Small Wars Journal

Old Aspirations - New Tensions: “In Search of a New Russian Identity”

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 9:57pm

Old Aspirations - New Tensions: “In Search of a New Russian Identity”

Oscar L. Ware


Echoes of past tensions between the U.S. and Russia are again playing out on the international stage as we are bombarded by an increase in Cold War, anti-American type rhetoric in the media. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an unusually direct appeal to Americans, lashed out against proposed United States (U.S.) intervention in Syria and stated, “it was extremely dangerous for the U.S. to see itself as exceptional”.  This was in response to President Obama’s assertions that he views the U.S. as exceptional. This political jousting is a reminder of a war played out not so many years ago. The themes are the same: “communism versus democracy and freedom versus oppression”. To many over the age of 55 this jousting conjures memories of children crouching under school desks to protect themselves in the event of a nuclear bomb detonation. To understand the relationship between the United States and Russia today, one can’t view Russia through lenses of the Cold War; rather one should look at Russia as a prominent and influential global power.

Just as President Reagan did, President Obama finds his administration under new Strategic Guidance, focused on maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal and working with international partners to reaffirm their commitments to extended deterrence.President Reagan’s famed “Star Wars” program drew the Soviets into a costly arms race it couldn’t afford. President Reagan’s determination to destroy communism and the Soviet Union was a hallmark of his eight-year presidency carried out through a harsh nuclear policy toward Moscow. The U.S. built up its military industrial complex to ruin the Soviet economy and position the U.S. as “the”…world super power. History demonstrates this strategy worked beyond anyone’s imagination and yet history is repeating itself.

The U.S. and Russia have critical domestic issues to work out aside from international prominence, but each appears to have their eyes on the horizon in attempts to reestablish perceptions of greatness in distant lands. The Cold War may have ended the (old) Soviet Union’s position as a Super Power, but today’s tempered relationship is again pitting the U.S. and Russia against each other as Russia attempts to reestablish itself as a political and economic power. The Kremlin’s aspiration for former status as an equal super power on the international stage can be seen in recent pursuits to mend ties with old alliances and overt scavenger hunts to tap new sources of wealth. Since the end of the Cold War, the Kremlin has been eagerly shedding its Communist (based) social mantel and has adopted a more progressive acceptance of capitalism. This new direction has in many instances solidified U.S. and Russian relations on a few common beliefs and desires, but the solidarity sours easily on best methods to address them. The Russians have also learned lessons from the past, they’re not building monolithic armies and fleets of submarines they can’t afford to maintain, nor are they projecting their forces to occupy foreign lands. Russia is undergoing a transformation to democracy and a market economy, prioritized by its efforts to develop relations with the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Russia views the U.S. as an important partner while maintaining good relations with the EU28.

The U.S. and Russia share common ideas about how the international landscape should be modeled, such as containment of radical fundamentalist Islamic movements and failed states, which both nations perceive as true national security threats. While the U.S. and Russia may disagree on how to address these issues, they do agree it is in their best interest to work together to address these threats. However, here too, the United States and Russia have fundamental differences in the way they view the global arena and these differences prevent them from becoming true partners.  While the current administration’s foreign policy team has a strong belief in the legitimacy of intervention to prevent humanitarian crises, the Kremlin is much more invested in protecting traditional notions of sovereignty, where domestic rulers are to be given deference within their own borders.2

Russia’s action in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and now Asia are shots across the bow to the international community that Russia sees itself as a global power and will have its say in international dialogue. In spite of the pressure from Washington to have Putin persuade Bashar Al-Assad in Syria to relinquish power, Putin has remained loyal to what appears an isolated regime. Many believe Putin is calculating that Russia can afford to lose a little prestige among Arab countries to gain a major political and economic advantage in the Middle East, Southern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean oil markets in the future. A country once portrayed as godless, communist and economically unviable is now experiencing sweeping favor among some Arab countries as U.S. influence diminishes. After years of looking to the West for their defense contracts, Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are showing a willingness to diversify economic alliances.

Over the last decade, the U.S. has been consumed with fighting two wars and declining political influence around the world. During the same time, Russia has emerged from its post-cold war hibernation as a formidable world super power and its relegation to the periphery of global politics. While Russia’s government revenues are likely to be squeezed in the coming years, there is no aspect of contemporary Russia that has changed more rapidly and unexpectedly than its economic prosperity situation. Most of us know that Russia is dependent on hydrocarbon resources: about half of government revenues come from oil and gas. In 2009 the Russian government outlined its economic goals for 2020, which is for Russia to become one of the world’s top five economies, to establish itself as a leader in technological innovation and global energy infrastructure, as well as a major international financial center.3 If achieved, Russia will become the largest economy in Europe and the fifth largest in the world following the United States, China, Japan, and India. Here the question arising for the West is whether this vision is a realistic goal, or is it wishful thinking, and what’s the impact to U.S. interest around the world?

