Small Wars Journal

How to Wage Hybrid War on the Kremlin

Sat, 12/17/2016 - 11:04am

How to Wage Hybrid War on the Kremlin by Max Boot, Foreign Policy

Vladimir Putin’s tenure as Russia’s dictator has been dedicated to twin interlocking goals: to enhance his own power and wealth and that of the country he controls. The more powerful Russia becomes, after all, the more powerful its president becomes, too. In pursuit of more influence, Putin has tried to rebuild the Russian armed forces from a force of low-quality conscripts equipped with weapons that don’t work to a high-quality professional force with cutting-edge weapons. That transformation, only partially complete, has been shown off in Syria, which Putin has used as a showcase for systems including sleek Kalibr cruise missiles and the smoke-belching aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. But as befits an old KGB man, Putin’s heart appears to lie more with “deniable” covert operations rather than with overt muscle-flexing.

Putin has become notorious for using “little green men” — Russian intelligence operatives and Spetsnaz (special forces) in civilian clothing — to infiltrate Ukrainian territory and start an uprising among the Russian-speaking population. And it worked: Russia annexed Crimea and has gained de facto control over much of eastern Ukraine. This tactic of undertaking barely disguised aggression has become known as “hybrid warfare,” and it has consistently left the West wrong-footed because Putin is careful to avoid crossing the normal red lines.

The West has been even more flummoxed by Putin’s campaign of political warfare designed to subvert anti-Russian regimes and replace them with more pliable leaders. The most high-profile manifestation of this effort was the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other Democratic targets in an attempt, as the CIA has now concluded, to swing the U.S. presidential election toward Donald Trump, the most pro-Russian politician in America since the heyday of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agriculture secretary, Henry Wallace. Russian internet trolls were also busy putting out anti-Clinton, pro-Trump stories, many of them demonstrably false…

Read on.


Bill C.

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 5:50pm

In reply to by Bill C.

So, in this project to define our nation's enduring objectives -- this, so as to effectively wage political warfare in the service of same (for example, via the use of such things as "hybrid warfare" against our opponent Russia) -- let us return the seminal document NSC-68.

First, we will return to subparagraph "B" on Page 9; wherein, we find that the United States had determined that it must rule the world:

"In a shrinking world, which now faces the threat of atomic warfare, it is not an adequate objective merely to seek to check the Kremlin design, for the absence of order among nations is becoming less and less tolerable. This fact imposes on us, in our own interests, the responsibility of world leadership. It demands that we make the attempt, and accept the risks inherent in it, to bring about order and justice by means consistent with the principles of freedom and democracy."

Next, to look at the section of NSC-68, at Page 21, that informs us that the U.S. rejects isolationism and, instead, has determined that it must "shape" the international community:

"Our overall policy at the present time may be described as one designed to foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish. It therefore rejects the concept of isolation and affirms the necessity of our positive participation in the world community.

This broad intention embraces two subsidiary policies. One is a policy which we would probably pursue even if there were no Soviet threat. It is a policy of attempting to develop a healthy international community. The other is the policy of "containing" the Soviet system. These two policies are closely interrelated and interact on one another. Nevertheless, the distinction between them is basically valid and contributes to a clearer understanding of what we are trying to do.

The policy of striving to develop a healthy international community is the long-term constructive effort which we are engaged in. It was this policy which gave rise to our vigorous sponsorship of the United Nations. It is of course the principal reason for our long continuing endeavors to create and now develop the Inter-American system. It, as much as containment, underlay our efforts to rehabilitate Western Europe. Most of our international economic activities can likewise be explained in terms of this policy.

In a world of polarized power, the policies designed to develop a healthy international community are more than ever necessary to our own strength."

More to follow -- after the holidays.

" ... political warfare is the employment of all the means at a nation's command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives."

This being the case, then it would seem most important -- from the get-go -- to describe/define our national objectives; this, in some enduring way.

