Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Quotable: Nick Snyder on “influence” in Russian strategic thinking

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Monday, June 6th 2016
Has Russia developed a new way of warfare?  Major Nick Sinclair’s contribution to the debate, “Old Generation Warfare: The Evolution—Not Revolution—of the Russian Way of Warfare,” was published in the May-June issue of Military ReviewAnalyzing the ends, ways, and means of NGW [new generation warfare] shows historical consistencies with Russian approaches to warfare combined with adaptations based on the current operational environment,” he argued.  Public Diplomacy practitioners will be most interested in the section of the article that reviewed “influence”:

According to [Janis] Berzins, Russian NGW favors an indirect approach of influence instead of a direct influence of physical confrontation. “NGW moves from targeting an enemy’s physical assets for destruction towards psychological warfare to achieve inner morale decay.”  Berzins demonstrated the success of the Russian indirect approach in the Crimea, stating that “in just three weeks, and without a shot being fired, the morale of the Ukrainian military was broken and all of their 190 bases had surrendered.”  As Glenn Curtis points out in his 1989 paper, An Overview of Psychological Operations, targeting an adversary’s morale is nothing new to the Russian military. The central goal of psychological operations is consistent: “If an opponent’s attitude can be influenced favorably, his physical resistance will diminish.”  He states that Soviet psychological operations were “not invented by the Bolsheviks in 1917; it was used sporadically for centuries by Russian tsars in domestic and foreign relations.”

Although psychological operations hold a time-honored place in Russian military tradition, their central role against the West received special emphasis during the Cold War. They were used by Moscow to influence activities in Western domestic politics and to shape outcomes in the Third World.  Disinformation, active measures (influencing an opponent through seemingly unrelated third parties) and propaganda represented the front lines between East and West. A few examples include KGB forgeries of “official” U.S. government documents authorizing assassinations and government overthrows as well as the KGB’s use of the World Peace Council to petition the U.S. government to make nuclear disarmament terms that were favorable to the USSR.  Although Russia lost the Cold War, they did not abandon the indirect approach of psychological operations.

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