Small Wars Journal

Understanding and Countering Nation-State Use of Protracted Unconventional Warfare

Sat, 10/25/2014 - 1:15pm

Understanding and Countering Nation-State Use of Protracted Unconventional Warfare

Jason Rivera


The United States’ national adversaries are engaged in protracted unconventional warfare strategies designed to counter-balance U.S. military might and enhance their own strategic security postures. Nations such as China, Iran, and Russia, while avoiding direct conflict with the U.S., are deploying unique and effective strategies across multiple domains within the spectrum of wartime operations. Though the U.S. remains dominant in the land, sea, air, and space domains, the nation’s adversaries are levying unconventional strategies designed to contest U.S. power within highly disputed and less understood domains to include cyberspace, the international information operations environment, and the human terrain environment. These unconventional warfare strategies, over a protracted period of time, have the effect of subtlety attritting the United States’ worldwide military presence, bleeding the American economy, sowing confusion, chaos, and distrust amongst U.S. policy makers, and wearing down the will of the American people.

This paper, at its core, is designed to identify, enumerate, and provide recommendations to counter protracted unconventional warfare strategies and will fulfill its design by accomplishing two things:

  1. Demonstrating how the nation’s adversaries operate in such a manner as to aggressively achieve their national security objectives while simultaneously remaining below the threshold of what would be considered an act of war, let alone a universally understood and condemned act of aggression. It is below this threshold that the United States must engage its adversaries if the U.S. is to counter its adversaries unconventional wartime strategies.
  1. It will deliver strategies designed to directly engage the United States’ adversaries below the threshold of war as well as the means to strategically posture the United States to levy flexible deterrent options.

By accomplishing the above two objectives, it is the intent of the author to demonstrate how the U.S. may effectively contain its strategic adversaries before the U.S. security posture is irreversibly eroded.

War by Other Means

Upon recognition that nuclear weapons had rendered unrestricted conventional war all but obsolete, China’s Communist Party Central Committee and the Central Military Commission endorsed in 2003 a military strategy known as “Three Warfares”.[1] This method of warfare is a dynamic, flexible doctrine that promotes war by other means to include psychological operations directed at the adversary, media warfare designed to exert influence over public perceptions, and legal warfare designed to exploit legal asymmetries to achieve political and commercial objectives.[2] This strategy – indirect, asymmetric, and protracted – is cunningly designed, over time, to combat a superior adversary that cannot be defeated through conventional means.

Over a thousand miles to the west in Southwest Asia, the Iranian leadership – specifically from the early 1990s onward – has begun to implement a strategy that leverages religious loyalism to enhance its strategic influence over the region and preserve the future of Shia Islam against the perceived threat of the Sunni majority. In Yemen, Iran is allegedly providing military support to the Houthi rebellion, a minority Shi’ite movement that stirs unrest and conflict in the war-torn nation.[3] During the height of the Arab Spring, Bahrain’s military leadership unrelentingly swore that Iran was providing both moral and material support to Shi’ite agitators;[4] all this while improvised explosive devices continue to be employed ever more frequently throughout the island nation as the Shi’ite majority becomes increasingly frustrated with the ruling Sunni minority. Most recently, it has been reported that Iran has deployed two or more battalions of its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces to assist Iraqi troops in combating the recent surge of insurgent activity from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an offshoot of al-Qaeda.[5]

Another one-thousand miles to the north in the transcontinental nation of Russia, President Vladimir Putin is likely directing unconventional warfare operations in Eastern Europe. In 2008, at the commencement of the Russo-Georgian war, Russia inspired insurrection within Georgia by handing out Russian passports in the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions as well as installing their own officials in key government posts.[6] This action was immediately followed by government sponsored cyber operations designed to disrupt and degrade the Georgian government’s capacity to communicate with its military and civilian population. Russia’s current strategy in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine bears remarkable similarities; in the early March 2014 timeframe, it was alleged that Russian operatives were distributing passports to ethnic Russians in the Crimean capital of Simferopol.[7] Shortly after, there appeared to be evidence of cyber operations targeted at Ukrainian telecom providers to include denial of service operations against websites and the physical severing of critical fiber optic cable trunks.[8] Still today, it appears that Russia continues to operate in Eastern Ukraine through the use of similar tactics.

Geographically, strategically, culturally, and politically distinct, all three China, Iran, and Russia appear to be engaging in war by other means through use of protracted unconventional warfare strategies in order to achieve their national security objectives as well as compete for global and regional influence amongst key populations. While not allied with each other in the same manner that the U.S. is allied with the NATO countries, there seems to be a tacit level of cooperation amongst these three nations that has the effect of eroding the United States’ worldwide diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME) advantages. Though the nation’s adversaries are varied in their method of strategy execution, these strategies share similarities as follows:

  1. The nation’s adversaries are strategically interpreting, intentionally distorting, and exploiting international laws and norms to achieve their objectives – this is the most important function of their protracted unconventional warfare strategies. They are aggressively testing the limits of laws and norms by asserting pressure upon the United States’ military posture while simultaneously remaining below the threshold of what would unequivocally be considered an act of war.
  1. As a secondary – yet almost equally important – effort, the United States’ adversaries are decisively engaged in full-spectrum psychological warfare. The term “full-spectrum” is specifically used to characterize a form of psychological warfare that has evolved far beyond military usage and into the realms of politics, culture, society, and commercial business. This full-spectrum psychological warfare is amorphous in nature and is beyond what most Americans and leaders are capable of comprehending or detecting. Some examples include but are not limited to English language foreign news, foreign political lobbyists, the establishment of Islamic cultural centers, or the exposure of sensitive U.S. intelligence programs by foreign entities with the intent of causing an adverse reaction amongst the American populous through the exploitation and manipulation of defectors.
  1. Because the U.S. remains the dominant worldwide force in all aspects of the DIME spectrum, the nation’s adversaries, at the time being, are avoiding direct confrontation with the U.S. in favor of strategies that use indirect approaches to erode the nation’s secondary or tertiary national security interests.
  1. Quick, technologically-centric conflicts favor the United States’ military warfighting posture. Therefore, the nation’s adversaries both now and in the future will engage in protracted, asymmetric conflicts with the United States over an indefinite period of time. 

The Strategy of Protracted Unconventional Warfare

The United States’ adversaries are currently not capable of defeating the U.S. in conventional conflict and as such will avoid actions that are universally and unequivocally understood to be acts of war. Following this logic, the nation’s adversaries will avoid direct conflict with the United States’ military, yet will engage indirectly in conflict against the U.S. security posture so long as they can sustain this conflict over a protracted period of time and so long as they can levy asymmetric advantages against a technologically superior American nation. This should not be interpreted to mean that the nation’s adversaries will not engage in warfare against the United States, rather, that they will engage in unconventional warfare by interpreting, distorting, and exploiting the consensus formed by Westernized democracies in regards to international laws and norms. The most internationally accepted and well understood agreement on what constitutes an act of war is contained within article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, which states that, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”[9] Legal scholars have gone on to illustrate specific examples of what constitutes use of force, however, the threshold of “force” in terms of what the international community can agree upon is overwhelmingly vague. In the realm of kinetic conflict, it is generally accepted as true that a nuclear strike, state-sponsored terrorist attack, or conventional invasion would constitute use of force. There are other examples, but these three represent the most basic threats that national militaries train and equip for on a regular basis. The increasing prominence of cyber capabilities implies that use of force may also apply to information warfare. According to the Tallinn Manual[10][11], state-sponsored actions that result in death, injury, or destruction to persons or property would constitute use of force in cyberspace.[12]

As a secondary effort to the distortion and exploitation of international law, the United States’ adversaries are engaged in full-spectrum psychological warfare against the American population. Some of these psychological efforts are subtle and designed to influence the populous over time. Such strategic thinking is characterized by the writings of Li Bingyan[13], who proposed the following:

“How can you make a cat eat a hot pepper? You can stuff a pepper down a cat’s throat (the most difficult), you can put the pepper in cheese and make the cat swallow it, or you can grind the pepper up and spread it on his back. The latter method makes the cat lick itself and receive the satisfaction of cleaning up the hot pepper.”[14]

Other efforts of full-spectrum psychological warfare are more overt and direct. Consider Vladimir Putin’s September 2013 article in the New York Times calling for restraint in Syria. In this article, Putin appeals directly to the American people and political leaders, establishes a foothold with the American psyche by referencing the joint U.S. – Russian efforts of defeating the Nazis and establishment of the United Nations, and then follows on by sowing doubt in the United States’ justification for an attack on Syria.[15] Another example – though unconfirmed – is Russia’s harboring of Edward Snowden[16] for reasons that are possibly not humanitarian, but rather to leverage Snowden’s background and knowledge of U.S. intelligence practices to harm the image of the United States Government.

