A Comparative Guide to Russia’s Use of Force

From Ukraine to Syria, Charap cogently identified an important trend in how Russian leadership deploys the military: “Moscow has used just enough force to get the policy job done, but not more.”

This is part and parcel of a Russian strategy defined by reasonable sufficiency, compelling an outcome with the least amount of force required. It contrasts sharply with working to achieve battlefield dominance and overmatch at the outset. Perhaps, this is best understood for what it is not. The Russian approach is the polar opposite of the Weinberger Doctrine, which Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger laid out in a famous 1984 speech. Weinberger’s six conditions for the use of force included, “if we are unwilling to commit the forces or resources necessary to achieve our objectives, we should not commit them at all,” and the “need for well-defined objectives and a consistent strategy is still essential.”

.. In the Russian view, force must be used cheaply, deniably when necessary, and with emphasis placed on retaining agility, which requires holding the bulk of its forces in reserve.

force is meant for coercion rather than conquest

.. This approach stems from a healthy fear of commitment that could result in overextension, quagmires, and offer opportunities for opponents to counter.  It is driven by a cognizance of Russia’s limits in terms of economic and human resources

.. In the post-Cold War period, the U.S. policy community also rejected the Powell-Weinberger doctrine, but it has arguably not replaced it with anything serviceable.

.. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are hardly the resume of a successful policy establishment.  What’s more, large parts of the national security community have trouble even admitting these wars have not gone well, with the notable exception of President Obama identifying Libya as one of his greatest mistakes.

.. The Russian armed forces are actually small relative to the size of the country they have to defend, perhaps exceeding no more than 900,000 in total size with a ground force doubtfully greater than ~300,000.  That may not seem small, but Russia is one eight the earth’s land mass.  As a comparison, countries like Turkey or Pakistan are fraction of Russia’s geographic size, yet they possess comparable if not larger armies with over 400,000 in the land forces.


In the case of Syria, Russia was engaged in a two-level game. Its objective was to change the foreign policies of the United States and Turkey. To do this, Moscow recognized that it would have to annihilate the Syrian opposition on the battlefield, destroying any alternatives to Assad. Moscow, with its Syrian, Iranian, and Lebanese partners, killed its way to victory on a part of the battlefield in order to coerce adversaries at the strategic level.

.. In order to deter and dissuade peer adversaries Russia  will often introduce high-end conventional capabilities, such as long range air defense, anti-ship missiles, and conventional ballistic missile systems.  These weapons are not meant for the actual fight. Instead, they are intended to make an impression on the United States.

.. the Kremlin prefers to use regular forces in burst mode, both to prevent combat losses and avoid uncontrolled escalation once they shift into the high gear.

.. It is a remarkable amalgamation: a feudal economy, headed by what can best be described as a national security aristocracy, but the principal agencies required to manage government affairs (like the Ministry of Defense) tend to be run by competent administrators.

.. Russia places strong emphasis on having an exit strategy.  In fact, a viable exit strategy seems just as important than whatever they are trying to achieve.

.. Russia prefers to establish dominance for brief periods of time, but does not desire mastery of the battlefield, and would rather take a long time with limited application of power than have to ‘own’ the war.

.. Moscow is comfortable with failure, preferring for it come fast and cheap so it can improvise the next evolution rather than investing in a failing plan.  As I described in an earlier article, the overall Russian strategy is emergent, preferring a lean approach to deliberate planning.

.. Much of Russia’s effort to establish plausible deniability is intended to create the political space to make mistakes, paving the road for cycles of retreat and escalation as necessary.

.. the United States should consider using force differently. A better motto for conflicts against small and middle sized powers, many of which tend to be wars of choice, could be “go small or go home.”  If Russia can figure out how to use its much smaller conventional force for coercive effects over countries sized big and small, certainly the U.S. policy establishment can get smarter on the subject.  Only in the shadowy drone war, a component of the global counter terrorism campaign, has the United States shown the sort of tactile flexibility and creative thinking required of this century.

You can learn a lot about Steve Bannon by watching the films he made

I was familiar with Bannon’s work as a filmmaker, having reviewed his 2011 documentary, “The Undefeated,” about Sarah Palin.