A Strained Relationship

The 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States highlights renewed emphasis to advance stability and democracy in the Balkans and resolve conflicts in the Caucasus and Cyprus. The NSS also took ample opportunities to lecture Russia on how the U.S. will support efforts to promote the rule of law, accountable government, and universal values, while seeking Russia’s cooperation to act as a responsible partner.4

The Russians are troubled by what they see as a growing trend among Western powers, that is, to remove perceived problematic sovereign administrations in sovereign countries. To many Russians this appears to be a Cold War tactic to isolate their country. There was the separation of Kosovo from Serbia over Russian objections, and then they witnessed NATO extend to the Baltic States after pledging not to expand the organization to Russia's frontier. According to a published report by CNBC, the United States is directing military operations in Syria with Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia from a control center in Adana, Turkey.This appears to counter efforts by the Russians in mediating any type of sustainable peace.  Then there are reports that the Obama administration has authorized the CIA to acquire heavy weapons to be sent to Syria via Turkey6, which is the newest challenge President Putin can’t allow to go unanswered. For all the good the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) achieved in Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union, in 2012 Russia ousted USAID from the country and criticized their presence as unnecessary and intrusive.7  The Russians are not hesitating to remind the United States and Europeans that their dealings with the various Muslim extremists is a very dangerous game, one they know all too well.

On September 11, 2013 President Putin wrote an op-ed for the New York Times titled “A Plea for Caution from Russia”. He warned that a military attack on Syria by the U.S. could unleash terrorism, increase violence and further destabilize the Middle East. Ironically, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) espoused the same sentiments if the Russians are allowed to expand their influence in the region. The call to arms against misbehaving governments is one of an old dialect, is rife with “us-versus-them”, and spurs demonstrative debates on the effects if not contained. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in an interview with Mike Huckabee, (Fox News) said “The reason I wanted to strike Assad was to punish him, deteriorate his ability to deliver chemical weapons and change the tide of battle. Iran is the biggest ally of Assad. They're linked at the hip.”  He then attempts to qualify his statements by adding: “Russia's been helping the Assad regime.” The injection of “Russia’s been helping” appears to be taken off the shelf of McCarthyism, is seeded with Cold War rhetoric, targets an older generation of voters and haphazardly presents as a cry of “wolf”. That is, if we (U.S.) don’t do it, then the Russians inevitably will. And, the outcome might not be the one Washington wants or can afford in light of declining U.S. influence in the Middle East. Sen. Graham’s statements highlight the indifference Washington has shown toward Mid East leaders; Arabs don’t accept Western military intervention on the guise of punishing elected leaders, even when they themselves may desire change.

Russia on the Move

President Obama informed the American public that U.S. alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand are the bedrock of security in Asia. The U.S. has said it will shift 60% of its total naval assets to the region by 2020. This policy is viewed by many analysts as a political gamble taken to contain escalating Russian and Chinese influence in the region. Not to be out done, President Putin and his Vietnamese counterpart, Truong Tan Sang, signed 17 bilateral agreements for enhanced strategic and energy cooperation. The bilateral deals will boost Moscow's role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) buoyant and integrating economies.8 This will also insert Russian influence into escalating territorial disputes in the South China Sea that pit Vietnam against China.

Political analysts have likened Russia's broad renewed interest in Southeast Asia, particularly revamped relations with Vietnam, to the US's strategic policy towards the Indo-Pacific region. Further expanding Russian influence in the region is also seen in their attempts to regain rights to Cam Ranh Bay, which was under the Russian flag from 1979 to 2002.9  Cam Ranh Bay is near key shipping lanes and would provide a strategic perch for surveillance of the contested Spratly and Paracel island chains.  The Kremlin is also taking a hard line by refusing to return the Northern Territories (four islands), which Moscow calls the Southern Kurils, to Japan. This decision is seen as a response to Japan and the United States’ for its pivot towards Asia and the (Asia) Pacific region;10 Russia is also viewing itself as a Pacific power.

Saudi Arabia has secretly offered Russia a sweeping deal to control the global oil market and safeguard Russia’s gas contracts if the Kremlin backs away from the Assad regime in Syria.11 This is based on the Saudis understanding of Russia’s interest in Eastern Mediterranean oil and gas resources. This move would change the strategic landscape by threatening the world’s fragile economic recovery, and would negatively affect the United States, as its influence in the region would continue to decline. It appears even the Egyptians are sensing a resurgence of Russian presence in the Middle East, especially after the U.S. decided to curtail aid in the wake of the military ouster of elected President Mohammed Morsi. The Kremlin viewed the strained relationship between the U.S. and Egypt as an opportunity to forge new ties with old friends. Although, the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Badr Abdelk Atty, tried to play down a meeting between the governments by providing a conciliatory and well-crafted statement: “this will not come at the expense of the relationship with the United States.”

