“To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”
2500 years ago, Sun Tzu said that to defeat your enemy without using force is the acme of skill. So, how does one do this? It involves the use of various arts of statecraft that are not well-cultivated in the United States. But the Russians have long cultivated them.
During the Cold War, the Russians conducted various types of covert and overt influence operations using agents of influence, disinformation, and forgeries (together called “active measures”), as well as propaganda, and offensive counterintelligence operations. Their targets included: the national strategic leadership of NATO countries, as well as of other countries throughout the world; various non-governmental groups that had influence over governmental decision-making; the media, including the film industry; educational institutions at all levels; churches; unions; and the public at large.
Putin’s regime has not forgotten these techniques. It has been using them blatantly in its attempts to annex Crimea and pry off several other provinces from Ukraine. It has been using agents of influence to corrupt the decision-making of many of its neighboring countries. It has used its intelligence services to bribe members of Parliament and other government officials in these countries.
The West has not been exempt from Russian “active measures.” As Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the General Secretary of NATO, charged a couple of weeks ago, Russia has been using these various techniques to influence environmental organizations in Europe to oppose the domestic production of shale gas, specifically for the purpose of keeping Europe dependent upon Russian gas and vulnerable to Russian energy blackmail.
The General Secretary of NATO is not usually prone to making serious charges of this sort without solid intelligence — charges that some could interpret to be a conspiracy theory.
Does this mean that every Western European environmental organization is a Russian agent? By no means. But it does mean that there are people within some of these organizations who are Russian agents of influence or are influenced by them.
This was exactly the case with the so-called “peace” movement during the Cold War. Then, the Soviets organized numerous front organizations, most of whose members were innocent people of goodwill who feared nuclear war and sought nuclear disarmament. But these front organizations were also invariably filled with people who were directly doing Moscow’s bidding.
The U.S. government used to collect intelligence on these various techniques and would vitiate their effectiveness by declassifying the intelligence about them and publicizing them. This was a decisive non-military dimension of the national security strategy of this country, which has been completely junked by recent administrations. If the U.S. is to spare itself from excessive vulnerability to these types of strategic influence, we should reconstitute intelligence collection and analysis and expose these strategic influence operations. We should also reconstitute our counterintelligence capabilities, in order to protect against these “active measures.”
If the Russians won’t forget the lessons of Sun Tzu, is it wise for us to do so?