The War of the Future: A Conceptual Framework and Practical Conclusions: Essays on Strategic Thought

11 Aug 2017

In this article, Gudrun Persson reviews ‘The War of the Future’, a new book by retired Russian Colonels Igor Popov and Musa Khamzatov on pressing issues in contemporary Russian military strategic thinking. Persson also looks at how the text fits into the broader context of the ongoing military theoretical debate in Russia through its examination of 1) the nature of war; 2) the links between soft power and ‘controlled chaos’ in modern conflict; 3) territorial defense, and much more.

This article was originally published by the NATO Defense College in July 2017.1

Voina budushchego: kontseptualnye osnovy i prakticheskie vyvody, ocherki strategicheskoi mysli

Igor Popov, Musa Khamzatov

Kuchkovo pole, Moskva: 2016. 832 pp.

‘Unfortunately, outside the confines of the intelligence services, there are very few people in the West capable of analysing the development of Soviet military thinking. As a result there is a great danger that Soviet policies and actions, especially in the military sphere, might be misinterpreted’. These words were written in 1991 by Christopher Donnelly, one of those few Western analysts who focused on studying Soviet military thinking during the Cold War. ‘The problem that faces most Western political analysts’, he continued, ‘is that the USSR has a very individual approach to the study and practice of war. It is not perhaps unique, but it is very different from the approaches taken in Western countries. A failure to understand … those differences will result in serious errors of analysis.’2

The subsequent years were not good to Western understanding of Russian military thinking. Other regional priorities, not least in the Middle East, meant that expertise on Russia was side-lined or wound down. On one hand, some hoped that Russia might become a partner – and not a subject of concern. On the other, the Russian armed forces clearly faced numerous serious problems and so did not pose a threat.

And the results of Western misunderstanding have been evident: surprise, not to say shock, at Russian capabilities and the Russian state’s ability to use the military as a tool of policy in Ukraine and Syria, mixed with a heavy dose of incomprehension regarding the thinking behind it. Observers have struggled to try to understand what the Russians were up to – and appended numerous labels such as “hybrid warfare” and “A2/AD” to attempt to illuminate poorly understood concepts. Central to this has been the widespread reference, often to second or even third hand English language translations, to an article by the Russian Chief of General Staff, Valerii Gerasimov, published in 2013 in Voenno-promyshlennyi kurier, a journal until then unknown to almost all Western observers, and – even now – rarely read, though it continues to feature new articles by Gerasimov that shed revealing light on how Russian thinking is evolving.3 This article, it is often suggested, heralded a “Gerasimov doctrine,” a new form of Russian warfare.

Yet a lack of critical knowledge of Russian military strategic thinking and military history meant that not only were almost all the nuances in the text missed – such as Gerasimov’s calling the Russian General Staff’s attention to the fact that the Arab Spring might be an example of wars in the 21st century, references to important Russian military thinkers such as Georgii Isserson, and criticizing those who thought that it was not ‘a real war’ – but the serious errors of analysis about which Donnelly warned are being cemented into the Euro-Atlantic community’s thinking and policy about Russia.4

In fact, the Russian military strategic debate is much richer than many outside observers realize, and though there are not yet definitive answers to the questions of what future wars will look like, in general, the complexity of today’s armed conflicts has not been lost on Russia. Indeed, Russian military thinking since then has been heavily influenced by the technological development of the Western power and the political, economic, and social changes in Russia and in the outside world.

The military theoretical debate has reflected these fundamental changes: the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the reduced size of Russian territory (particularly in the Western parts), and globalisation. The search for a national identity, in later years becoming a policy of patriotism, has had its equivalent in the military strategic debate, and thus the search for a new Russian military strategy. International developments have also affected Russian military thinking, which constantly discusses the impact of Operation Desert Storm 1991, and the US and NATO interventions in Serbia 1999, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003 and Libya 2011. Russia’s own experiences from the wars in Chechnya, Georgia 2008, Ukraine, and Syria are also constantly discussed, including in open, publicly available sources.5

Russian military theorists have had to re-think whether and how the art and character of war has changed. A significant contribution to this debate has now been made in a new book by two retired Colonels, Igor Popov and Musa Khamzatov. Igor Popov has for years been responsible for several websites dedicated to discussing the future of war,6 and Musa Khamzatov has published in Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie. Popov has served in the Soviet and Russian Armed Forces, and was posted to Ethiopia in 1977-78 and to Afghanistan in 1985. He was working within the field of psychological operations and research for 28 years. He has published widely. Khamzatov started as a fighter pilot and then held different staff- and command positions in the Armed Forces – including in the General Staff. They have coauthored the book, though it is sometimes not difficult to discern who wrote the main part of some essays.

