The National Defence Foundation presents remarks made by the president of The Jamestown Foundation Glen Howard at the international conference of Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union on the security situation in the Baltic region.
“The Rise of Hybrid Warfare & It’s Threat to Lithuanian Security”
Conference on the Security Situation in the Baltic Region: Threats and Responses
Remarks by Glen Howard
President, The Jamestown Foundation to the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Association
November 20, 2015
First of all I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak today at this conference. I would especially like to thank Ambassador Zygimantas Pavilionis for the opportunity to come to Lithuania to speak at the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Association. The title of my presentation today is: “The Rise of Hybrid Warfare and its Threat to Lithuanian Security.“
The term hybrid warfare has become a widely used term since the Russian intervention in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in 2014 and was primarily introduced by the Ukrainian politician and former Director of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council – Andriy Paruby. Thanks to Parubiy and his August 6, 2014, article in Ukrainska Pravda we were able to learn more about the Russian theorist of hybrid warfare Evgeny Messner and his classic work Insurgency or The Name of the Third World War. Messner a former colonel in the Tsarist General Staff of the Imperial Army later served in the German Wehrmacht explored the ideas of hybrid warfare as early as during the 1960s and 1970s as an emigre living in Argentina where he wrote his classic work that has been embraced by the Russian military. Evgeny Messner predicted that future wars would be won through subversion and organized revolutions carried out by special forces and terrorists. A major tool and practician of hybrid war was the Russian mercenary Igor Girkin who has become a legendary Russian GRU mercenary who fought against the Ukrainians in Donbas.
As someone who has watched the term of hybrid warfare evolve in its use in western discussions about the new threat posed by the Russian military, I can say that hybrid warfare in many ways is not a new term. It is a new incarnation of the term non-linear warfare, or what most experts commonly refer to as irregular warfare. The introduction of new concepts of warfare are not unique in Eurasia. It is quite ironic that the concept of hybrid warfare emerged in the same borderlands of the former Soviet Union where the German Army first implemented its concept of Blitzkrieg warfare against Poland in 1939.
Introduction of the use of new military technology and tactics in warfare is also not new in Donbas. Eastern Ukraine had its own contribution to warfare in Eurasia in the 1920s when the Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno introduced the taganka, the machine gun toting carriage used in the Russian Civil War against Russian White Guard units and later Bolsheviks in Donbas in the 1920s. Just as the taganka ushered in a new age for warfare, so has hybrid warfare. In the evolution of non-linear warfare I can say that hybrid warfare is a military tactic born out of a theory of warfare developed by the Russian army today that was developed for the specific goal of waging irregular warfare along Russia’s periphery in the post-Soviet space. That is why when we talk about the threats of hybrid war we must keep in mind that hybrid war is a blending of conventional war with terrorist techniques that are designed to blur the distinction between war and peace. That is why the name of Evgeny Messner is so important to the concept of hybrid warfare. As many of you know the threats Ukraine faces today will one-day be the same threats that Lithuania may face, but in different conditions modified for the peculiar military strategic environment of the Baltic.
In light of the developments of the past couple of years we need to realize that the theory of warfare is never stagnant but always changing. Since the attacks on New York on 9/11 the United States and its NATO allies have focused excessively for over a decade on the idea of expeditionary warfare and deployment of military units to far off theaters like Afghanistan instead of focusing on homeland defense. Lithuania participated in these overseas deployments as Lithuanian soldiers stood shoulder to should with American forces in Afghanistan. Not all of this was a waste of time as the Baltic states also gained a lot of military experience in the 1990s through their deployments in Afghanistan, particularly in key areas like special forces training. Your forces also developed inter-operability with other NATO!3 countries, particularly the United States. However, not all the Baltic states embraced the ideas of counter-insurgency warfare adopted by the US in places like Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the art of warfare in the modern age for the Baltic states was to learn how to man checkpoints in remote districts of Afghanistan and Iraq and learn the methods of counter-insurgency warfare in fighting the Taliban and Iraqi militants. The effects of this also affected your military doctrine as you shifted away from conscription and moved to the much more politically acceptable concept of having a small professional army.
