It is beyond ironic that as we approach the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One, the world is contemplating the very real possibility of a third such conflagration. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the artificial division of the continent imposed by Moscow, the dream, no the imperative, has been the creation of a Europe whole, secure and free. To that end, the United States, NATO, the European Union, indeed the Western democracies as a whole, were willing to seek significant accommodations with Russia on such issues as the presence of nuclear weapons in successor states, limits on missile defenses, the permanent stationing of NATO forces in Eastern Europe and the entry of Russia into the G-8. The Obama Administration came into office determined to reset U.S.-Russian relations. The President famously was caught on an open microphone informing then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that after the 2012 elections he could be more forthcoming in negotiations with Moscow.
The actions by Russian President Vladimir Putin, first in annexing Crimea and, second by seeking to destabilize and even envelop the eastern provinces of Ukraine, are not about some local territory dispute whose origins are lost in the mists of ancient history, but one in which Americans should take an interest. The Kremlin’s onslaught strikes at the very heart of the post-World War Two stability of the European continent as well as post-Cold War agreement on the inviolability of national borders. By seizing Crimea and claiming that his government has a special right to protect the security and interests of Russians (both ethnic and linguistic) Putin puts in danger the peace that has lasted for some 70 years. Moreover, Putin has already ensured that most of the former Soviet empire is under Moscow’s control. If he is successful in gaining control over Ukraine, Russia will once again be in a position to pose a hegemonic threat to the entire continent.
The tools Moscow is employing such as paramilitary operations, information warfare, agents of influence (Edward Snowden), threats to resource flows and military demonstrations are not new. They reflect an approach to conflicts in the 21st century called Unrestricted Warfare. Orginally described by the Chinese military but now widely practiced by aggressive states and groups such as Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Hamas and Hezbollah, Unrestricted Warfare involves the use of all the means of national power, to include the military, to force an opponent to accept the aggressor’s interests and even dominance. The dangers posed by multiple campaigns based on a strategy of Unrestricted Warfare was laid out clearly in a recent article by Dr. Stephen Blank, currently a Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.
“Today we see a global series of “unrestricted” wars, orchestrated by at least three governments, (Russia, Iran, and North Korea) all of which are clearly aimed at the US, its partners, and allies on a global level.
“These wars are global and bring together states, terrorists, insurgents, bankers, high and low-ranking government, judiciary, customs, police, and security officials in many countries in loose overlapping networks that target US interests, allies, partners, or the US itself on multiple simultaneous and dynamic fronts not all of which actually involve the direct use of violence.”
NATO today is directly confronting the use of Unrestricted Warfare in Eastern Europe. This is the essence of the remarkable public online commentary on NATO’s official website by the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove (USAF). General Breedlove believes it is necessary to say clearly what few politicians and news sources will even whisper: war is being conducted against Ukraine. He opens his remarks with this devastating line: “What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.” It doesn’t get any more straightforward than this.
We in the West like our adversaries to come straight at us, to engage in forms of warfare we recognize and can counter, to be symmetrical to our own military forces in looks, values, tactics, techniques and procedures. If the enemy does not do this, we often have difficulty identifying them but even more important, even recognizing that we are at war. General Breedlove’s commentary appears specifically intended to make clear that what is happening in eastern Ukraine is not simply political unrest between different ethnic groups but a campaign of Unrestricted Warfare orchestrated by Moscow. What General Breedlove didn’t say, but what hangs in the air like some fetid cloud of gas, is that the same tactics and techniques of Unrestricted Warfare used against Georgia and now Ukraine could be employed by Russia against many European states including Moldova, the Baltics and even Poland. If that happens, there will be war.
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