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Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Social Science of War podcast! Every two weeks, a new episode will tackle a pressing challenge for the US Army by pairing deep practical experience with leading research and scholarship.
Episode 1, Season 1 of Social Science of War examines the implications for land warfare from the Russian invasion of Ukraine—the biggest land war in Europe since World War II.
Our guests begin by discussing Russian grand strategy and by framing the threat posed by Russia to US national security. They argue that while Russia’s objectives have not changed over the past couple decades, the means with which Russia seeks to achieve them have transitioned from a focus on asymmetric tools like information operations and cyberattacks to more hard power approaches—a transition that culminated in the land invasion of Ukraine. A theme throughout the episode is that neither the US military nor academia were paying sufficient attention to Russia in the 2000s. Our guests conclude by discussing specific lessons learned for Army leaders and scholars of land warfare on how to understand and prepare for future land warfare fights.
Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling concluded his distinguished thirty-seven-year Army career as the commanding general of United States Army Europe and the Seventh Army. He spent three years in combat and had tours of duty commanding at both the Army’s National Training Center in California and the Joint Multinational Training Center in Germany. He also commanded the 1st Armored Division and Task Force Iron in northern Iraq during the surge and revamped the Army’s basic soldier and officer training as part of Training and Doctrine Command.
Dr. Robert Person is an associate professor of international affairs in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. He teaches courses on Russian and post-Soviet politics, international political economy, democratic and authoritarian regimes, and international relations. His research on Russian politics and foreign policy has been widely published in a variety of academic and popular media. Dr. Person regularly consults as a Russia subject matter expert for the Army, Department of Defense, and other US government agencies. His current book project, Russia’s Grand Strategy in the 21st Century, is forthcoming from the Brookings Press.
Social Science of War is produced by the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. Visit our website if you would like to be a student or teach in the Department, or if you would like to connect with any of our instructors based on their expertise.
Kyle Atwell was the host for Episode 1. Please reach out to Kyle with any questions about this episode or the Social Science of War podcast.
Recent works by Department of Social Sciences faculty related to this episode
“Bargaining with Blood: Russia’s War in Ukraine,” by SOSH associate professor Dr. Rob Person and SOSH assistant professor Major Kathryn Hedgecock
“What Putin Fears Most,” by SOSH associate professor Dr. Rob Person and Ambassador Michael McFaul
“Putin is trying to turn Ukraine into a Culture War,” by SOSH professor emeritus Dr. Thomas Sherlock and Dr. Lionel Beehner
“Russian Grand Strategy in the 21st Century,” by SOSH associate professor Dr. Rob Person
Image credit: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine
Re: human motivation and behavior (a principal focus of the study of social science?), consider the following comparison:
In the Old Cold War of yesterday, the U.S./the West — threatened by the Soviet's/the communists' "achieve revolutionary change" (in the name of communism) goal back then — moved out smartly (using various ways and means, to include such things as hybrid warfare); this, so as to try contain — and later so as to try to roll back — this such threat in our backyard/in our sphere of influence. (For example, in Central America. In this regard, see the War on the Rocks article "America Did Hybrid Warfare Too.")
In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, such nations as Russia and China — threatened now by the U.S./the West's "achieve revolutionary change" (in the name of market-democracy) goal today — moved out smartly themselves (using various ways and means, to include hybrid warfare); this, so as to try to contain — and so as to try to roll back — this such threat in their backyard/in their spheres of influence — for example, in Ukraine and Taiwan respectively. (In this regard, and re: Russia only in this case, note the word "contain" used by Dr. Person re: his fifth element of enduring Russian strategy — listen at approximately the 4:00 minute mark in this podcast.)
Also as relates to human motivation and behavior, note how:
In the Old Cold War of yesterday, the U.S./the West — re: our containment and roll back efforts against the threatening Soviets/communists back then — sought to work more "by, with and through" the natural enemies of "revolutionary change," to wit: the more conservative/the more traditional elements of the states and societies of the world:
" 'Blood of Brothers' is a graphic account of a country torn in half over the Sandinistas’ efforts to build a new political and economic order. Early on, Mr. Kinzer saw that Sandinista policies were alienating ordinary Nicaraguans. ‘In 1983 most Nicaraguans had still not fallen to the depths of deprivation and despair which they would reach in later years, but many were already unhappy and restive. . . . When the Sandinistas decreed that foreign trade was to be a state monopoly, they effectively declared war on these small-scale entrepreneurs. . . . [ And by trying to transform [ the existing system of food production ] so completely and so suddenly, they were underestimating the deeply ingrained conservatism of Nicaraguan peasants.’ " (Many of these "conservative" folks would become the "Contras?" See the 1991 New York Times article by Linda Robinson entitled "The Sandinista Decade.")
Likewise note how:
In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, such nations as Russia and China — re: their containment and roll back efforts against the threatening U.S./the West today — also seek to work more "by, with and through" the natural enemies of "revolutionary change," to wit: the more conservative elements/the more traditional elements of the states and societies of the world:
"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.)
Re: these such matters, are they, indeed, properly viewed from the perspective of social science (which includes branches such as anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, and sociology?)?