In their book, entitled Voina budushchego: kontseptualnye osnovy i prakticheskie vyvody, ocherki strategicheskoi mysli (The War of the Future: A Conceptual Framework and Practical Conclusions. Essays on Strategic Thought), Popov and Khamzatov raise some of the most pressing issues regarding the Russian view of future war: What is war? When and how does it start? When does the military component enter the conflict? This essay reviews the book, contextualising it in the current development of Russian military strategic thought.

The Book

According to the authors, War of the Future is neither a traditional military theoretical work nor an academic textbook. Popov and Khamzatov claim instead that it is a different kind of book in the Russian context of military strategic thought.7 And it is. It contains an unusually large number of illustrations (compared to other Russian military theoretical works) in an effort to make the substance of different essays easier to grasp, and it includes the authors’ respective research interests – the psychology and ideas of war as well as contemporary and future military operations – throughout the book.

The book is a substantial tome of over 800 pages. It consists of twenty chapters examining a range of topical issues from cyber war to military robotics, from the relevance of Clausewitz in today’s world to the view on system-network war, and from defining ‘war’, ‘military victory,’ and ‘enemy’ to gender aspects of asymmetric conflicts. The extended appendix (almost 170 pages) includes material from roundtables on the war in Syria and on ‘hybrid war.’ The roundtables were organized by the authors and held at the newspaper Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie in Moscow respectively in April 2013 and February 2015. The results were also printed in the newspaper at the time. Among the participants in the roundtable on Syria (in April 2013) were, for instance, the former Chief of the General Staff, Yurii Baluevskii and Igor Strelkov (now also known as Girkin). The book is not entirely devoid of the intricacies of various terms and definitions of military conflicts, but on the whole the authors avoid becoming stuck in the weeds of the details and jargon.

Popov and Khamzatov draw on both Russian and foreign military thinkers. Several chapters contain excerpts of historical and contemporary texts that the authors think are particularly relevant for the topic of their essay. At the same time, the book reveals a certain frustration that will be familiar to Western military thinkers, as the authors criticize the overall ‘conservatism of military organizations’ (pp. 13-14; 635-636), and discuss the general unwillingness of the Russian military society to listen and learn from military thinkers who are outside of the system (pp. 102-106). One of their prime examples from the Russian context is Ivan Blokh (1836-1901), whose seminal work in six volumes Budushchaia voina (The Future of War) published in 1898, is referred to by Popov and Khamzatov. They, for instance, note that Blokh did not have a military education, and yet had a profound understanding of the essence of war (p. 633). They point to the US as an example to follow to remedy the situation. There, according to the authors, not only do generals and admirals discuss military strategy but so do sergeants (p. 96), and even civilian experts such as political scientists, biologists, psychologists, journalists, IT-experts, historians, and economists can have a say in thinking about future war (pp. 96-97). This has led, they argue, to a situation where the US is far ahead compared to contemporary Russian military thought. They quote one of the great Russian military thinkers, Aleksandr Svechin (1878-1938), whom they also call ‘the Russian Clausewitz’ (p. 77), to make their point: in his book Strategy, Svechin points to the importance of having a broad discussion on strategic matters to avoid the risk of the creation of ‘a strategic cast’ and a cleavage between ‘the enlightened and the un-enlightened.’8 Indeed, his Strategy is invoked by Popov and Khamzatov not only on the importance of allowing critics to develop military science (p. 114-115), but also when they write about command and control (p. 86), and on the importance of studying the adversary and avoid falling into the trap of making military plans according to one’s own logic, but instead according to adversary’s logic (p. 155).

They continue their critique of the closed Russian military society (‘the bureaucrats’) and the attitude to international conferences. Conferences, due to the influence of bureaucrats, have become an empty and dreary pastime, whereas ‘surprisingly enough, in the West, to take part in academic conferences, roundtables, and symposiums, is not considered as a punishment, but as a stimulation’ (p. 106).

