As much as it troubles me I continue to be amazed at the effectiveness of Putin’s political warfare strategies – and appalled by the fact that the current Administration is in a state of denial in regard to one track and apparently blind to the second. Of course (tongue in cheek) I’ve done my part. My book Creating Chaos received a reasonably good university library penetration and even made it into both the State Department and White House (gasp) libraries.
I think Creating Chaos makes it clear that the major threat of Putin’s political warfare is fragmentation and destabilization. While some level of actual election meddling is necessary as part of that effort, you don’t need to steal elections via total vote tampering, you simply need to establish the fear and the discord that associated with the possibility. You simply need a demonstration of the ways you can interfere. The current fragmentation efforts being launched against the Democratic party show how easily such a demonstration that can be carried out
Beyond that, what Putin’s campaign is accomplishing is something only dreamed of during the earlier Cold War – that of neutering the opponents entire intelligence community. Over decades both the CIA and the KGB jumped through hoops planting poison pills and creating paranoia (James Angleton’s within the CIA being a prime example) that would undermine the opponents intelligence collections infrastructure.
However Putin has accomplished something far different, he has created a context in which both President Trump and the Senate are not only pushing back against American intelligence on Russian actions (evaluations in which all elements of the community concur, something not at all common), but actively de-funding and obstructing efforts to cope with Russian political action – all out of fear for their own personal political concerns. It is all truly amazing and immensely dangerous. What the neocons managed to do to the intelligence community under the Bush Administrations pales by comparison.
All that is bad enough, but there is a second track in Putin’s strategy that is getting no attention at all. It’s something I speculated about in an early book – Shadow Warfare – wondering if something so obvious and so “retro” could possibly work. As it turns out the answer is “yes” and Putin is playing that track far better than the U.S. did when it drove the Soviet Union bankrupt. Basically the strategy is to spend so much on advanced weapons systems that the opponent extends themselves financially – with the Soviet Union it led to system collapse. Of course it was tremendously expensive for America in the earlier Cold War.
Putin saw that as a KGB officer and he understands the drill. Worse, he knows how to do it more efficiently. The thing to do is to a) focus your propaganda on the most expensive and terrifying part of your military – nuclear weapons, b) announce sensational new weapons and spend some to develop them but not the huge amounts to bring them operational and c) project your threat into new venues with as little expense as possible.
At present Putin and his military are four years into touting nuclear exchanges as a standard tactical option, they have announced and are working on doomsday weapons which make no sense at all, and they have one of their anti-satellite weapons maneuvering in the vicinity of one of our largest and most capable intelligence collection satellites – clearly we need a brand new service with all its administrative overheads, go Space Command. Note: Russia operates all its air, missile and space activities under one unified command.
The result is that we are starting on a massive and horrendously upgrade of our entire strategic nuclear capability (why we still need 4,000 megaton class weapons is another question, only answered by the response that Russians have that many…sigh). The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the first 10 years of the modernization plan will cost nearly $500 billion – over a 30-year span the total would hit $1.2 trillion, including the cost of sustaining the current and future force. Add that to the now trillion dollar budget deficit and you have some real numbers.
The program includes a new missile to replace the current Minuteman 3 ICBM, a new-generation Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine fleet, and a new long-range bomber (the B-21 Raider) to replace the B-2 stealth bomber while retaining the older B-52 bomber as a bulk weapons carrier. The B-52, which entered service in the 1960s, is getting new engines and other major upgrades. In his 2021 defense budget proposal to Congress, Trump requested $2.8 billion for the Raider bomber and $1.5 billion for the new-generation ICBM.
In all, the administration’s proposed nuclear weapons budget for 2021 would approach $46 billion, divided between the Defense Department, which is responsible for operating the weapons, and the Energy Department, which maintains the warhead stockpile. You will find more information on all this at the links below:
Bottom line, Putin wages a two track political warfare program, fragmenting and destabilizing the American public while multiplying the trauma with intense economic pain.
The Cold Warriors of the 20th Century would be in awe.