Understanding the future of global competition and conflict is now more important than ever before. In a dynamically changing world, the nature and character of warfare, deterrence, compellence, escalation management, and persuasion are key and essential in determining how the United States and its partners should:
• Strategize to defend their global interests against activities that are intended to undercut those interests across the spectrum of competition;
• Defend their interests against threats by regional competitors via ways and means complementary to strategies vis-à-vis China and Russia but do not undercut other interests; and
• Prepare US and partner forces to respond to unexpected and agile developments in global politics and technology by identifying areas for cooperation, mitigating the threat of activities short of armed conflict, and deterring armed conflict across multiple sources of national power (e.g., trade, diplomacy, security).
The National Security Strategy (NSS), National Defense Strategy (NDS), and National Military Strategy all note that future confrontations between major powers may most often occur below the level of armed conflict. In this environment, economic competition, influence campaigns, paramilitary actions, cyber intrusions, and political warfare will likely become more prevalent. Such confrontations increase the risk of misperception and miscalculation, between powers with significant military strength, which may then increase the risk of armed conflict. In this context, the US capability to influence the outcomes of both global and regional events must be reconsidered. The growing divergence among great powers (i.e., the US, China, and Russia) regarding what constitutes legitimate or acceptable deterrence, compellence, and escalation management activities should be carefully examined.
To that end, this white paper reviews Russian activities across the globe to build an enhanced, fundamental understanding of the contemporary and future influence environment. Countering Russian provocative activities requires a comprehensive strategy and the NDS recognizes this fact in order to successfully counter Russian provocative activities; as a result, the US must collaboratively employ multiple instruments of national power in a synchronized manner. As white paper contributor Brig Gen (ret) Rob Spalding III suggests, “the US role with regard to Russia should be to continue to engage European allies to take the lead for balancing in Europe. The allies’ goal should be deterrence. At the same time, the US should bilaterally engage Russia to peel them away from China’s orbit. The US can work with Russia in ways that improve the US-Russia relationship without detracting from European efforts to balance and deter.”
The articles in this white paper provide government stakeholders—intelligence, law enforcement, military, and policy agencies—with valuable insights and analytic frameworks to assist the US, its allies, and partners in developing a comprehensive strategy to compete and defeat this Russian challenge. Significant observations include:
• Russia is adopting coercive strategies that involve the orchestrated employment of military and nonmilitary means to deter and compel the US, its allies and partners prior to and after the outbreak of hostilities. These strategies must be proactively confronted, or the threat of significant armed conflict may increase.
• Russia exhibits a deep-seated sense of geopolitical insecurity which motivates it to pursue strategic objectives that establish an uncontested sphere of influence in the post-Soviet region. Yet, Russians increasingly disagree with the Kremlin’s assertions that the US is a looming external danger and a subversive force in Russian domestic politics.
• Russia’s gray zone tactics are most effective when the target is deeply polarized or lacks the capacity to resist and respond effectively to Russian aggression. According to Russian strategic thought, deterrence and compellence are two sides of the same coin.
Only with a aligned and synchrozined whole of government approach will the US compete and win against emerging powers like Russia and China. Such collaboration requires a common understanding of our competitors, their tactics and desired endstates and we intend that this white paper will achieve this critical objective.
This white paper was prepared as part of the Strategic Multilayer Asssessment, entitled The Future of Global Competition and Conflict. Twenty-three expert contributors contributed to this white paper and provided wide-ranging assessments of Russia’s global interests and objectives, as well as the activities—gray or otherwise—that it conducts to achieve them. This white paper is divided into five sections and twenty-five chapters, as described below. This summary reports some of the white paper’s high-level findings, but it is no substitute for a careful read of the individual contributions.
There is broad consensus among the contributors that Russian President Vladimir Putin is indeed adhering to a global grand strategy, which aims to achieve the following goals:
• Reclaim and secure Russia’s influence over former Soviet nations
• Regain worldwide recognition as a “great power”
• Portray itself as a reliable actor, a key regional powerbroker, and a successful mediator (Katz; Borshchevskaya) in order to gain economic, military, and political influence over nations
worldwide and to refine the liberalist rules and norms that currently govern the world order (Lamoreaux)
According to Dr. Robert Person, these goals are motivated by Russia’s deep-seated geopolitical insecurity. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has struggled to find its place in the global community, which has left the leadership with a lingering desire to regain the influence and power that it once had. In particular, Russia seeks to regain its influence over former Soviet states, which it claims are in its rightful “sphere of influence” (Lamoreaux; Person; Marsh). As a result, one of the United States’ core goals, namely promoting and protecting the international liberal order, comes into contention with the goals of Russia’s grand strategy. This underpins the Kremlin’s belief that it must contain and constrain US influence and activities in Europe and elsewhere across the globe. As Ms. Anna Borshchevskaya’s contribution suggests, the Russian leadership’s worldview is zero-sum; it believes that in order for Russia to win, the US must lose. However, Dr. Christopher Marsh’s contribution suggests that this world view is not necessarily shared by the Russian population or its elite.
