Phillip A. Petersen: “We thought ideological competition was over, but it just shifted”

The Ukrainian Week - During the 28th Economic Forum in Krynica-Zdrój (Poland) The Ukrainian Week discussed with the President of the Center for the Study of New Generation Warfare about the situation in the Black Sea and the historical and modern aspects of the confrontation between the USA and Russia.

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First of all, what is new generation warfare?

– We at the Centre for the Study of New Generation Warfare don’t like using the term “hybrid warfare” because so many people in the West have preconceptions as to what hybrid warfare is. Since the Russians refer to it as new generation warfare, we prefer to use that term since it avoids all the Western preconceptions. The Russians have identified nine elements of new generation warfare:

  1. Non-military asymmetric warfare to establish favorable socio-economic and political environment

  2. Special operations to misdirect elites

  3. Intimidation, fraud, bribery

  4. Destabilization operations & organization of militant opposition

  5. Introduction of armed insurgents & support thereof

  6. Clandestine military intervention

  7. Use of EW & high-tech reconnaissance to facilitate the destruction of resisting forces

  8. Overt intervention to occupy territory and suppress any remaining resistance

  9. Threats to use nuclear weapons, and to use precision weapons to destroy nuclear power plants, chemical industry facilities & large hydro-electric power plants.

Note that only two of the nine elements involve an overt, kinetic aspect. European experts tend to talk about only the first eight, ignoring the ninth (threat of tactical nuclear weapons). We would like to get people to understand that the role of nuclear weapons must be included in our examination of the war Putin already is waging upon us. Ignoring Russian modernization of its nuclear forces will not negate that reality, even if it is an inconvenient truth. The Russians designed sub-kiloton weapons that are so discreet, that it would be difficult in a crisis to determine whether a strike was undertaken with thermobaric weapons or nuclear weapons. If deterrence is in the “eye of the beholder,” how are we going to persuade our political leaders that nuclear weapons have been employed, when we might not be able to say with certainty that is what happened, especially when Moscow will be claiming the strikes were not nuclear? This is just one aspect of Russia’s contemporary approach to the war Moscow is waging upon us now. All nine elements of Russia’s new generation warfare are seamlessly integrated, and employed in shifting combinations, with the various elements being emphasized in different ways over the course of each phase of each of Putin’s operations against us.

The goal of Putin’s policy is to separate America from Europe, and to break down the unity of NATO and the European Union. The Brexit referendum was, to a large extent promoted by, and probably ultimately determined by, Russian information warfare operations. Just as Moscow effectively manipulated legitimate concerns in Britain, it managed to move its informational warfare campaign from Ukraine to the United States in time to influence the results of the 2016 Presidential Election. All of this is a part of New Generation Warfare, using a wide range of tools (most of them not traditionally categorized as “warfare”). Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kieselev observed that “information warfare is now the main type of war, preparing the way for military action.”

We need to face the reality that ever since the 1993 Constitutional Crisis in Russia, Moscow has perceived itself as at war with the liberal democracies of the West. While we in the West accepted that the dialectical competition between Capitalism and Communism had ended in victory (i.e., “the end of history”), we therefore assumed that ideological competition was over. Instead, it just shifted to a struggle between liberal and illiberal forms of democracy (i.e., everyone gets to vote – at least mostly everyone, since voter suppression techniques can be employed to reduce the size of the opposition vote – and other techniques such as gerrymandering can insure that not all votes are equal – and many other techniques can be employed to eliminate competitive candidates). The ideological struggle is now over “free and fair elections”. Even Putin wants to be able to mobilize “public support” in the form of electoral victories to support his political actions. Officially, Russia is a democracy – although a “vertical” democracy – in which an authoritarian leader proposes, and his subjects have the opportunity to support him, but the elections are neither free nor fair. While elections can be useful in establishing legitimacy both domestically and internationally, illiberal democracy promotes a majoritarianism that limits the liberal principle of freedom by appeasing those capable of usurping power with money and securing cooperation of the masses with disdain for minorities.

So, Russia exports this illiberal order to their neighborhood?

