Small Wars Journal

'Ambiguous Warfare' Providing NATO With New Challenge

'Ambiguous Warfare' Providing NATO With New Challenge by Peter Apps, Reuters

Since Russia's annexation of Crimea in March, NATO has been publicly refocusing on its old Cold War foe Moscow. The threats it now believes it faces, however, are distinctly different to those of the latter half of the 20th century.

The West then was defending against the risk of Soviet armor pouring across the North German plain. Now, officials and experts say, it is "ambiguous warfare" that is focusing minds within NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Confrontations are viewed as more likely to start with cyber attacks or covert action to stir up Russian minorities in Europe's east than from any overt aggression…

Read on.

Comments

Move Forward

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 5:50pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

<blockquote>Move Forward said we don't or didn't supply Ukraine with enough arms or training JUST AFTER I posted that Ukraine is a TOP TEN ARMS exporter</blockquote>

http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/ukraine-worlds-4th-largest-arms…

They were number 4 at the time of the above linked 2013 article. However, note who buys their weapons. Europe and the Americas (countries with the most modern weapons) bought only 9% of the total while Asia bought 47% and Africa 23%. India, Iraq, China, and Russia are listed as their primary customers although they had contracts with 78 countries at the time.

What kind of arms do they export? Are they modern, top-of-the-line weapons or small arms and peripheral parts of systems like Russian helicopters and missiles. If their arms are exported, they aren't exactly available to the Ukraine military are they. They are paid for and used by other countries who can afford them. Ukraine very well may not be able to afford sufficient numbers of their own modern weapons.

We know Ukraine asked for jamming support to suppress Russian air defenses like the Buk system. A number of Ukrainian aircraft were downed by Russian equipment in June and July and the MH17 shoot down occurred on July 17...a full month and a half after the article you posted earlier that was supposed to be evidence of relevant <strong>current</strong> events. I also will post about your other comment about that article's relevance in your response down there.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about exports of weapons to Russia:

<blockquote>In March 2014, during the 2014 Crimean crisis, the company barred all exports of weaponry and military equipment to Russia.[10] Yuriy Tereshchenko, the then newly appointed head of the company, stated on 29 March 2014: "With its act of aggression, Russia had broken the regular order of life".[11] Tereshchenko also claimed: "There are some types of weapons that Russia cannot make without Ukraine’s components. Among them are aviation radars and beam holders for some types of missiles. This is a long list, not one, two or three items”.[6] Jane's Information Group believed (on 31 March 2014) that while supply may be slowed by the Ukrainian embargo, it was unlikely to do any real damage to Russia's military.</blockquote>

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 11:06am

I can't edit comments for some reason.

Move Forward said we don't or didn't supply Ukraine with enough arms or training JUST AFTER I posted that Ukraine is a TOP TEN ARMS exporter and has plenty of arms, and that NATO HAS TRAINED Ukrainian soldiers via NATO but the corrupt government pocketed the money for training, pay, more soldiers etc.

The soldiers ran out of ammunition and had other logistical problems and yet, at a MILITARY blog, no one is discussing these things? Instead, we are all focusing on the latest DC propaganda.

Everyone is lying through their teeth on all sides as far as I can tell: Russian, Ukrainian, and NATO/EU/US, and not even very well. Maybe Putin was trying to say that if he had fully invaded Ukraine, we'd know it because the tanks would be in Kiev. Black and white photos with a few trucks on a road? A full on INVASION! Proxies maybe, sure, but come on. OSCE reports sound different.

Move Forward

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 5:46pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Not even close? You said the quote below implying some sort of parallel between us disbanding the Baathist Sunni Army after OIF and Ukraine letting some police go...as if that led to subsequently successful Russian and separatist aggression.

<blockquote>Bremer II and the disbanded Iraqi Army.</blockquote>

What weapons do you think a police force has to stop a Russian tank? How does a police force deal with shelling from the Russian side of the border into East Ukraine? How does a police force deal with Russian jets and air defenses?

Now I will agree that the number of U.S. police to cover large U.S. states in terms of both area and population like Texas and California is a good counter to those who argue for a light ground military footprint. After all, the U.S. is peaceful and its crime rate relative to places like Afghanistan and Iraq is minor...yet we still need large numbers of police. There are 70,000 in places like Texas and California and over one million active police officers nation wide. We don't build up and subsequently reduce police forces like we do on a recurring basis with our Army. Crime does not end. Conflict at whatever level affecting the U.S. never ends given human history.