As evidenced by the range of “gray zone” activities it engages in, a number of the expert contributors argue that the Russian leadership sees itself as at war with the US and the West as a whole. From a Russian perspective, this war is not total, but rather, it is fundamental (Goure)—a type of “war” that is at odds with the general US understanding of warfare. Russia believes that there is no unacceptable or illegitimate form of deterrence, compellence, or escalation management (Goure). It also does not believe in the continuum of conflict that the US has constructed. Like Russia’s perception of its competition with the US, its perception of conflict is dichotomous: one is either at war or not at war. To fight and win this war, Russia believes that the successful integration of all instruments of state power (Goure), as well as the orchestrated employment of non-military and military means to deter and compel (Flynn), are paramount. Furthermore, Russian military concepts include options for employing preemptive force to induce shock and dissuade an adversary from conducting military operations and to compel a de-escalation of hostilities (Flynn). The authors observe that Russia’s strategies are continuously evolving and expect that the discrepancy between the Russian and the US understanding of “conflict” and “war” will continue to grow, leading to a higher risk of escalation in future situations involving both nations.
Overall, Russia’s influence abroad is growing, and the Kremlin has mastered the use of “hybrid warfare” in driving Russia’s foreign policy (Lamoreaux). Russia utilizes a variety of gray zone tactics around the globe. These include the use of paramilitary forces and other proxies, interference in political processes, economic and energy exploitation (particularly in Africa), espionage, and media and propaganda manipulation. Putin is also adept at blending military and civilian elements for maximum impact (Weitz).
The specific tactics of hybrid warfare that Russia uses vary by region. In Europe, for example, Russia has utilized propaganda, an increasing dependence on external energy resources, and political manipulation to achieve its primary goals (Schindler; Lamoreaux). In contrast, in the Middle East and Africa— important sources of minerals and other natural resources from a Russian perspective1—Russia has primarily utilized economic exploitation tools (Katz; Borshchevskaya; Severin). In Central Asia, Russia maintains a much more limited presence, due to China’s geographic proximity and the current levels of economic and security engagement by other regional actors (Kangas). Nevertheless, Russia does retain influence in the Central Asia, as a result of its historical, linguistic, and cultural connections to the region (Laruelle; Dyet). Likewise, in Latin America, Russia lacks a sufficient amount of deployable resources to fully implement its strategy or to extend its influence very far (Ellis). However, as Dr. Barnett S. Koven and Ms. Abigail C. Kamp observe, Russia makes up for its shortcomings by engaging in episodic and reactive endeavors to disrupt US influence in the region. Although Russian tactics vary significantly, in all regions of the world energy has been a key source of Russian power and influence (Weitz; Lamoreaux; Borshchevskaya; Devyatkin; Pyatkov; Werchan). Globally, many countries have developed a strong relationship with Russia when it comes to energy. Russia’s energy priorities extend worldwide, and European nations in particular have become dependent on Russia for access to these resources. Africa and the Arctic have also become significant as Russia looks to exploit opportunities for energy-related commerce.
Despite the strength of Russia’s growing influence abroad and the diverse array of gray zone tactics it uses to achieve its strategic goals, the US can still limit the results of this grand strategy. There is broad consensus among the contributors that countering Russian provocations will require the use of all instruments of national power. In particular, US success will be reliant both on its ability to influence populations, states, and non-state actors, and on its ability to minimize Russia’s influence on these actors (Bragg). Creating effective narratives in each of the regions covered in this white paper will be critical for achieving this goal (Kangas; Bragg). Furthermore, the US can counter specific Russian gray zone activities, such as diversifying energy sources to reduce European nations’ dependence on Russia (Pyatkov; Werchan) and counteracting propaganda by creating both resilient democratic institutions and populations abroad, particularly in Europe (Pyatkov). Finally, it is imperative that the US establishes a consensus definition of “gray zone” (Bragg) and reevaluates old paradigms defining war and peace, as we enter a “new era of international politics which is defined by shades of gray” (Weitz). Once defined, a federal agency dedicated to gray zone activities may be required in order to implement a true whole of government approach to combatting Russian influence activities abroad (Werchan).