Alone among the Baltic States Estonia understood and resisted the urge to rush to embrace counter-insurgency warfare, first used by the United States. Because of this Estonia refused to move away from conscription and retained the Napoleonic idea of levee en masse, or to quote Mao, the “army swims in the sea with the people”. To Estonia’s credit it kept conscription and ensured that the one sure means of standing up to the Asiatic horde from the East was to have all of society prepared for war.
Much of the blame for this focus on counter-insurgency also rests with the United States as it encouraged the Baltic states to focus and train their militaries for counter-insurgency warfare and in many cases even helped these states alter their military doctrine so that the US could utilize the armed forces of these states for its own missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. By shifting its attention to counter-insurgency the United States also slowly forgot the lessons of conventional war and our military today is also struggling to regain some of the skills we once had during the Cold War, like how to fight Russian tanks and armored units.
That brings me to my next point, the idea of fighting a conventional war against a resurgent Russia should have received wider attention and seriousness by NATO and the United States after Georgia’s five-day war with Russia in August 2008. Unfortunately, the United States failed to learn the lessons of the war in Georgia and instead the Obama Administration was eager to forgive Russia for invading Georgia – a war by the way that Putin himself later admitted was pre-planned and not something that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili stumbled into. If the United States had taken Russian intervention in Georgia in 2008 seriously then perhaps the United States would not have been so ill prepared for what happened in Crimea in February 2014 and Putin would have been more fearful of provoking the United States by annexing the territory of another country.
Lithuania & the Hybrid Threat
When we look at a map and consider the idea of a hybrid threat to Lithuania there are many military dimensions to consider for a conventional threat from different sides but the nature and axes of the threat has evolved. It is not only threat of a conventional attack by Russian armored forces across the Suwalki gap, but other threats that Lithuania and the other Baltic states do not appear to have figured out fully how to contain or defeat the threat posed by hybrid warfare.
Hybrid Warfare is not just the threat posed by little green men but also PYSOPS warfare. The Wales Summit showed the psychological element of kidnapping – or the act of terrorism as Messner would call it – when a NATO military officer on the territory of a NATO ally was abducted within days of President Obama’s visit to Estonia. This brazen act of terrorism was a military style operation that was went unanswered and was a psychological blow to Estonia.
The kidnapping of Ester Kohver an, an Estonian military officer during the Wales NATO summit last year was a brazen act of state terrorism by Russia that obviously failed to invoke Article V. In fact, this is the very nature of hybrid warfare. It is designed to blur the distinction between what is a flagrant violation or act of war and the confused reality over whether the emergence of little green men is actually an invasion or not. If Germany or France question the terrorist act and fail to invoke article 5 then Putin will win the first round in the Baltic in his effort to convince NATO that the Baltic states are not worth defending. In my opinion Putin with the kidnapping of Kohver won the first round as NATO became paralyzed and did not know how to react. That is why Ester Kohver became the first hybrid prisoner of war. Throughout the history of the Cold War no standing NATO officer was ever kidnapped and abducted by the Soviet Union. Hundreds of Americans ran around East Germany during the Cold War and none of these officers were ever kidnapped or abducted by the Kremlin. That is why the Kohver case is so unique.
That brings me to my next key point: Hybrid warfare is specifically designed to show that NATO’s Article 5 is becoming blurred and the Atlantic Alliance can be stunned by a Russian action that is ambiguous and is designed to prevent NATO from reacting in unison to a flagrant military action by Russia. That is what the incident with the Estonian officer symbolized and it showed that NATO could not, or would not respond. A similar incident could easily occur in Lithuania via several potential scenarios available to Moscow. The situation is not as apparent as it was in Donbas or in Crimea but there are areas where Russia can mount a hybrid threat against Lithuania and retaliatory steps need to be considered in the event of a future incident like the one that occurred prior to the Wales summit.
One does not have to look too far to realize that Lithuania has its own Donbas or Crimea next door in neighboring Kaliningrad, which could become a major hybrid threat that allows Moscow to use little green men to intervene against Lithuania. The clearest threat would be against Klaipeda and the Nida peninsula (also called the Neringa Split) that piece of sand adjoining Klaipeda that could permit Russian special forces the ability to infiltrate into the port city and demoralize Lithuania before NATO or the Lithuanian government could figure out what was happening.
Kaliningrad is to the Baltic what Crimea is to the Black Sea, Kaliningrad is a major platzdarm for Russian power projection into the Baltic and containing this threat is a major challenge to Lithuanian and NATO military planners.