– Actually, Putin would like to promote illiberal democracy everywhere. In some ways, however, it was the young people of Ukraine who forced his hand when they twice rejected illiberal democracy. The young people refused to have their futures robbed by an illiberal democracy in Kyiv; they looked at the accomplishments of the Poles and understood that they too could live lives more freely and with greater economic comfort. To counter this threat, Moscow spread the myth that it was all about America provoking political upheaval in Ukraine; that it was all about America and the Europeans pushing eastward (hence, threatening Russia) rather than Ukrainians wanting to move “westwards” if you will. Putin’s illiberal democracy would not survive long in a world where Ukrainian citizens lived visibly better than Russian citizens, so he struck at Ukraine’s weakest places – that is, in those regions where Kyiv most visibly failed in “state building.” Once Russia was at the point of waging kinetic war against Ukraine – and here it is important to note that Moscow still has not admitted that it is waging war – eventually economic sanctions were the result. Putin told his generals not to worry about sanctions, arguing that they would not last longer than six months. Along with the drop in oil prices, the sanctions have crippled Putin’s regime, and it has been Putin’s attempt to remove the sanctions that have been the driving force behind the information warfare conducted against the United States since the 2016 Presidential Campaign.

Do you think the reaction of USA is adequate to Russian behavior?

– No, it’s not. Certainly, if Ronald Reagan were President today, there would be far different reaction. First of all, he was a great communicator, so he would have more effectively mobilized America. Secondly, Reagan’s values were fundamentally different that the current occupant of the White House. Unfortunately, we have a new environment, and this goes back to the fact that all liberal democracies are under attack. The non-kinetic elements of this warfare are directed at dividing our publics, with the goal of promoting what has been called “tribalism.” We know for a fact that, pretending to be Americans or Brits, the Russians organized demonstrations and counterdemonstrations. We also know that in some cases, the Russians provided funds to support both the demonstration and the counterdemonstration. These activities have not stopped, as the US intelligence has publicly identified a number of cases where the Russians are now interfering in this year’s US Congressional Elections. It is critical to intensify economic sanctions against this Russian behavior, as well as identify additional tools with which to fight back against the information warfare being waged against us. The modest recovery in oil prices since 2016 has lessened somewhat the impact of sanctions on the Russian economy, making the search for additional tools even more necessary.

Some experts are saying that the pro-Russian position of Trump makes it harder to respond to aggression properly. Do you agree with that?

– I think it is a very complex political situation in the United States. The call by Karl Rove in 2001 to create a “permanent Republican majority” led to an effort to seize control of the instruments of the American Federal system of governing so that a minority of voters could impose its will on the majority. While Rove and many other Republicans intended to employ the political instruments of American Federalism – the Courts and State Legislatures – to roll back the socio-economic achievements of the Greatest Generation (i.e., those who fought and won the Second World War), they never anticipated a populist coup that would attempt to employ these instruments to destroy our liberal democratic institutions. There is, in fact, a second American Civil War being waged today between those committed to liberal democracy on one side, and a range of interests on the other side that either support illiberal democracy or are willing to accept the destruction of the American Experiment. It is probably the most important political struggle since America’s War for Independence. Both inside and outside of the United States Government there are people of integrity willing to defend our liberal democracy and oppose Putin’s aggression. I believe that it is fair to say that, whatever President’s Trump’s personal attitude is to Putin and his illiberal democracy model, it is fortunate that the State and Defense Departments as institutions have pretty much conducted business as usual. What causes us concern, however, is the possibility that after the November elections, President Trump may remove Secretary Mattis and replace him with someone more attuned to the U.S. President’s view of the world.

But some information shows that economic sanctions do not work, like the Siemens case and the Nord Stream 2 project.

– I do believe that such exceptions as those you mention will mitigate the effect of current economic sanctions and will buy more time for Putin. This is not to argue, however, that sanctions are not effective. If you look at the meeting in Trump tower, what it was about? It was about removing sanctions. Putin is doing everything he can to find ways to weaken or cancel the sanctions. Where is the T-14 Armatatank production? The Russians cannot produce many of these tanks because they require foreign-made parts that can no longer be imported. Sanctions are slowly shifting the balance of power in terms of combat arms. One of the most effective sanctions is to prevent the travel and to seize the property of corrupt Russian officials (which means most of them). While the wealthy in Russia want to live comfortably at home, living well includes enjoying travel to and educating their children in the West. I understand the seizure of Russian-owned personal property in the New York and London would have negative impact upon local property values, but these assets should be used to help pay for reconstruction in Ukraine and Syria (after Assad has departed the political scene).

Coming back to Ukraine and NGW, what are the perspectives for our country, in your opinion?

