to defeat a threat they did not understand.[xix] Although it is a primary mission for the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, following the Vietnam War, UW became an unpopular subject in U.S. military and political circles.[xx] This unpopularity became neglect and ultimately led to confusion among the U.S. military, political, and academic communities about how UW is defined and what it entails.[xxi] This confusion has contributed to the inability of the West to recognize that Russian Hybrid Warfare is just Unconventional Warfare. If policymakers can understand this, then there already exists a viable strategy for response: Counter-Unconventional Warfare (C-UW).

A 2014 United States Army Special Operations Command White Paper lays out the basic principles and techniques for conducting a C-UW campaign. According to the document, a C-UW campaign “must be strategic in conception and scope” and encompass the whole-of-government. Additionally, the paper emphasizes the need to establish political warfare strategies across multiple echelons of the U.S. government, leverage Special Operations Forces, develop a C-UW interagency task force, leverage law enforcement and intelligence capabilities, conduct remote area operations, and appropriately counter-organize to defeat an adversarial UW campaign.[xxii]

To date, there are dozens of scholarly articles speculating on the nature of Russian unconventional actions. This debate has only led to further inaction. Rather than debate over the appropriate response to a new generation of warfare, policymakers should recognize that the Russian government is conducting a form of warfare that has been firmly rooted in U.S. military doctrine for over 50 years.

Bibliography

“Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare.” FM 3-05.130 (Sep, 2008): 6-1

Banasik, Miroslaw. 2016. "Unconventional War and Warfare in the Gray Zone. the New Spectrum of Modern Conflicts." Journal of Defense Resources Management 7 (1): 37-46. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1806428696?accountid=11752.

Bartles, Charles K. 2016. "Getting Gerasimov Right." Military Review 96 (1): 30-38. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1761154028?accountid=11752.

Darczewska, Jolanta and Zochowski, Piotr. 2017. “Russia’s ‘Activity’ Toward the West—Confrontation by Choice,” Russian Analytical Digest, no. 212

Galeotti, Mark. “I’m Sorry for Creating the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine,’ Foreign Policy (March 5, 2018), http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/03/05/im-sorry-for-creating-the-gerasimov-doctrine/

Giles, Keir. 2016. “Russia’s ‘New’ Tools for Confronting the West: Continuity and Innovation in Moscow’s Exercise of Power.” (London: Chatham House)

Grdovic, Mark. 2006. "Understanding Unconventional Warfare and U.s. Army Special Forces." Special Warfare 19 (5): 14-24. https://search.proquest.com/docview/199407856?accountid=11752.

Harr, Scott J. 2017. "Expanding Tolstoy and Shrinking Dostoyevsky: How Russian Actions in the Information Space are Inverting Doctrinal Paradigms of Warfare." Military Review 97 (5): 39-48. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1949584172?accountid=11752.

Linnington, Abigail T. 2013. "Unconventional Warfare in U.S. Foreign Policy: U.S. Support of Insurgencies in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and Iraq from 1979-2001." Ph.D., Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University). https://search.proquest.com/docview/1353110654?accountid=11752.

Oguz, Safak. 2016. "The New NATO: Prepared for Russian Hybrid Warfare?" Insight Turkey 18 (4): 165-180. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1868135271?accountid=11752.

Peter Pomeranstev and Michael Weiss. 2014. “The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money.” The Interpreter. (New York: The Institute of Modern Russia)

Porch, Douglas. 2011. "The Dangerous Myths and Dubious Promise of COIN." Small Wars and Insurgencies 22 (2): 239-257. doi://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2011.574490. https://search.proquest.com/docview/882619052?accountid=11752.

United States Army Special Operations Command. “Counter-Unconventional Warfare.” White Paper (September 26, 2014): 9-21, https://info.publicintelligence.net/USASOC-CounterUnconventionalWarfare.pdf

Van Puyvelde, Damien. 2015. “Hybrid War-Does it Even Exist?” NATO Review (https://www.nato.int/docu/review/2015/also-in-2015/hybrid-future-warfare-russia-ukraine/EN/

Ven Bruusgaard, Kristin. 2014. "Crimea and Russia's Strategic Overhaul." Parameters 44 (3): 81-90. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1628380476?accountid=11752.

End Notes

[i] Bartles, Charles K. "Getting Gerasimov Right." Military Review 96, no. 1 (Jan, 2016): 30-8, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1761154028?accountid=11752.

[ii] Harr, Scott J. "Expanding Tolstoy and Shrinking Dostoyevsky: How Russian Actions in the Information Space are Inverting Doctrinal Paradigms of Warfare." Military Review 97, no. 5 (Sep, 2017): 39-48, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1949584172?accountid=11752.

[iii] Western discourse has also focused on whether or not Gerasimov actually intended to describe a military doctrine.

[iv] Van Puyvelde, Damien. “Hybrid War-Does it Even Exist?” NATO Review (2015) https://www.nato.int/docu/review/2015/also-in-2015/hybrid-future-warfare-russia-ukraine/EN/

[v] Safak Oguz provides a thorough overview of how the West was caught off guard by Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Oguz, Safak. "The New NATO: Prepared for Russian Hybrid Warfare?" Insight Turkey18, no. 4 (Fall, 2016): 165-80, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1868135271?accountid=11752.

[vi] Grdovic, Mark. "UNDERSTANDING UNCONVENTIONAL WARFARE AND U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES." Special Warfare 19, no. 5 (Sep, 2006): 14-24, https://search.proquest.com/docview/199407856?accountid=11752.