Strategic Role of Belarus
Kaliningrad is not the only strategic front for Lithuania. Neighboring Belarus is becoming a major topic to the security threat of the Baltic States due to its role as a potential Russian invasion corridor to the Baltic and Russian plans to open an air base in Belarus. Because of this Belarus is occupying a greater strategic importance to Lithuania’s security because of the issue of TIME and SPACE. President Putin’s statement in September announced that Moscow was preparing to open an air base in Belarus should be a wake up call to the West and to the Baltic states about this country’s importance to Baltic security. Putin’s statement was also surprise to officials in Minsk. Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenka has rejected the idea that Russia would open an air base in Belarus and he also said that Belarus would not become another region of Russia. Lithuanians should take these announcements seriously and develop closer cooperation with Minsk and figure out a way to help Belarus become a neutral non aligned nation. While Belarus has been a staging ground for the ZAPAD 2013 military exercises, and on paper remains a military partner of Russia, it still does not have a sizable Russian military force on its territory.
Avoid a Czechoslovakia 1968 Scenario for Belarus. Lithuania’s security environment would be changed literally overnight should Moscow deploy massive amounts of troops to Belarus in a Czechoslovakia type situation similar to 1968 invasion. One armored Russian division on the border with Lithuania would overnight change Lithuania’s national security environment and force Lithuania and its NATO allies to counter this deployment. It would force Lithuania to increase its defense budget by an enormous sum to alter it defense posture. More importantly, with a Russian threat from Kaliningrad and Russian forces on the border of Belarus you would have a major strategic nightmare that should force your policymakers to devote considerable time and effort to help Belarus become a demilitarized region. A fully manned Russian air base in Belarus would cut the reaction time of NATO aircraft in half should a major air base open there and create a major problem for NATO just from the perspective of your country’s air defense requirements. I don’t think I need to spell out how important this, all you need to do is look at a map and see how critical Belarus is, not just to the Baltic states but also to Ukraine’s defense and security requirement, particularly when 80 percent of Ukraine’s army is deployed in eastern Ukraine while the areas north of Kyiv are lightly defended.
From several strategic axes by looking at a map you can see how strategic Belarus is and as my friend Paul Goble likes to say: “the shortest route from Moscow to Berlin is through Belarus”. Indeed, for Lithuania, without any tank divisions of its own to counter this force Lithuania would likely be forced to double its defense budget to acquire tanks and armored vehicles capable of plugging (or stopping) the 30 kilometer distance from the Belarus border to downtown Vilnius. For this reason time and distance are critically important to Lithuania’s security when it comes to Belarus and the best policy for NATO and for Lithuania is for Belarus to become neutral and non-aligned and remain free of major concentrations of Russian ground troops. You may not like President Lukashenka but he could become our Tito and enhance Baltic security by simply making Belarus a neutral and non-aligned nation free of Russian ground troops. In the way that Tito blocked Soviet expansion into the Balkans, President Lukashenka whether you like him or not could become a barrier to Russian expansion in the Baltic.
Lessons of the War in Donbas for Lithuania
When I reflect back on the war in Donbas and my interactions with Ukrainian security experts I think there are four key lessons of hybrid warfare in eastern Ukraine that could apply to Lithuanian security. These are divided into four key areas:
1. Electronic Warfare
2. Command and Control
3. Use of Special Forces
4. Information Operations and the Role of Countering Russian Propaganda
1. Electronic warfare
One of the key tactics used by the Russian military in eastern Ukraine that was also used during the August 2008 war with Georgia before Ukraine is the use of electronic jamming equipment to block the cell phones of local units and create panic among troops when they could not communicate with one another. In some case this inspired fear in Georgian forces who felt hopeless and cutoff from the Georgian high command. The sophisticated use of electronic jamming was used again by the Russians in eastern Ukraine in 2015. As the Commanding General of US Army Forces Europe General Ben Hodges has noted, when the US stopped investing in powerful electronic jammers after 9/11 the Russians kept investing and upgrading their jamming equipment and now has a major advantage in this key technology on the hybrid battlefield.
