Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya: Military Strategic Culture and the Paradoxes of Asymmetric Conflict
Authored by Major Robert M. Cassidy.
The author uses a detailed assessment of the Russian experience in Afghanistan and Chechnya to draw important conclusions about asymmetric warfare. He then uses this to provide recommendations for the U.S. military, particularly the Army. Major Cassidy points out that small wars are difficult for every great power, yet are the most common kind. Even in this era of asymmetry, the U.S. Army exhibits a cultural preference for the "big war" paradigm. He suggests that the U.S. military in general, including the Army, needs a cultural transformation to master the challenge of asymmetry fully. From this will grow doctrine and organizational change.
This study examines and compares the performance of the Soviet military in Afghanistan and the Russian military in Chechnya. It aims to discern continuity or change in methods and doctrine. Because of Russian military cultural preferences for a big-war paradigm that have been embedded over time, moreover, this work posits that continuity rather than change was much more probable, even though Russia’s great power position had diminished in an enormous way by 1994. However, continuity— manifested in the continued embrace of a conventional and predictably symmetric approach—was more probable, since cultural change usually requires up to 10 years.
Several paradoxes also inhere in asymmetric conflict— these are also very much related to the cultural baggage that accompanies great power status. In fact, the Russian military’s failures in both wars are attributable to the paradoxes of asymmetric conflict. These paradoxes come into play whenever a great power faces a pre-industrial and semi-feudal enemy who is intrinsically compelled to mitigate the great power’s numerous advantages with cunning and asymmetry. In other words, great powers often do poorly in small wars simply because they are great powers that must embrace a big-war paradigm by necessity. This study identifies and explains six paradoxes of asymmetric conflict. It also examines each paradox in the context of Afghanistan and Chechnya.
Ultimately, this monograph concludes with several implications for U.S. Army transformation. It shows how the continued and nearly exclusive espousal of a big-war paradigm can undermine effectiveness in the realm of asymmetry, how it can stifle innovation and adaptation, and how this can impede transformation. Both these conflicts and the paradoxes of asymmetric conflict are very germane to those thinking about change in the U.S. military.
Access Full Report [PDF]: Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya: Military Strategic Culture and the Paradoxes of Asymmetric Conflict
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|