The world is at the brink of war – News from Valery Gerasimov

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On March 15, 2017, a new article by Valery Gerasimov was published in the Military-Industrial Courier. Titled “The world is at the brink of war” the subtitle is more enlightening actually . Gerasimov presents a view according to which foresight is more important than focusing on lessons identified from current conflicts. Related to the 2013 “Gerasimov Doctrine” (see the Russian orginal here), this article is wellworth taking a closer look. There’s novelty in the end, but loads of well-known before. (Kudos to Hanna Grininger for drawing my attention to the article discussed below.)

It is too little just to draw todays conclusions, but necessary to foresee the future.Valery Gerasimov, Military-Industrial Courier, 15.03.2017

War: A Russian definition

Gerasimov begins with a recap of the current state of the art in defining the term war. Clausewitz defined war as imposing one’s own will on your enemy, and while few would deny that times have changed since then, the very core of war remained the same. What may have been easy for Tolstoi poses a challenge to scholars of the 21st century however: how to separate war from peace? On one hand, Russian academia tends to define war by a certain number of elements required: A certain “tick all the boxes” approach. At the same time though, Russian official documents abstain from giving a clear definition.

In the military doctrine of the Russian Federation he [war] is called a form of solution for international or interstate conflicts using force.Valery Gerasimov, Military-Industrial Courier, 15.03.2017

With an active discussion going on in Russia, the Military Academy of the Russian General Staff in cooperation with the Scientific Advisory Board of the National Security Council organized a symposium on the essence of war. The outcome was a need for further analysis of the characteristics of current conflicts and to outcrop future trends.

Using examples to prove nothing

Gerasimov refers to the examples of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Syria to point out new trends. These conflicts have been quite different in terms of participants, weapons used and the forms and methods of warfare in general. A common denominator as seen by the Russians however, neither crossed the threshold of all-out war, but incorporated other means.

Gerasimov goes on to note that the means and methods of aerial warfare evolved at a rapid pace since NATO’s air campaign over the Balkans: Drones and other robotic systems are now a fundamental trait of modern air power.

Furthermore, he underlines the indispensable role of gaining information superiority. “To solve this task mass media and social media networks are used. At the same time forces and means of informational-psychological and informational-technical attack are employed.” This strong focus on the informational sphere is hardly new, as Russian scholars discuss the role of informational assets as an integral part of the so-called colour revolutions, mainly in the sense of a technology employed by the West to overthrow adversary states.

So, in the conflicts in the Middle East for the first time the mobilising potentials of social networks were revealed.Valery Gerasimov, Military-Industrial Courier, 15.03.2017

Mixing traditional (read: military) and non-traditional (read:non-military) actions – popularised as hybrid warfare – takes root in the USA and NATO as a means of international relations short of open aggression. From Gerasimov’s point of view, the Syrian conflict is a case in point for this allegation. He argues that the domestic conflict was transformed in an armed uprising by the opposition, which then was bolstered as well as organized by foreign instructors and informational support. Foreign-backed terrorist groups emerged on the battlefield only as the government was already giving battle to “native” rebels. This is seen as quasi-evidence for the alleged use of hybrid methods by the US and other Western countries in Syria.

Clausewitz still matters

Up to this point, the article is nothing new or original. Gerasimov continues to elaborate on the hybridity of modern international relations: “Today the obliteration of the border between the state of war and peace is obvious. […] There is a widening spectrum of reasons and causes to use military force, which increasingly frequently is used safeguarding economic interests of a state under the formula of defending democracy or spreading democratic values in the one or the other state.” Just as in 2013, Gerasimov applies the colour revolutions logics over and over: The real threat lies in the “potential for protests of the population” and “Non-military forms and methods of fighting experienced an unprecedented technological evolution and obtained a perilous, sometimes even violent character.”

Still, all the conflicts analysed have seen the employment of military attacks, using either regular forces or irregular armed formations. “Consequently, the underlying subject of war in the present and the foreseeable future remains the same. And its most important trait is the existence of armed struggle.”

It’s all about deterrence

With the armed attack remaining a core feature of war, Russia must be capable to counter any attack on its territory or its allies. Hence, in peacetime threats must be neutralized by measures of strategic deterrence; This is why capabilities for prediction and prognosis are attributed an ever-growing role. Last but not least – and this standpoint has been all but evident in the recent account of acquisitions -, deterrence relies on modern equipment.

Subsequently, Russia is planning to further develop all its branches of services, with an emphasis on high-precision weaponry, modern means of communication, electronic warfare and intelligence: Currently, the Strategic Rocket Forces undergo a massive reoutfitting, new submarines are to be introduced andthe strategic bomber force consisting of Tu-160 and Tu-95MS will be modernized to stay in service until the end of 2020 . Gerasimov announces further improvements to be made from 2021, enhancing Russia’s capabilities to defend its territory from his point of view.

The most important developments, according to Gerasimov, are to be made in the field of robotics. The wide use of systems of varying degrees of autonomy, in a variety of environments, is supposed to not only raise the effectivity of the armed forces, but also significantly help reducing numbers of personnel lost in combat.

The West and the Gerasimov speeches

Just as the 2013 article, the current piece is based on a speech Gerasimov gave to the collegium of the Academy of Military Sciences (AMS). With foresight an integral part of military science in Russia, his views on the future of warfare should be given attention and placed in context. At the same time, it is important not to overshoot and/or over-attribute it with significance, as illustrated in this statement by Charles Bartles:

[It] is important to keep in mind that Gerasimov is simply explaining his view of the operational environment and the nature of future war, and not proposing a new Russian way of warfare or military doctrine.Charles Bartles, Military Review, January-February 2016, p. 31

The last section of Gerasimov’s 2015 speechseemingly underlines Bartles’ argument. Both texts were addressed to a specific target audience. As a matter of fact, they have been printed in the Military-Industrial Courier, but both neither address politicians nor military personnel. His speech needs to be superficial on the one hand and give some intellectual puzzles at the same time. And above all, Gerasimov should value the mental work of scientist, stating:

We have to remind ourselves: victory is never gained by material resources alone, but also by the mental resources of the people, their unity and their effort to withstand an aggression with all strengths.Valery Gerasimov, Military-Industrial Courier, 15.03.2017

To further understand Valery Gerasimov’s perspective, Bartles’ commentary on the “Gerasimov Doctrine” in Military Review is a worthwhile read. Timothy Thomas and Ulrik Franke have authored highly valuable papers on Russian military thinking. More food for thought on the complex relationship between the colour revolutions and Russia’s hybrid warfare concept will be soon be available at

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About the Author
Christoph Bilban

Christoph Bilban


Christoph holds as MA in political sciences and an BA in slavonic studies. He is a reserve officer and currently working for the Austrian National Defence Academy. His works for neither reflect the opinion of the National Defence Academy nor the Republic of Austria.

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