2. Command and Control
In 20 years of its independence the Ukrainian military never held a military exercise larger than 1000 men. Ukraine’s greatest military challenge in the East was its inability to organize the deployment and maneuver of its armed forces because of its vast inexperience in command and control. By this I mean the movement and deployment of troops on the battlefield. Ukraine’s High Command is dominated by Soviet era officers who have no experience in managing tens of thousands of men. We saw this earlier this earlier this year during the February 2015 operations in Debaltsevo when Ukrainian forces were deployed in an indefensible valley that was attacked from all sides by Russian forces and Ukraine lost its newly acquired anti-mortar radars that it had been given by the United States. Ukraine in this instance narrowly avoided a repetition of of Dien Bien Phu because of the poor decision-making by its political and military leadership.
Poor decision-making by the Ukrainian General Staff nearly created another catastrophe like in August 2014 in Illovaisk. However, major advances are being made in the Ukrainian National Guard and self defense battations, like the Azov battalion. For this reason the Azov battalion in Mariupol has had to rely on Georgian military advisers who had received training in NATO command colleges and this experience was desperately needed by the Ukrainian military. Lithuania, unlike Ukraine, has spent the past 20 years developing a strong command and control for its armed forces thanks to assistance from NATO. But the thing that I fear most with the great outpouring of patriotic fervor in Lithuania with the creation of so many riflemen clubs and associations is how will all these associations be integrated into the Lithuanian army. How will you respond during a time of crises and what is your command and control?
3. Use of Special Forces
Russia’s extensive use of special forces in eastern Ukraine has been an issue of key concern for my Ukrainian colleagues who advocate creating an independent arm of the Ukrainian armed forces modeled after the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Currently the Ukrainian special forces fall under the control of the Ukrainian General Staff and a battle is underway between the special forces and the GENSHTAB in Ukraine to determine whether Ukraine’s special forces will be truly independent. In my own personal view, perhaps the biggest deterrent to little green men seizing control of Klaipeda or the Nida peninsula or even from the Russian trains that transit Lithuania are sizable numbers of Lithuanian special forces. With an increased defense budget, Lithuania needs more special forces to deal with small but varied threats it faces because of the Russian military presence in Kaliningrad – Russia’s Gibraltar of the Baltic.
Looking ahead, perhaps the best trip wire for the Baltic states is the creation and deployment of a small multi-national NATO force that could be based on the territory of Lithuania made up of special forces units from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. Norway and Denmark could also contribute military units along with small contingents from each of the Baltic countries. This force could become a rapid redeployment force for the Baltic that could intervene in potential hotspots fearing incursions by little green men likes Letgale or Narva or in Klaipeda.
It is interesting to note that similar multi-nation units existed during the Cold War and were based in West Berlin. This unit was called the Berlin Brigade. Such units would not have to be big in size or number but could even be a battalion in total size and serve as a trip wire against Russian intervention and symbolize that an attack on one is an attack on all – the very nature of Article 5. It also would have high symbolic significance and serve as a deterrent should Lithuania face an incursion by little green men from Kaliningrad.
4. Information Operations and the Role of Countering Russian Propaganda
…The Key to Winning Hybrid Warfare is the Information Battlefield
If there is any one lesson we can learn from the war in Ukraine is the value of the information battlefield. Lithuania cannot rely on its membership in NATO and take it for granted that the United States will remain steadfast as an ally. It requires that Lithuania maintain a strong information presence in Washington and educate the American public about the importance of why the United States has a national interest in defending the Baltic States. Lithuania and the other Baltic states should not take it for granted that in the event of a crisis of little green men appearing from Kaliningrad – or their sudden emergence from a stopped Russian train on Lithuanian territory – that the American public will support the US government in defending Lithuania.
As a nation Lithuania cannot sit back and think that the United States will jump to the occasion to defend the Baltic. Lithuania and the other Baltic states have to be much more active on the Information Battlefield. Nothing to me is more convincing of this than the new construction in downtown Vilnius of the Moscow Cultural Center which is like an information dagger pointed at the very heart of Lithuanian identity. Whose idea was it to let this building in downtown VIlnius and what will be the mission of Moscow Cultural Center? Will it to be promote historical understanding on how 50 percent of Lithuiania’s population was deported to Siberia after the end of the Second World War? LIthuania cannot win the information battle by letting Russia exploit Lithuanian democracy to create a fifth column here in Vilnius.