Furthermore, they devote an entire essay to discussing the general difficulties in creating future military elites (pp. 41-67). They deplore the fact that, despite the military reforms for the past twenty years in all the states in the post-Soviet area, the quality of the military elites has deteriorated; a development that, according to the authors, has both objective reasons, such as globalization, demographic problems, the scientific technical revolution, and subjective reasons. To the latter they ascribe ‘the widely spread formal approach to war as a manufacturing process, “engineering and knowhow,” and not as a complex social-political phenomenon, that requires unique qualities of the military elites.’ Khamzatov and Popov do not give any definitive answers to this problem – or, indeed, to many of the other issues they write about – but they discuss the topics from various angles and options in an intellectually stimulating way.

So where does the book fit in the larger body of Russian military strategic thought? This is a subject with proud traditions both from Tsarist times and the Soviet period, involving names such as Mikhail Dragomirov, Genrikh Leer, Aleksandr Svechin, Mikhail Tukhachevskii, Georgii Isserson, Nikolai Ogarkov, to mention but a few.9 Russian strategic thinking has been described as a debate between two main schools – one that emphasizes the need for modern technology, and the other that stresses the qualities of the soldier. The traditionalists warn against exaggerating the importance of high technology to win future wars, and see themselves as defenders of Clausewitz and Svechin.10 This is something of an oversimplification, to be sure, and in fact the different schools often go hand-in-hand, and overlap each other.

Nevertheless, during the 1990s and early 2000s this debate was particularly lively. A name often connected to the traditionalist group is General Makhmut Gareev, President of the General Staff Academy. In an article in 2005 he criticised ‘new modern theories about the sixth generation warfare, etiquettes like system-network wars, asymmetrical warfare, distance warfare and one without immediate contact on a battlefield.11 The study of future war must always, according to Gareev, be based on a study of historic experiences.

On this point, he ran into opposition from Stepan Tiushkevich, also a veteran of the Second World War and Professor of Military History, who highlighted the “crisis of military thought.”12 Gareev criticised Tiushkevich for wanting to create a ‘mega theory’ for war sciences, which he argued strongly against. He claimed that the field of war sciences was ‘the theory of the art of war including military history’ and nothing more. Tiushkevich argues that the ‘foundations of war sciences’ should be an independent scientific discipline.13 Vasilii Burenok, President of the Academy of Rocket and Artillery Science has also debated the need for more science not least within the military scientific community.14 They all agree on one point: the necessity of strengthening the scientific level within the military sphere.

While The War of the Future is not an attempt to write a text of military theory like General Aleksandr Vladimirov’s monumental Foundations for a General Theory of War,15 it is clearly an effort to contribute to the strengthening of structured thought and public debate on military strategic issues in Russia. Much of the discussion in the book could be ascribed to both the traditionalists and the technologists. Their views on Svechin and Clausewitz would perhaps put them with the former, whereas their writings on military robotics, system-network wars, and the sixth generation wars with the latter. A perhaps more important point is that Khamzatov and Popov are trying to popularize the topic of military strategic thought, and to encourage further, broader discussions on the wars of the future.

The Advantages of the Offensive

The authors seek to explain their broader, general outlook on a number of issues, including the necessity for Russia’s military doctrine to be based on national interests rather than on ‘dangers and threats’ (as it currently is). The authors point to the need for deeper exploration of this issue in Russia, since ‘the West has a clear understanding of this term’ national interest (p. 17). They do not, however, pursue this point further to discuss Russia’s national interests. Nevertheless, Popov and Khamzatov point to the need for Russia to focus on the offensive, rather than the defensive, to protect its national security. ‘The military doctrine’, the authors write, ‘may be defensive in form, but offensive (not to be confused with aggressive) in content’ (p. 18).

Here the authors are saying much the same as the current military leadership. For instance, Gerasimov, in evaluating the strategic exercise Kavkaz 2016, noted that a defensive operation must be very active. During a briefing for journalists in Moscow on 14 September 2016, he said: ‘The theory of military art is developing, and the line between defensive and offensive operations is getting increasingly blurred. During a defensive operation, in certain directions, preventive, active offensive actions are planned for’.16 This ties in very well with Gerasimov’s earlier statements about ‘the line between war and peace is getting increasingly blurred.’17

Again echoing the military leadership, Popov and Khamzatov also point out that military capability (voennaia moshch), particularly with regard to nuclear weapons, is not enough to guarantee security. In today’s asymmetric conflicts the scenario might be like this: a domestic conflict within a state can evolve to a ‘gravitational field’ involving a direct military intervention by foreign forces or a coalition of states (p. 29). It could also involve an implicit invasion where foreign extremist organisations, criminal groups, intelligence, and special forces take part. They write that informational warfare makes it difficult to understand who is fighting whom, what is true and what is a lie. They invoke the examples of the dissolution of the Soviet Union when the Soviet Armed Forces could not prevent the collapse – and Ukraine in 2014 (p. 30).

