After years of marginalization, Russian military strategic culture has returned to a position of great influence inside Russia’s political system, and strikingly so over the last four years, argues Stephen R. Covington, a Strategic Fellow with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Russian military strategic culture reaches deeply into other security services and other government ministries, but there is no Western equivalent to Russian strategic culture, Covington writes in The Culture of Strategic Thought Behind Russia’s Modern Approaches to Warfare, a paper for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School:
In fact, it is virtually impossible to create a single system of strategic thought in the West that approximates the Russian approach—and for good reason. The traditional autocratic, non-liberal Russian political system—like the one under Putin—allows for a single, dominant form of military thought to merge with the political leadership to shape government-wide decision-making…
In Western liberal democracies, the decentralization of political power and distributed responsibilities across ministries and agencies—many with their own organizational culture—prevent the rise of a single, dominating culture of strategic thought for national security decision-making. Western military leaders simply cannot achieve the influential decision-making role or dominate the internal political process to establish national economic priorities for the country as the Russian Minister of Defense and Chief of the General Staff can achieve in President Putin’s system.
The modern Russian approach to war also has integrated internal threat perceptions. There is a long-standing appreciation for revolution in Russia. The Russians know how to export political instability, and they know its impact on their power at home when it is imported, Covington adds:
Their thinking about political change and revolution is a common, dominant, if not constant, feature in their mentality and worldview. This can be difficult for the Western mindset to grasp in principle given the relative stability most North American and European liberal democracies have experienced since the end of the Cold War. There is also a long-standing Russian view that political instability at home will be accompanied by foreign military intervention or exploitation….. Putin’s worldview and political aims reinforce a Russian military approach to security that is fundamentally asymmetric to the West’s approach.
“Guided by their traditional culture of strategic thought and merged with the geo-strategic realities of the 21st century and the unrealities of President Putin’s worldview, Russia’s evolving military security course comes at a crucial period in the country’s post-Cold War development,” Covington concludes. “This unique, asymmetric path is an enduring, multi-dimensional challenge for the West, one that will impact Europe’s security and sense of well-being for years to come.”