– The sanctions imposed against Russia’s policies are backing Putin into a corner financially; especially with Crimea, because it is costing so much. He needs to solve this problem, and I give it a significant probability that he will launch an offensive to create Novorossiya. Such action would lead to an East-West crisis because it would produce millions of refugees. Poland could not accept that number of refugees, so it would act to prevent such a large flow of refugees. I would expect the US, UK, Denmark and Sweden would probably support Poland. We could very easily have a situation where it starts out with an effort to keep Ukrainian refugees in Ukraine by established refugee centers in Ukraine that, in turn, might become an obligation to provide security for those centers. Then you would have a situation in which both Western and Russian armed forces would be in Ukraine. Some governments, like the Italian or Hungarian for example, would refuse to participate, but it would be an immediate political issue in the United States. The Polish minority in US is decisive in Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and they would be highly vocal in favor of the US government supporting Poland. This would be one of my greatest concerns, that Putin would over-estimate President Trump’s ability to constrain political forces in the United States.

Is the United States interested in the collapse of the Russian Federation?

– I would like to address some myths generated by Moscow. The first is that the USA “collapsed” the Soviet Union. I can tell you categorically, that is not true. I was in the United States Government during that time and, in fact, I was attempting to warn the Pentagon that Soviet collapse was a possibility, if not likely. The Administration did not want the USSR to collapse and was actually trying to preserve it. The Soviet Union collapsed because of its own internal stupidities; Gorbachev, himself, had no clue that the so-called “Soviet man” simply did not exist. The second myth of that period is that USA give no assistance to Russia. I was personally involved in the United States Industrial Coalition program to provide assistance in transparent employment for scientists formally engaged in weapons of mass destruction work. The idea was to prevent them from getting involved in producing weapons of mass destruction for rogue states like North Korea. We spent billions of dollars, for example, to create jobs for Russians to safely dispose of nuclear reactors in decommissioned submarines. While we were subsidizing Moscow’s responsibility for environmental security it was, in turn, investing in the construction of new submarines that now are targeting America. The Russians never want to take responsibility, whether it is for their country’s policies or for the outcomes of those policies; it’s always someone else’s fault. The bottom line is that America has only positive wishes for the peoples of the Russian Federation. We would welcome and be a close ally of a strong and liberal democratic state in Eurasia.

What about the energy deal Putin signed with China?

– In my opinion, the energy deal was an act of treason; a true betrayal of the interests of the peoples of Russia. Essentially, the Chinese agreed to provide Russia with enough money to create the infrastructure necessary to move oil and gas to China. The energy, however, will not be transported to ports where it can be placed on the international marketplace. Energy is a fungible commodity but, when all of this is done, the infrastructure being built will not allow Russia to sell to anyone but the Chinese. The Chinese, on the on the other hand, will be able to argue for prices below market because there will be no alternative for the Russians but to undercut prices China will be able to get on the world market. On the surface, the deal looks economically dubious, but it’s even more grim from an operational-strategic security perspective. The construction of the pipelines means creation of a highspeed access of advance because construction and maintenance will require roads straight into the depth of Siberia, and even Russia itself. In fact, over the past several years Chinese Army strategic exercises against the Russian Federation have included the “deeper” objective of Kazan and the Volga River instead of the Ural Mountains.

What can be another area of instability?

– The USSR – and now Russia – refer to Crimea as their “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the Black Sea. Because the Russian General Staff saw no practical alternative to Crimea, they were looking for the opportunity to take it back. Now Russian admirals are offending the Turks by arguing that this action has made Russia the predominate power in the Black Sea. While Turkey’s President Erdogan has transformed the country into an illiberal democracy, it doesn’t mean that Turkey and Russia will become allies. Since their national interests are still fundamentally opposed to each other, the new geostrategic situation in the Black Sea has become a much more complex and dangerous place. The Black Sea is no longer a “European Lake”, but it is very far from having become a “Russian Lake” as it once was a Soviet Lake.