Prior to Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt was the U.S. staunchest Arab ally. For over three decades, the relationship helped the U.S. stabilize much of the Middle East and proved extremely lucrative for Egypt, which received billions in foreign aid from America. On the surface, it appears the Egyptian masses are seeking non-fickle allies who are willing to intervene, and they may have found that in the Russians. From an Arab point of view, Putin stood by his allies and showed resolve and strength, while the U.S. abandoned former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, supported the Muslim Brotherhood, neglected the Syrian opposition and killed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi even after Gaddafi acceded to US demands to give up his nuclear and non-conventional weapons program.12

The Russians are also battling the U.S. for influence in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Now under a new president, who in his inauguration speech stated he wants to mend ties with the Kremlin following disputes over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia in 2008.13  The country is at the center of the Caucasus, a region which secures a major pipeline pumping oil from the Caspian Sea to Europe. A democratic, prosperous and stable Eastern Europe and Caucasus region is clearly in the interest of the U.S. and its allies.14  It’s also in the interests of all the Eastern Partnership states, including Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Many analysts observe that the European Union (EU) has had difficulty developing a consistent and comprehensive strategic approach to Russia’s new aspirations (no doubt influenced by U.S. interests). On the one hand, the EU considers Russia to be a “strategic partner.” The EU and Russia have extensive economic and energy ties, and many Europeans assert that Russian cooperation is important on issues such as energy, Iran, Syria, climate change, and arms control. On the other hand, there are tensions in the relationship related to energy policy, governance and human rights issues, and perceived attempts by Russia to extend its influence over neighboring countries.15

Problems for America

The Soviet Union breakup in the 1990’s brought about a new democratic Russia seemingly ready to set aside past antagonisms with the West and has moved on with the business of transforming itself into a modern society. Unlike the Americans, Russians have no reservation in acknowledging their intent when forming partnerships…Russia wants and needs access to resources and markets. In contrast, U.S. involvement in troubled, but oil rich lands is built on the premise of supporting the oppressed and protecting freedom and human rights. The down side of this approach is the U.S. is usually the one left doing all the heavy lifting. This process unfortunately creates welfare states the U.S. is obligated to nurture back to health, while not appearing intrusive, oppressive or wanting reparations for noble deeds done in the name of “the right thing to do”.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Malta summit, US foreign policy has focused on gaining influence over many Eastern European states, to some extent it worked, except for Russia. It took two years and one month for the Soviet Union to dissolve after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many of the Eastern States became members of NATO, or nurture aspirations of joining the alliance. These alliances and aspiration have remained points of contention as NATO expanded its influence in the region and Western (United States)  influence has become viewed as fickle. More than ever, President Putin is convinced of the need to defend vital Soviet interests such as access to Western markets and products, and preservation of Soviet prestige while ignoring double standard lectures from the West. Although freedom and prosperity were selling points for Western intervention in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan President Putin has pointed out in reality these countries are no more financially stable than the monetary inputs from outside their respective boarders. 

Declining U.S. influence in the Middle East has made many allies in the region reassess the nature of their ties to what most Arabs see as an overbearing American presence and are looking to escape the perceptions of being parented by the U.S. One of the more obvious examples of strained relationships is the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The chemical weapons in Syria and nuclear program aspirations of Iran appear to be highly on the minds of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has even given the notion of nurturing alliances with the Russians to stave off any potential exodus of the U.S.16 There is also worsening relationships with Turkey and the U.S., in response to the U.S. failing to respond to calls from Turkey to intervene in Syria. In fact, Turkey is set to be the first NATO member to buy arms from China. With the exception of Israel in the Middle East, many of America's largest and most strategic alliances in the region are very strained. This leaves a void that many Middle East leaders may seek to fill as well as finding alternative arms sources. This gives Russia and, to a lesser extent, China a perfect opportunity to become a key player in the Middle East region.

If NATO continues with the European missile defense and expands to Georgia and Ukraine crossing the Kremlin’s “Red Line”, Russia and the U.S. will again be faced with new challenges in solving old regional problems. Arguably, this encroachment will be perceived as a clear threat to Russia’s security despite Washington’s attempts to downplay the issue. Washington maintains that the missile defense system will be aimed at Iran and not Russia, but to an aging Kremlin it rekindles Cold War fears and poses a direct threat to Russia in the event of a nuclear first strike. Who can blame the Kremlin for being skeptical following the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty and NATO’s expansion to Russia’s backyard? Viewing this encroachment with disdain the Russians have vowed to install missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad if the U.S. persists in installing a missile defense shield. This one ups-man-ship is another characteristic of the Cold War.

The U.S. is also touting its new found oil field (Bakken oil Formation) and fossil fuel boom as a means to be less dependent on Middle East resources.  This will transform the global energy landscape, with the U.S. poised to eclipse all other countries as the leading producer of oil and gas in the world. But according to the International Energy Agency, the celebration may be short lived and does not mean the 40 year reign of the Middle East as the forerunner of energy producers is coming to an end.17 The IEA contends that the U.S. will be positioned to meet the world’s oil demands for the remainder of the decade, but OPEC will continue to play a major role as the only large-scale source of low-cost oil beyond 2020. It might be prudent for the U.S. to maintain bridges with the conciliatory maintenance required to be relevant should estimates be off.

