The Art of New Generation Russian Warfare

The Art of War, A Modern Theory: a reply To Nicholas Fedyk’s “Russian “New Generation” Warfare: Theory, Practice, and Lessons for U.S Strategists”.

The friction of war is both mutable and immutable. The art of deception in war is both covert and overt. As the art of war is also a science, it is therefore always given to change, for war in itself is part of the dialectical experience in the human condition that has arisen since the early dawn of civilization. Therefore, to talk or write about the “New Generation” of warfare, or so-called small wars or hybrid wars as is currently fashionable to write about in our times, can be of some importance to us only if we place such theory and practice of war into the context of the immediate history of the epic period we are living through. In reading the military theory analysis of Nicholas Fedyk called Russian “New Generation” Warfare: Theory, Practice, and Lessons for U.S. Strategies, I thought that for the many ‘worthwhile’ ideas that a reactionary government like the United States could learn from a revived nationalist Russia, there are also dangerous pitfalls for both nation-states if one believes that such a theory or theories on manipulating whole populations can lead to ultimate victory in a propaganda war or on the battlefield without what Fidel Castro called “the weapons of morality”.

Niccolò Machiavelli referred to this kind of morality as “virtù” or what I would term as military and political quality under the duration of stress in war, as for instance in the struggles that Castro endured in his military training that he went through in guerrilla warfare and during the Cuban conventional military involvement in Angola. However, no psychological or propaganda theory and practice can be successful unless one understands that in war there is the chaos of what Machiavelli called “fortuna”, meaning finding oneself in a particular time and space not at one’s own choosing when it comes to human events like war. For there is no doubt that war is chaos, but there are particular, profound theories and practices in the art of war that cannot be overlooked if one wants to be successful in war. Therefore, with these ideas in mind, let us examine some of Fedyk’s urgency on how he purposes to counter act and defeat the so-called “New Generation” of warfare of the Russian military.

We must refer to this period as being since the beginning of the time that the Russian Ministry of Defense was given over to Sergey Shoygu, who has assumed a creative strategy over all the operations of engaging the enemies of Russia whether that be on the battlefield or through tactical and strategic communication, not excluding certain modern methodologies of guerrilla warfare.

The United States and Russia are in a state of undeclared war, and therefore, as in all great wars, the methodology on waging war between each other begins with creative new abilities in waging war while learning from the adversary their strengths and weakness so as to possibly defeat them with their own weapons. However, that is not always the case, as Fedyk advocates in learning from the modern Russian experience as when he mentions “Whereas previous strategies focused on logistical or material concerns, such as the strength of the enemy’s forces, Russia is ow preoccupied with the battlespace of the mind”.

What the young theorist on Russian strategy fails to understand is that the Russian military relies on an intellectual pool of thought that goes back several centuries. Within Russian culture there is a patience and exactness in the art of war that cannot be imitated or produced simply by observing it in action or copying down in detail their mechanisms regarding creative propaganda methods that are layered both by the Soviet experience and the modern Russian experience in waging war.

For it is not merely “the mind” that Russian military thought is interested in, but it is also concerned about a certain moral attitude that is prevalent within its civilian population and military forces, and which can only be destroyed by excessive Russian nationalism  Lenin mentioned in his essay The Question of Nationalities or "Autonomisation", when he wrote “That is why internationalism on the part of oppressors or "great" nations, as they are called (though they are great only in their violence, only great as bullies), must consist not only in the observance of the formal equality of nations but even in an inequality of the oppressor nation, the great nation, that must make up for the inequality which obtains in actual practice. Anybody who does not understand this question has not grasped the real proletarian attitude to the national question, he is still essentially petty bourgeois in his point of view and is, therefore, sure to descend to the bourgeois point of view.”

In other words, the Russian people and its military forces can only destroy themselves if they fall prey to extreme Russian nationalism, and not instead be guided by a moral authority to be an international leader for those who dwell in the small nations of the oppressed like for instance the country of Yemen, or the great countries of Syria and Iraq, or those people who are fighting for self-determination and independence in the Donbass region of Ukraine. If and only if the Russian Government marshals itself in the direction which is opposite of the American petty bourgeois view or mentality of economic greed and gratification, as well as the bourgeois designs for imperial hegemony as is the constant pattern of the various United States regimes in the modern era, will the Russian military succeed in its long war against American imperialism.

