CPT Jake Miraldi: This is the podcast of the Modern War Institute at West Point, an integrative look at war, policy and leadership. I’m Captain Jake Miraldi of the Modern War Institute. Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on the War Council blog at ModernWarInstitute.org. Today on the podcast we’ll be talking to Dr. Jacob Grygiel, the George H. W. Bush senior associate professor of international relations at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. We’ll be talking to him about the concept of limited war and how it is shaping the global security environment in Europe and around the world.
I want to welcome Dr. Grygiel to the podcast. Thank you for coming on. Given that some of our listeners may not be familiar with the concept of limited war, I want to jump right in with how you define limited war.
Dr. Grygiel: Well, look, limited war, it’s a broad concept and it’s kind of fuzzy because every war, after all, is limited, right? It’s limited in geography in the means used and often the objectives. But the – there’s a whole theory and a whole literature on limited war, and broadly speaking, has two components partly tied to the historical periods that they examine. A pre Cold War period in which limited war essentially meant a war that a state engages in to conquer a piece of territory, a small piece of territory. It’s a war of territorial adjustment, right? You want to conquer a city, a river, a mountain or something like this, and therefore, you don’t want to destroy the hostile state, you just want that piece – that sliver of territory.
So you’re not gonna mobilize your whole population, you’re not gonna mobilize your whole army. You’re gonna go in, take that piece of territory and then hopefully engage in some sort of negotiations that would settle the hostilities. In the Cold War, in the U.S. in particular, that concept was examined and restored in many ways because it was an attempt to answer a question, and the question is, how do you respond to Soviet conventional war and region acts or why without triggering nuclear annihilation, right? So the question, therefore, is almost like, you know, how do you fight a war, a limited conventional war under this threat of nuclear exchange?
So you have, you know, great minds like Bernard Brody, Robert Osgood in the ’50s and ’60s that were thinking about this. And that concept – there’s a whole American theory of limited war – was very popular until the Vietnam War, and after the Vietnam War, which was seen as one of the limited wars, perhaps the pinnacle of limited war, that concept sort of lost appeal because it was seen as limiting American superiority, military superiority on the ground, and therefore limited also the – limiting the possibility of victory. You know, that was the outcome of Vietnam. But again, I think it’s coming back, the term and the phrase and the sort of the theory behind it. And very briefly, I mean it means that it’s a war fought for limited objectives with limited means.
Limited in scope in many ways, right? You – it’s not – the objective is not the annihilation, the full destruction of the hostile state, of the rival, but some other, smaller objective, mostly geographically constrained. And therefore also, limited means, right? You don’t need to mobilize your entire population, economy, army, because you don’t want to destroy the enemy, you just want to take a piece a land, a city, a river, and so on and so forth. And it’s similar to the Cold War set of challenges because in many ways a state that fights a limited war imposes or self-imposes certain restraints on himself, right, because it doesn’t want to – it could but doesn’t want to escalate the war because one of the objectives is to avoid a larger confrontation, a larger war, right?
So it’s – another way to put that, there’s – in the limited war there’s a tradeoff, the tradeoff between the risk of a larger war that you don’t want to and the risk of not achieving whatever small objective that you set yourself in front of you. So it’s – and the tradeoff, I think, it’s obviously more pronounced with – in case the hostility among or between nuclear-armed states, right? ‘Cause that’s the pinnacle of escalation that you do not want to [laughs] engage in, but it’s always in the background.
CPT Jake Miraldi: You’ve written a lot about how limited war as a conflict model is showing up more recently, especially in regards to Russian action in the Caucasus and Ukraine. How has limited war manifested itself in those places –
Dr. Grygiel: Right.
CPT Jake Miraldi: – and how do you think the concept of limited war will manifest itself in the future?
Dr. Grygiel: Well, you know, up front it’s hard to speculate, right? [Laughs] So I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future, but it seems to be there’s a trend here, especially in the case of Russia, is that they do have an objective they want to avoid, right? And the objective they want to avoid is a direct confrontation, large confrontation with the west, mainly NATO and the U.S., right? That’s something that they certainly don’t want to engage in because still the balance of force and the balance of power really favors us, not them.