In the manner that the United States’ adversaries exploit international law and conduct full-spectrum psychological warfare, this paper contends that the strategist or the policy maker must be conscious of three categories of actions concerning the use of force. At the highest level of severity, there are those actions that are unequivocally and universally considered acts of war (nuclear strike, conventional invasion, societally destructive cyberattack, etc.). These actions, however, are few and far in between. In the conduct of warfare in the modern age, most actions fall below the universally agreed upon threshold of war and are legally ambiguous in respect to international laws and norms. The nation’s adversaries are keenly aware of this legal ambiguity; consequently, this is where they predominantly apply their efforts in order to avoid direct engagement with the United States. Per the various interpretations of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, these legally ambiguous actions are considered by some nations to constitute use of force and are considered by others to fall below the threshold of force. These interpretations are almost always subjective and depend primarily on the interests of the involved nation-state(s). The following graphic is this paper’s proposal for the spectrum of nation-state warfare operations and the three categories considering use of force that must be understood by strategists and policy makers in order to counter unconventional warfare.

Figure 1 divides actions of warfare into two categories: information and kinetic. Note that these categories are not mutually exclusive of each other, rather, all actions fall somewhere along the spectrum between being purely kinetic or purely informational in nature. The higher up the action is along the spectrum, the more severe it is; the highest severity of actions being a nuclear strike or cyberattack that destroys the national power grid. Actions above the red line are, on the most part, universally accepted to meet the threshold of declaring war; actions below the red line are either legally ambiguous or clearly fall below the threshold of declaring war. Note that actions tend to be more legally ambiguous in the realm of information warfare due to a less robust understanding as a result of the shorter historical context of information warfare’s usage. Though a cyberattack that critically disrupts the financial sector may potentially be as damaging as or even more damaging than a state-sponsored terrorist attack or a conventional invasion, the realm of information warfare (especially cyberwarfare) tends to be more ambiguous due to issues of blame attribution and the interpretation of sovereignty as it relates to the physical and logical boundaries of computer networks and servers.

Of paramount importance, this paper’s graphic illustrates that most actions of warfare fall within the realm of legal ambiguity. This is not to say that actions within the gray area are legal according to international law, rather, there is a lack of consensus in terms of how nations choose to interpret their legality. In fact, most of these actions under a strict interpretation of international legal code are considered to be illegal. Consider the act of providing material support to an insurgency. In 1986, the International Court of Justice ruled against the U.S. for breaching its obligation under international law to not intervene in the affairs of another state by providing training and weapons to the Contras in Nicaragua.[17] This serves to demonstrate that many, if not most, actions within the gray area, could be considered a violation of article 2(4) of the UN Charter’s prohibition against the use of force. However, often times as is the case with international law, such rules and norms are subject to the interpretation of the nation-state in question. Consider the case of Russia’s use of “Patriotic Hackers” in 2007 to conduct distributed denial of service attacks against Estonian state websites, thereby crippling Estonia’s ability to perform governance.[18] According to the Estonian Minister of Defence, this cyberattack constituted a “national security situation”[19] which was followed on by a request for NATO support and the subsequent foundation of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCD COE) in Tallinn, Estonia. Clearly the Estonians considered this attack to constitute a use of force. Clearly the Russians, while most certainly intending to use force, managed to distort the international perception of this use of national power in order to avoid a larger, disadvantageous conflict.

Given the lack of international consensus regarding the legality of many, if not most, actions of warfare, it is likely that United States’ adversaries’ use of protracted unconventional warfare strategies will continue to exploit this lack of consensus. Such a strategy is best characterized by early-twentieth-century Chinese strategic culture as well as their adoption of “Unrestricted Warfare”. In terms of the basis of Chinese strategy, Sangkuk Lee[20] states that:

China’s revolutionary leadership, such as Mao Zedong, emphasized that in order to defeat militarily and economically stronger enemies, political work to strengthen one’s own forces as well as to weaken enemies was one of the most decisive factors and needed to be systematically organized and pursued assertively.[21]

This philosophy would eventually lead to the writing of Unrestricted Warfare by two People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. Unrestricted Warfare asserts that an adaptive and cunning warfighting force will:

… no longer use armed forces to compel the enemy to submit to one’s will, but instead will use all means, including armed force or non-armed force, military and non-military, and lethal and non-lethal means to compel the enemy to accept one’s interests… [this] means that all weapons and technology can be superimposed at will; it means that all boundaries lying between the two worlds of war and non-war, of military and non-military, will be totally removed.[22]

The above exerts concerning unconventional warfare strategies, though Chinese in origin, are not exclusive to Chinese strategic culture. As illustrated in earlier portions of this paper, both Russia and Iran also appear to be engaged in indirect strategies designed to achieve their national security objectives. With this assertion in mind, the next portion of this paper will discuss strategies designed to counter the unconventional warfare tactics used by the United States’ adversaries.

Countering Protracted Unconventional Warfare

Despite the asymmetric advantages gained through China, Iran, and Russia’s use of protracted unconventional warfare strategies, these nations are characterized by deeply seeded and fundamentally destructive strategic vulnerabilities. If exploited, the nature of these vulnerabilities presents strategic posturing opportunities to the United States and its allies; a brief description of these vulnerabilities is as follows:

  1. International Isolation: China, Iran, and Russia’s tactics of distorting international law and conducting nefarious operations have left them relatively isolated amongst the international community. This enables opportunities for the United States to leverage its diplomatic and military partnerships to the disadvantage of its adversaries.
  1. Societal Instability: China, Iran, and Russia suffer from socio-political instability and internal popular insurrection. According to a study conducted by Freedom House,[23] all three nations ranked amongst the worst nations in the world in terms of political rights and civil liberties.[24] Furthermore, ongoing incidents of political insurrection suggest that these nations remain vulnerable to internal upheaval, which implies opportunities to redirect the attention of the United States’ adversaries inward in order to quell unrest amongst their own populations.
  1. Damaged or Externally Dependent Defense Industrial Bases: China, Iran, and Russia’s defense industrial bases (DIB) are vulnerable to outside influence due to external dependencies and internal complications and therefore have the potential to be crippled through continued competition with the U.S. DIB.

The nature of the above vulnerabilities creates opportunities for the United States to levy two types of counter UW strategies. The first of these strategies is Counter UW through Direct Engagement. Direct engagement strategies encompass those counter UW capabilities/activities that the United States should develop and deploy immediately in order to directly counter its adversaries’ asymmetric, indirect, and international law distortive advantages. These strategies do not have a triggering point and are well-characterized by their immediacy and the direct targeting of an adversary’s vulnerabilities within the gray realm of legal ambiguity. The second strategy that can be leveraged is Counter UW through Flexible Deterrent Options. Flexible deterrent options are those counter UW capabilities/activities that the United States should develop, but not necessarily deploy, in order to coerce the adversary into ceasing their use of UW activities. These strategies are premised upon the credibility of the deterrent capability, the development of key decision points, and selective communication of those capabilities and decision points to the adversary. Using these two strategies, direct engagement and flexible deterrent options, the following portions of this paper will illustrate how the United States can counter unconventional warfare via the exploitation of its adversaries’ critical vulnerabilities.

Counter UW through the Exploitation of International Isolation

China, Iran, and Russia’s international relations are characterized by relative isolation due to their tendencies to cause regional disturbances through their exploitation, violation, and distortion of international law. China, for example, is not a member of any formal military alliance. Iran possesses only an unofficial alliance with Russia and possesses sectarian ties with the incumbent ruling parties of Syria and Iraq (both of which are currently under siege by external forces). Russia, the only one of the three nations to be part of a formal military alliance, is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)[25][26]. Of note, the CSTO’s membership has shrunk since its initial formation in 1992, having lost three of its former members to include Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan.[27]

The United States, on the other hand, is party to seven collective defense agreements[28][29] and has 65 State Partners through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program.[30] Figure 2[31] illustrates the United States military’s global depth and is indicative of the magnitude of international cooperation the U.S. is capable of leveraging throughout the world; the same can be said for the United States’ strongest allies who, like the United States, are also able to leverage deeply rooted and advantageous alliances.

