Stick & Rudder #4. A Basic US Strategy Toward Russia: more than Deter & Defend

  • Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.
  • Americas, Eurasia, Security, Strategy
  • No Comments

If strategy means anything, it should have definition and purpose. US strategy toward the current Russia regime, and just about any competitor, continues to be described simplistically as deter and defend.

Yet, the Russian Federation and other competitors use various psychological and physical means of complex warfare. As detailed in previous Papers (#25, #24, #10 and #3) and Note #15, Russia’s approach to security competition is not only all-domain but also all-effects. Only two of those effects are to deter and defend against threats.

There is growing recognition and tracking of Moscow’s diverse and often asymmetric effects. The Alliance for Securing Democracy tracks several types of Russian information effects to include subversion and coercion via information operations, malign finance, political and social activities, cyberattacks, and strategic economics. The website’s new tracker, Hamilton 2.0, provides in-depth scraping and filtering from state and government websites as well as statements made at the United Nations. We need security and defense strategies that address this reality of complex warfare.

Russia’s Combined Effects

To capture the scope and scale of malicious activities from Russia, we apply a combined effects model of strategy. Broader than combined arms and all-domain joint effects, combined effects strategy is all-domain and all-effects. This approach reveals effective strategies of confrontation and cooperation. Combined effects strategies work by targeting will and capability to produce diplomatic, informational, military, economic and social (DIMES) combinations of effects that subsume narrower (such as military) and sequential (such as deter then defend) approaches:

Figure 1. How to Create Preventive and Causative Effects: Activities Target Will & Capability

Referring to Figure 1, combined effects strategy is systematically broad competition, in three ways:

  • Confrontational (regular-font effects) and Cooperative (italicized effects)
  • Preventive (grey-circle effects) and Causative (blue-circle effects)
  • Psychological (upper half) and Physical (lower half)

This breadth incorporates historical Russian reflexive control methods, such as:

  • Distraction: demonstrate a threat to vital value/interest
  • Info overload: deny decisiveness with frequent/large conflicting information
  • Division: assure enemy of his biased beliefs to persuade anti-coalition ops
  • Pacification: induce beliefs that training is occurring, not offensive ops
  • Provocation: coerce enemy to act when advantageous to you
  • Suggestion: offer info that enhances legal, moral or political inclinations
  • Pressure: offer info that neutralizes government legitimacy

Examples of Russian combined effects include the following dozen. They target state and non-state actors. By categorizing the effects as DIMES-wide, we can appreciate the whole-of-government-plus effort it takes to produce a superior combined effects strategy:

  • military and informational Coercion; diplomatic Compellence in Georgia
  • economic Inducement and diplomatic Persuasion in North Korea
  • military Coercion and economic Inducement in Syria
  • informational and diplomatic Persuasion; informational Inducement in the United States
  • informational Deterrence, Inducement and Coercion in Ukraine
  • social and military Compellence and Coercion in Ukraine
  • military and informational Coercion and Deterrence in Ukraine and NATO
  • informational Coercion and Deterrence in the United Kingdom
  • economic Inducement and Coercion in Slovakia for military Inducement and Coercion in Ukraine
  • informational Coercion and Deterrence in Switzerland
  • economic Inducement and Persuasion in Uzbekistan
  • economic Compellence in the Baltic States
  • informational Persuasion and Compellence, Dissuasion and Deterrence on the worldwide web

Russian complex warfare is opportunistic. Therefore we need to recognize all possible combinations of effects. From our sample, note the following combinations:

  • diplomatic Persuasion
  • informational Coercion, Compellence, Persuasion, Dissuasion, Deterrence
  • military Coercion, Compellence, Deterrence, Inducement
  • economic Inducement, Coercion, Persuasion
  • social Compellence, Coercion

The strategic challenge is to produce superior combined effects. This perspective sees beyond the following prevailing view of strategy: superior combined arms capabilities deter behavior during peacetime; use of force defends during wartime.

A persistent problem is our “after deterrence fails” approach to warfare, which consigns combined arms to situations that a combined effects strategy is calibrated to avoid. Even if we can hold on to combined arms superiority, complex warfare defeats our prevailing peace-or-war mentality.

To defeat Russia’s strategy, we need a whole of government-plus approach that confronts and cooperates at the same time. Operations need to be DIMES-wide. We need to wage complex warfare, of which deterrence and defense are only 25% of the effects needed to win wars not just battles.  

To counter these and other combined effects from Russia, here are four recommended changes to wage and win complex warfare within our Constitutional restraints. 

Four Recommendations to Create Superior Combined Effects

  1. Embrace a broader than joint military vocabulary to wage combined effects in the information environment. Combined effects strategy is a way to get at least DIMES-wide in our strategizing at all levels of the US Government and appropriate private sectors. Unless we do this, any exercise or strategy to proactively shape or reactively counter malicious Russian activities and capabilities will be subsumed by reflexive control and hybrid warfare-type combinations of effects. Russian narratives for instance are psychological operations that seek to Persuade & Compel and Dissuade & Deter behavior. At the same time, physical operations add Coerce & Induce to Compellence and reinforce Deterrence. Deterrence is only part of this combined effect. Defense does not even show up.
  2. Build educational capacity to win the forever war of wits. This requires recognizing the logic of how actors target will and capability. For instance, Russian narratives assure and intimidate a targeted audience’s will in order to Persuade and Compel. At the same time, the narratives enhance and neutralize a target’s capabilities, in order to Dissuade or Deter. Noticing how narratives do this is a continual competition. Investing in critical thinking can help spot uses of selective evidence; confirmation, availability, and anchoring biases; and false historical analogies.
  3. Develop strategies to create synergistic combinations of effects. This recommendation blends recommendations 1 and 2 above. Consider the example of Persuasion-Compellence-Dissuasion-Deterrence, a simultaneous combined effect that out-performs a rival’s fragmented, partial or sequential effects. In Russian narratives, Dissuade and Persuade are designed to be complementary, often to sow confusion. Deter is necessary to keep those two effects working below an opponent’s threshold of significant response. Induce adds to all three of the preceding effects. As I showed in Paper #8, the National Security Strategy calls for the National Defense Strategy to produce every effect in the combined effects model of strategy.
  4. Eliminate the self-inflicted vulnerability that warfare starts with the use of force. Russian dis-, mis- and mal-information target the capability gap that we ourselves have created. Consider our imprecise separation of US Code Title 10 and Title 50 authorities. Title 10 actions are traditional military activities, a chronologically backward-looking restraint. Title 50 actions refers to intelligence and covert actions, and may require Presidential findings. US Presidential National Security Presidential Memorandum 13 authorizes US Cyber Command to take action below the “use of force” or that which would cause death, destruction or significant economic impacts. This standard ignores 75% of combined effects available to opponents. As shown in Figure 1, only Coerce and Defend are confrontational physical effects (”use of force”)

To wage complex warfare, we we need to be in the arena. We need to combine superior effects (the purpose of strategy) not just superior capabilities.

Author: Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.

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