Tag: Ukraine

Owning the Gray Zone

In this Army Times op-ed, Capt. John Chambers argues that to counter threats from near peers like Russia, the US Army needs to get comfortable operating in the “gray zone.”

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Up is Down: An MWI Panel on Russia’s Use of Information Warfare in Ukraine

The Modern War Institute held a panel on Friday, November 13, on the use of propaganda and information warfare by Russia in Ukraine. Kimberly Marten of Barnard College, Brent Colburn, former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and Robert Person and Thomas Sherlock of West Point’s Social Sciences department all participated in the panel, attended by about forty faculty, staff, and cadets. Marten described the role of Russia-backed militias on the ground in eastern Ukraine and also discussed Kremlin policy toward the region. She said the purpose of its information war was not to persuade or inform average Russians, but rather to confuse. Colburn discussed Pentagon policy in terms of how to respond to such subversive types of information warfare. He said there was no need to respond tit-for-tat against every piece of misinformation put out by, say, Russia Today, the Kremlin-sponsored news channel. Sherlock recently surveyed Russians and found that popular attitudes were less nationalistic and anti-Western than we might expect and suggested that the Kremlin’s information warfare may not be working. Finally, Person discussed the role of information war, as it relates to hybrid warfare, the important role played by ethnic Russians living in the Baltics, as well as NATO’s response to Russian aggression and finds that the West is more united on Russian aggression than it was previously.

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Rubik’s Cubes and Contemporary Warfighting

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

One of the most important parts of being a strategist is understanding the environment.  To have a grasp on the zeitgeist sharpens analysis and focuses the mind on what “is” and what might come. My contribution to this is the assessment that the contemporary warfighting environment is dominated by what I call “Rubik’s Cube” conflicts.  This is an adaptation of Emile Simpson’s reference to Iraq as a “mosaic” conflict (see War from the Ground Up, p. 95). The term “mosaic” is not quite right as it indicates a static environment, whereas I see a more dynamic environment. My definition of a Rubik’s Cube conflict:

Any conflict or war which features at least one belligerent cohort fighting for common military objectives while motivated by multiple and (potentially) shifting social, ethnic, cultural, religious, or political causes.

Some will see this is similar to Frank Hoffman’s (great) work on hybrid warfare, particularly owing to one big commonality: defining a multifaceted enemy.  Hoffman’s definition of a “hybrid threat”:

Any adversary that simultaneously and adaptively employs a fused mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism, and criminal behavior in the battle space to obtain their political objectives.

These are two separate attempts to define the contemporary warfighting environment. Hoffman defines the ways in which hybrid threats employ force – modes of warfare.  My effort is to define what appears to be a shift in the ends – the disaggregation of battlefield actors motivations for war.  For example, during the Cold War, the vast majority of battlefield actors motivations could be traced directly to either Uncle Sam (the U.S.) or Uncle Joe (the U.S.S.R.).  The catalyst often came from Washington or Moscow. 

This is not the case today.  Moreover, this disaggregation has led to a corresponding increase in the number of armed groups.  So instead of fighting the monolithic Soviets, a well-traveled American military officer might recently have faced: Sunni insurgents, Shia militias, international terror organizations (not to mention Al Qaeda affiliates), the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, as well as a Regionally Aligned Forces mission to train African military forces to hunt Joseph Kony.  All these actors have different motivations for fighting; all could be considered a different colored tile (while on the same face) of these Rubik’s Cube conflicts.

Which raises an important question – how well has the U.S. done in this paradigm?

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