So that’s something they want to avoid, but they also want to achieve certain objectives in their – on their regional scale and those objectives are some form of restoration of their empire, if you want to call it, or just probably speaking of their influence in the region. So how do you do that, right? And I think that – about the wars in Georgia, but in particular the past couple of years, Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine have sort of indicated how they might go about doing so, right? And it seems like it’s a mix of very quick attacks that catch everybody by surprise, limited in a sense that they don’t go for the capital. They don’t go to Kiev, for instance, but they are limited to a specific, very narrowly-defined geography with limited forces.
Crimea was a great example as to they sent in the so-called Little Green Men, unmarked, special forces essentially, because they’re not sure what the response is, right? So if the response is gonna be an escalation by the targeted state they might actually retreat because they want to avoid a large confrontation so they – and if you send limited forces, small forces, you can do it. You don’t want to do a mass invasion, right? And they count on the speed of their projection of force on their attack.
They want to achieve – you know, the term is usually – it’s a French term, fait accompli, sort of a done fact. They want to change things on the ground quickly and force the defender to go on the offensive, right? So you go in 10 miles in or 50 miles in, whatever is the limited geographical objective, and you just sit there and then you force the enemy or the targeted state, in this case, to either do nothing, in which case you achieve everything you do, or actually to go on the offensive and force a rollback which is very, very hard to do politically and militarily. And that’s what I think they’ve been pursuing in Ukraine over the past couple of years, and that’s what the threat is I think now towards most of the Baltic States but also through essentially European states.
CPT Jake Miraldi: NATO’s very much framed this way to deter Russian aggression, but you’ve written that NATO’s conception how to do that, mainly trading space and land in Eastern and Central Europe for time, is no longer effective if Russia is fighting a limited war. What’s a better construct for NATO’s defense?
Dr. Grygiel: Right. It’s a good question. I mean, look, the defense in depth against a limited attack is useless, right? Because the limited attack does not want to penetrate in depth of whatever target they have, so you can’t trade space for time. So – and that’s usually, in brief, the old model of NATO is that we’re going to wait for a mass attack of the enemy and we can, you know, mobilize forces while they penetrate X amount of miles into our territory because, you know, we have to stop them. They’re not gonna stop by themselves.
Limited attack, it means that they’re gonna stop before even we mobilize our forces. So the defense has to be conceptually very different. It has to be, you know – and I don’t have a great term for it, but it has to be local defense, mainly local frontline defense. The defense has to be there on the line, on the frontline because it’s gotta be there whether the victory or defeat is achieved. So that means several things, but it means definitely greater reliance on local forces, and therefore, those allies that are on the frontline have to mobilize in ways they have not done in the past.
Some already are thinking about this or have been thinking about it over several years now, how to do that. It’s really sort of old frontier defense or border defense in some form or fashion and it’s more than just putting troops on the path of the enemy as tripwires, right? That they will – you know, they’ll be eliminated and attacked and therefore there great – the alliance will mobilize. It means really hindering the advance of the enemy right at the very moment they cross the frontier because, again, in the case of the Baltics, they might stop at 10 miles in, 5 miles or 20 miles in, whatever the mileage is.
So it’s local defense, which means also for the U.S. as the main ally of these countries, a much more substantial for presence. It doesn’t mean big bases in Germany, it means a lot of troops spread over a fairly lengthy front in Central Eastern Europe. So that’s, you know, in brief what that might mean.
CPT Jake Miraldi: If I’m an Estonian military official, how does the concept of limited war and the way that Russia’s been practicing affect the way that I go about defending my country?
Dr. Grygiel: Right. Well, if you’re in Estonia, an Estonian, right, it means a couple things. One is – I guess there could be a debate whether it’s purely defensive, so you really sort of engage in – there’s a developing of doctrine as well as capabilities for territorial defense, guerilla warfare, landmines, border guards, and so on and so forth, national guards giving – spreading sort of arms among the population, sort of the Swiss model of defense, right? Pretty much everybody’s armed and don’t try to advance in those valleys because everybody will start shooting at you. So that’s one model.
The other model, which is not mutually exclusive of the first one is develop some sort of offensive capabilities, namely the capability to strike beyond the narrowly-defined frontline into the territory of the enemy, both to hinder the advance of the enemy. You know, you strike staging areas, logistics, and so and so forth, but also to hinder and degrade their capability to control particular the air domain over your land. You know, one of the changes of the past, say, several, you know, two or three decades is that it’s not just us but our rivals have developed great capabilities to prevent us and our allies from functioning over their own territory, right? It’s called A2/AD set of platforms of capabilities.
