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Thread: Early Soviet COIN Experience in Central Asia

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    Default Early Soviet COIN Experience in Central Asia

    RAND Working Paper, Feb 08: Soft Power, Hard Power, and Counterinsurgency: The Early Soviet Experience in Central Asia and Its Implications
    In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks were faced with an immense challenge: consolidating power throughout the lands of the Russian Empire. In the portions of that Empire now known as Central Asia (as elsewhere) they faced armed insurgency as well as a variety of other forms of political opposition.

    Although the Soviets initially focused on violent suppression of the revolt, a combination of ideology and expedience soon drove them to a different set of tactics to end and prevent effective opposition so as to secure and assure the Soviet state-building effort. These combined “softpower” approaches of winning over key groups with violent exercise of “hardpower” in the form of targeted arrests and executions (sometimes of the very groups recently co-opted). Both the soft and hard actions were taken to effect the same explicit goals of modernization. This was defined as secularism, sex equality, and mass literacy, as well as, of course, Communist political ideology. This paper discusses the Soviet experience and concludes by drawing some parallels and the disconnects with more recent efforts to fight insurgency and opposition, identifying lessons and implications for the near and longer-term.....
    Complete 30 page paper at the link.

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    Council Member Beelzebubalicious's Avatar
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    I skimmed through this paper at lunch and enjoyed it, especially given that I'm living in a former soviet republic (ukraine). Some interesting examples of social engineering. I'd like to see what Marc T has to say given his recent paper addressing the subject (10 questions).

    Living in Ukraine for a couple of years, I'm fascinated with how Ukrainians, who clearly suffered under Soviet rule at the same time often pine for it and look back in nostalgia. I know someone, who like many, lost her entire savings when the soviet union collapsed, but still wishes for some of the centrally planned and executed services (like education and health) that were present in the Soviet times.

    The author, Olga Oliker, who appears to be either Russian or Ukrainian, sees and draws parallels between the Soviet and recent efforts by the US and British. She sees the soviet efforts as an attempt to "bring to all what they saw as a better system of government". You can argue and poke holes into what the British and Americans have done, but I can't swallow this from what I understand of Soviet attitudes, beliefs and methods. From what I've heard and seen, it was a systematic effort to wipe clean the subject society and replace it with the communist system (that they could then control). It was done with extreme brutality and with every effective means. Frankly, I don't see a lot of parallels with the current American and British efforts.

    Of course, from a Russian perspective, and I can't claim to understand this, it may appear that the Soviet occupation and counter-insurgency efforts were, in fact, just the Russian equivalents of other counter-insurgency efforts or occupations. It just doesn't work with me.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Beelzebubalicious,

    Quote Originally Posted by Beelzebubalicious View Post
    I skimmed through this paper at lunch and enjoyed it, especially given that I'm living in a former soviet republic (ukraine). Some interesting examples of social engineering. I'd like to see what Marc T has to say given his recent paper addressing the subject (10 questions).
    Well, I just read it through and, if it were handed in for a social science course, I would give it a C+/B-. Where, I kept asking myself, is the freakin' data? Where is the model for social engineering? I don't really have a problem with descriptive papers, which is what this is, but if you want to talk about comparative effects of hard and soft power and their influences on social and cultural engineering, you really do need both a mode and data.

    Quote Originally Posted by Beelzebubalicious View Post
    You can argue and poke holes into what the British and Americans have done, but I can't swallow this from what I understand of Soviet attitudes, beliefs and methods. From what I've heard and seen, it was a systematic effort to wipe clean the subject society and replace it with the communist system (that they could then control). It was done with extreme brutality and with every effective means. Frankly, I don't see a lot of parallels with the current American and British efforts.
    Oh, the parallels are there but the relative scale is different. The focus on social engineering of an end state, along with the threat of hard power if that end state isn't "acceptable", is a key parallel - you could just replace "communism" with "democracy". The key differences, at least as I see it, are twofold. First, which the author notes, the Russians controlled the area before their civil war and were not about to give it up while Iraq and Afghanistan are not viewed (at least rhetorically) as part of "the West".

    Second, and the author doesn't mention this, is that the Soviets were an insurgency with a highly developed political theory and pragmatics (cf. Lenin's military writings). During a fair amount of the time the paper covers, the civil war was still on, but there is no mention at all of any effects of campaigns by the legitimate government (i.e. the White Russians). Given the military campaigns underway and the importance of tha region as a transhipment point for White Russian troops, if find this more than somewhat disturbing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Beelzebubalicious View Post
    Of course, from a Russian perspective, and I can't claim to understand this, it may appear that the Soviet occupation and counter-insurgency efforts were, in fact, just the Russian equivalents of other counter-insurgency efforts or occupations. It just doesn't work with me.
    One thing about the Russian national character (and I usually don't like such generalizations, but this one actually fits), is that they have a deep seated cultural fear / hatred of "eastern / Islamic hordes" that goes back, at least, to the time of Gengis Khan (say, roughly, 1130 or so). The visciousness of their COIN efforts (or conquest, take your pick) stem, in part, from this fear.
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by marct
    ....One thing about the Russian national character (and I usually don't like such generalizations, but this one actually fits), is that they have a deep seated cultural fear / hatred of "eastern / Islamic hordes" that goes back, at least, to the time of Gengis Khan (say, roughly, 1130 or so). The visciousness of their COIN efforts (or conquest, take your pick) stem, in part, from this fear.
    Russian Analytical Digest, 2 Jul 08: Russia and Islam

    This issue of RAD contains three analytic articles focused on the subject:

    Islam and the State in Russia
    In dealing with Islam, Putin has sought to ensure that Muslims remain loyal to the state and suppressed any political opposition that appears in religious form. In Muslim-majority regions, local leaders often promote Islamic traditions and use the association with their religion to bolster their authority in the political sphere. The federal authorities often support the use of tradition as a way of promoting stability in the usually volatile North Caucasus. Nevertheless, the authorities seek to exert tight control over what they perceive as an Islamist opposition. Often the federal authorities use harsh methods to crack down on the Islamists, provoking anger in the Muslim community. Traditional forms of Islam are now becoming politicized, giving Muslims a new identity which is gradually cutting off the North Caucasus from the rest of Russia. With its focus on political loyalty, the Kremlin has overlooked this development.
    Russia and the Muslim World: The Chechnya Factor and Beyond
    This article looks at Russia’s relations to the Muslim world as an aspect of its foreign policy directly related to domestic issues. It argues that because of its own large Muslim population and its desire to conduct an independent foreign policy, Russia has developed a special relationship with Muslim countries and claims a diff erent approach to fighting terrorism than the US. Th is relationship is not without problems, as the case of Iran demonstrates. Also, Russia’s confl ict with Muslim-dominated Chechnya has shown the difficulties that Russian leaders have in coping with autonomy struggles and religious diversity within the Russian Federation.
    Muslim Fundamentalism in Dagestan: A Movement on the Rise
    Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian republic of Dagestan has faced numerous security threats. A number of ethnic groups, clans, and organized crime groups live side by side there and periodically resort to violence to pursue their interests. Violence among Islamic fundamentalist militants is also on the rise. All indications suggest that their underground movements are gaining momentum. Th is article addresses the central questions: Why are more people joining the ranks of these groups and why are they increasingly prone to violence?
    Last edited by Jedburgh; 07-03-2008 at 06:12 PM.

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