Why the double standard? Why does law enforcement primarily involve boots on the ground instead of naval and air police? Why do we keep full time police forces protecting us in the peaceful U.S. but cut our ground military and withdraw them to the U.S. instead of leaving them in safer overseas places where they can deter and stop wars of expansion and terror?

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 10:40am

In reply to by Move Forward

No, that is not even close to the point I was trying to make. None of that is what I meant, not even close.

Move Forward

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 5:14pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu, you emphasized this part of your quote from a <strong>3 month old article</strong> that no longer is relevant:

<blockquote>The conflict with Russia remains a threat, but the bigger and immediate threat is the proliferation of militias, gangs and separatists in eastern Ukraine, where effective action by a competent police force loyal to the state and the nation could have prevented the tragedy that is unfolding there now. Many law enforcement personnel were cashiered en masse following the revolution. That has created a security vacuum and, one suspects, provided plenty of able recruits to help fill the separatists’ ranks.</blockquote>

You think more law enforcement personnel would stop Russian tanks? Other fun facts and quotes from Putin offer a different take:

"If I want to I could take Kiev in 2 weeks"

"I want to remind you that Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations"

"New Russia"

These aren't the comments of someone attempting to peacefully secure a sphere of influence. Crimea and Buk air defense missiles should have taught us that. A comment by a foreign minister that satellite photos of hundreds of <strong>Russian</strong> vehicles were from imagery from a video game was equally illustrative of convincing their own folks that Russian aggression is nothing more than a humanitarian rescue of fellow Russians.

When Russia takes actions like this and ISIS cuts off the head of another journalist, it simply means that those outside the U.S. no longer respect the U.S. or NATO. They do not fear that any meaningful deterrence, assistance, or combat action will occur in response. We apparently lack a strategy to do so and our leader would prefer to vacation and attend fund raisers rather than develop such a strategy.

We don't provide adequate weapons or training to Ukraine or moderate Sunnis.

We don't impose meaningful sanctions because Europeans won't support them just as they looked the other way at Hitler's initial aggression.

We don't strike ISIS in Syria despite clear means to do so from the air with no ability for Syria to interfere with our stealth air fleets and ample UAS/RPA that could function effectively once air defenses our suppressed.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 12:03pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I think the biggest problem with the way in which the US thinks about counter-unconventional warfare (or whatever we want to call it) is that many in our system have completely unrealistic ideas about our own supposed "side" of things; the importance the American people will grant to certain international situations, our own part in the creation of crises, the nature of the proxies or parties we deem the more correct parties. Every bit of it is based on some fundamental misread of the situation, and, as Sparapet said further down in the thread, the ideologues are always surprised when events blow up in their faces. Ideologues live in fantasy, so, naturally, the world surprises.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 11:52am

Ukraine a top small arms exporter?

Ah, yes, I remember well Churchill's fiery speeches on Ukrainian small arms exports....

It's almost like the majority of western foreign policy commentators, think tank analysts, the NYT, the Washington Post, every "fearful of being ostracized by the in-crowd" crony for the DC consensus, are completely and utterly full of it. (Well, not everybody, naturally):

<blockquote>Ukraine, unlike many other successor states of the Soviet Union, inherited a large and sophisticated defense industry when the USSR fell apart. <strong>It exports $1.3 billion worth of arms annually and according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute was the ninth largest arms exporter in the world between 2008 and 2012.</strong>
BREAK
The military in Ukraine has suffered from the same neglect and mismanagement as the rest of the country. Ukrainian military personnel have taken part in coalition operations in the Balkans and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ukrainian officers have attended professional military educational institutions in the United States and other NATO countries. Over the years, in meetings with Ukrainian officers, I have seen the beneficial impact on them from this experience. But the fact remains that the military, like many other Ukrainian institutions, has suffered at the hands of a crony capitalist state dominated by a corrupt elite with little interest in state- or nation-building, but plenty of interest in enriching itself.
.
Ukraine needs help, but the kind of help it needs cannot be reduced to shipments of military hardware. It needs to reform its armed forces and its law enforcement. <strong>The conflict with Russia remains a threat, but the bigger and immediate threat is the proliferation of militias, gangs and separatists in eastern Ukraine, where effective action by a competent police force loyal to the state and the nation could have prevented the tragedy that is unfolding there now. Many law enforcement personnel were cashiered en masse following the revolution. That has created a security vacuum and, one suspects, provided plenty of able recruits to help fill the separatists’ ranks.</strong></blockquote>

http://www.defenseone.com/threats/2014/06/sending-weapons-ukraine-wont-…

Bremer II and the disbanded Iraqi Army.

