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