The ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ doesn’t exist

In the West it is widely believed that Russia follows a specific military doctrine that the current chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov has invented. This alleged Gerasimov Doctrine prescribes a kind of hybrid warfare to undermine the societal structures of the adversary through means of disinformation, deception, subversion, intelligent use of limited force, political war, targeted attacks on democratic institutions, and opening existing fault lines.

In 2013 Gerasimov himself discussed these aspects of warfare in a speech at the military academy, which was reprinted in Military-Industrial Courier. This led Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian defense, to use the term ‘the Gerasimov Doctrine’ on his blog, and that proved to be a powerful and sticky idea.

But now Galeotti wants us to stop using the term. In a piece named I’m Sorry for Creating the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ in Foreign Policy, Galeotti writes:

“A blog is as much as anything else a vanity site; obviously I want people to read it. So for a snappy title, I coined the term “Gerasimov doctrine,” though even then I noted in the text that this term was nothing more than “a placeholder,” and “it certainly isn’t a doctrine.” I didn’t think people would genuinely believe either that he came up with it (Gerasimov is a tough and effective chief of the general staff, but no theoretician), less yet than it was a “programmatic” blueprint for war on the West.”

There are several problems with the idea of a Gerasimov Doctrine. Most notably, Gerasimov clearly does not outline a doctrine for the Russian military in his speech. He makes some observations about modern warfare in the wake of the Arab Spring which from a Russian perspective is considered a successful example of Western hybrid warfare with the purpose of creating regime change. Then he calls upon the academic society to develop theories on the new kind of warfare. If anything, Gerasimov’s speech is a view into the Russian understanding of Western doctrine.

It is true that Gerasimov identified some military and non-military means that characterize modern warfare, and that Russia utilized some of these means in 2014 in Ukraine. But really, the content in Gerasimov’s speech is rudimentary. Many people before Gerasimov have pointed to the same factors in warfare. It would have been strange if Russia had not taken notice of things like information warfare, drone technology, or high-precision munitions, which are some of the characteristics of modern warfare that Gerasimov identifies in his speech.

‘The Gerasimov Doctrine’ as a term has perhaps been useful as a thought experiment about the nature of Russian military strategy. It has helped draw attention to some of the more subversive aspects of Russian information warfare. But it is not in fact a doctrine, and it was not developed by Gerasimov. And it is probably time to leave the term behind because it gives the wrong impression that deception and social engineering is all that Russian military thinking is about.




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