This was effectively done, I believe, at NSC-68 cir. April 1950. And the "national objectives" noted here seem to apply even unto today. For example:


The fundamental purpose of the United States is laid down in the Preamble to the Constitution: ". . . to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." In essence, the fundamental purpose is to assure the integrity and vitality of our free society, which is founded upon the dignity and worth of the individual.

END QUOTE (See Page 5 and the section entitled "The Fundamental Purpose of the United States.)


The objectives of a free society are determined by its fundamental values -- and by the necessity for maintaining the material environment in which they flourish.

END QUOTE (This time, look to subparagraph "B" on Page 9)

Christopher Layne, in his "Rethinking American Grand Strategy," likewise quotes from NSC-68, as follows:


"NSC-68 stated that: 'the purpose of American power is to foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish' and (2) the strategy of preponderance 'would probably be pursued even if there was no Soviet Union.' " (see the top of the second column of Page 9)

More on this tomorrow.

I think that Bill M. has it right below -- re: his thought that unconventional warfare must be looked at, today, in more than military terms.

In this regard, might we consider that the primary problem that the U.S./the West appears to have today has:

a. Less to do with Russia, China, Iran, ISIS, etc., themselves and

b. More to do with the manner in which these such entities -- often by non-military means -- are able to effectively and efficiently exploit the "natural/normal" problems/difficulties associated with the U.S./the West's "world transformation"/ "expansionist" political objective?


There are, quite obviously, "natural/normal" problems/difficulties associated with a great power pursuing a political objective of transforming the entire Rest of the World; this, more along this great power's own -- often alien and profane -- political, economic, social and value lines.

(Given the very embedded, and very different political, economic, social and value orientation of much of the Rest of the World then, minus a universal agreement for such comprehensive and complete state and societal "change" throughout the world, this such initiative is obviously going to piss a few people off [i.e., the entire Rest of the World].)

This being the case, then one can easily see how such entities as the U.S./the West in the Old Cold War of yesterday -- and such entities as Russia, China, Iran, ISIS, etc., in the New/Reverse Cold War of today -- might easily and effectively exploit these such "natural/normal" problems/difficulties; commonly associated with their opponent's -- often "across-the-board" non-popular -- "world transformation"/ "expansionist" political objective.

In such cases as these, the "containment"/"roll back" entities often need only point out to the entire Rest of the World:

a. The threat -- to their very different ways of life, their very different ways of governance, etc. -- that the "world transformation"/"expansionist" great power poses, individually and/or collectively, to them all. And

b. The great chaos and suffering that these such "world transformation"/"expansionist"/"change" powers often bring in their wake. (Today, for example, pointing [a] to U.S./Western such ambitions and [b] the great chaos and suffering that, as a result thereof, is now being experienced throughout the Greater Middle East and, indeed, beyond?)

Bottom Line Thought/Question:

Given the above contention -- that our problems/difficulties today have more do with our very own "world transformation"/"expansionist" political objective -- and less to do with Russia, China, Iran, ISIS, etc.'s efficient and effective exploiting of the "natural"/"normal " problems associated with same,

Given these such well-understood dynamics and circumstances, how is it that we might, using non-military unconventional means, overcome these such common problems/difficulties -- routinely associated with a great power's "world transformation"/"expansionist" agenda? And also overcome, thereby, these such "containment"/"roll back" entities' (ex: Russia, China, Iran, ISIS, etc.) ability to so effectively and efficiently exploit same?

Bottom Line Thought/Answer:

By taking a page (or, more correctly, some pages) from the Soviets/the communists' very own playbook?

For example: As noted by COL S.N. Bjelajac in his 1962 "Unconventional Warfare: American and Soviet Approaches?"

(Herein to look, for example, at the non-military approaches used by the Soviets/the communists -- as COL Bjelajac notes in the "Weapon of Peaceful Coexistence" section of his paper beginning at Page 78. And, specifically, at those non-military unconventional warfare approaches that COL Bjelajac points to at the top of the second column of Page 79? [See, for example, "closeness and appeal to the people" ... "ideological conviction."])