So, you know, all of the Baltic’s airspace is under essentially control or under threat from Russian missiles. One-third, probably more of the Polish airspace is also under threat from Russian ant air capabilities. So those allies ought to have some sort of capability to degrade those Russian A2/AD platforms for the simple reason that without that it will be very difficult for their allies – us – to reinforce them. It’s gonna be difficult to fly in into Estonia once conflicts start because it means it’s probably losing a lot of assets while we reinforce it. One – you know, another way to put it is, you know, a reentry into a theater of conflict these days is much more difficult than it has been in the past, so we have to figure out and the allies have to figure out how to reopen that window, how to allow reentry, reinforcements, from their allies.
CPT Jake Miraldi: I found it really interesting in your recent parameters article talking about arming offensively and giving those frontline states the capability to conduct middle to deep strikes as a way to increase the cost and reduce the capability of an aggressor state. Are there any threats or risks associated with giving those frontline states this capacity?
Dr. Grygiel: Well, you know, that’s a good question because usually that’s how we thought about and that’s how we think about allies is that we don’t want them to have too many offensive capabilities because that creates – or so we think – instability in the region, right? We almost give the trigger of the war or escalation to an ally. And, you know, I think the fear is – definitely was – in many ways justified, but I think that – you know, there are a couple things. One is the technology has changed over the past several decades and it’s much easier for these allies to acquire these capabilities.
It’s much easier than it was I think in the 1950’s and ’60s. So that’s one. Second, I think we have to keep in mind that most of these allies – and I think all of them – are really status quo states, status quo powers, right? They’re not gonna use these capabilities to start a war. You’d be really suicidal if you’re Estonia to engage in a preventive war against Russia, right? So, you know, even if they have – would have some limited capabilities, small capability to destroy Russia – and again, we’re not talking about huge capabilities here – they’re not gonna use it as a first strike.
They will probably – but they’ll have to wait for an attack from Russia in this specific case in order to use them because otherwise the alliance will not – never come to their aid. So I think that there’s a political restraint that is present that we have to keep in mind when we talk about potentially arming these – offensively – these states. You know, and last point is, again, the size of these states is, you know, in some cases very small, the Baltics, in some case could be larger and sort of middle power, Poland or Romania, but they’re still small in comparison to Russia or the U.S. in the back, and I think that similarly it will be – analogous logic is applicable to Asia, right?
Even Japan, the largest of all of them, still in a sort of balance of power, one against one with China, it would not be able to withstand a one-on-one confrontation. So it has to rely – these states have to rely on the alliance that is behind them, and in order to guarantee that the alliance will be behind them, they’ll have to be very moderate, restrained, in how they use potentially these offensive capabilities they may potentially acquire. So some way to look – another way to look at this, the risks are there but I think they are not as big as some people make them.
CPT Jake Miraldi: I’ve seen arguments either way, but the NATO model you’re talking about isn’t necessarily an offensive model, just a different way or an update to the old NATO defensive model. Right now we still function under the old Western European-centric model. The frontline states don’t really have the capabilities to support the model we’re discussing. With that in mind, if Russia were to invade Estonia tomorrow, how would that operation play out and how would our reaction be different than the reaction to, say, Ukraine?
Dr. Grygiel: Well, on your last point, I mean that’s a different case than Ukraine, right? Ukraine was and is not a NATO member. Estonia and all the other Baltics are, so if we say that we’re willing to take some territorial adjustment in Estonia, right, then we’re saying that NATO is really not what it’s meant to be and we’re willing to negotiate an attack against a NATO ally as opposed to responding to it. So it – that would be an enormous success in this case for Russia. It would be the demise of the credibility of Article 5 of NATO.
So essentially, Russia would show that you can attack a NATO ally and – with a limited strike, limited war, right, and achieve territorial adjustment, but most importantly, then you can reach a negotiated settlement. So Article 5 is not really an article that defends – for the defense of these allies, it’s just a promise that it’s really not that serious. So that’s the first point I think that we have to be careful in saying there will be a similar outcome in Ukraine. I think it will really be the end of NATO.
CPT Jake Miraldi: Right.