Renewed Mutual Interest

The United States has gone from being dependent on oil to being extremely dependent on oil in less than three decades. In 2012, about 40% of the petroleum consumed by the United States was imported from foreign countries.18 Given an ever-increasing demand for oil, and despite oil reserve discoveries in the Americas the U.S. will remain dependent on imported oil well into the future.  This may well be the reason behind why Russia and the U.S. are so interested in the Eastern Mediterranean…it comes back to the oil. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Levant Basin in the Eastern Mediterranean holds around 122 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas along with an estimated 1.7 billion barrels of crude oil.19 Unfortunately, these resources are located in a region engulfed in conflict.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tensions between Israel and Lebanon, the conflict on Cyprus and the strained relationships between Turkey and the U.S. and Greece all complicate any effort to develop and sell the oil. To complicate the issue even more, the Syrian issue remains a thorn in U.S. international policy.  And, lying in the shadows the Russians are gambling they will be rewarded for their hard stance against what Arabs see as Western intrusion in the region.

U.S. policymakers, by their past and present actions since the end of WWII in pursuing the American oil addiction, have apparently concluded that the nation’s interest in oil and other ‘strategic’ resources outweigh the nation’s badge of values to support democracy. Since WWII U.S. interventions, coup d’états, and assassinations were motivated by several determinants, but oil seems to be a crucial and central theme to U.S. foreign policy since then. And yet we are again witness to the U.S. and Russia battling for dominance in Asia, Europe and the Middle East region. A fundamental question the United States needs to answer concerns the degree to which Russian economic resurgence presents an opportunity or a threat to U.S. national security interests.

The latest moves by the Kremlin appear it is returning to the "Brezhnev doctrine" which threatens the sovereignty of states that were once members of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. Many analysts are not so dramatic in their estimations of President Vladimir Putin’s aspirations or imminent danger posed to other NATO sovereign countries in the region. However, looking back at history one cannot escape the West was forewarned of events to come. Former Republic of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili warned the West that Russia had its sights on Crimea after his countries invasion in 2008. Using the 2008 Republic of Georgia invasion as a blueprint for success, President Putin has again under cloak of the Olympics, and preoccupation of western powers instigated an invasion of a sovereign country, this time, seemingly catching Western and NATO powers off guard with limited recourse.


Although President Obama sees the U.S. as “exceptional”, Russia does not. Nor does Russia see the U.S. as “the” world super power, rather sees it as one of several, to include Russia and China. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has increasingly sought to demonstrate its power to act independently against Western geopolitical trends and influence. Some analysts believe Russia is motivated in part by its strategic interests and in part by its desire to project power, which gives the impression Russia is anti-American. Russia remains unwilling to negotiate on its foreign policy priority, which is dominance in its backyard. Here the question for the U.S. is what threat does this unwillingness affect the U.S. and the region’s fragile security. The strained relationship over missile defense in Europe has created impasses over possible progress on arms control, even though both NATO and Russia say they want to cooperate in resolving the issue. With some ingenuity and deliberate dialogue on both sides, missile defense could prove a game-changer, making NATO and Russia allies in defending Europe.

Although Russia has made great strides in rising from the ashes post-Cold War, its economic portfolio does not provide the needed diversity to match that of the U.S. globally. Russia’s transition to capitalism has produced the highest income inequality in the world (excluding Caribbean islands with resident billionaires), and for all of its success the Russian economy is considered one dimensional, it is dependent on its gas and oil trade.  Russia’s economy remains dependent on energy exports while the global economy is becoming increasingly competitive, driven by a shifting balance of financial power to developing countries, regional economic integration and technological innovation. Relying predominately on income from energy resources leave Russia in an inherently unstable economic position; thus to become a global economic power Russia must move toward an innovation-based development.

In addressing international balance, Russian politics provide limited visions abroad in addressing common threats from terrorism, economic stability and human rights.  The United States and Russia have made great progress in addressing capabilities to deter, combat, and manage the consequences of terrorist attacks. Today, the Obama administration is pursuing a path of constructive engagement with the Kremlin to address the interests and views of all NATO allies, “mainly pertaining to security, oil and gas and human rights”. Whether or not the next Cold War is upon us is debatable, but the world is watching the U.S. and Russia closely with renewed interest as each seeks to reestablish itself. Very few in the Kremlin and Washington want a new cold war; but approaches by the West in mediating global peace must not appear guided by Russian-phobia based on old ideologies. 