These thoughts are well known to anyone who has been following recent events. But they illustrate an important dilemma for the authors: to be relevant in the Russian debate, it is necessary to adapt to the current ‘narrative’. The authors are therefore somewhat trapped between wanting to be relevant while still taking the debate forward. Such a balancing act is not limited to Russia, of course.

But Popov/Khamzatov manage to strike a line between criticising the authorities while simultaneously trying to offer bolder thinking on military strategic theory. Their writing, for instance, contains a rather entertaining passage on Sun Tzu, criticising the official Russian translation of his The Art of War, and encouraging the reader to always read the classical thinker in his original language (p. 38). This part of the essay is certainly written by Popov, who not only knows Chinese, but also has written a book on Russia and China (excerpts are published on pp. 26-28).

Similarly, the relevance of Clausewitz is also a subject of examination in a chapter where the authors criticise contemporary commentators for a superficial knowledge of Clausewitz – and encourage them to study him in depth.18 They read On War and reveal that there are at least 27 different definitions of war – and criticize many who just quote the most famous one: “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” They discuss the reasons and the roots of war, and find that Clausewitz’s thoughts are far from obsolete. In particular, they quote from current American military doctrine to show that Clausewitz is still very relevant:

Clausewitz believed that war is a subset of the larger theory of conflict. He defined war as a “duel on a larger scale,” “an act of force to compel our enemy,” and a “continuation of politics by other means.” Distilled to its essence, war is a violent struggle between two (or more) hostile and independent wills, each trying to impose itself on the other. As Clausewitz states, “war is a violent clash of wills.”19

Popov and Khamzatov criticize Russian military thinkers for not having paid enough attention to this aspect of Clausewitz, and for focusing too much on the connection between war and politics (p. 182). They point out that Clausewitz did not talk about military violence. They argue that today the concept of violence must include economic, political, religious, ideological, psychological, and cultural violence. ‘The purpose [of these various aspects of violence]’, they write, ‘is not always physically to exterminate people, since, as Clausewitz said “War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will”’ (p. 185).

Controlled chaos, soft power, and colour revolutions

A particularly topical subject in Russian military strategic thinking in recent years concerns the view on soft power and so-called ‘controlled chaos’ or ‘manageable chaos’ (upravliaemyi khaos).20 It is essential to examine this topic more thoroughly since it is at the heart of understanding how the Russian view of modern conflict has evolved. The views of soft power and ‘controlled chaos’ as distinct features of contemporary and future wars are clearly expressed in the Russian military theoretical debate, and the essays in The War of the Future are no exception. The authors argue that recent conflicts demonstrate that ‘peaceful demonstrations, anti-regime demonstrations, and in some cases foreign military intervention turning entire countries and regions into a state of controlled chaos can now be called a new type of contemporary warfare’ (p. 212). Such a war, they argue, goes way beyond the frames of the traditional understanding of these wars. They include political intrigues, fights over resources and financial flows, and irreconcilable civilizational conflicts. On the battlefield in these wars, regular forces act alongside a number of new actors – irregular forces of rebels and fighters, criminal gangs, international terrorist networks, private military companies, and legions of foreign mercenaries, units of spetsnaz and intelligence formations from different countries, military contingents of peacekeepers from international organizations, and even non-governmental and humanitarian organizations and structures, representatives from printed and electronic mass media, volunteers, and activists from civil society (pp. 212-213). To be prepared for this war, Popov and Khamzatov urge, the armed forces need first and foremost to realize what is coming. Their thoughts on this topic again are in line with the broader Russian debate.

In this current military theoretical debate ‘controlled chaos’ is linked with views on soft power. Makhmut Gareev directly equates them.21 He has pointed to the need to learn from Crimea to ‘perfect our soft power, political and diplomatic means, and information measures and [thereby] strengthen the effectiveness of our strategic deterrence.’22

The term ‘controlled chaos’ was used by Vladimir Putin in his pre-election article on defence in 2012.23 He wrote that the West used various methods – political and economic to destabilize and undermine Russia’s neighbours and therefore ultimately the Russian Federation. Aleksandr Bartosh, a corresponding member of the General Staff Academy, traces the concept of ‘controlled chaos’ to the US, and claims that it was this ‘technology’ that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.24

The importance of these ideas has grown not least since the Foreign Policy Concept 2013 introduced ‘soft power’ as a complement to diplomatic methods.25 It is repeated in the current Foreign Policy Concept 2016, albeit in fewer words.26 The Russian views on soft power and controlled chaos are tightly linked to the discussions on colour revolutions and the so-called “Arab Spring.” After the annexation of Crimea and the military aggression in Donetsk and Luhansk, the writings on colour revolutions and controlled chaos have multiplied, and are now featured in official documentation.

