Russia's Military is Now "Nimbler, More Networked"

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Lisa Mullins: John Arquilla the chair of the special operations program at the US Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, California. He studies Russia's military actions and relationships around the globe. Arquilla says that the Russian military support of the Syrian government is key in many ways.

John Arquilla: Well, I think the Assad regime requires continuing military assistance in terms of arms and munitions, but, more importantly, they need good advice as to how to deal with an insurgency and this is something the Russians are also providing as they've had a great deal of counter-insurgency experience in Chechnya.

Mullins: And what is the reason that Russia would want to prop up the regime that is under so much international pressure? I mean what does Russia get from providing potentially weaponry and also counsel?

Arquilla: I think Syria offers them a kind of last foothold in the Middle East. They, of course, remain on relatively friendly terms with Iran, but are even there putting pressure on the Tehran regime to stop proliferation efforts. Syria is one of those places where the Russians can look to a continuing place at the table in determining the course of events. And certainly after the situation in Libya in which they assented to a United Nations and NATO action against the Gaddafi regime, they're unlikely to, in their view, sell out the regime in Damascus.

Mullins: Well, in selling out or succumbing to pressure that is being put on Russia right now, I want to take a larger look at Russian-US relations right now because there was a fairly sizable pushback when presidential contender Mitt Romney called Russia "the geopolitical foe for America". Many people consider that a real throwback to the Cold War. I wonder what you, as a military specialist with an eye on Russia, make of Mr. Romney's assessment.

Arquilla: Well, the Cold War is over, but the ââ?¬Å?Cool Warââ?¬  is on and clearly Russia's on the other side of that and it seems to me they do remain an, what Romney calls in geopolitical terms, a very great nation. H. G. Wells once said, "A great nation suffers, but does not die" and that's certainly true of Russia. They're smart, they have a lot of nuclear weapons, they've come through a great deal of economic and social adversity, and they're beginning to reassert themselves on the world scene.

Mullins: And so what does that mean right now? And what are you seeing? We've covered the protests that have been going on that the Putin administration has cracked down on, but what are you seeing that would say that Russia is going to remain a considerable foe?

Arquilla: Well, the most important this is that they're rediscovering some very old ideas in Russian strategic thought that go back to the invasion by Napoleon, which will have its 200th Anniversary next week. A young officer by the name of Davydov came up with the idea of nimble, small, networked forces operating deep behind the lines. It did a great deal of damage to Napoleon's forces, and the Russian military thought his move decisively in this direction. We live in an era where the small group is empowered and if it's networked it gets even more powerful. The Russians understand this and, by the way, the understand it in cyberspace as well where they're using cyber war techniques. They did in their war with Georgia in 2008, and they do so everyday in the quiet electronic Cool War that's going on with us and with others.

Mullins: I wonder to what extent the US needs to see Russia necessarily as a foe in this way, and whether Russia really does see the US as a target because when you look at the commonalities among the US and Russia, there has been a major arms-control agreement that has been achieved, there is increased cooperation on Afghanistan, if not on Iran, there's cooperation on the space program. Why would Russia see the US as an enemy or a target right now?

Arquilla: I think the Russians are concerned about the notion that the shadow cast by the American military machine upon the world is quite great. There's concern in Russia because what we call strategic defense, they see as a means of disarming their nuclear arsenal. There are a lot of reason that Russians are concerned about us and there are some reasons why, of course, we have to be concerned about the Russians. Look at their support for the Assad regime. Look at the manner in which they have helped to slow down efforts to prevent Iranian proliferation. Our interests don't coincide. Where there may be areas of cooperation, there will also be areas of competition.

Mullins: Are those areas of competition necessarily areas that need to be addressed militarily? Versus diplomatically?

Arquilla: We have had a generally friendly relationship with this country, save for the Cold War period, over the past two centuries. My hope is that we can return to something like that, but we can't avert our gaze from areas of competition.

Mullins: John Arquilla is the chair of the special operations program at the US Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, California. He spoke to us from the studios at KAZU in Seaside, California. Thanks a lot, John.

Arquilla: Thank you, Lisa.