Although, the United States political jousting concerning potential sanctions against Russia have not reached the level of fully curtailing trade by either side, it does highlight future business practices between the two will not be as usual. Putting aside what appear hollow warnings from Western states over Russia’s (democratic) annexation of Crimea, the question then becomes what does this really means outside of Crimea and how can the fragile alliance of NATO withstand this latest test. Is this an anomaly; or are we witness to the opening salvo for reestablishment of Russia as a political, economic and military global power with its newly acquired resources? President Vladimir Putin addressed hundreds of his country’s most senior leaders in the Grand Kremlin Palace in March 2014. President Putin’s emotional speech highlighted past woes of his country at the hands of Western states, most notably the United States. A speech, more akin to a US pep-rally, President Putin brought some attendees to tears as he made it clear, under his leadership Russia will reclaim its previous greatness.

As the U.S. and Russia refurbish their international dominance, each will be required to pursue meaningful dialogue for reductions of nuclear arms, to include non-strategic nuclear weapons. Putting aside old grudges, the two nations must work jointly to deal with the proliferation challenges posed by North Korea and Iran; and be prepared to consult on steps to bolster security and stability in Central Asia as the NATO coalition prepares to withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan. As Russia seeks to strengthen its rule of law, grapples with corruption and is willing to address human rights issues, the U.S. has an opportunity to explore ways to increase trade and investment relations which could help build a foundation for a more sustainable partnership. The future relationship between the U.S. and Russia will be tempered on many issues, but both have much to gain from amicable relations to avoid a “Cold War-style” future. The world is watching.


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About the Author(s)

Dr. Oscar Ware is a course developer at the Joint Special Operations University in Tampa, FL.  He is also a retired Special Forces NCO, with numerous years of experience serving as a Special Forces Medic, Special Forces Team Sergeant, Special Forces Medical Instructor, and Senior Enlisted Medical Advisor to the United States Army Special Forces Command (USASFC) , the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) Surgeons, and as the NCOIC for AFRICOM’s TSOC (SOCAFRICA J-33). He holds a Doctorate in Public Health, specializing in Epidemiology, and focusing on research into preventable deaths in combat.


Bill C.

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 3:23pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09


Consider this re: "selective engagement" -- which looks to be the way we are heading:

"Ted Carpenter, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, believes that the proponents of primacy suffer from the 'light-switch model,' in which only two positions exist: on and off. 'Many, seemingly most, proponents of U.S. preeminence do not recognize the existence of options between current policy of promiscuous global interventionism and isolationism.' ... Selective engagement is a strategy that sits in between primacy and isolationism and, given growing multipolarity and American fiscal precariousness, should be taken seriously. 'Selectivity is not merely an option when it comes to embarking on military interventions. It is imperative for a major power that wishes to preserve its strategic insolvency. Otherwise, overextension and national exhaustion become increasing dangers.' Carpenter thinks that off-loading U.S. security responsibility must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, the United States must refrain from using military might in campaigns that do not directly deal with U.S. interests. 'If a sense of moral indignation, instead of a calculating assessment of the national interest, governs U.S. foreign policy, the United States will become involved in even more murky conflicts in which few if any tangible American interests are at stake.' "

Would this lead to the road being opened to "roll back" (by Russia, China, Iran, etc.) in certain, less vital places and areas of the world?

I think here the answer is "yes." And it appears that it would be roll back that we would accept/not challenge.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 10:52am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill---this is where we tend to differ---when one looks at the Color or Spring revolts and really steps back and analyzes without political overtones just what the various populations are really demanding is it not what we ourselves "think" we have---the question now for many Americans do we really "have" what we think we have?

Again free from US ideological political thinking/culture left or right.

1. rule of law ie no corruption in the police and or state security apparatuses, a free unfettered judicial where the population at least feels they can legally challenge the political/economic elites within their own population and will simply not be run in front of a judge and sentenced to five years for talking say "trash" about a ruler or political party. Relatively free elections, not the brought type that put the old Ukrainian President in place, and the rule of law must also apply to the economic playground where corruption is dampened to at least a manageable amount, the reduction of the tendency of economic oligarchs are limited and the individual can on his own develop economically in the direction they want to go.

2. good governance---at least a responsive and accountable governmental concept, relatively "free" elections that do not have the appearance of being "purchased" where the population an in fact be motivated to participate, local administration that respond to local needs, an oversee bar governmental apparatus that functions even if minimally.

The list could go on into say the areas of education, personal and religious freedoms.

By the way some in the US argue we ourselves do not half of the above.

All of this has to be expressed and supported if the population decides/buys into to going that way--and we need to stay out of that process and it is in the end the population itself that has to live with whatever comes out. The problem is we the US have never learned to "stay out of the way" as we seem to somehow believe we "know" better than the locals.

Now if one takes the politics away is this not really what foreigners think about when the hear the word American or the US?

If the US is the "shining light" why then back away for leading?---in effect what you are talking about is the good ole American isolationism that kicks in every so often and the new foreign policy of the WH is actually "isolationist" if one states we are only getting involved if it impacts the US directly.

If that is then the new policy using whatever soft power that is in itself rather limiting and only getting directly involved when it is directly impacting us---then why go back into Iraq at all---let them go the way of ISIS, let Malaki become the newest Saddam, let the Ukraine fall under the wheels, let AQ take Africa and parts of the ME.