Colour revolutions were one of the major topics at the annual security conference in Moscow in 2014,27 and this development was formalized in December 2015 when the term “colour revolution” was included into the National Security Strategy for the first time, described as a threat to Russia’s state security (§43).28 Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was explicit: ‘The day has come when we all acknowledge that words, cameras, photographs, the internet, and information in general have become another branch of weapon, another branch of the Armed Forces.’29 This reflects a militarized view where soft power is seen as an instrument of statecraft, and includes such measures as trade sanctions, energy coercion, and agents of influence, and so on.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a talk at the General Staff Academy recently described controlled chaos as an American tool to ‘strengthen the influence of the USA’. In Iraq, Syria, and Libya the concept of chaos was used deliberately, according to Lavrov, whereas in Afghanistan during the NATO-led operation it was involuntary applied.30 It is clear that, just as the view of ‘hybrid war,’ colour revolutions and controlled chaos are seen as Western concepts used to destabilize Russia. These concepts are seen as having been created by the USA and NATO. It is to meet these perceived threats that Russian military theorists are developing new concepts and doctrine.

But it is important to note that the discussion about colour revolutions is not new, and aspects of it featured in Russian military thinking long before any perceived contemporary colour revolutions occurred. Worth mentioning here is the thinking about wars of rebellion (miatezhevoiny). Evgenii Messner (1891- 1974), frequently quoted by Popov and Khamzatov, is seen as an early insightful theoretician in this school. A former officer in the Tsarist army, he later joined the White side during the Soviet civil war and was forced into emigration. Now all is forgiven, and some of his writings, including parts of “Rebellion – the name of the Third World War” are freely available on the Internet.31 This school emphasizes a non-traditional form of future war. Terrorism, illegal military groups, information operations and psychological warfare are but some of the dominating features. Popov and Khamzatov equate rebellion wars with asymmetrical wars (p. 325). They define symmetrical conflicts as those in which the same type of participants are engaged, and asymmetrical conflicts as those where different types of participants take part (p. 322).

Another Russian proponent of this school is Sergei Anchukov, formerly Colonel at the Centre for Strategic Studies at the General Staff. In a book published over a decade ago, he argued that future war will be characterized by the exporting of revolutions and rebels through ‘peace keeping, humanitarian anti-terrorist operations, and other special operations.’32 Already at the end of the 1990s these thoughts were taking shape. For Russia it meant, according to Anchukov, to prepare to meet the following threats: demoralization of the Russian people, deterioration of ideas among the intelligentsia, economic takeover and control of key objects, collapse of pro-Russian unions, as well as material destruction of systems vital for Russia’s national security. According to this line of thinking technological superiority plays a minor role, or is in any case not sufficient to prevail in the future. Even a huge technological superiority can transform into a weakness. Furthermore, it is vital that the winning side establish territorial control in order to avoid partisan warfare and terrorism.33

Some of this thinking is also reflected in the Military Doctrine [2014] regarding the perception that future threats towards Russia are not only conventional or nuclear military forces, but also include various other non-military actions.34 It is noteworthy that the Military Doctrine states that one of its responsibilities is to ‘support the mobilization preparedness of the economy’ (§21); i.e. to put the economy on a war footing. Furthermore, defence policy should ‘increase the effectiveness within military patriotic education for the citizens of the Russian Federation, and their military service’ (§21). Add to this that a fundamental domestic military danger is said to be ‘information operations to influence – above all – the younger part of the population to undermine historical, spiritual, and patriotic traditions within the defence of the Fatherland’ (§13).

The current thoughts on colour revolutions, also manifested in The War of the Future, could be seen as a reaction to the social changes after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. After 2014, the military leadership usually blames the events of 1991 on colour revolutions.35 Popov and Khamzatov are no exception, and put the dissolution of the Soviet Union directly in the context of colour revolutions (p. 29-30). They do it to prove their point that pure military might is not enough in planning for future wars – non-military means are equally important. Later they return to the end of the Soviet Union when discussing the role of soft power (miagkaia sila) in future wars, to underline the fact that the powerful Soviet Armed Forces, with nuclear weapons, could do nothing to save the state (p. 596).

