A real strategy of deterrence to prevent the next “Ukraine”
The day Russia invaded Ukraine, Reuters published an op-ed titled ‘Putin is launching a war the West saw coming but was powerless to stop’, which chronicled the Russian president Vladimir Poutineseemingly unstoppable march towards war.
The White House, aware of Putin’s plans well in advance, warned of his determination to invade Ukraine – but the threat of “disastrous consequences” and a “terrible price” lacked specifics on what these consequences would be beyond the kind of economic sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The sanctions imposed after February 24 came faster and were far more punitive than anyone, including Putin, had expected. But the fact that he didn’t see them coming – that the West, knowing its determination to invade Ukraine, was unwilling to dissuade him – is one of the West’s greatest political failures.
The United States and its NATO allies were not powerless to stop the war in Ukraine. They lacked preparation and coordination. Many things could have been done, apart from military confrontation, to contribute to deterrence.
Low Risk Gray Zone Activities
Western democracies need to get better at the low-risk gray area activities practiced by their ideological adversaries.
Foreign policy analysts differ on certain details of what constitutes gray area activity. Generally, they agree that it is about pursuing geopolitical objectives through carefully designed operations below the threshold of armed conflict, using all instruments of national power.
These are mainly non-military and non-kinetic tools such as cyber warfare, economics, manipulation of territorial borders, migration, information operations, psychological warfare or measures aimed at weakening an adversary.
Russian and Chinese Gray Area Tactics
In 2014, for example, in the Donbass region of Ukraine, efforts by Ukrainian forces to disrupt enemy supply lines were thwarted by aerial drones that cloned cellular networks, located active cell phones and disabled systems. of Ukrainian command and control.
Ukrainian forces have also been vulnerable to attack from Russia’s “little green men” – soldiers with no insignia on their green uniforms to create (even implausible) denial about their origins.
China is also adept at gray area tactics.
To assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is not content to build new islands and claim them as territory; he deploys a massive fleet of “little blue men” in fishing boats and merchant ships, a maritime militia who harass and wear down opponents in contested areas.
Authoritarian regimes and war in the gray zone
These activities have increased to avoid provoking US military might. On the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Atlantic Council published an article exploring why authoritarian governments are often better at gray-zone warfare than liberal democracies.
Their centralized lines of authority allow them to execute operations instantly. For example, they can buy influence in Africa by funding infrastructure projects with cash – a process that would take months, if not years, to navigate through US bureaucracy.
Authoritarian governments are also more apt to think in non-binary terms such as victory/defeat or war/peace.
The fleet of Chinese dredging vessels that steal sand from Taiwan’s Matsu Islands are deployed not to “win” anything, but to annoy, distract and exhaust the Taiwanese coast guard.
So what should be done in the future?
In the wake of the conflict in Ukraine, the ability of Western nations to deter authoritarian regimes may be strengthened. Russia calculated that economic interests would prevent European countries from joining a powerful sanctions effort.
Would-be abusers now know that their dream of breaking the alliance is just that – a dream.
This new reality offers the West the opportunity to develop and “pre-position” staggered sanctions strategies to deter future aggressors. By taking such swift and unified action against Russia, democratic nations have shown their readiness to act.
Consequently, the aggressors must now integrate this proven will in their future calculations.
Efforts such as Task Force KleptoCapture, the US Department of Justice unit created in mid-March to enforce sanctions against Russian oligarchs, must be permanently institutionalized and adequately funded.
The oligarchs who support authoritarian regimes must know, with a high level of certainty, that they will eventually lose their ill-gotten gains.
Troop rotations, military training
On the European front, the United States must consider much larger troop rotations. The levels need not reach those of the Cold War, but they must be significantly higher than required by the current curriculum.
When deployed, they must be stationed at forward bases in new NATO member countries. Although the idea is likely to meet resistance, serious consideration should be given to the closure of former US bases, particularly in Germany.
New facilities can be built relatively inexpensively in forward-facing NATO countries. Additional offsetting savings would also be realized through lower ongoing costs.
Lessons learned on the Ukrainian battlefield must be quickly incorporated into military training and future joint exercises. A legal framework must be developed to allow the United States Special Operations Command to engage in “upper level” irregular warfare training, including resistance training, city-level militias, and civil disobedience.
Weapons and Tactics
After evaluating their performance in Ukraine, man-portable weapon systems such as Javelins, Stingers, NLAWs and drones should be prepositioned in potentially threatened countries, along with defensive systems such as Sky Saber-based systems. trucks that the UK sent to Poland.
— 🇺🇦 Ukrainian Weapon Tracking (@UAWeapons) March 30, 2022
Encrypted tactical communications equipment and other counter-jamming capabilities, which have become increasingly important as drones have become indispensable defensive assets, will likely also be in high demand.
Military tacticians from Sun Tzu for Napoleon for Dwight D. Eisenhower like to talk about the importance of logistics. The absence of a solid Western logistics strategy to support a democratic NATO-adjacent nation has created a deadly bottleneck.
I recently returned from Lviv, Ukraine, where I met with several government agencies, including the Ministry of Strategic Industries. I saw a small group of smart, tough, tireless and committed Ukrainians trying to put together a plan to move massive amounts of incoming aid to the front.
Warehouses were filling up and the equipment needed to move it to the front was already fully committed. One of the most important lessons of the current conflict is that Western allies must develop and test a logistics system designed to efficiently deliver material support to a defending nation without triggering an escalation of conflict.
New Global Deterrent System
Opponents of democracy will always probe, exploit the gray area and resort to outright aggression if they sense an opportunity.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western democratic nations have let their guard down and, as a result, Ukraine is paying a terrible price.
The challenge before us is to create a new global system of deterrence that can be clearly understood by aggressors and promises to inflict a level of pain that they find unacceptable.
Dominique L. Plewes (@DomLPlewes) is a special advisor to the Freedom Research Foundation and founder of the 501(c)3 Special Operations Forces (SOF) Support Foundation, dedicated to educating Americans about the purposes and uses of our special operations forces.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflectand the editorial position of The Defense Post.
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