Russia, China, and Iran have all been learning how to conduct irregular warfare from the United States. They model their current irregular warfare approaches based on perceived lessons from observing US interventions in the world over the past few decades, according to arguments put forth in Episode 47 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast.
The episode examines strategic competition with Russia, China, and Iran—with specific focus on how this competition plays out in the Middle East. Our guests discuss how these states have used irregular warfare to achieve a position of geopolitical advantage over the United States. They go on to propose a solution, one that requires the United States to employ irregular warfare as part of an integrated strategy of deterrence. In order to do this successfully, the United States will have to look beyond platforms and invest in education, talent management, and human capital.
Dr. Seth Jones is senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. He also teaches at Johns Hopkins University and at the US Naval Postgraduate School. He is the author of multiple books, to include Three Dangerous Men: Russia, Iran, China and the Rise of Irregular Warfare—which serves as the basis for this conversation.
Rear Admiral Mitch Bradley is a US Navy SEAL officer and current commander of US Special Operations Command Central. He began his career as a SEAL in 1992, and has commanded at all levels of special operations including as commander of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group. He is a graduate of the Naval Academy and holds a master’s degree in physics from the Naval Postgraduate School.
The hosts for this episode are Kyle Atwell and Andy Milburn. Please contact them with any questions about the episode or the Irregular Warfare Podcast.
The Irregular Warfare Podcast is a product of the Irregular Warfare Initiative, a collaboration between the Modern War Institute at West Point and Princeton University’s Empirical Studies of Conflict Project—dedicated to bridging the gap between scholars and practitioners to support the community of irregular warfare professionals.
You can listen to the full episode below, and you can find it and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, TuneIn, or your favorite podcast app. And be sure to follow the podcast on Twitter!
Image credit: mil.ru via Wikimedia Commons
Here is the first paragraph of the introduction page to this podcast:
"Russia, China, and Iran have all been learning how to conduct irregular warfare from the United States. They model their current irregular warfare approaches based on perceived lessons from observing US interventions in the world over the past few decades, according to arguments put forth in Episode 47 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast."
Let me disagree with this such suggestion and suggest, instead, that — while Russia, China and Iran did, indeed, learn their lessons on how to conduct irregular warfare from the U.S./the West — they modeled their current irregular warfare approaches:
a. NOT based on the lessons that they learned by watching the U.S./the West do "expansion" and "transformation" during the past few decades (herein, seeking to work more "by, with and through" the more liberal/the more-pro-change elements of the world's populations) but, rather,
b. Based on the lessons that they learned by watching the U.S./the West do "containment" and "roll back" during the Old Cold War (wherein, we worked more "by, with and through" the more conservative/the more-no change and/or reverse change elements of the world's populations).
After all, was it not by way of such U.S./Western Old Cold War strategies as "containment" and "roll back" — herein, working more "by, with and through" the "natural enemies" of "change" (to wit: the more conservative elements of the world's populations) — that the U.S./the West successfully stood against and ultimately defeated the Soviets/the communists during the Old Cold War?
Given this such result — and, post-the Old Cold War, with the U.S./the West now being the one's engaged in pursuing political, economic, social and/or value "change" both at home and abroad (in our case, in the name of such things as capitalism, globalization and the global economy) — WHY WOULDN'T an opponent literally "jump" at the chance to (a) do to the U.S./the West now (b) what the U.S./the West, in the Old Cold War, had done to them?
Here are some examples, which may tend to support my "they are the one's now doing containment and roll back" argument above; herein, "seeking to work more 'by, with and through'" the more conservative elements of the worlds' populations re: this cause:"
“In his annual appeal to the Federal Assembly in December 2013, Putin formulated this ‘independent path’ ideology by contrasting Russia’s ‘traditional values’ with the liberal values of the West. He said: ‘We know that there are more and more people in the world who support our position on defending traditional values that have made up the spiritual and moral foundation of civilization in every nation for thousands of years: the values of traditional families, real human life, including religious life, not just material existence but also spirituality, the values of humanism and global diversity.’ He proclaimed that Russia would defend and advance these traditional values in order to ‘prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.’
In Putin’s view, the fight over values is not far removed from geopolitical competition. ‘[Liberals] cannot simply dictate anything to anyone just like they have been attempting to do over the recent decades,’ he said in an interview with the Financial Times in 2019. ‘There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose. Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable,’ he added. …
(See the Wilson Center publication “Kennan Cable No. 53” and, therein, the article “Russia’s Traditional Values and Domestic Violence,” by Olimpiada Usanova, dated 1 June 2020.)