The US/NATO and EU make a play for Ukraine--which has been going on for twenty years in a mixed up way with genuine desire to help the state--and has only enabled this process, hasn't it? Just as in Afghanistan, so too in Ukraine.

Perhaps official DC is simply embarrassed by its serial failures since the end of the Cold War and wanted a "win" at any cost? That the Russians were more realistic about their proxies doesn't mean that the answer is now for the US to shovel more aid toward our proxies. The poor Ukrainian people, but, then again, this is what happens when corrupt elites (and well meaning internal and external modernizers) are encouraged by outsiders with fantasies of using the Ukrainian state for its own power plays and expansionism.

In a multifactorial world, why can't we talk about the multiple factors in Russia, Ukraine, and the US/EU/NATO that have all led toward this point? I suppose propagandizers can't use real understanding to grandstand, so they simplify.

Here is the link to the article "Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West's Fault" by John Mearsheimer, which can be found in the September issue of Foreign Affairs:

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141769/john-j-mearsheimer/why-th…

Here is Mearsheimer's suggestion for a solution:

"There is a solution to the crisis in Ukraine, however -- although it would require the West to think about the country in a fundamentally different way. The United States and its allies should abandon their plan to westernize the Ukraine and instead aim to make it a neutral buffer between NATO and Russia, akin to Austria's position during the Cold War ... "

Note here that I am not the only one that sees our attempts to "westernize" outlying states and societies as the "root cause" or many/most of the world's -- and our -- problems today.

Bill C.

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 1:28pm

In reply to by John Zambri

Added to:

John Zambri asked this question of me also -- re: the relevance of boarders -- at my comment further down this page.

So let me address John's question here in much the same way that I answered Sparapet's inquiry ("what is the purpose?") below:

Our national leaders increasing seem to see "the preservation of national borders" as relevant IF such endeavors allow us to better accomplish our -- and NATO's -- post-Cold War "purpose," to wit: the provision of our way of life, our way of governance and our values, attitudes and beliefs to outlying states and societies.

Given (as the past 20 or so years seem to indicate) that "the preservation of national boarders" HAS NOT been of benefit to us -- re: this "purpose" of advancing our civilization -- we have now began to think that this concept (much like sovereignty?) may need to be (1) discarded rather than (2) retained and fought for.

So now, and within the context of what works best for advancing modern western civilization, such things as "allowed balkanization" are being considered. (Better cost/benefit analysis? Better ways, ends, means computation?)

This helping to explain our so-called "lack of resolve" -- re: the Ukraine -- and elsewhere?

As to who should been seen as "the aggressor" -- and who "the defender" -- consider this article in the September issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine by John Mearsheimer entitled "Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West's Fault:"

"Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly. Elites in the United States and Europe have been blindsided by events only because they subscribe to a flawed view of international politics. They tend to believe that the logic of realism holds little relevance in the twenty-first century and that Europe can be kept whole and free on the basis of such liberal principles as the rule of law, economic interdependence, and democracy."

Bill M.

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 6:03pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I like the concept, but off the cuff don't see how that would work. Ideally it would have to be four of the world's major economic/military powers which provides both the means and clout. China would be one those, Russia another? Could we find a common political object to unify our actions around?

We can take sovereignty for example, the U.S., China and Russia have all violated others' sovereignty in recent years/months. We can take human rights as one, but we wouldn't reach an agreement anytime soon with China on those are and aren't. We see considerable cooperation when it comes to counter piracy, so maybe economic interests are where we start, but does that risk a return to a mercantilism world? Would any group of four global policemen be considered provocative and motivate other countries to form an opposing block to look after their interests?

I like the idea, I just don't see how it would work. Maybe years from now, maybe after a potential WWIII we'll really get serious as a global community about developing security, political, and economic structures that promote and maintain the peace for the betterment of mankind instead of narrow national and corporate interests.

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 5:33pm

In reply to by Bill M.

FDR's post-WWII strategy had four components; one of which was "the four policemen."

