Gerasimov’s position as chief of the General Staff makes him Russia’s senior operation-strategic planner and architect for future Russian force structure and capability development. In order to execute these duties, the individual in that position must have the foresight to understand the current and future operating environments along with the circumstances that have created those environments and will alter them. Gerasimov’s article is not proposing a new Russian way of warfare or a hybrid war, as has been stated in the West. Moreover, in Gerasimov’s view of the operational environment, the United States is the primary threat to Russia.
The U.S. national security community should avoid narrow categorizations. The black-and-white distinction between war and peace, or traditional war and irregular war, makes for nice, simple boxes, but the real world is not so easily categorized. In fact, some adversaries seek to exploit U.S. paradigms and the gaping institutional seams that they create.Rather, we need to embrace the fact that future opponents have their own ideas about how to fight, and they tend to mix and match those ideas with deliberate combinations of modes of conflict. Hard-wired and quaint notions of declared wars between states with symmetrically equipped armies and navies facing each other on defined battlegrounds are no longer helpful. The U.S. must expand its definitions and concepts beyond its history, cultural biases, and organizational preferences. Ultimately, its security is predicated upon its national security community’s being aware of the enduring continuities of war and possessing an adaptive ability to counter the many forms that warfare can take.The United States faces adversaries capable of using strategies and techniques across the entire conflict spectrum. It must not give ground in gray zone conflicts if its interests are challenged. Europe and the Middle East today are a Petri dish of hybrid conflict,60 and the Defense Department’s current leadership team understands this evolving hybrid challenge.61The U.S. needs to prepare for that, and reinvigorating its unconventional conflict capability will help.62 We should not lose sight of the reality that the “gold standard” for high-end conventional war is based on excellence in joint combined arms warfare.Large-scale conflict between states is not a relic of history. The potential for interstate war still exists and is arguably increasing. It is the most demanding form of war with the most costly of consequences, and the U.S. is less prepared for it than it should be—a concern raised in the bipartisan Independent QDR Report, which found that the U.S. is seriously shortchanging its national security interests.63 Appreciating the broad range of challenges and threats we face is the first step toward recognizing a growing danger.