Frontal engagements of large formations of forces at the strategic and operational level are gradually becoming a thing of the past. Long-distance, contactless actions against the enemy are becoming the main means of achieving combat and operational goals...
—Valerie Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation (2013)
Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism.
—Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin (1917)
As the capitalist bosses of the U.S., Russia and China intensify their fight over global resources, from Eastern Europe and the Middle East to Africa and Latin America, their lethal competition is taking on a more complex form. Known as “hybrid war” or “non-linear war” or “new generation warfare,” these inter-imperialist conflicts are mostly indirect and undeclared—and far less expensive than a conventional ground war. They use a broad mix of elements, from special operations assassins and private-sector mercenaries to cyberattacks and social media propaganda.
In the South China Sea, Beijing is building artificial islands and making territorial claims to fend off both regional rivals and President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia. The U.S., while still relying on the threat of NATO’s brute force in Europe, used a computer virus to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program; it funded “color revolutions” to undermine pro-Russian regimes in Eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, the “Gerasimov Doctrine,” named after Russia’s top strategic military planner, combines “low-end, hidden state involvement with high-end, direct, even braggadocio superpower involvement”—most significantly in Ukraine and Syria (Association of the U.S. Army, 5/20). Dealing from a position of economic and military weakness versus the U.S. and—increasingly—China, clobbered by falling oil prices, President Vladimir Putin is using “a number of equalizers,” wrote Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.
These will range from increased reliance on nuclear deterrence to the creation of local balances in Moscow’s favor; from swift decision-making and bold action, including the use of force, to ambiguity and hybrid operations (3/18).