[vii] The Joint Publication 3-05: Special Operations, (Washington: April 11, 2011): II-9

[viii] Banasik, Miroslaw. "UNCONVENTIONAL WAR AND WARFARE IN THE GRAY ZONE. THE NEW SPECTRUM OF MODERN CONFLICTS." Journal of Defense Resources Management 7, no. 1 (2016): 37-46, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1806428696?accountid=11752.

[ix] Grdovic, Mark. "UNDERSTANDING UNCONVENTIONAL WARFARE AND U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES." Special Warfare 19, no. 5 (Sep, 2006): 14-24, https://search.proquest.com/docview/199407856?accountid=11752.

[x] “Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare.” FM 3-05.130 (Sep, 2008): 6-1

[xi] Wither, James K. "Making Sense of Hybrid Warfare." Connections : The Quarterly Journal 15, no. 2 (Spring, 2016): 73-87, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1784582336?accountid=11752.

[xii] Wither, James K. "Making Sense of Hybrid Warfare." Connections : The Quarterly Journal 15, no. 2 (Spring, 2016): 73-87, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1784582336?accountid=11752.

[xiii] Peter Pomeranstev and Michael Weiss, “The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money.” The Interpreter. (New York: The Institute of Modern Russia, 2014): 14-23

[xiv] Bierly, Dwayne R., "Countering Unconventional Warfare: Special Operations Forces Role in Support to a National Strategy" (2016). Master's Capstone Theses. 151. http://digitalcommons.apus.edu/theses/151

[xv] Giles, Keir, “Russia’s ‘New’ Tools for Confronting the West: Continuity and Innovation in Moscow’s Exercise of Power.” (London: Chatham House, March 2016): 2

[xvi] Giles, Keir, “Russia’s ‘New’ Tools for Confronting the West: Continuity and Innovation in Moscow’s Exercise of Power.” (London: Chatham House, March 2016): 9

[xvii] Galeotti, Mark. “I’m Sorry for Creating the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine,’ Foreign Policy (March 5, 2018), http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/03/05/im-sorry-for-creating-the-gerasimov-doctrine/

[xviii] Darczewska, Jolanta and Zochowski, Piotr. “Russia’s ‘Activity’ Toward the West—Confrontation by Choice,” Russian Analytical Digest, no. 212 (2017): 2-3

[xix] Porch, Douglas. "The Dangerous Myths and Dubious Promise of COIN." Small Wars and Insurgencies 22, no. 2 (05, 2011): 239-57, https://search.proquest.com/docview/882619052?accountid=11752.

[xx] Linnington, Abigail T. "Unconventional Warfare in U.S. Foreign Policy: U.S. Support of Insurgencies in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and Iraq from 1979-2001." Order No. 3559052, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), 2013. In PROQUESTMS ProQuest Central; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1353110654?accountid=11752.

[xxi] Grdovic, Mark. "UNDERSTANDING UNCONVENTIONAL WARFARE AND U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES." Special Warfare 19, no. 5 (Sep, 2006): 14-24, https://search.proquest.com/docview/199407856?accountid=11752.

[xxii] United States Army Special Operations Command. “Counter-Unconventional Warfare.” White Paper (September 26, 2014): 9-21, https://info.publicintelligence.net/USASOC-CounterUnconventionalWarfare.pdf

 

About the Author(s)

Major Drew Shepler is a US Army Psychological Operations Officer and Eurasian Foreign Area Officer currently attending Advance Civil Schooling at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC. This article was originally written as part of course requirements for Dr. Alina Polyakova’s Russia and the West course.

Comments

I agree with Maxwell and Morris here...

 

 

It is not clear exactly what case Maj. Shepler is trying to make.  He refers to a US “decision-making paralysis” and yet provides no evidence that any exists.  Naturally, Russia-focused analysts have had a field day from 2014-on, and various US bureaucracies have been lobbying Congress for resources to counter the “new” threat, but that is domestic politics not warfare.  He also cites Wither’s view of Russian post-2014 unconventional warfare as “distinct”, in the midst of citing three other analysts who disagree: Galeotti, Giles, and Van Puyvelde.  Certainly contemporary unconventional warfare involves new media and cyberwarfare, but does that make it worthy of a new definition?  Maj. Shepler does not make a case either way. 

 

 

His conclusion is basically: read the USASOC Counter-Unconventional Warfare White Paper of 2014...

Vicrasta

Mon, 08/20/2018 - 10:55am

The USASOC Counter-Unconventional Warfare Whitepaper is dated 26 September 2014:

https://info.publicintelligence.net/USASOC-CounterUnconventionalWarfare.pdf 

 

Excerpt:

The Geopolitical Context: From Resurgent UW to Counter-UW C-UW is a relatively new term coined by veterans of global special operations, who have combined a keen grasp of emerging challenges to international security with lessons learned from our struggle against violent extremism from rising states and non-state actors. C-UW begins with an understanding of unconventional warfare (UW) itself, defined in Joint doctrine as “activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force in a denied area.”1 Central to Irregular Warfare (IW), UW involves external parties aiding indigenous actors against governments. Such aid can involve training, organizing, recruiting, operational advising, coordinated diplomatic support, and even use of kinetic action and logistical support to increase the advantage of indigenous insurgents or rebels. Over the past decade, both states and non-state actors in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Georgia, and other areas have conducted this kind of UW to coerce, disrupt, and overthrow established governments. Novel forms of UW persist even to the present moment.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 08/20/2018 - 9:17am

Note to Maj Shepler: Congress recognized the need for a counter-UW strategy and in the 2016 NDAA Section 1097 directed DOD to develop a counter-UW strategy. 

(and PSYOP :-))