Tag: Crimean Crisis

Rubik’s Cubes and Contemporary Warfighting

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

One of the most important parts of being a strategist is understanding the environment.  To have a grasp on the zeitgeist sharpens analysis and focuses the mind on what “is” and what might come. My contribution to this is the assessment that the contemporary warfighting environment is dominated by what I call “Rubik’s Cube” conflicts.  This is an adaptation of Emile Simpson’s reference to Iraq as a “mosaic” conflict (see War from the Ground Up, p. 95). The term “mosaic” is not quite right as it indicates a static environment, whereas I see a more dynamic environment. My definition of a Rubik’s Cube conflict:

Any conflict or war which features at least one belligerent cohort fighting for common military objectives while motivated by multiple and (potentially) shifting social, ethnic, cultural, religious, or political causes.

Some will see this is similar to Frank Hoffman’s (great) work on hybrid warfare, particularly owing to one big commonality: defining a multifaceted enemy.  Hoffman’s definition of a “hybrid threat”:

Any adversary that simultaneously and adaptively employs a fused mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism, and criminal behavior in the battle space to obtain their political objectives.

These are two separate attempts to define the contemporary warfighting environment. Hoffman defines the ways in which hybrid threats employ force – modes of warfare.  My effort is to define what appears to be a shift in the ends – the disaggregation of battlefield actors motivations for war.  For example, during the Cold War, the vast majority of battlefield actors motivations could be traced directly to either Uncle Sam (the U.S.) or Uncle Joe (the U.S.S.R.).  The catalyst often came from Washington or Moscow. 

This is not the case today.  Moreover, this disaggregation has led to a corresponding increase in the number of armed groups.  So instead of fighting the monolithic Soviets, a well-traveled American military officer might recently have faced: Sunni insurgents, Shia militias, international terror organizations (not to mention Al Qaeda affiliates), the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, as well as a Regionally Aligned Forces mission to train African military forces to hunt Joseph Kony.  All these actors have different motivations for fighting; all could be considered a different colored tile (while on the same face) of these Rubik’s Cube conflicts.

Which raises an important question – how well has the U.S. done in this paradigm?

Read More

War Council: Crisis in Crimea – Military Strategic Considerations

**NOTE: What follows are remarks from the War Council panel on the “Crisis in Crimea” on March 7, 2014.

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

In 1939, Churchill quipped, “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

Winston wouldn’t – but I feel like I owe it to you and the Profession to try.  So here goes.

We should note at the outset, strategy is inherently adversarial – which makes it seem black/white or binary – reality is like a Rubik’s cube, multifaceted shifting mosaic.  With only seven minutes to speak I’ll necessarily have to present simplifications.

 Policy/Strategy – what do they want and how will they get there?


-So far, Putin has stated that he does not intend on annexing Crimea (which may change in light of the local Crimean Parliament vote – and subject to domestic Russian politics). It seems that his policy objective there is at least designed to influence and intimidate the new government.  

-His strategy for doing so is to use the threat of military force – recent reporting puts his troop strength somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000.  He’s cleverly sunk one of his own ships to create a non-violent blockade of the local Ukrainian naval forces.

Read More

War Council: Crisis in Crimea – Introduction

**NOTE: What follows is the set of introductory remarks from the War Council panel on the “Crisis in Crimea” on March 7, 2014.

By Captain Andrew Betson

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  On behalf of the Defense and Strategic Studies Program, the Department of Military Instruction, and our panelists, welcome to the third DSS War Council, “Crisis in Crimea.”  Former Ambassador to the Soviet Union recently stated, “I believe that nobody can understand the likely outcomes of what is happening unless they bear in mind the historical, geographic, political and psychological factors at play in these dramatic events.”  We have gathered this War Council for both an academic and professional purpose – to discuss American strategic options in reaction to these dramatic events, the second example of significant strong arm diplomacy by Russia is less than 6 years. 

These things are hard to predict.  In “Foreign Policy’s” 2013 Failed States Index, in which they rank the strength of the world’s countries through categories such as Demographic Pressures, Human Flight, Human Rights, and Public Services, Ukraine scored 117, between Jamaica and Malaysia.  She was less than ten spots behind Brazil, it ranked higher than South Africa by four, and Russia by 37.  Nonetheless, about three months ago, pro-Western activists set out into Kiev Independence Square and across Ukraine in reaction to the now-ousted President Yanukovych’s rapprochement with Russia.

Read More

Cadet Submission: “Russia in Ukraine: Hold NATO Back”

**NOTE: this is War Council’s second cadet submission – an important step in a soon-to-be military officer’s strategic self-study.

By Cadet Eric Murray


A NATO response to even the boldest Russian action in Crimea and the Ukraine would be a terrible idea.

The Ukraine is politically and economically divided along an urban-rural front.[1] There is no significant ethnic division, but those who live in rural areas have a primarily agricultural economy while those in cities have, unsurprisingly, a more industrial economy. Rural Ukrainians, despite having less in common with EU countries economically, are more in favor of a deal with the EU and diplomatic and economic distance from Russia. The price tag or that distance, however, is extremely high. In order to extend a much-needed loan to the Ukraine, the IMF has asked for extremely harsh anti-corruption and austerity measures. Furthermore, Ukraine is extremely dependent on Russia for energy resources, importing three fourths of its energy from across the Russia border.[2] Another reason that Ukrainians who work in urban areas favor a trade deal with Putin over the EU is that Ukraine owes a lot of its economic diversity and growth to Russian investment, particularly in its eastern cities.

Read More

Cadet Submission: “Russia in Ukraine: It’s Politics, Stupid”

**NOTE: What follows is War Council’s very first cadet submission – an important first.

By Cadet Caleb Stevens


Recent coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is evolving a fixation on Sevastopol’s strategic importance to Russia, to the point of beating a dead horse with pictures of the Black Sea fleet and discussion of Russia’s need for warm water ports. These articles completely ignore the questions: “why now?” and “how will Russia be willing to resolve this situation?”  


Russian troops and battleships make sexy front pages, but focusing solely on the military significance of Sevastopol has led the media to ignore entirely the political considerations that led Russia to invade this week, as well as those that will shape any resolution of the current conflict. Ukrainian political developments in the past five years were the true catalyst for invasion, and have sharply limited the outcomes Russia is willing to entertain.

Read More


The articles and other content which appear on the Modern War Institute website are unofficial expressions of opinion. The views expressed are those of the authors, and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.

The Modern War Institute does not screen articles to fit a particular editorial agenda, nor endorse or advocate material that is published. Rather, the Modern War Institute provides a forum for professionals to share opinions and cultivate ideas. Comments will be moderated before posting to ensure logical, professional, and courteous application to article content.

Upcoming Events

There are no upcoming events.