The fundamental difference -- in the U.S./the West engaging in political warfare, etc., in the Old Cold War of yesterday -- this, compared with the U.S./the West waging political warfare, etc., in the New/Reverse Cold War of today -- this fundamental difference would appear to be that, in the New/Reverse Cold War of today, the U.S./the West now has the much harder task, to wit: the task of transforming the entire Rest of the World more along one's own -- alien and profane -- political, economic, social and value lines.


In "world transformation" cold war confrontations -- such as the Old Cold War of yesterday (the Soviets/the communists on an "expansionist" bent back then) and such as the New/Reverse Cold War of today (the U.S./the West now having such "world transformation" ambitions) -- there is:

a. The much harder "expansionist" task; associated with transforming the entire Rest of the World more along one's own -- alien and profane (for example think "secular) -- political, economic, social and value lines. And there is:

b. The much easier "containment" and "roll back" tasks; associated with simply "throwing monkey wrenches" at -- and into -- these such "world transformation" efforts of one's "expansionist" opponents.

Question: Thus, re: "waging political warfare" in such an environment, why is identifying and noting this distinction -- between (a) the much harder "expansionist" task on the one hand and (b) the much easier "containment" and "roll back" tasks on the other -- why is noting this such distinction/difference so vitally important?

Answer: Because it reminds us that, re: "waging political warfare" in the New/Reverse Cold War of today, the U.S./the West cannot count on as "natural allies" (as it so obviously could in the Old Cold War of yesterday) either (a) the entire Rest of the World or (b) the distinctly different, varied and established ways of life, ways of governance and values, attitudes and beliefs which made up (and still make up) same.

Thus, in "waging political warfare" in the New/Reverse Cold War of today, the U.S./the West must understand that (a) these such entities (the entire Rest of the World) and (b) their such attributes (their distinctly different, varied and established ways of life, ways of governance etc.) these such matters -- quite obviously now re: our "world transformation"/"expansionist" agenda -- fall into the category of being our "natural enemies."

This such knowledge solidifying our understanding that -- re: "waging political warfare" in the New/Reverse Cold War of today -- we do, indeed, have the much harder task.

To wit: the exact same much harder "expansionist"/"world transformation" task that Soviets/the communists had in the Old Cold War of yesterday.

Bottom Line Question:

Thus, re: "waging political warfare" in this New/Reverse Cold War of today, what are the implications -- for ourselves and for our opponents (say, for example, re: "the underground," etc.) as per this such "role-reversal?"

A role-reversal which causes the U.S./the West, now in its new "expansionist" role, to have turn against (a) certain of our old Cold War allies and (b) their previously-held-in-good-stead-and-relied-upon "decidedly different" political, economic, social and value attributes?

These such matters having some bearing on "How to Wage Hybrid War on the Kremlin;" today and going forward?


Tue, 12/20/2016 - 1:48am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Personal rule is inherently unstable, as we have seen with Ceausescu, Mubarak, Qaddafi and Assad, and which we are starting to see in Central Asia. Your argument is no different than a financial consultant calling an investment safe because it has performed well. Putin could reign for another 15-20 years, or he could die suddenly or be overthrown by insiders or by a popular uprising.

There needs to be a dual-track strategy of containing Russian aggression and international crime, and of embracing the average Russian as well as reformers and dissidents within the elite.

Arguably, the United States government has more cats to herd in terms of preserving the status quo than it did during the Cold War when it was containing and sometimes rolling back the Communist powers, and that includes the American people.

People tire of being in a constant state of high readiness. This is probably why the grinding counter-insurgencies in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq produced more psychiatric casualties and PTSD than World War II, the Korean War and Desert Storm, where soldiers were advancing to specific end goals and end date, both of which were visible on the horizon. Of course, this is my own opinion and I would have to consult Grossman and Marshall if I wanted to support it.