Given the United States’ strategic advantage in terms of its relations with the international community, the U.S. should exploit its adversaries’ relative isolation as follows:

  • Counter UW Direct Engagement Isolation Strategy vs. Iran: The U.S. should adopt a sunk cost[32] mentality in Iraq and should acknowledge that Iraq will likely not become a fully-functioning democracy free from sectarian partisanship. The current successes of ISIL against Iraq’s conventional military force are indicative of the Iraqi military’s inability to competently defend itself. Moreover, there is little reason to believe that the United States’ provision of 300 special operations military advisers in Iraq[33] will change this dynamic. Instead, the U.S. should seek to exploit the present opportunities to be gained via ISIL’s presence. As stated earlier in this paper, Iran has deployed two or more battalions of IRGC into Iraq and may increase its commitment if the situation worsens. As of 25 Jun. 2014, it was reported that the Syrian government had carried out aircraft bombings against ISIL targets within Iraq.[34] Instead of viewing ISIL as a terrorist organization, the U.S. should instead view ISIL as an insurgency vying for power within Iraq. The United States should facilitate the conditions necessary to allow ISIL forces to directly engage Iranian IRGC and Syria’s Baathist led military troops while straying away from overt military operations in Iraq. Iran’s relative isolation from other regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf States imply that, if successfully executed, the United States could foment the conditions necessary for Iran to fight an insurgency in its own backyard without any help from other regional stakeholders.
  • Counter UW Direct Engagement Isolation Strategy vs. China: Specifically within East, South, and Southeast Asia, white paper reporting suggests that China actively conducts computer network operations (CNO) against South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, and India,[35] Australia,[36] and New Zealand.[37] The United States should attempt to form a coalition of regional cyberspace stakeholders within the region in order to exploit China’s position of isolation that they have put themselves in via their nefarious activities in cyberspace. This coalition should be modeled on NATO CCD COE, which is headquartered in Tallinn, Estonia and was founded after Russia’s cyberattacks against the Estonian government in 2007. This organization should specifically exclude China and should be designed to increase China’s isolation in terms of their activities in cyberspace.
  • Counter UW Flexible Deterrent Isolation Option vs. Russia: Of the five countries Russia is allied with via the CSTO to include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, the United States currently enjoys National Guard State Partnerships with all except Belarus. The United States should leverage these partnerships and attempt to form a partnership with Belarus in order to deter Russia’s behavior. Specifically, the United States should threaten to provide increased military training and funding efforts to current partners within the CSTO alliance and to form a partnership with Belarus if Russia does not cease its UW operations in Eastern Europe.

Counter UW through the Exploitation of Societal Instability

The United States’ adversaries are plagued by issues with societal instability and consequently engage in censorship and popular unrest suppression operations. While China’s issues in Taiwan are well understood amongst the national security community, less overtly and more recently, China appears to be struggling with Hong Kong as illustrated by the 100,000 demonstrators were present at a 4 June 2014 candlelight vigil marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.[38] Of note, this event was followed up on 11 June 2014 by a 14,500 word Chinese government white paper stressing that Hong Kong does not have full autonomy and falls strictly under Beijing’s oversight, thus bringing the “one country, two systems” concept into question.[39] Iran, in 2009, experienced massive unrest and violence as a result of alleged corruption and fraudulent practices during that year’s presidential election. Also of note, along with Iraq and Turkey, Iran continues to periodically struggle with its ethnic Kurd population along its western borders. Lastly, Russia has historically struggled along its border regions with former members of the Soviet Union; today, Russia continues to struggle with Islamic and nationalist extremism in the Northern Caucuses. Additionally, Russia’s large country size and history of conquest makes it one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world, to include more than 170 different ethnic groups and 27 official languages within its various regions.[40] This implies an opportunity to inspire ethnic fracture within the vast Russian state.

Conversely, the United States’ population enjoys robust political rights and civil liberties and is therefore unlikely to be held at risk if its adversaries were to attempt to inspire insurrection within the U.S. mainland. Given the nation’s hardened societal posture, the U.S. should exploit its adversaries’ problems with societal instability as follows:

  • Counter UW Direct Engagement Social Destabilization Strategy vs. China: China faces problems with societal instability, most specifically within Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other major cities. To combat this instability in terms of stopping the flow of information that could cause unrest, China engages in strict Internet censorship practices. In an effort to cause instability within China and force them to divert resources from regional UW strategies that hamper the U.S. national security posture, the United States should develop and deploy a cyber capability that can open up externally hosted search engines to the Chinese population that are outside of the jurisdiction of Chinese Internet service providers thereby hampering the government’s censorship capabilities. The effect of such a capability would enable the Chinese population to have unrestricted access to information and contentious historical events such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Such an operation would ideally have the effect of forcing the Chinese government to focus resources internally to pacify its population.
  • Counter UW Direct Engagement Social Destabilization Strategy vs. Russia: Russia, known for its heavy concentration of corrupt bureaucrats in its largest cities,[41] is responsible for one of the largest crime syndicates in the world. The United States should strategically leak or intentionally expose information gained through its intelligence disciplines that provides proof of corrupt relations between Russian officials and criminals; specifically, the U.S. should seek to deploy this strategy in regions within Russia that are newly acquired, prone to insurgent uprising, or where ethnic Russians comprise the population minority. 
  • Counter UW Flexible Deterrent Social Destabilization Option vs. Iran: The United States should issue a demarche to Iran announcing a policy of funding Iran-based dissident groups such as the Mjahideen-e-Khalq or Kurdish separatists in direct proportion to Iran’s funding and training of its own dissident groups throughout the region. I.e., for every dollar of direct funding, material, or training support provided by the Iranians, the United States should provide a higher yet directly proportionate amount funding to Iranian dissident groups, thereby making it increasingly difficult for Iran to sustain its foreign support efforts.

Counter UW through the Exploitation of the Defense Industrial Base

The United States’ adversaries’ defense industrial bases (DIB) are hampered by external dependencies and internal macroeconomic and procedural problems. China, for example, is incredibly dependent upon espionage efforts in order to remain abreast of the latest military innovations[42] and is therefore subject to misinformation and deception. Iran’s theater ballistic missile (TBM) program, its principal military deterrent, is reliant on external suppliers for key missile components and materials[43] and is therefore vulnerable to supply chain interdiction. Russia faces problems in terms of defense procurement and R&D planning to include a general inability to retain its top talent due to macroeconomic and internal policy.[44] Furthermore, Russia’s DIB has experienced substantial problems over the last decade in terms of financial solvency, with one-third of its arms manufacturers on the verge of bankruptcy.[45]

The U.S. DIB, on the other hand, is a world leader in the production of advanced military weapons systems and C4ISR[46] systems. Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. DIB has financially outperformed the global market in terms of operating profit per employee (see figure 3)[47], implying that the U.S. can produce a higher quantity of higher quality weapons at a lower cost margin than other world competitors.

The U.S. should leverage the strength of its DIB in order to exploit its adversaries’ defense industry external dependencies and internal vulnerabilities as follows:

  • Counter UW Direct Engagement DIB Exploitation Strategy vs. China: Given the emphasis on China’s CNO espionage programs, the United States should endeavor to develop custom designed honeynets[48] containing counter-data in order to defend the schematics and plans contained within the most sensitive DIB networks.[49] Such counter-data could include custom designed malware that, if exfiltrated in an unauthorized manner, would directly harm the adversary, activate a callback module, or notify the local police authorities and the media (thereby naming and shaming Chinese personnel engaged in CNO espionage); another option would be to seed intentionally flawed data within the honeynet in order to indirectly harm the adversary by sowing misdirection, confusion, and false intent.[50]
  • Counter UW Direct Engagement DIB Exploitation Strategy vs. Iran: Iran’s perceives their TBM inventory as an important deterrent capability[51] which provides them the strategic latitude to promote substate conflict abroad through state proxies and insurgent groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Yemeni Houthi Rebels. So long as the current U.S. Central Command air defense posture remains evenly matched against Iran’s TBM force and so long as Iran believes in the integrity of its TBM key technology and materials acquisition program, Iran will continue to maintain confidence in deterrent. Given Iran’s perception, the U.S. should engage in a three-part counter UW strategy comprised of the following:
    • U.S. policy makers and military leaders should publically state that they are seeking to degrade and/or disrupt Iran’s TBM program, thereby raising the Iranian alert posture.
    • The U.S. should engage nation-state and non-state actors who facilitate the Iranian TBM acquisition process and should financially compete with the Iranian acquisition program. This will serve to drive up the price of TBM components and materials as well as cause distrust in the acquisition process due to U.S. competitive involvement.
    • U.S. intelligence and special operations forces (SOF) should engage in TBM supply chain interdiction in order to replace functioning missile components with faulty missile components. Occasionally, the U.S. intelligence community (IC) should intentionally leak information (true or false) to the Iranians regarding the success of its supply chain interdiction operations.
  • Counter UW Flexible Deterrent DIB Exploitation Option vs. Russia: The U.S. DIB should directly compete with the Russian arms sales industry in order to apply downward pressure on Russian sales quotas and sales revenues. Given this strategy, the U.S. must not allow Russia to gain market footholds in newly formed conflict zones. Iraq’s recent acquisition of fighter jets from the Russian defense industry as a result the United States’ inability to deliver F-16 jets to the Iraqi military is a mistake that cannot be repeated.[52] Upon applying sufficient pressure on the Russian DIB and further exacerbating Russia’s internal macroeconomic challenges, the United States should issue an ultimatum to the Russian leadership stating that if they do not cease their UW activities in Eastern Europe, the U.S. will increase its DIB sales to nations within the CSTO alliance, thereby striking at the heart of the Russian arms sales industry.