On territorial defence

Regarding mobilization, it seems Russia is currently in a ‘mobilization preparation’ phase.36 This means that territorial defence is increasingly becoming an important focus. Popov and Khamzatov argue that the role of territorial defence is changing, and emphasise their view that in the 21st century there is no such thing as the strategic rear. ‘No Interior Troops, no National Guard, no other equal troops can independently… resist an enemy who is acting against the economy, the population, infrastructure, and against the life protecting functions (zhizneobespechniia) of the state’ (p. 562). They conclude by underlining the need for every governmental institution, power institution (silovoi) or non-power elements (nesilovoi), to be a part of the territorial defence.

In this respect, just how great the impact of the Iraqi war of 2003 has been on Russian military thought becomes evident in an essay in The War of the Future called “The Blitzkrieg of the 21st Century” (it is worth noting that Gerasimov also uses the phrase ‘21st Century Blitzkrieg’ in an article on the lessons from the Syrian operation published in 2016).37

In the essay, Popov and Khamzatov analyse the operation in Iraq in great detail (pp. 510-536). But was it the last of conventional wars or indeed a new type of war? They do not answer categorically, but claim that the impact of this war is fundamental when thinking about the future. They argue that the result was chaos and the creation of ISIS, and conclude that ‘the real processes of fragmenting states’, after the Cold War, might imply that ‘the world is entering an epoch of long and slow moving military conflicts in the interests of a few geopolitical forces and global elites. The seizure of territories and material riches of states only becomes an effect of such a strategy’ (p. 536).

Gerasimov’s version of the new ‘Blitzkrieg’ focuses on the traditional mix of colour revolutions and American Prompt Global Strike missile capability. This is hardly surprising. The official Russian view has been clear from the outset – these weapons threaten strategic stability. The weapons, even if they are armed with conventional warheads, could threaten critical Russian assets and Russia’s nuclear deterrent, according to Gerasimov. He wrote:

As you know, the United States has already developed and implemented the concept of prompt global strike. The US military is calculated to achieve the ability to, in a few hours, deploy troops and defeat enemy targets at any point of the globe. It envisages the introduction of a promising form of warfare – of global integrated operations. It proposes the establishment as soon as possible in any region of mixed groups of forces capable of joint action to defeat the enemy in a variety of operating environments. According to the developers, this should be a kind of blitzkrieg of the twenty-first century.

He added that ‘in the era of globalization, the weakening of state borders and development of means of communication are the most important factors changing the form of resolution of interstate conflicts. In today’s conflicts, the focus of the methods used to combat them is shifting towards the integrated application of political, economic, informational, and other non-military measures, implemented with the support of the military force. The so-called hybrid methods.’38

Again, it is clear that when the “hybrid” word is used in the Russian debate, it refers to a capability in NATO in general and the US in particular. Furthermore, Gerasimov in 2017 claimed that this ‘so-called hybrid war’ had replaced the previous ways of conducting operations with a focus on ‘no-fly zones’ and naval blockades like in Libya 2011.39


A few questions stand out in their absence from the book. Russian national interest is one such, given the strong point the authors make about the need to focus on that rather than on threats. Another subject that Popov and Khamzatov do not delve into in any great detail is strategic deterrence. Indeed, Andrei Kokoshin, one of Russia’s leading strategic thinkers, is not mentioned. Kokoshin has been arguing for years that Russia needs to look beyond nuclear weapons towards other modern, high-precision weapon systems. ‘Excessive confidence in nuclear deterrence in national security policy is detrimental and even dangerous for Russia’, he wrote in 2011.40 And, although the Military Doctrine now contains the phrase “non-nuclear deterrence,” it remains to be seen what this means in practice.41 Popov and Khamzatov do not elaborate.

Another unexplored topic concerns the thinking on civilizational wars. With regard to the view of future war it is worth highlighting that General Vladimirov discussed a future possible war of civilizations based on ideas in his Foundations for a General theory of War.42 For Russia to succeed, according to Vladimirov, the country must rally around the following ‘national critical resources’: The Faith – the Russian Orthodox Church, the People – Russian (russkii), the State – Russia, the Idea – the Russian Culture, the language – Russian. Popov and Khamzatov do not reflect at any depth on these questions.