Similarly, the American people are exhausted from the Cold War and the War on Terror. One day they are learning about the intricacies of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian divides, the next how the Roki Tunnel is the invasion route into Georgia, the next about towns and cities not heard from since the time of the Afrika Korps, the next about the strategic rail hub of Debaltsevo, the next about the lawless mountains of Waziristan, the next about Aleppo and its environs. They want their peace dividend, which 9/11 cut short.

Like it as not, they are back to the interwar years, when only another Lusitania or Pearl Harbor will galvanize them. After Vietnam ended, how many Communist insurgencies and invasions went unanswered in the Third World? How many Communist states carried out mass murder without any American response? Yes, the United States knocked over Grenada and Panama, but other than Desert Storm, Americans tried to withdraw from direct intervention and be strong at home as well as for their existing commitments.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 11:59am

In reply to by Azor

Anyone who has been tracking Putin since his Dresden KGB days and onto to St.Petersberg and then onto Moscow......might actually disagree with this ......right now he is on a path for the last 26 years and counting..and shows no signs of slowing down......

The problem with undermining Putin is that his personal rule is inherently unstable

Putin right now is just as unstable as Mount Rushmore is...

Unless the Russian economy totally tanks...Putin has approximately another 10-12 years to run if he wants to......

Part of the problem with dealing with Putin...Assad and yes even Khamenei is that we are simply unwilling to truly assess their intentions and then formulate a counter strategy...actually we are having a problem in even uttering the word "strategy"...and that problem will continue with Trump as we now have FP driven by Twitter....

Actually Boot along with say Weiss...Ortan...Lister...Hassan...Cooper have been far more accurate on Syria than most of the think tank world in DC....and virtually the entire US MSM combined...

And the Trump FP on Hezbollah a US named terror group will be what again?

Hezbollah terrorists dig out remains of civilians in graves of #Aleppo and make fun of the corpses, part of Assad's sovereign #Syria Dec 19

SO what again is to be the hybrid pushback and how would that look like????

Max Boot endorsed Hillary Clinton and even campaigned for her, so he has little credibility.

The problem with undermining Putin is that his personal rule is inherently unstable.

In many respects Putin is a child that is weaker than the adult, but which enjoys getting one ovrr on the adult. If not Putin, who?

Bill M.

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 3:22pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

This is long overdue, "As an aside please note that highlighted definition of UW in the law includes "underground, auxiliary, OR a guerrilla force." The "or" replaces "and. " This is going to cause a change to JP 1-02 and associated doctrine." Once the issue gets elevated above those with an agenda to justify their organization's agenda, the issue tends to get addressed in a more holistic and realistic manner.

Great question, what happened to this requirement below?

"Strategy Required.—The Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the heads of other appropriate departments and agencies of the United States Government, develop a strategy for the Department of Defense to counter unconventional warfare threats posed by adversarial state and non-state actors."

I suspect someone or some office in DoD is reporting to Congress on it annually, but it would be nice to see what they have responded. Let me guess, SOF conducts prepare of the environment, and conventional forces increase forward posture. Doesn't address the issue, but it supports two agendas.

I still have concern with the UW definition, again we're trying to make how adversaries employ UW conform to the legacy U.S. military doctrinal view. Unsurprisingly this view, despite claims to the contrary, is narrowly focused on the military aspect of UW (guerrilla warfare, and the auxiliary and underground are considered enablers instead of the main or only effort in some cases). Therefore our legacy concept of a UW organization must conform to an armed force, either an insurgency or a resistance "force," that is organized along semi-conventional military lines, so we can align one SF ODA per battalion of guerrilla. Yes, the SF qualification course briefly covers subversion, and other aspects of UW, but SF is far from ideally organized to do this.