"Liberal democratic societies have, in the past few decades, undergone a series of revolutionary changes in their social and political life, which are not to the taste of all their citizens. For many of those, who might be called social conservatives, Russia has become a more agreeable society, at least in principle, than those they live in. Communist Westerners used to speak of the Soviet Union as the pioneer society of a brighter future for all. Now, the rightwing nationalists of Europe and North America admire Russia and its leader for cleaving to the past."
(See "The American Interest" article "The Reality of Russian Soft Power" by John Lloyd and Daria Litinova.)
“Compounding it all, Russia’s dictator has achieved all of this while creating sympathy in elements of the Right that mirrors the sympathy the Soviet Union achieved in elements of the Left. In other words, Putin is expanding Russian power and influence while mounting a cultural critique that resonates with some American audiences, casting himself as a defender of Christian civilization against Islam and the godless, decadent West.”
(See the “National Review” item entitled: “How Russia Wins” by David French.)
"During the Cold War, the USSR was perceived by American conservatives as an 'evil empire,' as a source of destructive cultural influences, while the United States was perceived as a force that was preventing the world from the triumph of godless communism and anarchy. The USSR, by contrast, positioned itself as a vanguard of emancipation, as a fighter for the progressive transformation of humanity (away from religion and toward atheism), and against the reactionary forces of the West.
Today positions have changed dramatically; it is the United States or the ruling liberal establishment that in the conservative narrative has become the new or neo-USSR, spreading subversive ideas about family or the nature of authority around the world, while Russia has become almost a beacon of hope, 'the last bastion of Christian values' that helps keep the world from sliding into a liberal dystopia.
Russia’s self-identity has changed accordingly; now it is Russia who actively resists destructive, revolutionary experiments with fundamental human institutions, experiments inspired by new revolutionary neo-communists from the United States. Hence the cautious hopes that the U.S. Christian right have for contemporary Russia: They are projecting on Russia their fantasies of another West that has not been infected by the virus of cultural liberalism."
(See the December 18, 2019, Georgetown University, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs article "Global Culture Wars from the Perspective of Russian and American Actors: Some Preliminary Conclusions," by Dmitry Uzlaner. Look to the paragraph beginning with "Russia and the United States as screens for each other’s projections.")
"Asymmetrical actions have come into widespread use, enabling the nullification of an enemy´s advantages in armed conflict. Among such actions are the use of special operations forces and internal opposition (think the conservative elements of the world's populations) to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state, as well as informational actions, devices, and means that are constantly being perfected. …" (Item in parenthesis above is mine.)
(Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff)
As to the New/Reverse Cold War "conflict paradigm" that I describe above, people like LTG (ret.) Cleveland and GEN (ret.) Votel suggest that we seek to work more "by, with and through" the individuals throughout the world (and especially in our opponent's home countries) who are more liberal/more pro-change oriented. In this regard, consider the following:
"In the same way that the conventionally focused American way of war is defined by America's technical and industrial capacity and technological edge, the American way of irregular war is tied to our notions of religious pluralism, democracy, and, above all, human rights. And although the American way of war protects us against near-peer powers and guarantees the lanes of global commerce, the American way of irregular war protects our way of life by both promoting our worldview and giving people the tools to realize the same opportunities that we have had. … "
(See beginning at the last paragraph of Page 5, of the Introduction chapter to Rand paper by LTG [ret.] Charles Cleveland and Daniel Egel entitled: "The American Way of Irregular War: An Analytical Memoir.")
"The Achilles’ heel of our authoritarian adversaries is their inherent fear of their own people; the United States must be ready to capitalize on this fear. … An American way of irregular war will reflect who we are as a people, our diversity, our moral code, and our undying belief in freedom."
(See the "Conclusion" of the Rand paper noted immediately above.)
"Advocates of UW first recognize that, among a population of self-determination seekers, human interest in liberty trumps loyalty to a self-serving dictatorship, that those who aspire to freedom can succeed in deposing corrupt or authoritarian rulers, and that unfortunate population groups can and often do seek alternatives to a life of fear, oppression, and injustice. Second, advocates believe that there is a valid role for the U.S. Government in encouraging and empowering these freedom seekers when doing so helps to secure U.S. national security interests."
(See the National Defense University Press paper "Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone" by Joseph L. Votel, Charles T. Cleveland, Charles T. Connett, and Will Irwin)
The problem, of course, with this such idea today, this is that:
a. The Western ideas such as Cleveland and Votel discuss above ("religious pluralism, democracy, and, above all, human rights;" "our diversity, our moral code;" and our belief in freedom from "fear, oppression, and injustice"),
b. These Western ideas are under heavy attack — both here at home and there abroad — right now.
This attesting to the amazing success, at least so far, that our opponents have had; this, in (a) using the conservative elements of the populations of the world to (b) achieve their "containment and roll back' of the U.S./the West" ends?
Excellent and thought provoking. Thanks for taking the time to formulate your reply.