Russia: A Different Version of the A2/AD Challenge
By: Maren Leed
The discussion around anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) challenges is frequently centered on the cyber, space, missile, and counter-stealth threats presented by China and Iran. The January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) specifically names China and Iran as states that “will continue to pursue asymmetric means to counter our power projection capabilities.” And the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) also mentions China in the context of cyber and space control technologies. While these threats are real, Russia’s current activities make clear that A2/AD challenges are not limited to China and Iran. Russia’s aggressive use of cyber, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons threats, and rockets demonstrates that should Western forces need to gain and maintain access in Eastern Europe, the challenges would be significant, and that area denial might be an even thornier problem.
Russia’s efforts beyond the purely military realm—especially in its mastery of messaging, political subversion, and twisting of international norms like the Right to Protect—are enabling President Vladimir Putin to effectively control the flow and content of political discourse within Russia’s borders and “soften” the terrain in neighboring states. In conjunction with “little green men,” the provision of “humanitarian” aid, and the exploitation of militias, the A2/AD challenges Russia presents are broader than those discussed in the DSG and QDR. Putin has successfully injected doubt into the minds of the West about his limits and his intent, a problem that is greatly magnified by continued threats and the inclusion of nuclear weapons as an integral part of Russia’s national strategy.
At present, DoD has launched itself into the so-called Third Offset strategy, which is aimed at developing technologies to counter the kind of A2/AD threats posed by China and Iran. This is an important effort, but its success will depend on how broadly the defense establishment chooses to interpret the A2/AD problem. If it does not include Russia’s version, which goes well beyond advanced technologies, U.S. forces may be underprepared for a fight that seems much more immediate than we might prefer.