His vision in 1945 was that the US, UK, China, and Russia - all treaty allies at the time- replace the ineffective League of nations in this role.

Perhaps it is time for new treaty allies for the post- cold war world. Might be 6 or 8 policemen today.

Bill M.

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 4:29pm

In reply to by John Zambri

If a treaty ally is attacked and we don't honor our obligations then questions about whether we can be counted on are appropriate. A military response (we're already responding diplomatically and economically) to an attack, transgression, etc. on another country's sovereignty that is not an ally is made case by case based on our interests, not a standing obligation to promote state borders as sacred. Seems you're making an argument that the world needs a global policeman to enforce international norms of behavior, and if that doesn't happen the world will become increasingly chaotic and dangerous. In my opinion, that argument has some merit, but I don't think the American people will support it, so its feasibility is questionable. I'm not arguing whether we should or shouldn't intervene, but if we do so, then the logic must be sound and the political objective achievable via military means.

John Zambri

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 3:43pm

At what point then? At what point do the boarders become relevant? Important enough for some substantive - definitive (dare I say kinetic) - response? When Russian Armour Tank divisions roll into Poland? Chech Republic? Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, France...UK? Seems reminiscent of a little spat we had 75 years ago with a funny looking little turd with a funny looking mustache. I agree, we can't go willy nilly or emotionally half cocked into the geopolitics of the matter, but if the boarders do not matter in the Ukraine, then they don't matter at the waters edge of the continental U.S. Perhaps you're on to something. Our southern boarders don't seem to matter much either. My friend this is not an attack on your position or reasoning, but I see this as something - a problem much deeper and ominous. Some would say that the idea of Russian tanks rolling west is folly, but the same was said when Germany rolled tanks east and west. The same would have been said on September 10th, 2001 of the Al Qaeda attacks. We have lost something as a country. We have lost something of our standing in the minds of these...provocateurs. We don't instill pause in the minds of our adversaries, which says a great deal about our resolve and our concern of the interest of ally's, which are our interest if not in the very near term, certainly in the long term. Can we be counted on anymore?

John Zambri

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 3:45pm

In reply to by Bill C.

At what point then? At what point do the boarders become relevant? Important enough for some substantive - definitive (dare I say kinetic) - response? When Russian Armour Tank divisions roll into Poland? Chech Republic? Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, France...UK? Seems reminiscent of a little spat we had 75 years ago with a funny looking little turd with a funny looking mustache. I agree, we can't go willy nilly or emotionally half cocked into the geopolitics of the matter, but if the boarders do not matter in the Ukraine, then they don't matter at the waters edge of the continental U.S. Perhaps you're on to something. Our southern boarders don't seem to matter much either. My friend this is not an attack on your position or reasoning, but I see this as something - a problem much deeper and ominous. Some would say that the idea of Russian tanks rolling west is folly, but the same was said when Germany rolled tanks east and west. The same would have been said on September 10th, 2001 of the Al Qaeda attacks. We have lost something as a country. We have lost something of our standing in the minds of these...provocateurs. We don't instill pause in the minds of our adversaries, which says a great deal about our resolve and our concern of the interest of ally's, which are our interest if not in the very near term, certainly in the long term. Can we be counted on anymore?

Bill C.

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 3:18pm

In reply to by Sparapet

"So WHAT is the purpose?"

"The Cold War had an anti-communist purpose that was animated by a two-fold strategy of containment and victory without escalation."

Might I suggest that -- in contrast to our Cold War purpose of containing a very different way of life, a very different way of governance, etc. (communism) -- our post-Cold War purpose has clearly been the advancement of our own way of life, our own way of governance, and own our values, attitudes and beliefs.

Thus, while NATO's job during the Cold War was seen within the context of "containing communism," NATO's job since the end of the Cold War must be seen within the context of advancing modern western civilization.

Such things as "preserving national borders," therefore, to be seen, addressed and resolved within this "advancing our civilization" light.

The obvious question then becomes, for example, whether:

a. The "preservation of national borders" (be these of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, the Ukraine, etc.) is a necessary and prudent component/requirement re: our -- and NATO's -- post-Cold War "purpose" (noted above)? Or should we, re: advancing our civilization, consider that:

b. The "preservation of national borders" (etc.) is unnecessary and/or unwise; this, given the cost v. benefit analysis which has been provided to us by the past 20 or so years?