Though the United States adversaries’ currently enjoy the advantages gained through their asymmetric activities, these advantages are in a perpetual state of flux and are vulnerable to U.S. sponsored counter unconventional warfare (UW) strategies. This paper has demonstrated that China, Iran, and Russia can be directly engaged and flexibly deterred through exploitation of their international isolation, societal instability, and vulnerable defense industrial bases. By levying counter UW strategies that play to the United States’ principle strengths and exploit its adversaries’ principle weaknesses, the United States can, over time, attrit and eventually defeat the UW strategies employed by China, Iran, and Russia.

The United States’ struggle versus its primary nation-state adversaries is likely to be a protracted and borderless conflict fought within the realm of legal ambiguity. In many ways, this conflict resembles the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Battles will be fought indirectly and success will have to be measured in terms of long-run gains and losses. The key difference, however, is that today’s conflict is likely to be fought within unconventional warfighting domains to include cyberspace, the international information operations environment, and the human terrain environment. Nonetheless, like the battles fought throughout the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s subsequent collapse in 1991, it stands to reason that the more legally just, socially cohesive, economically sustainable, and politically sound society will prevail; all of which the U.S. is characterized by in abundance and conversely is lacking within the societal constructs of United States’ primary nation-state adversaries.

End Notes

[1] Stefan Halper, (2013) “China: The Three Warfares,” University of Cambridge, 11.

[2] Ibid., p. 12-13

[3] Anthony Cordesman, et al., (2013) “The Gulf Military Balance Volume III: The Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, v.

[4] Bahraini Royal Air Force Officer in discussion with the author, February 2011.

[5] Amir Abdallah, “Iran deploys military to fight Sunni ISIL insurgents in Iraq,”, (accessed 17 Jun. 2014).

[6] Uri Friedman, “Putin’s Playbook: The Strategy Behind Russia’s Takeover of Crimea,” The Atlantic, (accessed 18 Jun. 2014).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jason Rivera, “Has Russia Begun Offensive Cyberspace Operations in Crimea?” The Georgetown Security Studies Review Forum, (accessed 18 Jun. 2014).

[9] U.N. Charter, art. 2, para. 4.

[10] NATO CCD COE, (2014) “The Tallinn Manual,” NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, (accessed 20 Jun. 2014).

[11] According to NATO, the Tallinn Manual is “an independent ‘International Group of Experts’ [and] is the result of a three-year effort to examine how extant international law norms apply to this ‘new’ form of warfare.”

[12] Michael Schmitt, et al., (2013) Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), 45.

[13] Famous contemporary Chinese strategist.

[14] Li Bingyan, (2004) “Applying Military Strategy in the Age of the New Revolution in Military Affairs,” The Chinese Revolution in Military Affairs, (China: New China Press), 2-31.

[15] Vladimir Putin, (2013) “A Plea for Caution From Russia: What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria,” The New York Times, (accessed 6 Jul. 2014).

[16] Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor responsible for the single largest classified intelligence disclosure in U.S. history.

[17] International Court of Justice (1986), “Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America),”, (accessed 21 Jun. 2014).

[18] The Economist, (2007) “A cyber-riot: Estonia has faced down Russian rioters. But its websites are still under attack,” The Economist, (accessed 22 Feb. 2014).

[19] Andreas Schmidt, (2013) “The Estonian Cyberattacks,” in A Fierce Domain: Conflict in Cyberspace, 1986 to 2012, (Vienna, VA: Cyber Conflict Studies Association), 192.

[20] Member of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

[21] Sangkuk Lee, (2014) “China’s ‘Three Warfares’: Origins, Applications, and Organizations,” The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 37, No. 2, 200

[22] Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, (2011) Unrestricted Warfare, 2nd ed., (Wuhan, China: Chongwen), 41, 46-47.

[23] A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports democratic change, monitors freedom, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

[24] Freedom House, (2014) “Freedom in the World 2014,” Freedom House, (Washington, DC: Freedom House), 18-23.

[25] Alexander Lukin, (2014) “What the Kremlin is Thinking: Putin’s Vision for Eurasia,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 93, No. 4, 91.

[26] A military alliance comprised of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.

[27] Miles Yu, (2012) “Uzbekistan exits Russia-controlled pact, joining Georgia, Azerbaijan,” World Tribune, (accessed 24 Jun. 2014).

[28] U.S. Department of State, (2014) “U.S. Collective Defense Arrangements,”, (accessed 245 Jun. 2014).

[29] Current U.S. Collective Defense Arrangements include the North Atlantic Treaty, the Agreement between the United States and Australia and New Zealand, the Philippine Treaty, the Southeast Asia Treaty, the Japanese Treaty, the Republic of Korea Treaty, and the Rio Treaty.

[30] Division of International Affairs, J53, (2014) “The National Guard State Partnership Program: Annual Report Fiscal Year 2013,” The National Guard Bureau, (Arlington, VA: The National Guard Bureau), 3.

[31] Ibid.

[32] A previous cost that has already been incurred and therefore cannot be recovered.

[33] Mark Landler & Michael Gordon, (2014) “U.S. to send Up to 300 Military Advisers to Iraq,” The New York Times, (accessed 26 Jun. 2014).

[34] Karen DeYoung, (2014) “Syrian aircraft bomb Sunni militant targets inside Iraq,” The Sydney Morning Herald, (accessed 26 Jun. 2014).

[35] Dmitri Alperovitch, (2011) “Revealed: Operation Shady RAT,” McAfee, (Santa Clara, CA: McAfee), 5.

[36] The Guardian, (2014) “Chinese cyber-attack on Australia ‘wider than previously thought’,” The Guardian, (accessed 29 Jun. 2014).

[37] Eduard Kovacs, (2014) “Cyberattack on New Zealand Supercomputer Traced to Chinese IP,” Security Week, (accessed 29 Jun. 2014).

[38] Tim Hume, (2014) “Alarm in Hong Kong at Chinese white paper affirming Beijing control,” CNN World, (accessed 24 Jun. 2014).

[39] Ibid.

[40] World Population Review, (2014) “Russia Population 2014,”, (accessed 24 Jun. 2014).

[41] Robert Orttun, (2006) “Causes and Consequences of Corruption in Putin’s Russia,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, (Washington, DC: CSIS), 2.

[42] Robert Farley, (2014) “Can China’s Defense Industry Catch Up?” The Diplomat, (accessed 25 Jun. 2014).

[43] Steven Hildreth, (2012) “Iran’s Ballistic Missile and Space Launch Programs,” Congressional Research Service, (Washington, DC: GPO) 38.

[44] Vasily Kashin, (2014) “The State of Defense Innovation in Russia: Prospects for Revival?” Center for Analysis on Science and Technology, (California: University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation), 1.

[45] Guy Anderson, (2009) “The Russian Defence Industrial Base,”, (accessed 25 Jun. 2014).

[46] Command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

[47] Deloitte, (2014) “2014 Global Aerospace and Defense Industry outlook,” Deloitte Global Services Limited, (United Kingdom: Deloitte), 14.

[48] An artificially emplaced network designed to be compromised for the purposes of studying and preparing against adversarial CNO tactics and capabilities.

[49] Jason Rivera & Forrest Hare, (2014) “The Deployment of Attribution Agnostic Cyberdefense Constructs and Internally Based Cyberthreat Countermeasures,” in The 6th International Conference on Cyber Conflict Proceedings, (Tallinn, Estonia: NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence), 111.

[50] Ibid., p. 112.

[51] Ibid. 34, p. 3.

[52], (2014) “Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki: Russian jets will turn tide,” BBC News Middle East, (accessed 28 Jun. 2014).


About the Author(s)


Outlaw 09

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 10:45am

Even if we did have a national UW strategy---not sure it would work with Putin who lives in an "altered state of reality". So exactly who is persistently forcing confrontation on Russia?

Putin: "Russia is not going to drift into confrontation that is being persistently forced on us."

Outlaw 09

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 9:46am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

More European blogger input on the open sources side that never seems to make it to the US side---concerning today's Russian AF activity in the Baltic which has dramatically increased over the last few days.

Most likely 4 groups of RUAF fighters/bombers started Kal, went north in baltic sea, turned into finnish bay for RTB

Very high RUAF activity in baltic sea, incl SU34 Fullback

Very high activity on strategic air forces TU95 voice net

LVA Armed Forces on 31 OCT in LVA EEZ 18,1 nmi from LV territ. waters spotted RU Navy's Kashtan-class submarine support ship.

UK QRA is up again

RUAF strategic air forces (TU95) sw net up with W marker :40. Bears flying today?

Tu-95MS Bear H Morse Ground is 8162 KHz. Morse Air is 9027 KHz. Voice is 8033 KHz Simplex. Busy during 11 and 12Z.

Thanks for posting that link. The Tu-95MS Bear H Morse and Voice net is active today 31 Oct 14.