No amount of learning or imitating of “Russia’s clever use of media and communication… new generation of warfare” as Fedyk advocated in his analysis can be used against the Russian military intelligence and military armed forces, once the undeclared war gravitates from a propaganda and media war campaign to a war on the battlefields. It is not a question of who is the most “clever” in manipulating civilian populations, whether they be that of the enemy or one’s own people, but it is paying attention to certain details of moral justification in going to war using various methods of warfare to achieve a given moral victory. When Napoleon invaded Russia, and later implied he had no use for the art of war as understood by Machiavelli, he forfeited the art of deception or what the Soviet understood as maskirovka which is not only a form of camouflage, but also calculated military strategy and tactical procedures which has nothing in common with what Fedyk asserts “makes war look like peace”. In my master thesis work “In The Fields of Honor” which is about the inception of the Soviet Army, I wrote about maskirovka:

“In truth, Maskirovka in the political and military sense is and always has been the art of deception. Political and military deception is the element of surprise and ultimately control over one’s enemy. Maskirovka is the creative art of all forms of theoretical and practical methods to influence the enemy’s political, social, economic, and cultural acts, including diplomatic and military agendas. In all inter-war periods, it is this kind of deception, i.e., Maskirovka that is the first and final weapon used to buy time to prepare for political and military victory over one’s adversary.”

The layered Russian military forces is not concerned about making “war look like peace” - its utmost concern is that of ultimate military deception to surprise and destroy the enemy through various forms of deceit, with the passivity of non-violent means as a way towards ‘peace’ being only one form of many forms of total deception.

That the people engage in what it is called a “People’s War” is the political object of attainment through war and remains constant within the continual dialects of war itself. Fedyk’s dubious term “Phrase Zero” has no profound meaning in the ever-changing quantitative definition of war, because point-in-fact there are always class and social conflicts above and beneath the surface that are ongoing until act an act of friction takes places between the warring parties. In truth there are psychological, diplomatic, economic and propaganda methods that can be covertly violent even though not immediately understood as violence at the immediate moment. When Fedyk turns to the National Defense Academy of Latvia to say how the strategic “unconventional warfare” of a Russian view of modern war plays out “is based on the idea that the main battlespace is the mind and, as a result, new-generation wars are to be dominated by information and psychological warfare, in order to achieve superiority in troops and weapons control…”, this is nothing but metaphysical wishful thinking.

Clausewitz comes closer to the truth in describing what the Russian strategy of total war consists of when he wrote “Now philanthropic souls might easily imagine that there was an artistic way of disarming or overthrowing our adversary without too much bloodshed… a false idea which must be demolished”, for informational warfare and psychological warfare are but part of the final engagement in all warfare. The Russian Aerospace Forces, advanced nuclear submarines and highly mobile special forces and modern Russian infantry will be “the mind” on the battlefield.

Thus the “New Generation” of Russian warfare, from my perspective, is not with media and culture warfare, although they are important enough, but it is the more lethal generation of modern Russian weapons that are the ultimate component for victory, but only if these military advances are mastered by a moral or ethical authority for and by the Russian people.

Although Fedyk mentions the art of guerrilla warfare at the beginning of his essay using such iconic guerrilla leaders as Mao-Tse-Tung and Che Guevara, as proponents of adhering to what he calls to “recognized that the population is a critical center of gravity”, we should understand that in the history of warfare since the time of antiquity, such kinds of small wars or insurgency wars have their limitations and cannot be prolonged over a long period of time, unless eventually there is a strategy to make such a force a creative, conventional army capable of waging war against an enemy for a complete political and military dominance. As Sun Tzu has stated on these issues of short or long wars “There has never been a state that benefited from an extended war. Hence, if one is not fully cognizant of the evils of waging war, he cannot be fully cognizant either of how to turn it to best account… Hence, in war prize the quick victory, not the protracted engagement” No amount of high-tech media and generations of propaganda warfare, including guerrilla warfare that is tied to “the popular elements of war” will win an ultimate victory against an adversary.

Finally, Fedyk, in his essay published in “Small Wars Journal” makes his plea or case for engaging the Russia military and the Russian nation-state by adopting some of their methods of media and psychological warfare - in other words, turning it against them, as when he writes “It is not a set campaign; it is a way of life. U.S leaders must adopt this mindset. U.S. officials should speak out more emphatically and frequently on these outlets, making a public case for a long-term approach and countering the desire for quick results and decisive victories, neither of which characterized unconventional war… the U.S. must grasp and counter Russia’s new generation warfare with nonmilitary instruments of its own.. strengthening links between Ukraine and the West; cutting back sanctions that harm the local population and alienate popular support; and aggressively exposing Russian flaws and abuse to encourage impatience and skepticism within Russia”. The young American scholar seems infatuated with Russian “non-military measures” while at the same time demanding an interference with the foreign policy and military apparatus of the Russian state. He talks of “large dividends in the long-run” as if war is a Wall Street investment, and I am reminded of what Clausewitz wrote about this kind of thinking: ”A third fault of criticism is the misuse of historical examples, and a display of great reading or learning… for when exposed to the light, they turn out to be only trumpery rubbish, used to show off the author’s learning”.

The lessons to be learned from Russian military history is that their theory and practice of war has been understood and learned through the loss and grief of generations of their countrymen.