Dr. Phillip A. Petersen has a Ph.D. from University of Illinois, M.S. from Western Michigan University, and a B.S. in Ed. From Central Michigan University. For fifteen years he served as a United States Army officer, an intelligence analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and at the National Defense University. Later Dr. Petersen conducted a three-year interview project for The Potomac Foundation on Security Policy in the Post-Soviet Republics. He has served as Senior Consultant to the President of the United States Industry Coalition for the Department of Energy’s Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention Program and was a Founding Director of the not-for-profit Institute for Applied Science. From 2013 through the end of 2017 he served as Vice President for Studies at The Potomac Foundation Potomac, and now serves as President of the Center for the Study of New Generation Warfare. Dr. Petersen has authored some 80 publications on international security issues

Making the Kremlin Believe that it's More Advantageous to Cooperate is Quite Difficult

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Visegrad Insight - The West has to understand the way of Russian military thinking in order to be able to respond to the Kremlin’s moves. Russia is unlikely to invade the Baltic states, however, it will be worth it to pay attention to Belarus this year.

Although “hybrid warfare” is the most commonly used term for referring to Russian activities in Ukraine, there is no agreed definition of the terms related to it. In your recent study, you stated that “hybrid is wrong” and New Generation Warfare should be used instead. What is your argumentation?

The term “Hybrid” was used to characterize warfare in the beginning of the 1990s in a master thesis written at the US War College, but it became famous after Frank Hoffman used it to describe Hezbollah’s tactics during the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in the 2000s. The problem with this definition is that it does not entirely reflect the whole spectrum of Russian strategy, although it can be part of it. The attractiveness of the term is probably that the word “hybrid” can mean anything. It became a buzzword after General Skip Davis used it during a briefing at NATO, but he personally told me that he never wanted “Hybrid” to become a buzzword.

After reading more than 25 years of Russian military literature in the archives, it’s clear that the Russians themselves refer to their strategy as “New Generation Warfare.” In short, the basis of it is asymmetric warfare and its main elements are Low-Intensity Conflict, Sixth Generation Warfare, and Network Centric Warfare, having Reflexive Control (the art of making your opponent do what you want it to without the opponent realizing it) as an auxiliary instrument. For example, Sixth Generation Warfare is about non-contact warfare using high-precision artillery, which is what happened during operation Desert Storm. Network Centric Warfare envisages using smaller military units sharing the same information space. This isn’t Hybrid Warfare in any way.

If there is no expert consensus on this, how is it possible for experts at NATO, for example, to measure the threat the military alliance face every single say?

The problem is that the experts don’t read Russian professional literature. They try to fit the Russian strategy into Western concepts, ending up with some reductionism or simplification. They need to learn to think as Russian officers. The most important thing is to go beyond that. It is to accept that the Russians think differently, they have a different military culture which is the result of centuries of their own historical development. Besides, it’s very much necessary to understand that Russia doesn’t see itself as part of the West, but rather as a Eurasian country. As such, although the West is an important partner, in many cases there are different strategic interests. Besides, the Russians see our actions from another perspective. For them, for example, the United States is to blame for DAESH and the global spread of terrorism, although this is a simplistic understanding of the roots of terrorism. The result is that in many cases they are convinced that our actions jeopardize their security. In short, it is necessary to develop critical thinking. To use an American saying I heard from a Hungarian military officer, you don’t need to think outside the box, you need to think without the box.

You wrote that in Ukraine, New Generation Warfare was mostly based on asymmetric warfare and Low Intensity Conflict. What is your opinion about the counter-measures taken by Kiev?

In the beginning, the Ukrainians were very badly prepared, but it’s amazing how they were able to organize themselves. They learned very quickly what had to be done, but it’s clear they lacked capabilities, both in training and hardware. Low Intensity Conflict is a form of asymmetric warfare. Thus, the way to deal with it has to be asymmetric too. This means that the Ukrainians should have developed such capabilities to be stronger than their opponents within the same tactics. This means that the Ukrainians must use the same tactics to utilize the same skills to become stronger than their opponents.

According to General Gerasimov’s opinion, every conflict has its set of rules and therefore requires unique ways and means. Taking this into account, how hard it is to predict the Kremlin’s strategy? How does the Ukrainian conflict differ from the Georgian War for example?

We should pay attention to this idea. Russia’s strategy is very Clausewitzian with some influence from Sun Tzu. It’s about achieving strategic political objectives using the minimum effort. Therefore, warfare is more than a simply armed conflict, it’s rather the combination of military and non-military means, the result of which is that for each specific tactical objectives and war theater a different strategy is needed. For example, the tactical base for Ukraine is Low-Intensity Conflict, while in Georgia it was more like conventional linear tactics.