The above explanation as to "purpose" (to advance modern western civilization), I believe, providing us with (a) our contemporary problems, (b) our contemporary questions and (c) the contemporary context within which these, and other such matters, are now being viewed, evaluated and addressed.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 12:25pm

In reply to by Sparapet

You are so scary smart. Your comments about cyber not being a domain and using the Tree of Life as an example were brilliant.

The border thing obsesses me because it underscores the gap between our rhetoric of helping preserve the sovereignty of others and the reality of what we--or others--will do about it.

Impulsivity is my great weakness--now confined in to blog comments, really and truly--so I worry about its effects. I kind of understand the mindset.

Sparapet

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 12:10pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

It's tough to be objective when one trades in ideology. The impulse for action is also difficult to resist, or even moderate, when a sense urgency sets in. That's why psychologists warn people not to act when grieving. It doesn't lead to good things.

There is no such thing as ambiguous war. If one feels the situation is ambiguous, one must also feel that his presence and role in the situation is undefined. Which means one is where one did not 1. plan to be 2. want to be or 3. foresaw being. In all three scenarios, the ambiguity is in one's head.

The only ones afflicted with ambiguity are those who are perpetually surprised that the world doesn't conform to their ideologies. Ambiguity is easily avoidable with a coherent strategy, even if it is a secret one. You might have difficulty deciding on a course of action and even more difficulty executing one. But none of that bears any weight on the subject of ambiguity, which is borne of an absence of purpose.

The Cold War had an anti-communist purpose that was animated by a two-fold strategy of containment and victory without escalation. Current anti-Russia strategy (if one can be found) that seems to have a lot of fan-boys is containment and decisive victory through escalation. But what is the purpose? Preserve national borders? No one is THAT committed to that purpose, we have in fact stepped in only ONCE with that purpose in mind...Gulf War I. And even then it was out of fear of an ally, Saudi Arabia; Kuwaiti borders being necessary but not sufficient condition for our involvement. Prevent Russian expansion? OK, but if it's local and in countries whose borders we don't care about THAT much (e.g. Crimea, Abkhazia, etc) then is it worth it? Topple Putin? Well, there are probably lots of different ways to go about that without resorting to open war.

So WHAT is the purpose?!

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 11:28am

<blockquote>NATO does have its own unconventional capabilities. Experienced in operating with tribal and militant groups in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa, U.S. special forces and intelligence personnel could theoretically stir up trouble in Russia.

Agencies such as the U.S. National Security Agency and Britain's GCHQ could also wreak cyber havoc on Russian telecoms and other systems.</blockquote>

What?!?!?!

But Madhu, our offensive operations are defensive. My imaginary versions of T.E. Lawrence and Orde Wingate tell me so....

Yeah, let's go there instead of counseling good inclusive governance and not banning languages and not stealing Western funds and firming up borders. It's a perpetual motion machine of war making and money making and war making.

Turkey supports IS in a defacto way, and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia support the Taliban, and they are NATO or NATO allies, and Poland/Lithuania/etc. trades heavily with Russia and complains when it can't, and on and on and on and on....

Because if there is one thing we've learned over the years, it's that mucking around with proxy wars and in the internal affairs of other nations always works out well for us.

I know it's just a Reuters article but can you imagine anything written like this during the Cold War? The very fact that anyone talks this way just underscores that whatever threat Russia is, it's not the old Soviet Union because only the crazies and the Dr. Strangeloves talked about stuff like this. We are paying such a heavy price for having completely militarized our thinking. The crazies on all sides have been let out of the box. Where are the adults?

The Washington Consensus wants to regime change everyone, first Iraq, then Syria, then Russia, then China, then what, ourselves? Well, if they don't blow up the world or blow up the world economy or the very liberal western order they claim to want to defend.

How did we get here as a nation and as a society? The fever dreams of the elite and their fantasies. Hard to believe some people in Russia think the West is out to get them, first humiliate them in the 90's economically, and then constantly throw propaganda. You can hate Putin's guts and still see that Russia and its people exist. What, are we going to socially engineer them too? Create new Western men just like the 60s modernizers imagined for the "developing world?" Just like in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan? Nation building and regime change and re-education, I mean modernizing, forever....

How badly educated current publics and reporters generally are, can you imagine anyone during the Cold War except for the crazies that would have thought of anything but the Cuban missile crisis when discussing internal destabilization of a nation with so many nukes?