Hey we have no real interests there that might directly impact us so we can just ignore the rest of the world. What are our real interests in the Pacific Rim and South China Sea--maybe the Chinese are right just why are we there if it does not impact us?

Just build bigger nuclear missiles an sit back and enjoy things inside the US. There was a time when the US only imported 6% of what it needed from the rest of the world.

Again leadership is not easy-but just lead. There are a number of newer countries here in Europe that openly voice a deep concern that the US has forgotten how to lead.

See where I am going---leading is super hard, boring and it costs both in lives and money but when the American businesses have gotten us so deeply globalized do you not think that it is nearly impossible to decouple from that globalization?

Hate to say it the ideas of American businesses have gotten us into this globalization mess---and to get out half way intact takes US leadership.

But I do not see that leadership being a "shinning example" right now---we seem to be rather muddling our way through with no thought.

That is what is being expressed right now by many countries that are friendly with the US and that scares them when we ourselves simply seem to be walking dazed through the green grass.

Bill C.

Thu, 06/12/2014 - 7:19pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09


I believe that the national command authority, and DoD, do fully understand what I have written.

Herein, I believe that they have, accordingly:

a. Abandoned the ill-advised expansionist mission.

b. Accepted that they may not be able to hold onto the very weak and tentative gains that we have made in such places as the Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etc.

c. Accepted that "universal values" do not exist.

d. Accepted (due to our recent aggressive actions, and our financial and political crisis here at home) that the so-called "shinning house on the hill" (which currently appears to be more tarnished than shinning) presently has no utility.

(Items "c" and "d" indicating that we have little -- if any -- "soft power" to apply at this point-in-time.)

Thus, and so as not to make the same error as the Soviets (many, many expansionist "bridges too far"), our national command authority and DoD have adopted, in place of expansion, a "circle the wagons-too bad for the stragglers" national security approach.

Herein we will, generally speaking, only fiercely and actively support and defend states and societies which (1) have already been transformed largely along modern western lines and (2) are more vital to our national interests.

So: What am I saying exactly?

That we will accept and not desperately fight back against a certain degree of containment -- and that we will accept and not desperately fight back against a certain degree of roll back also -- re: states, societies and regions which, in reality, we cannot defend and which are of less importance to us.

This, I believe, is the essence of our new national security direction.

Unconventional warfare being applied by the Russians in the Ukraine and elsewhere? I do not think we will take the bait. We believe it would be wiser to let the Ukraine (a bridge too far) go.

A tremendous effort in counter-unconventional or other warfare? Only in more vital and more important places.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 06/12/2014 - 7:41am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill---fully agree---see no reason to diagree---the inherent 1M dollar question is "does our current national command authority and DoD" fully understand what you have written. Your last several responses have been far more clear/concise by the way.

And does the recent foreign policy statement made at WP reflect your comments---after what is going on in the Ukraine which is unadulterated UW in support of a political war which has now shifted to an irregular low level guerrilla war?

And does the "new" foreign policy with it's emphasis on "soft power" even come close to blocking/stopping this "roll back" by the Russians and the Chinese? If "soft power" is defined as excluding boots on the ground when needed.

Bill C.

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 8:05pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Indeed the author seems to be somewhat tone deaf to:

a. Either the unconventional warfare approach Russia is using:

"activities to enable a resistance or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power through and with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla forces in a denied area."

b. Or, I would suggest, the "end" to which Russia political warfare appears to aspire, to wit:

The containment -- and roll back -- of western power and influence (1) in the region and (2) worldwide.

To this old Cold War soldier, this looks like a complete role reversal, wherein:

a. During the Cold War, it was the Soviet Union who sponsored/supported wars of national liberation, regime change and espoused the idea of "universal (communist) values;" all as a means of transforming states and societies more along modern communist political, economic and social lines. During this period, it is the United States/the West that appealed to the conservative elements/ideas of various states and societies worldwide; this, in an effort to contain, and then roll back, Soviet/communist ideology, power and influence.

b. Post-the Cold War it has been the United States that has had the expansionist agenda. In its efforts to transform states and societies more along modern western lines, it has been the United States, in the 21st Century, that has expressed the idea of "universal (in this case, western) values" and sponsored efforts by populations to overthrow oppressive rulers (those who have failed to implement, in this instance, modern western political, economic and social norms). During this post-Cold War period, it has been nations such as Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan that have, as we did in the past, appealed to the traditional/conservative elements and ideas (of themselves and others); this, so as to contain -- and then roll back -- (in the current case) Western ideology, power and influence.


a. When the former Soviet Union went all expansionist after World War II; we went containment.

b. Now when it is the United States that adopts an expansionist agenda; it is countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, etc., who -- taking their cue's from our late 19th Century success and methods -- returns the containment/roll back favor.

The lesson that we SHOULD have learned from the Soviet experience?

That "universal values" (communist or western) do not exist. And that, accordingly, one should not adopt an expansionist agenda -- unless one is prepared to achieve this objective by other means (force/persuasion).