Regardless of these omissions, this is an important book. It is the kind of work with which observers and officials across the Euro-Atlantic community will have to become familiar if they are to begin to understand Russian military thinking and activity. It is the antidote to the false labelling of Russian thinking, but also the means by which observers can begin to grasp the roots and evolving nature of debate about war and warfare in Russian military circles – what the Russian Chief of General Staff means by Blitzkrieg, for instance, and why he quotes certain thinkers, such as Isserson, and what he means by doing so.

Despite some noteworthy similarities between the Russian and Western debates – conservatism in thinking, traditionalists vs. technologists, the influence of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu – it often appears that a wide gulf of understanding separates them. Keeping up to pace with Russian military thinking is crucial: currently, the Russian armed forces are in a time of experimentation and learning, and as a result military theories and doctrines are being developed to counter colour revolutions and controlled chaos. These are already being seen in Syria, where the Russian leadership believes it has succeeded in stopping a war, started by the West using controlled chaos technologies. It is vital to study such developments in depth to avoid surprises and rude awakenings in the future.

A further important feature of the book is the way it illuminates the point that major Russian military strategic thinkers are not only concerned with the potential threats posed by a technologically superior enemy (with the capability for a prompt global strike and the potential militarization of space) but also see a direct threat to the protection of the mainland areas of Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) and the second strike capability of the nuclear forces. It is by analyzing the Russian debates that more nuanced policies about deterrence and engagement can be developed, and unintended provocation avoided.


1 The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the NATO Defense College of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

2 C. Donnelly, ’Preface’ to Glantz, D. Soviet Military Operational Art. In Pursuit of Deep Battle. London 1991, Frank Cass, p. xix.

3 V. Gerasimov, ‘Tsennost nauki i predvidenii: “Novye vyzovy trebuiut pereosmyslit formy i sposoby vedeniia boevykh deistvii”’, Voenno-promyshlennyi kurer, No. 8, 27 February 2013.

4 Georgii Samoilovich Isserson (1898-1976) is afforded considerable attention in contemporary Russian military thinking.

5 V. Gerasimov, ’Po opytu Sirii’, Voenno-promyshlennyi kurer, No 9 March 2016.

6 I. Popov, Voina budushchego, and Voennaia istoriia i futurologiia,

7 O. Vladykin, ’Glavnoe – zastav protivnika vypolnit tvoiu voliu’, Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, 30 September 2016,

8 Svechin’s book Strategy was published in English in 1991. On Svechin, see A. A. Kokoshin Vydaiushchiisia rossiiskii voennyi teoretik i voennachalnik Aleksandr Andreevich Svechin – O ego zhizni, ideiakh, trudakh i nasledii dlia nastoiashshego i budushchego Moskva: Izdatelstvo Moskovskogo universiteta, 2013.

9 G. Persson , Learning from Foreign Wars. Russian Military Thinking 1859-1873, Solihull: Helion, 2010; T. Bukkvoll, ‘Iron Cannot Fight – The Role of Technology in Current Russian Military Theory’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 34:5, 2011, pp.681-706.

10 V.N. Konyshev & A.A. Sergunin, Sovremennaia voennaia strategiia, Moskva: Aspekt Press; 85-105, 2014; I. Popov, Voennaia mysl Rossii,

11 M. Gareev, ‘Otstaivaia natsionalnyie interesy’, Voenno-promyshlennyi kurer, 14-20 December 2005, No 47, 11.

12 Of course, this is not a debate exclusive to Russia: Martin van Creveld has recently written on the subject; see M. van Creveld, ‘The crisis of military thought’, in G. Persson, Military Thinking in the 21st Century Stockholm: Swedish Academy of War Sciences, 2015, pp. 61-71.

13 M. Gareev, ‘Vyrvat eres s kornem’, Voenno-promyshlennyi kurer, 5 June 2013, No 21; ‘Iskusstvo resjitelnych dejstvii, Voenno-promyshlennyi kurer, 12 June, No 22; S. Tiusjkevitj & V. Burenok 2013, ‘Krizis voennoi mysli’, Voenno-promyshlennyi kurer, 26 June, No 24; M. Gareev, ‘Eshche raz o sisteme znanii o sovremennoi voine’, Voenno-promyshlennyi kurer, 31 July 2013, No. 29.