So again why do we need the NSA who cannot release anything these days as it is usually over classified.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 9:17am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

By the way I am not the only one questioning our IC abilities these days---it is embarrassing when the US taxpayer has paid billions to defense contractors and additional billions have flowed to the CIA/DIA/NSA and yet it is European open source bloggers on the social media side that can and did pin point the Russian BUK missile unit that shot down MH17 or can provide running info on Russian recon/sabotage teams roaming inside eastern Ukraine or releases critical intercepted cell calls.…

Or has been at the forefront of a counter info war effort against the Russian info war efforts with a great new amount of open source products to assist in the info war fight.

We "claim" to have this great IT infrastructure and this great media side but when it comes to pushing back effectively against the ongoing Russian info war campaign we are not even in the game.

As tax payers one would think we are due a "refund" or at the very least an honest apology for failing---or maybe chasing the "black flag wavers" is just a distraction so we do not ask questions concerning the Ukraine.

Example: Why does it seem that the Ukrainians can identify what Russian units are inside the Ukraine and yet we the US never seem to be able to confirm or deny it?---and if confirmed then why not push back on Putin's constant argument there are no Russian troops inside the Ukraine and why not change the US statement that Russian troops were on an "incursion" ---use the formal name for it--"invasion" as it is exactly what it is.

Part of info warfare is to constantly push back on lies and reinforce truths---none of that is currently happening at all by US/EU/NATO senior leaders and or their internal media.

Regular Russian army has been noticed in Donetsk again. The leader of the group «Informational Resistance» Dmitri Timchuk wrote about it on his Facebook page, reports UNN.

According to him, earlier Russian troops had left the city.

«In particular, at the moment Special Forces of the GRU of the Russian Armed Forces from Omsk (Russia) and the 331st Parachute Regiment from Kortroma, Russia are present in the city. Russian soldiers also serve at one of the checkpoints near Spartak,» - stressed Timchuk.

Second example: Today the DPR stated they had "found" graves containing 300 women who had been raped and shot in the head"---and offered no evidence.

No pushback from Western leaders and or media.

Then this especially since it was suppose to be the cornerstone of the Minsk 1 and 2 agreements:

According to the Ukrainian Security Services, there are 2,800 people in the list of hostages or missing. Reported the commissioner of the President on the settlement of the situation in the east of Ukraine, Irina Heraschenko.

She noted that fulfilment of the second point of the Minsk agreement to free all hostage has been «frozen».

Heraschenko stated that during the truce 1,300 people were freed, 722 of them during the last month. She reported that there are negotiations under way regarding many hostage, but unfortunately they are not going as fast as she would like them to.

Not a single Western comment on this topic in days.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 8:10am

While the author spent a good amount of time on his thesis he simply forgot that if the National Command Authority does not set the tone and direct of the discussion nothing is ever going to happen.

Example---the NCA was quick at the beginning of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine to take the use of military force off of the table as a pressure point as well as taking the supplying of lethal aid off the table as well.

So now when Russian troops expand their control over all of "New Russia" including Mariupol and Odessa (effectively destroying the Ukraine as a state) just what will be the response be out of the NCA?---they have taken force off the table, lethal aid off the table, there will be no further sectorial sanctions as it was hard enough to get this last round through and verbal bashing of Russia goes nowhere---so what is left for the NCA to do?

All the while supplying the Kurds and just about anyone else weapons and trainers if they fight the IS---ever wonder why?

There is something amiss in the US foreign policy world and especially the US intelligence community world if while having supposedly the worlds best NSA/CIA and ISR abilities after 13 long years of war spending literally billions on new ISR capabilities yet we know very little of what is going on inside the Ukraine.

But again maybe we do, but advertising it would force the US population to side with Ukrainians and therefore force the NCA to take some kind of action when they have settled on "soft power as the way forward".

Why is it that right now the open source blogging world is providing a massive amount of OSINT on Russian military equipment, troops, deaths, and combat activities via social media, photos, videos etc. and yet nothing ever comes from the US IC other than open source satellite photos---not a single released SIGINT intercept and yet the Ukrainian SBU releases a large number---no confirming information on MH17 and the list goes on and on and on.

Can it be that the NCA does not want a strategic UW policy as that would force it to take actions that they have deemed they will not do in the Ukraine but for some strange reason they do over a bunch of "black flag" waving Islamists who control no nuclear weapons.

There was on another SWJ thread concerning "bucket leadership" some interesting points that the NCA should think about---right now there is no effective US foreign policy leadership to be seen especially in Europe---it appears we simply stumble from event to event---maybe the points might just help the NCA readjust itself.

1. What can I do to provide a vision, a sense of mission, and instill pride in my organization?

2. What can I do to inspire and motivate my organization?

3. What can I do to foster a command climate that stimulates intellectual growth in my organization?

4. What can I do to help my subordinates develop to their full potential?

Part of the Russian UW strategy while pointed at the Ukraine equally focuses on the splitting of the US from the EU/NATO and the political destruction of NATO and destabilizing of the EU expansion eastwards.

And on top of that anything that smacks of western liberalism.

Not so sure the NCA get's that small piece of the Russian UW puzzle.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 10:24am

The Russian UW strategy is an interesting one that really does need to be understood how it shifts between tactical to strategic and several levels in between--something our current DoD UW strategy does not even begin to address.

During the Minsk 1 and 2 agreements that Russia fully signed up for and even pushed the current mercenaries woke up and realized that the Ukraine had pulled one--meaning where the Ukrainian Army was sitting remained in their control and that both the LPR and the DPR were left with what they controlled---which is nowhere close to what both they and Putin envisioned would make a "viable" state.

Ever since they "woke up" to the fact they lost the negotiations they have been attempting to change the agreements since 5 Sept.

Regardless of the ongoing ceasefire violations the Ukrainian military has actually been able to hold their own even with the Russians providing "vacationing troops and heavy weapons".

Now the DPR leadership keeps "claiming" they will militarily expand their positions---this then will rock the sectorial sanctions and cause Russia to never come out of them anytime soon as Russia is now being effectively reminded of their signed commitments.

Based on the continued literal free fall of the Rubel--which is also being affected by Russian activities and actions on the ground--which I believe now Putin fully understands.

He is now having an extremely difficult time in controlling his own mercenaries---yesterday over 100 Spetnaz had to be shipped into the Donetsk to "talk" to the various mercenary groups.

#Russia's #FSB sent 100 spetsnaz "Vympel" to "restore order" among unhappy militants in #ATO areas - Lysenko

THEN when all else fails in supporting the free falling Ruble ie over 26B USD in central bank support Russia now uses RUMINT to try to control the free fall--there was a news report today by an "unnamed" Ukrainian diplomat that Putin and the Ukrainian President has reached "agreement" on the Crimea---driving the Rubel back up---THEN the Russians themselves stated they had no idea what the report was all about--BUT the free fall was stopped.

And now this statement.

NOVOAZOVSK (Ukraine), October 30 (RIA Novosti) – The self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk (DPR) will stipulate its own conditions on if it were to sign a demarcation line agreement with Kiev, DPR Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko said Thursday.

"There will be new conditions [on the signing of the demarcation line agreement], ours. We consider the entire Donetsk region DPR territory," Zakharchenko said, recalling that Kiev had cancelled the signature of its representative on the previous demarcation line agreement.

"We have not conducted any new talks yet," Zakharchenko said.

On Wednesday, the DPR deputy prime minister announced that Kiev withdrew from the delineation agreement without giving any explanations for the move. The deal that was signed on October 11 envisaged the demarcation line to be along the line of contact between the two sides as of September 19.

The delineation is a key condition laid down in the ceasefire agreement between Kiev and the independence supporters signed on September 5. It should serve as a preparatory stage for the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from both sides, which will contribute to stabilizing relations between both sides after residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine established so-called people's republics and later declared independence. The crisis escalated in mid-April, when Kiev authorities launched a military operation against independence supporters in the regions.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 2:59am

In addition to this discussion we now have a Russia that instituted it's UW strategy supporting their political warfare against the Ukraine driven by the concept of ethno neo imperialism ---cornered by it's own politics that now threatens literally/physically both NATO and the US.

AND via the sectorial sanctions, falling oil prices to the range of 70 or even lower, and the in free fall Ruble Putin is now cornered by his own economics with absolutely no relieve for him in sight as some of his economic advisors see the sanctions still in 2015.

THIS has always been the Soviet/Russian weak point--he wants to believe he is a superpower but failed to realize a superpower needs also to be an economic superpower to carry out his UW strategy.

Right now he is cornered by his own economic miscalculations and that is actually becoming dangerous.

Again my comment to the group--WHY is a group of super Salafists waving a black flag far more dangerous to the US than someone willing and able to push the nuclear trigger especially as his own economy is now free falling to the collapse levels of Russia seen in 1998?

1. he has implicitly threatened three times in the last four months both the NATO and the US with the use of tactical nuclear weapons and he has deployed the SS21s even into the Ukraine to make his point

2. yesterday the Russian military carried out four major air force "simulated air attacks" in four groups totaling 26 aircraft in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Atlantic, and the Black Sea--forcing NATO to state they never even saw this aggressiveness even in the Cold war days

3. his military fired during the above air space maneuvers yesterday also an ICBM to underline the air exercises--on top of the movement of strong Russian troop formations BACK to the Ukrainian border up to yesterday---all in all a strong military statement for a single day

4. still is implicitly stating via the support of the mercenary elections stating the idea of "New Russia"

AND he still has no given up on his "New Russia".