Why, because your opponents (those seeking to contain you) will use the conservative elements and ideas (of various populations) against you. And this will lead to your undoing.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 3:15pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Bill---this is an example of the dual standards Putin/Russia are currently using.

Today from RIA concerning "humanitarian" assistance.

MOSCOW, June 11 (RIA Novosti) – Russia is sending humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine in cooperation with the independence supporters, as the Kiev authorities are not collaborating with Moscow in that field, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

“We are trying to send humanitarian aid to those who did not leave the military zone, and late May we have sent a special request to the Ukrainian authorities to get the permission to deliver such aid,” Lavrov said.

This from the Ukrainian side concerning the same Russian "humanitarian" assistance---notice what items the Russian government is sending the citizens of Donbas---evidently not emergency food , blankets or water.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov admitted that Russia is assisting separatists in the Donbas. He stated this at a meeting with the OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier.

Lavrov said that Russia supplies “humanitarian aid” with the assistance of militants. Diplomat Lavrov did not specify what type of “humanitarian aid” it is.

But the warlord of terrorists I .Girkin (Strelok) published the plain truth (or rather, almost all). Here is what he wrote in the social media: “Humanitarian aid from Russia has finally reached Slovyansk yesterday. Our special thanks for bulletproof helmets (see photo, green, brand new, gleaming) of a high degree of protection. This is exactly what our guys are missing when they crawl in the trenches under a sniper fire.”

According to the Ukrainian State Border Agency only last week there were several breakthroughs of mechanized armed terrorist groups from the Russian Federation. Army trucks, armored vehicles, weapons and ammunition were part of the equipment that got through.

So again did the author fully understand the game Russia is playing under their new UW strategy published in 2013.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 11:10am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill--several items occurred in the last several days that reflects on this article.

1.Today via Interfax the personal and critical advisor to Putin called for a "no fly zone" to be established over eastern Ukraine assumed to be Russian flown. Check the new Russian UW military doctrine under phase five---it also calls for "no fly zones" and the use of private defense contractors on the ground ie what the Ukrainians call "war tourists. We now have had Cossacks, Chechens, federated Russians from St. Petersberg area and now two more Russian Republics today joined in the irregular fight for a total of five different Russian Federated Republics with boots on the ground. Sounds like a true guerrilla war is developing.…

Eastern Ukraine is now a free for all on the irregular side--Putin has not implemented the required four steps that the G7 had stated were critical, Putin has not stopped the flow of arms and irregulars into the Ukraine as he publicly stated he wanted done, and Putin via his cronies are stating the NATO exercises in the Baltics and Poland are a "direct threat" to Russia.

2. This was written in reference to the new Russian UW strategy;

In other words, the Russians have placed the idea of influence at the very center of their operational planning and used all possible levers to achieve this: skillful internal communications; deception operations; psychological operations and well-constructed external communications. Crucially, they have demonstrated an innate understanding of the three key
target audiences and their probably behavior: the Russian speaking majority in Crimea; the Ukrainian government; the international community, specifically NATO and the EU. Armed with this information they knew what to do, when and what the outcomes were likely to be, demonstrating that the ancient Soviet art of reflexive control is alive and well in the

This is very relevant to understanding its strategic significance, since it is the operationalization of a new form of warfare that cannot be characterized as a military campaign in the classic sense of the term.

2. The US Intelligence Undersecretary for Defense within the last week released an article in Foreign Policy calling what is being seen in the Ukraine as unconventional warfare.

3. In the Crimea, and now eastern Ukraine and with Poland/the Baltics "threatened" I would say we have been effectively "rolled back" to say 1990 and the Gorbartschow/Bush private discussions in Berlin.

And some still say and this article alludes to that ---that just maybe these actions and the new Russia doctrines of 2010/2013 are not a perceived threat to the interest of the US and or globally to US interests in general ie NATO. As it has been all our fault and we have pushed Russia to this by our non thinking when we act.

Is it that simple---afraid not.

This is a new form of a cold war---one built on a difference of values, economic systems, and future goals of both countries---one who has seemingly not paid attention to history and one which is now driven by ethnic imperial nationalism.

Consider the following "new aspirations" thought, which is based on:

1. A definition of political warfare: "The purpose of political warfare is isolate, erode, manipulate, exhaust, wear down, attrite, overthrow, reduce, replace, or create conditions to coerce a belligerent government or regime to acquiesce to national objectives, without going to war."

2. The national objective of, shall we say, Russia, China, Iran, etc.: To work with like-minded partners to contain, then roll back, the United States/the West.

3. The recent decision by the United States/the West: To abandon its goal of transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines; opting instead for a much less ambitious "hold what you have got" strategic objective.

Question: Given our decision to abandon our expansionist national objective, should we say that, via political and/or unconventional warfare, Russia, China, Iran, et al, have:

a. Effectively "contained" the United States/the West?

b. Thereby, achieving (without warfare) the first part of their (Russia, China, Iran, etc's) national objective?