14 V. Burenok, ‘Index degradatsiia’, Voenno-promyshlennyi kurer, 25 February 2015, No. 7.

15 A. I. Vladimirov, Osnovy obshchej teorii voiny, Monografiia v 2 chastiach, Moskva: Universitet Sinergiia, 2013.

16 A. Tikhonov, ’Na iugo-zapadnom napravlenii’, Krasnaia zvezda, 15 September 2016.

17 V. Gerasimov, ‘Tsennost nauki i predvidenii’, 2013.

18 Clausewitz, of course, has long been influential in Soviet and Russian military thinking.

19 Joint Publication 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, 25 March 2013, Chapter 1, section 2e., page I-3.

20 A. A. Bartosh, ’Model upravliaemogo chaosa v sfere voennoi bezopasnosti,’ Vestnik Akademii voennych nauk, 1 (46): 2014, pp. 69-77.

21 M. Gareev, ’Na ’miagkuiu silu’ naidutsia zhestkiie otvety,’ Voenno-promyshlennyi kurer 4 December 2013 No. 47.

22 M. Gareev, ’Velikaia pobeda i sobytiia na Ukraine’, Vestnik Akademii voennych nauk, 2 (47), 2014.

23 V. Putin, ’Byt silnymi: garantii natsionalnoi bezopasnosti dlia Rossii, Rossiiskaia gazeta, 20 February 2012.

24 A. Bartosh, ’Model upravliaemogo chaosa.’

25 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kontseptsiia vneshnei politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii,, confirmed by President Vladimir Putin on 12 February 2013, § 20.

26 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kontseptsiia vneshnei politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii,, confirmed by President Vladimir Putin on 30 November 2016, § 9.

27 Iu. Gavrilov, ‘Igry s nulevym rezultatom’, Rossiiskaia gazeta, 25 May 2014,

28 Security Council of the Russian Federation, Strategiia natsionalnoi bezopasnosti RF,, confirmed by the President of RF on 31 December 2015, §43.

29 Ministry of Defence (2015a), ’Ministr oborony soobshchil, chto voennoe vedomstvo namereno zakazat analiticheskoe issledovanie na temu ”obshchestva I tsvetnykh revoliutsii”’, 19 June, ; Ministry of Defence (2015b), ’V Natsionalnom tsentre upravleniia oboronoi Rossii sostoialos chestvovanie pobeditelei professionalnogo konkursa ”MEDIA-AS”’, 27 March,

30 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ’Vystuplenie i otvety na voporsy Ministra instorannykh del Rossii S. V. Lavrova v khode lektsii dlia vysshego ofitserskogo sotava Akademii Genshtaba’ 23 March 2017.

31 Rossiiskii voennyi sbornik, Khochesh mira, pobedi miatezhevoinu! Tvorcheskoe naslediia E. Messnera,

32 Sergei Anchukov, Tainy miatezhevoiny: Rossiia na rubezhe stoletii, 1999,

33 S. A. Anchukov, Voina i strategiia: rekviem sovremennosti (postmodernitskii vzgliad i posilnyie razmyshleniia o budushchem, 9 mars 2003,

34 Security Council of the Russian Federation, Voennaia doktrina Rossiiskoi Federatsii 25 December 2014, §§ 12-15.

35 See for instance,’Ministr oborony soobshchil shto voennoe vedomstvo namereno zakazat analiticheskoe issledovanie na temu ”obshchestvo i tsvetnykh revoliutsii,” 15 June 2015,

36 A. Monaghan, Russian State Mobilization: Moving the Country to a War Footing, Research Paper, May 2016, Chatham House, London.

37 V. Gerasimov, ’Po opytu Sirii.’

38 V. Gerasimov, ’Po opytu Sirii.’

39 V. Gerasimov, “Mir na graniakh voiny: Malo uchityvat segodniashnie vyzovy, nado prognozirovat budushie,” Voenno-promyshlennyi kurer, No 10, 15 March 2017.

40 A. Kokoshin, ‘Ensuring Strategic Stability in the Past and Present: Theoretical and Applied Questions’, June 2011, p. 58.

41 Security Council of the Russian Federation, Voennaia doktrina Rossiiskoi Federatsii 25 December 2014, §8,

42 A. I. Vladimirov, Osnovy, Chast I, Osnovy teorii voiny, 2014, pp. 477-494.

About the Author

Dr Gudrun Persson is director of the Russian Studies Programme at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, FOI, and associate professor at the Department of Slavic Studies, Stockholm University.

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