Dr. Grygiel: Now what it means on the ground, I think, you know, right now it’s hard to say because we, the U.S., but also the local states have not fully developed yet the – both the thinking and the capabilities necessary for defending against a limited attack against Russia, and that’s why the situation I think is highly unstable and dangerous. I think more or less we know what we need to do. The question is whether there’s political will, but what we need to do is obviously encourage and help those countries to develop serious local defense forces in a variety or formations, right? It can be conventional forces, border guards, national guards, strengthen then police force because a lot of the potential types of attack, when they occur, are somewhere in the borderline between a conventional military attack and, say, some sort of – something that looks like a criminal attack.
I don’t know, you know, a motorcycle gang penetrating Estonia, right, or even more complicated, a peacekeeping force – Russian “peacekeeping force” coming in to the aid of some Russian minority in some town in Estonia or Latvia. So then you have to sort of develop a spectrum of forces capable of dealing with a spectrum of types of attacks. For us I think it really means that we need to have a presence in those countries and not just the promise of a quick reaction force. Because again here, the point is, the quick reaction force will take days to arrive and, you know, hopefully maybe hours, but really it’ll be more days, and by then it wouldn’t – the task is not gonna be to protect the territory it’s going to be to reclaim the territory that whoever – you know, whatever format of Russian forces has conquered, right?
And that is politically much more difficult, right? You have to mobilize public opinion in Europe and the U.S. to re conquer some territory lost. It’s militarily much more difficult. You know, basic problem of offense versus defense and it creates and puts a burden on us because then we are the ones that have to escalate the war.
CPT Jake Miraldi: Right.
Dr. Grygiel: And again, the moment you have to escalate politically, militarily on the ground, it’s much more difficult to do. So the point being is that a quick reaction force is great but really the presence, physical presence, on the frontline is much more necessary, much more – it’s a much greater deterrent.
CPT Jake Miraldi: So let’s discuss U.S. forward presence. The U.S. has been pretty active in the last 5 or 10 years in Eastern Europe, whether it’s Romania or Poland or most recently with _____. Do you see a movement of U.S. trips from where they’re currently stationed in Germany and Italy to a more forward position?
Dr. Grygiel: Yes. You know, there’ll be probably different terms for it, for political reasons, for diplomatic reasons. We’re not gonna establish some gigantic base in, you know, Poland or Romania like we had in _____ or Germany in part because it’s politically more difficult and part because that’s not what is needed, right? It – what is needed is much more sort of spread out constant presence along a much longer frontline in that region. So that’s – and that – I think that’s where it seems to trend or the direction – that’s where we are going.
It also means, you know, that – it’s gonna be a different type of presence and of – hopefully it’ll never happen but if there’s a war – war. And what I mean by that, I think it’s going to be much more localized. A lot of – you know, if you think about a limited war, it’s really fought at the lowest level. Obviously, all wars are fought at the lowest level, but when you have time to think about actions and operations then, you know, it percolates up the decision-making, right? Here it’s short, limited, territory grab to which you’ll have to have a response that is quick, on the spot, under difficult circumstances, often without reinforcements and perhaps even without control of the air which – to which we are kind of used to over the past several decades.
So it puts actually a much greater burden on the small, you know, platoon or, you know, small group rather than sort of back in the base or back in Washington or in the political capitols and that – it’s a different type of operation that I think we’re using in Europe over the past several decades, right? It’s a really sort of small, localized operations.
CPT Jake Miraldi: That’s an interesting point I’d like to touch on, the small unit character you’re talking about, in terms of both frontline states and in terms of U.S. forces in Europe. Let’s start with the frontline states. At the tactical level, the platoon, company, battalion level, how does the concept of limited war we’ve been talking about affect those leaders training and their understanding of their role in the defense of their state?
Dr. Grygiel: You know, it’s hard for me to say on this because it’s speculative, but a couple points, I think. One is that because of time, that level – platoon, company and so on and so forth – will have to take decisions that before maybe didn’t have to. Before it was told where to go and what to do. Here, they’ll have to take decisions. For instance, you know, if you’re sitting on the frontline on the border of, I don’t know, Estonia and you see a large – to use the group I mentioned before – motorcycle gang, Russian motorcycle gang trying to cross the border, then you’ll have to decide what to do with them.