The UW reality in today's world, and arguably in the past, is quite different. There does not need to be an insurgency or resistance in the U.S., or elsewhere in the West for the Russians and others to wage unconventional warfare against us. Their ability to mobilize elements of our population to turn on one another by creating or exploiting existing issues to divide/weaken a nation politically is unconventional warfare (subversion) without leveraging an existing insurgency or resistance. The intent is to undermine the national morale and political will to resist Russian actions elsewhere in the world. It isn't even coercion in the truest since of the word, it is simply creating conditions that weaken our resolve that increase an adversary's freedom of movement to pursue their aims.

We need to go back to the drawing board, because if we only develop a counter UW strategy to address what the current definition describes as UW we'll come up fall short. UW doesn't need to be defined, it needs to be described, and our description needs to be relatively broad to capture the full spectrum of this tool, whether we're defending ourselves from it, or employing it.

Unfortunately, those in the military that should be taking the lead on this, tend to believe the answer is a two star deployable HQs that can deploy globally to conduct UW. This is so off base it is laughable. Most of this competition globally has little to do with maneuvering troops and ISR to find, fix, and finish, so we don't need to replicate that type of HQs. Where we need to expand is in the area of specialized intelligence collection and analysis focused on this type of competition. It will probably need to be an interagency fusion organization of sort. We'll need a more robust and agile information operations organization (which will need unique intelligence support to enable assessments), and we'll need regional experts, and few boots on the ground to gain understanding and influence in the human domain that can provide unconventional options to national leadership to pursue our objectives.

The GCCs and TSOCs understand the context better than any deployable HQs, and in this type of warfare (if we want to call it that), not unlike others, context is king. This competition is also enduring, so we don't need a HQs where personnel rotate in and out every 6 months to a year. We need to improve our permanent command and control organizations in DoD from the Joint Staff, to the Combatant Commands, to the Theater Special Operations Commands to ensure they have the right people, doctrine, and capacity to focus on this spectrum of conflict or competition.

Subversion belongs to the CIA and Department of State, but DoD should be able to bring unique skills and capacity to support this effort. At the same time we shouldn't lose our ability for DoD, specifically Special Forces, to support large scale, traditional UW operations (read large scale guerrilla operations). These operations will likely be few and far apart, but when you need it you need it. Just like armor units, it is unlikely we'll see a lot of armor battles, but is likely we'll see some, so it is capability we need to maintain even if it isn't deployed operationally on a frequent basis.

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 12/18/2016 - 8:23am

Perhaps we ought to remember that Russia is executing unconventional and political warfare. In 2016 Congress directed DOD (and other appropriate departments and agencies) to come up with a strategy to counter unconventional warfare (within 180 days of enactment of the bill). We should ask where is the strategy and why have we not developed a strategy?

As an aside please note that highlighted definition of UW in the law includes "underground, auxiliary, OR a guerrilla force." The "or" replaces "and. " This is going to cause a change to JP 1-02 and associated doctrine. The significance of this is that to conduct UW you do necessarily need to have a guerrilla force. As most UW practitioners will tell you the most important element in any UW operation is the underground which is where subversion, sabotage, intelligence activities, political mobilization (the essential elements of unconventional warfare and support to a resistance or insurgency) are planned and executed. This may eventually help us to rid minds of the old paradigm of UW that is fundamentally based on guerrilla warfare and allow us to focus on modern unconventional warfare as it is really conducted in the 21st century. We can thank Congress for making this seemingly slight change that can help make a profound difference in the conduct of UW today and in the future.…

(a) Strategy Required.—The Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the heads of other appropriate departments and agencies of the United States Government, develop a strategy for the Department of Defense to counter unconventional warfare threats posed by adversarial state and non-state actors.

(b) Elements.—The strategy required under subsection (a) shall include each of the following:

(1) An articulation of the activities that constitute unconventional warfare threats to the United States and allies.

(2) A clarification of the roles and responsibilities of the Department of Defense in providing indications and warning of, and protection against, acts of unconventional warfare.

(3) An analysis of the adequacy of current authorities and command structures necessary for countering unconventional warfare.