In last 24 hours, Russian forces attacked #Donetsk,#Petrovske,#Novomihaylovka,#Debaltseve,#Maloorlovka,#Zolote,#Tonenke,#Krymske+#Talakovka

Rouble collapse accelerating this morning: straight through 43 and very close to 44 to the dollar

Outlaw 09

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 4:18am

In reply to by Move Forward

MF---just a side comment---IMO the new Russian UW is yes designed to be one step below forcing NATO and the US to go to war.

Here is the catch for both the US and NATO---when to respond with force---meaning at what level of provocative actions by Russia does one physically go to war?

IMO the current UW strategy is in fact outright warfare just a tad under the standard radar term called "war"---if we take the current Russian actions in regard to the Minsk 1 and 2 agreements which they trumpeted to the world it was "peace loving Putin's idea to begin with"---actually he got taken by the Ukrainians and since then he and the mercenaries that signed them have been backing away from them---the latest move was concerning the coming elections on 2 Nov which Russia tried to argue in the global media they were "legal" and agreed to UNTIL OSCE stated sorry nowhere in the two agreements states elections can be held by the mercenaries--can be held but under Ukrainian law and observers AND they must give u border controls to the Ukrainian Army.

THEN with Minsk 1 and 2 being basically a Russian failure" we see them moving to potentially outright massive attacks to ensure all of the "New Russia" to include the harbors of Mariupol and Odessa come under mercenary control thus in effect destroying the ability of the Ukraine to exist as a viable state.

So if one looks at the next round of attacks what will the West do?--they had a hard enough time just getting the last round of sectorial sanctions through the EU--more will not be forthcoming, they have all verbally bashed Russian actions in the UN/OSCE/PACE, and NATO has done ground maneuvers and beefed up air security flights and that has not gotten Putin's attention so THEN what is next? Nothing is forthcoming.

There is nothing--WHY because the West took the option of force off the table---even the supplying of weapons and letting the Ukrainians do the fighting were taken off the table.

AND Russia knows that--so if one looks at their UW strategy it is really a new form of warfare---meaning they will simply keep ongoing until someone says stop backed up by military force.

Russia has been warned by NATO concerning their "hybrid war" strategy for say the Baltics--but if it plays out exactly as it has in the Ukraine---really at what point will NATO/US trigger Article Five especially if the Russian locals are demonstrating for more ethnic protections and "accidently" get support from "vacationing" Russian troops all unnamed and not carrying IDs?

Are we the West willing to go to full warfare where the other side has multiple times stated they will go tactical nuclear if threatened by NATO?

Does the current US public, politicians, and White House have the stomach to go that right after Iraq and AFG?

Seriously doubt it and Putin knows it.

Move Forward

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 10:45pm

In reply to by Bill C.

<blockquote>Today, this moral high ground "shoe" would seem to be on the other foot; with the Russians (etc.) seen to be championing conservative forces, conservative causes and conservative values; while the U.S. is seen to be working to overthrow, outlaw, obliterate and replace same.</blockquote>Your moral high ground "shoes" are merely information operations intended to gain Russian population support. Putin and company claim the Ukrainians are oppressive Nazis inflicting suffering on Russians in east Ukraine and the Baltics. In actuality not NATO or U.S forces, but rather Russian armor and artillery, air defenses, mercenaries, and other effects are attacking Ukrainians and threatening Baltic and East Europe states that do not want to be part of Russia. Who from the West and U.S. in particular do you think wants to overthrow or obliterate anything in Ukraine?

<blockquote>But what we must come understand, I believe, is that while the battle with (not for) the population is ongoing, applying WOG forces tends to reinforce and confirm for the population the invader's immoral (from their perspective) intent, to wit: to overthrow, outlaw, obliterate and replace their time-honored way of life.</blockquote>What alternate universe exists where U.S. whole of government (WOG) forces are overthrowing, outlawing, obliterating and replacing the way of life of Ukrainians or for that matter Russia or China? How is it an invasion, containment, or the "moral low ground" to say we will protect mutual agreements with threatened sovereign states? We are attempting to overthrow Assad and ISIL because they are proven evils but more moderate Sunnis in Syria and Iraq deserve our support which to date has been weak at best.

For the West to encourage moderation in Muslim beliefs is not oppressing Muslim conservatism. It is attempting to thwart militant, extremist Muslim actions that are an aberration of peaceful Muslim beliefs. Literal adherence to flawed interpretations of things like beheadings, death to infidels and apostates, and violent jihad is the problem. You don't appear to understand that regardless of whether we confront or ignore Islamic radicals, they will continue to kill and inflict terror on the world. Do we fight it early and often where it exists or let genocide and terror get exported and expanded to non-Muslim and moderate Muslim populations?

Danger does exist in excessive WOG sanction approaches targeting Russia for instance. WWII started with sanctions against Japanese oil access that inevitably led to Pearl Harbor. Russia is reeling from sanctions, a weakened ruble as Outlaw points out, and the recently low cost of oil. The recent increase in Russian flights in/near NATO airspace could be more than just shows of force if we aren't careful. However, I doubt even Putin would start a nuclear war.

My point earlier was that both Russia and China are using UW as a means of avoiding outright confrontation and surrogate wars that could escalate such as through tactical nuclear weapons if Russian armor starts getting beat up by NATO or allies inflict too much damage on China during an attempted Taiwan invasion. By choosing UW instead, near peers hope to slowly achieve gains without triggering outright war with NATO or the U.S. and its allies in the Pacific. To them, it's kind of like slowly boiling the frog vs. tossing it into boiling water. But NATO and Pacific allies have seen this game played too many times and it isn't fooling anyone. Any ultimate more kinetic activities such as Russian and Chinese continued land grabs and threatened missile attacks could hardly be painted as anything but naked aggression.

<blockquote>Unconventional Warfare: Remember, from a moral perspective, the powers that are thought to be holding the moral high ground -- in my examples above -- are those entities who are seen to be championing conservative forces, conservative values and conservative causes.</blockquote>There is no basis in your beliefs. No credible source I've ever read attributed "championing conservatism" as the motive for Russia invading the Crimea and East Ukraine. Claimed protection of local Russians has been a motivation but the conservatism you cite is for homegrown consumption. Don't confuse radical, militant, extremist Islamic beliefs with conservative beliefs. Billions of Muslims practice conservative beliefs that have nothing to do with violence. Likewise, many Independents, Democrats, Republicans, and Tea Partiers subscribe to conservative tendencies. That does not make them believers in the KKK or Arian Nation. Nor does it mean U.S. conservatives, liberals, or moderates have any desire to force other countries to be like the U.S. and West.

Bill C.

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 7:23pm

In reply to by Move Forward


Cold War v. Now: The reason why the U.S. was seen to be holding the moral high ground during the Cold War -- and the reason why the Russians, back then, were seen to be sucking moral hind tit -- was because we, back then, were generally thought of as the champion of conservative forces, conservative causes and conservative values. While they, on the other hand, were seen to be attempting to overthrow, outlaw, obliterate and replace same. Today, this moral high ground "shoe" would seem to be on the other foot; with the Russians (etc.) seen to be championing conservative forces, conservative causes and conservative values; while the U.S. is seen to be working to overthrow, outlaw, obliterate and replace same.

Limited War and WOG: When one's job is to transform a state and its societies more along one's own political, economic and social lines (the Soviets job during the Cold War; the U.S.'s job today), then WOG may, at some point, be important. But what we must come understand, I believe, is that while the battle with (not for) the population is ongoing, applying WOG forces tends to reinforce and confirm for the population the invader's immoral (from their perspective) intent, to wit: to overthrow, outlaw, obliterate and replace their time-honored way of life. This is the WOG lesson I believe that the Soviets, and we, should have learned. This point stated another way: The application of WOG suggests a irrational belief that the introduction of a radically different and grossly profane way of life will help win over the population. As the Soviets and the U.S. should have learned, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Unconventional Warfare: Remember, from a moral perspective, the powers that are thought to be holding the moral high ground -- in my examples above -- are those entities who are seen to be championing conservative forces, conservative values and conservative causes. Likewise, from a moral perspective, and re: my examples above, those entities that are seen to be sucking moral hind tit are those entities who are trying to undermine, eliminate and replace the natives' time-honored way of life. Herein, might we say that nuclear warfare simply does not lend itself to either of these purposes? (The same cannot be said, I believe, for conventional warfare.)

I will stop here.

Move Forward

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 3:51pm

In reply to by Bill C.