.. Although Bannon has produced the occasional fiction feature, most of his creative energy has gone into making nonfiction agitprop designed to whip viewers into a froth of either adulation or rage, but always into passionate political action

.. His most recent film, “Torchbearer,” features “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson delivering an hour-long sermon about the existential necessity of a Judeo-Christian republic, his long gray beard and booming voice lending Old Testament gravitas to the oratory. In the 2012 film “Occupy Unmasked,” the late Andrew Breitbart — whose website, Breitbart News, Bannon took over that year — debunks the Occupy Wall Street movement as the cynical product of an organized Left “hellbent on the nihilistic destruction of everything the American people care for.”

.. Distinct Manichaean themes emerge within Bannon’s collected works, echoing the same urgent, apocalyptic anti-globalism he’s espoused in speeches and on Breitbart News. Contemptuous of the “permanent political class,” crony capitalism, hippies and community organizers (who “hate this country . . . hate the Constitution [and] hate freedom”), Bannon doesn’t see the world in terms of partisan politics as much as a cage-match clash of civilizations

.. it seems that Trump is clearly a fan of the Bannon canon: His recent policy actions, particularly the travel ban on refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries, can be traced, directly or at least philosophically, to the views espoused in Bannon’s films.

.. There’s “a major war brewing, a war that’s already global,” he said during a Skype call from his Los Angeles office. “Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is — and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it — will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.”

.. In other words, Bannon is as reflexively attuned to the spectacle as the substance of the “major war” that he and his boss are girding themselves to wage. The paradigm shift he craves is less about constitutional norms and democratic institutions — which have a tendency to bog down the second act — than the kind of propulsive provocations he has specialized in as a consummate showman.

Everyone Seems to Agree Globalization is a Sin. They’re Wrong

Jack Ma, the founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, estimated that over the past three decades the U.S. government spent $14.2 trillion fighting 13 wars. That money could have been invested in America, building infrastructure and creating jobs.

“You’re supposed to spend money on your own people,” he said. He pointed out that globalization produced massive profits for the U.S. economy but much of that money ended up on Wall Street. “And what happened? Year 2008. The financial crisis wiped out $19.2 trillion [in the] U.S.A. alone. . . . What if the money [had been] spent on the Midwest of the United States developing the industry there?” he asked. “It’s not [that] the other countries steal jobs from you guys — it is your strategy,” he concluded.

.. Since 95 percent of the world’s potential consumers live outside the United States, finding ways to sell to them will have to be a core strategy for growth, even for a country with a large domestic economy such as the United States.

.. The Economist reports, in a survey on globalization, that in 2009 the Obama administration punished China with a tariff on its tires. Two years later, the cost to U.S. consumers was $1.1 billion, or $900,000 for every job “saved.” The impact of such tariffs is usually felt disproportionately by the poor and middle class because they spend a larger share of their income on imported goods, such as food and clothing.

That same Economist survey points to a study that calculated that, across 40 countries, if transnational trade ended, the wealthiest consumers would lose 28 percent of their purchasing power, but the poorest tenth would lose a staggering 63 percent.

the key driver depressing wages and eliminating jobs in the industrialized world is technology, not globalization. For example, between 1990 and 2014, U.S. automotive production increased by 19 percent , but with 240,000 fewer workers.

.. Tariffs on China will simply mean that production will come from some other developing country.

Are You Not Alarmed?

Last week, Trump’s secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, said during his confirmation hearing that the United States had to “send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”

The only way to do this is with some sort of naval blockade, which China would undoubtedly interpret as an act of war.

.. Trump’s talk on trade alone could escalate into an armed conflict with China. Trump has said he will make continued adherence to the “one China” policy — which recognizes Beijing as the sole government of China — conditional on negotiations over what he sees as currency manipulation and other unfair trade practices by China.

.. during the campaign Trump suggested that the way to contain North Korea was for nuclear proliferation in the region. In March, Trump said of nuclear weapons: “You have so many countries already — China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia — you have so many countries right now that have them.” He continued: “Now, wouldn’t you rather, in a certain sense, have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?”

Then there is the destabilizing and downright frightening random rhetoric. Trump has suggested that he equally trusts America’s friend-in-arms Angela Merkel and his friend-in-spirit Vladimir Putin.

Trump told The Washington Post this week that he may start having military parades in major American cities à la North Korea: “Being a great president has to do with a lot of things, but one of them is being a great cheerleader for the country.” He continued: “And we’re going to show the people as we build up our military, we’re going to display our military. That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military.”