Do you stop them, do you let them go? And you don’t have maybe the time to ask somebody above you to do this, right? So the decision is really – the burden of the decision it seems to me it’s at that level at this point because of the speed and the size of the type of threat. So that’s one. A second is you’ll have to also play – coordinate much more because of just sheer size. It’s a small size that you – of your forces. You’ll have to coordinate with local allies much more than you did before because of the complexity of the threat, the complexity of the area and the need for – you know, and the absence – which would be my last point – the absence of reinforcements.
So you’ll have to count much more on these local allies, and the complication of it is that these local allies often are not gonna be traditional, conventional forces, right? They’re gonna be border guards, police forces, armed citizens, right? So that creates sort of a spectrum of coordination that is much more difficult, right? You’re not just coordinating with people that you trained with over the previous years, that maybe you went to West Point on exchange or, you know, war colleges on exchange, right?
They – they’re just local guys that decided to, you know, stop the motorcycle gang or whoever trying to cross the border. You have to figure out how to talk to them, how to deal with them, how to incorporate them if possible at all into your plans and into your decisions. The last point again and related to this, given the hostile environment, the A2/AD environment, among other problems, is that you will not have necessarily the luxury or reinforcement for a prolonged period of time, whether it’s days or weeks, I don’t know, but it’s still not like we are used to.
So there’s a shorter and smaller logistical backing that you’ll have which means, again, you’ll have to be able to function for prolonged periods without contact or without resupplies from some larger base somewhere in the back and that creates, again, challenges because you have to train them presumably in a different way, you have to be able to rely on local populations and forces for resupply for help, for information. So again, it’s an environment that is very different from the Cold War for how we thought about, you know, Cold War fighting in Europe, and it’s environment is sort of, again, goes back to this idea of local defense. Everything is localized, right, including the presence of allies becomes very much localized and tied to location.
CPT Jake Miraldi: So for the tactical level leader in those frontline states you’re seeing a decentralization of command and control and decision-making, coordination being required between both military and nonmilitary entities, be they border guards or militia or police as well as an isolating that may not have been the case before A2/AD. Going off what you said about U.S. forward presence, if we were to stage more troops in those frontline states would the same elements – decentralization, coordination, relative isolation – be defining parts of the tactical situations for U.S. troops?
Dr. Grygiel: You know, I think it will be true of U.S. forces too again, because we’re not gonna be gigantic bases with hundreds of thousands of troops in the frontline, right? So they’re gonna be small forces spread out, perhaps moving. You know, we use the term rotation which I think is what we’re going for – towards. It’s more sort of moving around those countries. And so it’s similar and, you know, U.S. forces will have to do exactly the same.
You’ll have – they’ll have to coordinate with a whole spectrum of allied forces, they’ll have to coordinate without necessarily that much supervision from above because just information is going to be very much localized, and without the possibility of counting on quick and mass reinforcements, right? Again, think about, you know, there’s some battle or some engagement happens on the border of, I don’t know, Estonia. It’s not clear that you can call in massive reinforcements that will be arriving within hours because, well, those reinforcements may not be able to land anywhere nearby because of the Russian threats. They may land much father and they’ll have to drive there, which will take days, right? So you have to be prepared there for sort of a lonely battle, a lonely presence, right, along that frontline and not sort of mass formations coordinated by, you know, some general in the background.
CPT Jake Miraldi: Any strategy for NATO’s defense, new or old, is obviously built upon deterrence. Hypothetically, if we have established the more forward strategy that you’re suggesting and that deterrence fails, how does that conflict play out?
Dr. Grygiel: Well, you know, in order to deter, right, you – the objective to deter is – of deterrence is that you want to prevent the enemy from considering an attack, right? So that’s one. When deterrence fails then the question we have to pose ourselves is, how much do we want to put in – how much effort we want to put in to restore the status quo ante, you know, the status quo before the attack. And really, I mean the two are linked. If the answer to the second question is that we don’t want to put that much effort into restoring the status quo ante and therefore we’re fine with a small readjustment, the deterrence is not gonna work, right?
So the two questions mainly have to be linked, they can’t be separated; oh, we’re gonna do one thing if deference fails and we’re gonna do something else when deterrence succeeds. I think we have to be prepared to repulse and roll back and restore the status quo ante before the attack in order for deterrence to work, and that’s why the – you know, that’s a challenge because you have to create certain capabilities, doctrines and presence that are not there yet, right? So at this point maybe we will be – one way to put it is maybe at this stage, if an attack happens tomorrow, we can probably still defeat a Russian attack, but we already fail at deterring it because we don’t have the posture necessary to do that, right?