<strong>Cold War vs. Now:</strong> I invite you to read about the Soviet tactics in Afghanistan and their losses of nearly 14,500 from that war and inflicted losses on the local Afghan population. Then review the help provided to Afghanistan and the limited loss of 2200+ American heroes. Who had the moral high ground both then and now?

<strong>Limited War and even more limited whole of government capabilities:</strong> We talk a good game about whole of government, but the reality is we have failed to consolidate gains of successful combat operations in changing colonial borders to facilitate peaceful transitions and effective ethnically-based security force protecting their own territory. We also know that neither State Department nor USAID have sufficient funding and security to make a major difference. If we increased funding, most would go to private security companies that would be better-paid versions of Russian mercenaries. That would create an equivalently lousy moral high ground for both the West and East which is why it makes no sense. You can’t ask diplomatic and aid civilians to get beheaded or blown up by requiring them to run around unguarded in unarmored vehicles.

<strong>UW:</strong> Yeah we see it because neither China nor Russia wishes to start WWIII. That doesn’t mean that we are failing morally when we honor Pacific treaties, adhere to the Taiwan Relations Act, and support allies whose territory is at risk. It likewise does not make us the bad guy for honoring commitments to NATO allies in East Europe. No aggression there on our part. The same cannot be said for Russia in both Georgia and Ukraine with others threatened.

<strong>Exploiting gains:</strong> This is where the weakness of UW lies. How do our adversaries go from “don’t blame innocent, peace-and-justice-loving me” to Soviet armor rumbling into NATO territory or PLAN amphibs sailing toward Taiwan or the Senkakus with long-range missiles already delivered against multiple U.S. and allied targets?

<strong>Limiting losses in blood, treasure, and politics:</strong> This and the potential catastrophe of nuclear war explains the primary trend toward limited UW/Counter-UW “conflict” which is understandable given the U.S losses in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Russian losses in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and Chinese pending losses of military-aged males caused by the one-child policy not to mention the harder option of actually crossing seas to consolidate gains created by A2/AD missile attacks. The averted political risk of ground forces against ISIS is particularly ironic when unnamed Obama administration sources accuse PM Netanyahu of being “chicken****.” The implication was not that former commando Netanyahu lacks courage to fight a war but rather that it would be too risky politically. Remind us of anyone?

<strong>Expeditionary prepositioning:</strong> Is this the high ground answer? Do we preposition company-sized Army armor near ports and airheads to serve as an anchor with small active and National Guard U.S. elements rotating through multiple country prepositioning sites during Pacific Pathways and a modern version of Reforger? We already anticipate an expeditionary Army with a lighter forward footprint and know we can air deploy light forces and SOF but not heavy armor. We already know most U.S. forces will be stateside so how do we honor treaties abroad and prevent our adversaries from exploiting UW gains kinetically? Why is our defense of allies lacking in the same moral courage exhibited during the Cold War. We aren’t the aggressor. We simply seek to keep Russians, Chinese, and ISILs in their lane. Since ISIL exists outside their lane, they need to be obliterated lest they behead more and create more extreme Sunni opponents. Sunnis have the right to be pissed about their plight in Syria and Iraq. They don’t have the right to behead folks over it.

<strong>Secular vs. extremist:</strong> It’s just utterly nonsensical to contrast U.S. freedom of religion and freedom to entirely avoid religion to Islamic extremism beheadings, Sharia Law, theocracies, and death to all infidels and apostates. You gotta do better. If we actually were attempting to impose Western ideals on other societies, the Middle East certainly would be a good place to start. But that has <strong>never</strong> been our motivation in the Middle East or anywhere else. Instead we just hoped irrational hatred of the West, our allies, and Israel would end and oil and other trade could flow freely. When that has not always resulted, we on occasion were forced to get involved lest the problem get worse (as it has in Syria and Iraq again). That’s simply protection of vital national interests rather than U.S. imperialism let alone religious imposition.

<strong>Soviets vs. Russians:</strong> Putin is a vestige of the earlier authoritarian regime trying to put lipstick on the pig of Russian weaknesses that have not changed much. He can make all the claims he wants about Russian conservatism and heritage. The pig won’t look any cuter, nor will it be much more sober, wealthy (except the few including Putin) and free. The Chinese at least are succeeding economically. Their own Waterloo awaits in a housing bubble, environmental pollution (no, the U.S. should not bankrupt itself and forego good jobs trying unsuccessfully to fix other's pollution), nonexistent freedom of expression, and general lack of original thought and scruples exhibited by internet pilfering to steal others better ideas. Yeah, that’s some kind of moral high ground. It may explain why so many Chinese would rather live, work, and raise children in the U.S. At least here they can breathe the fresh air of oxygen mixed with free will and thought.

From the author's concluding paragraph:

"In many ways, this conflict resembles the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. ... The key difference, however, is that today’s conflict is likely to be fought within unconventional warfighting domains, to include: cyberspace, the international information operations environment and the human terrain environment."

Here, I believe, the author makes a potentially grave and significant mistake.

While the current conflict does, indeed, resemble the Cold War conflict between the United States and the former Soviet Union, the key difference is that, at the time of the Cold War, it was the United States that held the moral "high ground." Today this would not -- in the eyes of many/most populations -- appear to be the case.


Today it is the United States (and not the Soviets and the Chinese as in the Cold War) who are seen as sponsoring revolutionary movements and attempting, thereby (and much as the Soviets did during the Cold War) to achieve a secular new world order.

In stark contrast from the days of the Cold War, today it the Russians, the Chinese and the Islamists (and not the Americans as during the Cold War) who are seen as the champions of religious, nationalist and other conservative causes.

Thus, in the classic competition for the "hearts and minds" of the people, it was the United States, during the Cold War, who (1) held the "moral" high ground and, therefore, (2) had the easier job.

Conversely today it appears that it is the Russians, etc. who, in the continuing bid for the "heart strings" of the population, have the advantage. This, because these folks, today, are seen as the champions of the religious, the nationalist and/or other conservative causes. Thus, in the eyes of many beholders, today it is the Russians, the Chinese and the Islamists (and not the U.S. as in the Cold War) who appear to hold the moral high ground.

Thus, it is the role-reversal that I have described above -- and the resulting loss of the moral high ground by "us" and the resulting gain of the moral high ground by "them" -- that would seem to be "key difference" between our present and our Cold War conflict environments.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 7:55am

We spend a lot of time here discussing the Western take on the Russian UW strategy but it is interesting to watch the Ukrainian government institute elements of an Ukrainian C-UW plan of their own.

1. a rag tag Ukrainian military force of draftees, airborne/SF and Independent volunteers were able to virtually push the Russian armed and supported mercenaries to a defeat before Russia sent in "vacationing troops"

2. although initially overwhelmed by Russian armor and heavy artillery/MRLSs the Ukrainian Army was able to rearm, refit, resupply and reposition themselves into better defensive positions---the key being rearmed for tank warfare

3. a "guerrilla war" was started via their SF and airborne units and "unnamed volunteers inside Donetsk and the surrounding occupied areas

4. they got Russia to sign Minsk 1 and 2 placing Russia in an unusual position of being accused of not supporting what they themselves signed and pushed massive propaganda on---ie "we are supporting peace in the Donbas"

5. the Ukrainian SBU has gotten far better at countering GRU/SF recon and sabotage teams inside western Ukraine

6. there has been an strong increase over the last week of Russian mercenary infighting

7. the Ukrainian Army has started a push today to retake a crossroads town their held before being driven out by Russian tanks and troops---if recaptured it cuts a major mercenary resupply road from the Russian border

8. their own info war abilities have greatly increased over the last weeks and are actively pushing back on Russian propaganda and calling it propaganda

9. the DPR is slowly realizing that the rest of the Ukraine is not economically dependent on the mercenaries--
From Interfax today:
13:56 DPR positive Ukraine has to buy coal from Donbas

NOTE: The DPR does not believe that the Ukraine has signed a coal delivery contract with the South African government for 85 USD per ton that is now being delivered to the Ukraine last week vs the Donbas price of 300 USD and has talks ongoing with Poland for a similar pricing contract for Polish coal.

Then suddenly after the Rada elections the Ukraine openly challenged Russia on their Foreign Ministry statement that Russia will recognize the mercenary elections ---Ukraine openly stated Russia was not supporting Minsk 1 and 2 and openly did not want peace in the Donbas region as they formally and multiple times stated for the world after the Minsk Agreements.

And then today the Ukraine--announces they are pulling their signature back from Minsk 1 and 2 concerning the "demarcation lines of the ceasefire" much to the surprise of both Russia and their mercenaries.

All of these Ukrainian statements in fact push and or trigger economic movements ie lower Rubel/Russian stock market and more economic uncertainly for Putin.

The question now becomes has the Ukraine sensed a Russian "weakness" in the Russian UW strategy due to the massively falling Rubel and oil prices that now at least gives them a chance to push back--both of which were not envisioned to happen by Putin when he annexed Crimea and pushed troops into the Donbas.

Interesting turn of events in the UW cat and mouse game being played by Russia as it appears the mouse has learned the game as well.