Looking to other areas on the information front, LIthuania and the other Baltic states must do more to win American hearts and minds and improve American understanding about Baltic security. Already there are Americans who are questioning whether the Baltic states are worth defending and some are arguing in the Washington Post recently – in fact a professor from the US Military Academy at West Point of all places has questioned the Russian threat to the Baltic (see Robert Person’s article in the Washington Post, “Six Reasons not to worry about Russia invading the Baltics, November 12, 2015). The emergence of such an article in the Washington Post should serve as a wake-up call to the Baltic states. Lithuania and the other Baltic states cannot sit back and think that your large diaspora in America will protect you. Just because you maintain good relations with the United States will protect you. The vast advantage that the Russians maintain in the information sphere can quickly turn the mood of a population and could happen in America under the right incident. Moscow will be relentless in its efforts to convince westerners that the Baltic is not worth defending and it is important for countries like Lithuania to educate the American public about why the Baltic states are strategically important to the interests of the United States.
To accomplish this you need to be active in the information sphere and it is here that you are lagging behind. As long as organizations like Jamestown have to pay $3,000 a year to subscribe to Baltic New Services simply to get information about the Baltic then there will be an information wall – a paid one at that – around the Baltic that prevents Americans from learning about the security threats that Lithuania faces. With your increase in defense spending you need to also increase your information outreach to the United States and make sure that American colleges and universities have new books on Baltic defense and security and understand the nature of the threat.
Secure the Information Front in the United States. When American professors who teach at the US Military Academy at West Point write articles that say the Baltic states are exaggerating the Russian threat then you seriously need to take notice that there is a larger problem here at hand – and that this may not be just an isolated incident. Currently there are very few books on Baltic defense and security in American college campuses because they stopped being published after you got into NATO. I know this because Jamestown commissioned an investigation into this subject last summer and learned that distinguished institutions like the Library of Congress have a major deficit of books on Baltic defense and security. Few think-tanks in Washington write about the Baltic’s on a regular basis and occasionally address the region by issuing special reports. In the past year there has been a dramatic increase in the Baltics in the past two years in Washington but we are no where near where we ought to be in terms of educating the American public. Lithuania could have a major role in this area in helping to educate the American public about the dangers that exist to the Suwalki gap but first they have to know where it is and why it is important to defend. It is the new Fulda Gap and until Americans know and understand why it is important then some persons like the Professor at West Point will continue to feel like the Baltic states are not worthy of defending.
Jamestown is committed to educating the American public about why the Baltic states are worth defending but you as Lithuanians have to create your own information outreach campaign to help Americans understand why Lithuania is important. Lithuania and the other Baltic states have to be forward thinking about the hybrid threat and understand that the key to winning in hybrid warfare is maintaining information dominance.
In conclusion, in light of all the things I have said today, it is important for Lithuania and its distinguished riflemen to be forward thinking in their military planning and develop the type of forces Lithuania needs to deal with hybrid threats and obtain the military equipment its needs from its Allies in order to adequately prepare its forces for hybrid warfare. Lithuania has taken the right steps to create a Riflemen’s Association. This in my opinion helps Lithuania create Strategic Depth (which in Lithuania is Strateginis gylis) because the two greatest enemies you have are TIME and SPACE. I emphasize time because the fastest time American and NATO troops can get to the Baltic states in a crisis is 72 hours – 72 hours for the 82nd Airborne or 101st Airborne to get here and assist you in Home Land Defense, however, it may take NATO allies more than a week to get more troops here, possibly longer. So who will defend Lithuania and your 700 kilometer border in the East? Your army is only 10,000 men? In the recent series of Russian military exercises called Zapad-2013 they had as many as 75,000 men participate in those exercises. That means that after the Lithuanian army Lithuania’s Riflemen are the next line of defense. But there are a lot of you and Lithuania does not lack in patriotism but what you do lack is what the Russians call Edinonachalo or Unity of Command here I think you need to follow in the footsteps of your brothers in Estonia and merge to create something like what Estonia has which is a National Defense League so that groups like the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Association can be be put under the command of the Lithuanian Ground Forces. Unity of Command must be your objective or otherwise you risk having every organization that is not part of a central plan. Lithuanian has already taken a great step forward by reintroducing conscription which will help you answer part of the problem of TIME and DISTANCE by boosting your manpower. The next challenge is to create Unity of Command and continue to follow the steps of countries like Estonia who never lost sight of the challenge they face from the East.