Based on this fantastic political/unconventional warfare victory (for which Russia, China, Iran, etc. have paid little to no price), Putin, et al, now feeling free to begin the second phase of their operation; which is, and as we have witnessed in the Ukraine, "roll back!"

(Or did we, in effect and via our own errors, "contain" ourselves and cause ourselves to be viewed as vulnerable to "roll back?")

Outlaw 09

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 2:01pm

This article while in Russian written by a Russian officer depicts the current Russian military of the ongoing Baltic exercises.…

There is a slide in the article that depicts how the Russians view NATO would attack Russian---this goes to the heart of the Russian rhetoric when they argue for "spheres of influence and border buffer zones" because they fear NATO/US/EU would use under the guise of a Color/Spring revolt the chance to destabilize and or attack Russia.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 1:02pm

I would argue that the author has not paid close attention to the Crimea and Ukrainian developments where a massive UW campaign was turned lose in support of political warfare, not paid attention to the new Russian UW strategy called "New Generation Warfare", and especially not paid attention to the new Russian nuclear doctrine released in 2010. This does not include the new Chinese strategic doctrine released under the name "Three Stages of Warfare" which reflects similar thinking reflected in the Russian doctrine.

Based on the above and coupled with renewed vigor by the Russian security apparatus to implement new laws inhibiting any Russian population efforts similar to the Maidan from occurring, to massive new controls on the use of the internet/blogging and finally to controls and registration of NGOs as foreign agents or the massive clamp down on the Russian gay community---I would argue Russia is not a "glowing" example of a developing democracy.

Then just what is developing in Russia---some might in fact argue Russia is head over in love with the notion of neo-imperialism or what I would call actually ne-economic imperialism using the cloak of ethnic nationalism as it driver and those drivers rest on the support of four groups 1) the Russian military and their industrial complexes, 2) Russian security services, 3) Russian oligarchs, and 4) Russian criminal gangs and or the Russian mafia.

Then coupled with the following just where is and or how is the US to develop a strategy for Russia with a new President coming in 2016 and Putin in power until 2024.

"Still, this will be a different cold war than the last one. For all its tough rhetoric, the Soviet Union of the Brezhnev era was a tired, conservative power. Putin's Russia is different. It is bursting with negative energy, hatred of the outside world and enthusiasm for confrontation.

It's a throwback not so much to the cold war diplomacy of missile treaties and international alliances, as to the Soviet Union's revolutionary birth, when the new Bolshevik government in Moscow actively undermined its enemies in the West."

The comments are actually very to the point.

1. After the poor performance of the Russian Army in 2008 in Georgia there was a massive investment into the Russian military as a whole and today through their 2020 plans they are far better trained, equipped with new weapon systems that are superior to ours in many ways, have a professional fulltime standing expeditionary army backed by a draftee army.
1a. They have become far more aggressive towards US military units in neutral zones---far more aggressive than under the Cold War days.
2. They developed their new UW strategy for this force.-and it is clear and concise.
3. They have completely modernized their nuclear forces and will add two heavy ballistic missiles in 2016 to the inventory and have violated the standing INF. US has an aging force that is in need of modernization but Congress has shown an unwillingness to fund.
4. They have a new 2010 nuclear use doctrine to support this force-and it is clear and concise.
5. The have over the last 20 years used natural gas/oil as an economic force/weapon and built the pipeline delivery systems to support this economic weapons system. They are trying to get the EU to recognize their form of state run economics vs the EU free competition.
6. They are now expanding their naval forces and acquiring berthing rights around the world.
7. They are now flying into areas they never flew in during even the Cold War days and in a more aggressive manner.
8. These Russian steps are actually being matched by the same type of military/political/economic moves by the Chinese who are especially focused on Africa.
9. Both Russia and the Chinese are actively reinterpreting older treaties and agreements and are actually now simply declaring them null and void if it fits their interests something neither would have done 10 years ago---an interesting question would be why now? I think they both view the US as a waning power that has not backed up a single red line they have placed in the last 20 years

Yes the Russians are approaching the rest of the world from a state to state perspective and the US from a population perspective---but does the rule of law and good governance outweigh cheap gas and the perspective on investing in Russian and Chinese economic development opportunities for economically less powerful but influential countries in say the ME or in the Far East. Or does Russian and Chinese investment in say Africa and the ME appear to be more attractive than western investments---yes it does.

So based on this what does the author actually propose a Russian counter strategy should be when we in the US under the new WH foreign policy are going the "soft power" route and Putin does not believe in the concept of "soft power"---actually laughs at it as a sign of weakness.

There were two editorials released today in the Voice of Russia which are an excellent example of the rhetoric coming out of Moscow---that many might argue it is propaganda but in reality reading between the lines it does reflect the thinking of the current Russian elites around Putin.

They are worth a read because rhetoric is a Russian way of getting out their messaging.……