Move Forward

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 9:29pm

This was a great, well organized and written article, typical of ideas one expects to read from more experienced folks like Outlaw, Bill M, Dave M, and the missed Ken White. His status as a National Guard Captain speaks well for the concept of pairing National Guard States with individual world countries to make a regionally-aligned Army a reality perhaps joining/maintaining prepositioned equipment on a recurring basis.

While like others I question whether U.S. and world support could be mustered to actually implement many of his plausible ideas regarding Russia/China/Iran, only his ISIS argument appears outright outdated and deeply flawed. He says this:

<blockquote>Counter UW Direct Engagement Isolation Strategy vs. Iran: The U.S. should adopt a sunk cost mentality in Iraq and should acknowledge that Iraq will likely not become a fully-functioning democracy free from sectarian partisanship.</blockquote>

While I buy that Iraq’s current boundaries preclude anything but sectarian partisanship under Shiite control, that very fact ensures continued conflict by extremist Sunnis. It endangers the Kurds who appear to be the sole reasonable population we could align with militarily and as a separate state if it comes to that.

<blockquote>The current successes of ISIL against Iraq’s conventional military force are indicative of the Iraqi military’s inability to competently defend itself. Moreover, there is little reason to believe that the United States’ provision of 300 special operations military advisers in Iraq will change this dynamic.</blockquote>If we aligned with and directly supported the Kurds at some point if al-Abadi fails to show promise, our ground and SF/SOF units could prevail under some future President or the current one should he alter his policies. Of course that would require either allowed overflight of Turkey or east Syria if Iraq prohibited such use and was alienated from the U.S. We may need to do that at some point to actually defeat ISIS in both northern Iraq and northern Syria while ultimately attacking Syrian forces as well until they agree to provide national boundaries for the Sunnis and Kurds. I wonder if we would be better off to recruit from Jordanian and Turkish refugee camps rather than attempt to find moderate Sunni fighters inside Syria itself who have become distrustful of the U.S. due to our prior hands-off attitude?

<blockquote>Instead, the U.S. should seek to exploit the present opportunities to be gained via ISIL’s presence. As stated earlier in this paper, Iran has deployed two or more battalions of IRGC into Iraq and may increase its commitment if the situation worsens. As of 25 Jun. 2014, it was reported that the Syrian government had carried out aircraft bombings against ISIL targets within Iraq.</blockquote>

I’m not sure what his point is about Iran’s presence. Later he talks about using ISIS to fight the IRGC but that seemingly would encourage greater IRGC presence and more Iraqi alignment with Iran and exclusion of Sunnis. Hopefully he would not advocate U.S. cooperation with Iran as that would further make it look like the U.S. supports Shiites instead of Sunnis which is the heart of the conflict’s motivation and ISIS recruitment. In addition, contrary to his 25 June citation, more recent news articles say that Assad purposely has avoided targeting ISIS and instead lets them serve as the unacceptable alternative to Assad. It’s Assad’s way of saying to the world “Do you want me in charge or ISIS?” In fact, news reports over the last week or so say Assad has increased his bombing of more “moderate” Sunni groups to strike them while we are distracted by ISIS.

<blockquote>Instead of viewing ISIL as a terrorist organization, the U.S. should instead view ISIL as an insurgency vying for power within Iraq.</blockquote>

But ISIS is the worst possible terrorist organization that already is motivating “lone wolf” terror in the U.S. and Canada. Europe will probably get it even worse. We want “moderate” Sunnis to run a Sunni state that <strong>should</strong> include parts of Syria and Iraq just as Kurds likewise deserve boundaries in northern parts of both current states. The latter is particularly essential because then we could overfly that new Kurd state from the Mediterranean and be much closer to attack ISIS and defend the Kurds without overflying much of Turkey or any of Iraq.

<blockquote>The United States should facilitate the conditions necessary to allow ISIL forces to directly engage Iranian IRGC and Syria’s Baathist led military troops while straying away from overt military operations in Iraq. Iran’s relative isolation from other regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf States imply that, if successfully executed, the United States could foment the conditions necessary for Iran to fight an insurgency in its own backyard without any help from other regional stakeholders.</blockquote>

Why would ISIL/ISIS/Daesh not want to retake Sunni areas of Iraq? Current offensives indicate that is a primary motivation of ISIL. As mentioned, Assad has not been messing much with ISIS so why would they waken the sleeping giant? ISIL could not handle more IRGC forces any more than they have defeated Hezbollah and other Iranian forces fighting for Assad. In addition, you can virtually guarantee that Saudi Arabia and GCC states do not want to side with ISIL because they ultimately would be a threat to them. They <strong>do</strong> want moderate Sunnis to control parts of Iraq and Syria I would argue which is why they are assisting creation of a “5,000” man militia of more moderate Sunnis in Saudi territory.

Bill M.

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 11:27pm

In reply to by jasonhrivera


You made a comment above that I always find fascinating, especially since you may be right.

"I premised a lot of my paper on the "Threshold of War" concept in that the United States must learn to engage in warfare in the same manner that our adversaries do - which is particularly in the grey space of legal ambiguity."

Not directed specifically towards this comment, but more generally. The U.S. has the most powerful military in the world, yet we constantly find ourselves in the position of that great power being sidelined by our adversaries. My somewhat rhetorical question is, do we always need to adapt and fight our like adversaries, or can we choose to use our superior military power in a way to achieve our ends? If we can't, then it calls into question the need to continue funding a legacy force that was developed to fight wars that are not feasible in the 21st century. I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. We haven't seen the end of war, and adversaries will seek the most decisive way to achieve their ends. If we are too weak, then we present opportunities for them to apply strength to achieve their ends. At least with their use of UW we have time to counter their strategy, if we choose to do so.


Sun, 10/26/2014 - 5:44pm

I agree with you that if only the military instrument of national power were used, that conventional forces would have to play an important role in countering UW. However, at the time, I am unsure that such a measure would be supported by the American populous and, moreover, I am unsure as to whether or not involving conventional troops would be in the nation's best interests. I premised a lot of my paper on the "Threshold of War" concept in that the United States must learn to engage in warfare in the same manner that our adversaries do - which is particularly in the grey space of legal ambiguity. For this specific reason, I focused my proposed responses towards the use of "grey space" countermeasures that, like the ambiguous activities of the nation's adversaries, are damaging yet not necessarily illegal.

Specifically in response to the Eastern Ukraine dilemma, I would argue that the best response would not to be to respond directly via military activity, rather by finding the means to make it increasingly costly for Russia to continue to follow their current strategy. For example, I believe an appropriate strategy for this situation would be for NATO members to announce a policy of funding Chechen separatists at a directly proportionate and much higher rate than Russia's current funding efforts directed towards its activities in Eastern Ukraine. Whether this would directly stop the Russian leadership from continuing their strategy is irrelevant. Rather, the intent of doing this would be for NATO to effectively force a dilemma upon the Russian decision making calculus by forcing them to choose to cease their activities in Ukraine or face a more powerful insurgency in Chechnya.

In any case, all of this makes for an interesting thought exercise in terms of how the United States should deal with UW and what are the nation's options in doing so.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 5:43am

Here is a good example of why we the US will never get into the C-UW business---it sometimes will require the use of US military force if one fully understands the new Russia UW strategy that mixes irregular, active military, SF and intelligence recon/sabotage forces on the ground.

The author is largely correct in the direction he takes but it is largely focused on irregular and or SF type units involved on the UW aggressor side and not active duty elite army units using the newest weapon systems to include cluster munitions, themobaric and flame throwing RPGs, and precision guided munitions with the latest tank and MRLS systems as well.


The Ukrainian Army has been holding out at the Donetsk Airport going on now 155 days---and if they still hold by the end of the day they will have broken the Stalingrad historical record of 155 continuous fighting days.

It is critical that the airport be taken as the Minsk 1 and 2 agreements foresee a 30km buffer from the line of fighting which is the airport--that would force the mercenaries to pull way back past Donetsk towards the Russian border---the airport has become a traditional military choke point.

There is an excellent open source workup analysis conducted on the latest mercenary battle videos on the airport fighting.

Then this is being reported today via social media.

Near #Donetsk airport, concentration of enemy forces up to 1500 men, 20 artillery & 18 MLRS

So again in C-UW a supporting country involved in a C-UW fight might just have to go using regular army units as part of the C-UW mix and currently the National Command Authority has ruled out the use of military force in say the Ukrainian UW fight.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 10/25/2014 - 4:31pm

An interesting take on especially the Russian UW strategy--the core problem is I do not ever see the US getting it's act together to implement this suggested way forward--it would demand an intense melting of the minds of all federal agencies to totally function in a 'whole of government" approach.

Right now the Russian UW strategy is capable to morphing to match all opponent counter UW measures---it has an inherent speed factor that is being overlooked as the Russian style of leadership supports speedy decisions which cannot be matched by the US leadership process of decision making.