Let’s talk about the nature of all-out information warfare, which is of equal importance to land, sea and air warfare in Russian terminology. The main aim is to confuse, not to convince. Can Europe defeat the disinformation war? What would be the best strategy against this warfare and what would your advice be for Central and Eastern European countries?

This sort of information warfare can only work if the seeds for its success are already there. For example, to what extent were the alleged Russian operations aimed to influence the American people and help Trump win the election really decisive? I’m convinced that with or without the Russian operations Trump would have won the election. Was Brexit the result of Russian operations? Of course not. In fact, both are the results of common people being tired of politicians and civil servants making policies which benefit either the financial system or the very rich, hoping that the result will be greater employment or wages. Reality is far from that. The point is that Western politicians and civil servants need to practice deep self-criticism to understand why there’s a huge dissatisfaction with the current Western political system and its policies. This is the base on which Russia can operate, aiming to delegitimize Western democracy as a credible system. More precisely it is necessary to:

  • Monitor the information environment and resilience: the concept „resilience to information warfare” must be operationalized by setting measurable criteria for monitoring it on a regular basis. For example, the audit of information-related processes at a technological level and measuring the willingness to defend a given country, trust in state institutions and other indicators at a cognitive level.

  • A comprehensive system of monitoring and analysis of hostile activities in the information environment should be implemented, including such domains as the internet, media, social media.

  • Enhancing resilience at a cognitive level: this is the most complex part. It is necessary to explain adversaries’ strategic goals and the tools of their implementation. Also, implementing national-level strategic communication programs for winning the hearts and minds of our own societies. The main task is to decrease the gap between governments and societies, which is the main vulnerability that can be used as a leverage by adversaries. Enhancing the critical thinking skills of our own societies. This is the best way to provide information environment security, while not giving up democratic freedoms. Enhancing high-quality journalism, because media business logic and the mediatization of politics are two main drivers of the post-truth phenomenon. And last but not least: it is important to look for ways how governments and societies could interact directly, without the media, because this way politicians and state officials can explain their policies and also get direct feedback from society.

How do you see the relevance of the EU-sanctions against Russia? The prime minister of Hungary argued that non-economic problems cannot be solved by economic means. Contrary to this, Edgars Rinkēvičs Latvian MFA said that the sanctions had served their purpose. In your opinion is there any other tool for the West to use to pressure the Kremlin?

The sanctions have been successful as punishment, but not in forcing Russia to get out of Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. As Sergey Kagaranov, the honorary head of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy of the Russian Federation recently said, Russia and Europe are facing a civilizational divorce. Russia and Europe’s strategic interests are increasingly different and it’s clear that Russia is willing to use military power to achieve them. One way is dialogue from a position of strength after understanding which are Russia’s strategic objectives. Another is to construct mutual interests, making the Kremlin believe that it’s more advantageous to cooperate. In reality, it’s quite difficult.

In Riga, 40 percent of the Latvian population speak Russian. How does the Kremlin use them as a tool to increase Russian influence within the country?

With very limited success. The Russian-speaking population is not uniform and I would say this division is too reductionist. I don’t believe they are a fifth column or something like that. In any case, there is solid research showing that they don’t want to live in Russia or under Russian occupied territories. For example, they’re emigrating to other EU countries and not to Russia or any of the CIS. Nevertheless, Russia tries to influence them to support the political agenda of some specific political parties.

Sir Richard Schirreff, a former general of NATO has written a book about an upcoming war between the NATO and Russia. In his military fiction, the Baltics end up being invaded by Russia. What is your opinion about his prophecy, is there any real chance for this scenario?

All scenarios must be taken into consideration for military planning, including Russia invading the Baltics. Although I expect the Russian General Staff has plans which include such scenario, I don’t think the Baltics are Russia’s first priority for preoccupation due to the fact that we’re NATO members and the deployment of allied troops and hardware in our territory. Even though these are insufficient to engage in an offensive against Russia, they are strong enough to work as deterrence. Therefore, I would rather look to the CIS, which are neither NATO or EU countries. Many are saying that the 2017 ZAPAD exercise in September might result in problems to Belarus, but this is only speculation.

Edit Zgut is foreign policy analyst at Political Capital.

Jānis Bērziņš, the director of the Center for Security and Strategic Research in Riga.

The interview was first published at the Political Capital Blog and subsequently at Visegrad Insight.