We would have to establish – if an attack occurs tomorrow, we’ll have to prepare and establish a response that we haven’t done yet, right? We have to mobilize, we have to send troops, we have to send reinforcements to the allies – all things that, in theory, we can but we haven’t really thought through of how to do it under those circumstances. So, you know, it’s preparing for the worst in many was, hoping, obviously, that it doesn’t happen, and by the fact that we’re preparing for the worst hopefully we’re gonna prevent that from happening. It seems to me, you know, Russia has been demonstrating capabilities which we knew they had but there’ve been much more aggressive in showing after their willingness and their capability to escalate war, right?
So with, you know, flights of nuclear bombers, with projection of power to Syria which is, you know, among other affects of that, and maybe among other objectives of that projection of power, Russian power to Syria is the demonstration of their capability and will to do so. So there’s, you know, a high intensity component in this rivalry that is much present – very much present and that Russia has been demonstrating that it has. The question is whether they will necessarily go with that as a first option, right, whether they’ll go with the high-intensity war as a first option. I don’t think so. I think that’s just a – almost like an insurance to say, look, we’re gonna do something small but don’t respond to something small because look in the back, our beautiful capabilities, projection of force, nuclear forces.
One of their points in their doctrines, especially nuclear doctrine, is this so-called escalate to deescalate idea, namely that they’re gonna threat – Russia will threaten or threatens escalation to nuclear war – they’re gonna escalate nuclear and use nuclear weapons in order to deescalate a conventional conflict. So they’re gonna threaten us with nuclear attack in order for us not to respond conventionally to conventional attacks somewhere, in Estonia or wherever they want to do, and I think that’s exactly why limited war has to come back in because that’s really the questions that people were asking in the 1950’s and ’60s – how do we respond to conventional attack by the Soviet Union then if they have nuclear weapons, right – when they have nuclear weapons? How do we do this and not engage in nuclear war?
So here – you know, it’s a question that we have to pose ourselves in this case. And the answer to that again – slightly different than what it was in the Cold War, but the answer now it seems to me is local war presence on the local frontline. One additional aspect, we use the term hybrid war, right? It’s a – one of these terms that just sort of pops up – has popped – you know, has become quite popular in the past couple years – addressing – that’s not a term that the Russians use, right? The Russians use a variety of terms, but one is such a new generation of warfare, that’s their term.
They use hybrid war to define our strategy and our approach to conflict. They use new generation of warfare which is, you know, a fairly elaborate set of arguments and theories on conflict, violent confrontation. But the broad point here is for them, I think, is that war is not just military. War – when you engage in war you use all types of state assets and powers to do so; information, propaganda, business, and so on and so forth, right, and military’s just one aspect of it. So the new generation of warfare – and we’re kind of engaged in that rivalry already with them.
Think about propaganda, right? You probably know and watch once in a while Russia Today, right? Very sleek information operation the goal of which is not necessarily to tell an alternative truth but just to confuse you, to put so much junk out there that you don’t know what’s true and what is not. That’s part and partial of their approach of new generational warfare, right? That you – at a certain point you will not know what’s happening because there’s so much stuff out there and some of it is true, some of it is not.
So think about again in terms of specific war is that one of the risks or the damage – or the dangers is that an attack occurs and there’ll be so much misinformation and half truths and half lies that you as, let’s say an American population or even politicians, you will not know what is happening, right? Who is attacking whom? Who is entering whose territory, right? That’s why I go back to the previous questions that you asked and the previous point – there is so much more responsibility put on the platoon or company level, right? Because that – those are the guys, they’ll be there, they’ll be seeing what’s happening without the – necessarily the medium of, you know, Russia Today propaganda.
So they’ll have to take decisions [laughs] that are not – that are almost impossible to take by somebody not on the spot, that doesn’t see what is happening on that street, on that bridge, on that field, right? And so – in many ways, you know, that – what is the term that we used to use? Full spectrum information or something like that, right? We have full information of the battlefield. That’s not gonna be possible in part because of the way that Russia is preparing for this type of confrontation by just obfuscating, creating chaos in the information sphere.