(4) An articulation of the goals and objectives of the Department of Defense with respect to countering unconventional warfare threats.

(5) An articulation of related or required interagency capabilities and whole-of-Government activities required by the Department of Defense to support a counter-unconventional warfare strategy.

(6) Recommendations for improving the counter-unconventional warfare capabilities, authorities, and command structures of the Department of Defense.

(7) Recommendations for improving interagency coordination and support mechanisms with respect to countering unconventional warfare threats.

(8) Recommendations for the establishment of joint doctrine to support counter-unconventional warfare capabilities within the Department of Defense.

(9) Any other matters the Secretary of Defense considers appropriate.

(c) Submittal To Congress.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees the strategy required by subsection (a). The strategy shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex.

(d) Unconventional Warfare Defined.—In this section, the term “unconventional warfare” means 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, or guerrilla force in a denied area.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 11:39am

In reply to by cammo99

Ask an E5 if they wanted 8 more years of Obama, on the down low but not until Obama is gone.

Ask that same E5 what he has gotten in the way of benefits and if married what has he gotten in benefits for his wife and the global war on terror which is now 14 years old and continuing.....

Compare the same benefits in salaries and virtually everything else received to say the draftee/volunteer of the VN era war which lasted also surprisingly 14 years as well....

Let's not even get into the extensive increase in average veteran disability payments of the GWOT vet generation.......

AND surprisingly there are also roughly 4.5M military personnel that are going to be using the VA....darn near matching the VN era veteran numbers since they were restricted on many VN connected illnesses until years later...

And then tell me who benefited in the end the GWOT vet or the VN vet?

There are two issues in Max boots article. One he seems to place the onus for Europe's defense on the USA. How could the USA meet that obligation with the manpower cuts these pass 8 years and a continuous cycle of trillion dollar debts spent on Obama's only growth market, Welfare?
Unemployment is twice what the official figures claim.
Then Max Boot in the full article tries to drag the Russians into the American election despite there is little proof they did anything more than usual to effect an outcome. How do they even have access to effect cyber intervention?
It is rather pathetic of Hillary who was guilty of being lax with her own cyber security as Secretary of State to make any accusations. We may never know how or even if the Ruskies in anyways affected the election. Boot acknowledges the fact but still levels the charge then seems to incite war? When Ted Kennedy ran he directly asked for their Soviet assistance its in the Kremlin archives.
Boot counts 100,000 votes but Hillary lost by a huge electoral decision. And not just her in every category Governorship, Mayorals, at every political level the DNC is slowly bleeding to death and this election was a hemorrhage. In states where they asked for recounts Trump won a second time by a wider margin.
There is more evidence, anecdotal being the standard, Hillary compromised Top secret documents even if she isn't "guilty" of anything. And one has to wonder how Assange and Snowden fit in?
It is just as easy to believe the Russian intent is to encourage distrust of the Trump administration before it ever takes office by exploiting Hillary's ego and spite
I just wonder if Max taking on Russia has anything to do with the ME?
"Max Boot and Matthew Doran proclaim in the New York Times that:

"There are five reasons to bring down President Bashar al-Assad sooner rather than later."

Here is their Reason #1:

"First, American intervention would diminish Iran’s influence in the Arab world. Iran has showered aid on Syria and even sent advisers from its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to assist Mr. Assad. Iran knows that if his regime fell, it would lose its most important base in the Arab world and a supply line to pro-Iranian Hezbollah militants in Lebanon."

Or does he believe that if the Palestinians one state solution an Islamist "Palestine" will resolve the issue and leave Iran and Hezballah without a cause to adventure militarily in the region?

How many wars can the USA fight with a military manpower level that is by per capita less than half it was when WWII broke out? Trump's coming and Obama's going already seems to be snaking out the constipated myths Defense fabricated over the past 8 years. By political appointees with the same agenda. Ask an E5 if they wanted 8 more years of Obama, on the down low but not until Obama is gone.