And I don’t necessarily refer here to technical, you know, cyber war, to shutting down communication channels and so on and so forth, which is a whole different story. Here I’m just saying, you know, there’ll be chaos, informational chaos, and therefore, how do we make a decision sitting, say, in Washington or in Warsaw or in, you know, Brussels? How do we make decisions not having a clear idea of what’s happening? Again, the platoon company level will have to make the decision. So in that sense, it’s – yes, it’s high-intensity, you know, new technologies and all that, but it’s very much localized because everything will be decided on the spot.
CPT Jake Miraldi: We’ve been talking about Russia and NATO because I think it’s sort of the most stark example of how this limited war change has sort of manifested itself in the modern day. Where are other places, say, in the Pacific or elsewhere where we’re potentially seeing some element of limited war cropping up?
Dr. Grygiel: You know, obviously the Pacific and – is the other theater that preoccupies us. For basic geographic regions – reasons – it’s a very different theater, right? It’s – therefore, you – at West Point you’re probably less interested in the Pacific in many ways than in Europe. It’s more of a Navy and Air Force arena. But there are I think analogies, and the analogy is that like Russia, I don’t think China is interested in a direct, high-intensity confrontation with the U.S., right? It just does not achieve any objectives that they may want to obtain.
So what they’re – and how they engage in the rivalry is essentially by small steps, a version of limited war, right? One way of putting it is the term Salami tactics, right? You don’t – you slice pieces of Salami gradually and you achieve your objective very gradually altering, therefore, even the perception in the targeted state, right? You don’t feel like you’re losing because you just a little bit today and you lost a little bit tomorrow but, you know, throughout the accumulation of these little losses, once you realize that you’re losing it’s too late. It’s – you know, the example usually brought was how do you defeat a deterrent?
You know, I think it was Thomas Schelling who was one of the main minds behind deterrence used the image of when you tell your kid not to go into the water, right? Don’t go into, you know, the ocean because it’s cold or, you know, you don’t want to get wet. Well, the kid starts putting a toe in, and you say, “Well, you know, I’m telling you not to go in the water,” and the kid says, “Well, I didn’t go in the water, it’s just my toe,” right? Then it’s a foot, then it’s, you know, up to his knee, and before you realize, right, through these small steps he’s fully in the water and it’s too late to do anything, right? You haven’t deterred him because he gradually took over and achieved the objective he wanted to achieve. I think it’s the same in Asia, right?
They’re not gonna conquer necessarily the South China Sea or just take over in one swift move, but they’re gradually, slowly building up, for instance, islands, right? And slowly they’re establishing certain precedence and gradually expanding, sort of almost like in concentric circles into those areas. So in that sense it’s similar, right? It’s gradual, small, limited – each step is limited but the accumulation of these limited steps may have a larger objective and a larger outcome that we certainly don’t – want to prevent. So it’s – and to some degree, I think, you know, they are more – the Chinese moves are more dangerous than the Russia moves, and the reason is that the Chinese have not engaged in violent confrontation with anybody yet, right?
They’ve been pursuing these limited steps – let’s use those terms – in the middle of oceans, right? The South China Sea. Russia has engaged in violent wars; small, limited, peripheral but still violent, right, where it – artillery duels with a lot of causalities, and that creates sort of greater opposition to that type of behavior. It sort of alerts us that Russia is violent or capable of using violence, and therefore, we’re gonna prepare for it. The Chinese are not shooting anybody yet, right? And in that sense it’s more subtle, their strategy, and from that perspective it’s more dangerous, right, because it doesn’t awaken as quickly us and our allies as Russia has done in Europe.
CPT Jake Miraldi: Well, great. I think I’m going to wrap it up. I really appreciate you sitting down to talk to us and hope we have a chance to have you back on in the future.
Dr. Grygiel: Sure, my pleasure. Thank you for the conversation.
If you’d like to find additional research, op-eds and other original ideas from the Modern War Institute, please visit the War Council blog at ModernWarInstitute.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can find new episodes of the Modern War Institute podcasts on iTunes and Stitcher. The views expressed in this podcast are those of the respected participants and do not reflect the official position of the United States Government. From the Modern War Institute, I’m Captain Jake Miraldi and I hope you’ll join us next time for more in-depth conversations on war, policy and leadership.
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