Bad statecraft

In a 2011 article titled ‘The Rubicon Theory of War: How the Path to Conflict Reaches the Point of No Return’, Dominic Johnson and Dominic Tierney discussed a distinction between ‘deliberative’ and ‘instrumental’ mindsets, and linked this to the origins of the First World War. When in a deliberative mindset, people consider whether they ought to do something; when in an instrumental one, they think about how to do it. Some time in August 1914, the authors argued, European politicians shifted from a deliberative to an instrumental mindset – instead of thinking about whether they should be going to war, they started thinking about how to fight it. Once they did, war became inevitable.

We’ll get back to this a little later, but first we need to take a diversion. As some readers will be aware, the UK-based Institute of Statecraft and its associated project, the Integrity Initiative, have been in the news a lot recently due to leaks of documents about their campaign to combat ‘Russian propaganda’. Today another batch of leaked documents was published on the internet. Among these is a set of notes for a talk entitled ‘Genesis and Features of Russia’s Hybrid Warfare in Ukraine’. The notes seem to be a few years old and to have been written by someone called Jon Searle, who is described as ‘HDIS, Bedford Modern School’. A bit of investigation indicates that Bedford Modern School is an ‘independent day school for boys and girls aged 7 to 18’ and that Mr Searle teaches religious studies there – not an obvious qualification for expertise on Russian hybrid warfare. Given some clues in the document, I’m guessing that Mr Searle didn’t give this talk; rather it was given by a Ukrainian delegation, and these are just Searle’s notes. Anyway, they contain the following striking lines:

General Conclusions.

The Russian Federation is a constant source of aggression aimed at the territorial, economic and political stability of the Russian Near Abroad and other European countries. There is a desire to re-establish Soviet/Czarist Era borders.

Simply responding to Russian actions will be self-defeating.


Question: Where does Russia go next?

Military and political leaders harbour a desire to return to the ‘glory’ of the USSR: aggression is inherent in the Russian condition, ‘aggression will [only] be over when Russia is over.’

This reminds me a bit of James Clapper’s remark that Russians are ‘almost genetically driven to co-opt and penetrate’, though it’s a bit more chilling because of the phrase that ‘aggression will only be over when Russia is over’, which suggests a desire actually to destroy Russia. The fact that Mr Searle doesn’t consider it worth his while to comment critically on all this suggests to me some degree of agreement. In another document, the Institute of Statecraft’s director Chris Donnelly also seems to concur, remarking that, ‘A fundamental, universally-held Russian belief is that Russia can only be secure at the expense of their neighbours’ security. All the Russian leadership and military consider that other countries’ security is secondary to, and must be subordinated to, Russia’s.’

Russia, in short, is innately aggressive. What’s interesting is that Donnelly allies this with a very elevated opinion of Russian strategy and of the qualities of the Russian General Staff. According to Donnelly, Western states are incapable of proper strategy – they’re very bad at defining national interests and directing means to achieve them, and they’re also very bad at coordinating the efforts of all the parts of government towards a common goal. By contrast, he claims, ‘Russian thinking is not fixed but very flexible. The General Staff (GS) is able to change and evolve, learn lessons, develop new capabilities and concepts. Today, this is a very dynamic organisation.’ Russia has an ‘integrated strategic campaign’, says Donnelly, which involves more than just the military, but brings together all aspects of state power in a coherent whole. It is marked by ‘strategic coherence … concepts, training, equipment are coherent.’ This combination of strategic coherence and aggressive strategic culture make Russia a particularly dangerous enemy. Connelly concludes:

This is the strategic situation we will face for the next 25 years. Moreover, the “war” mindset is being pumped into the Russian population. It is one of the great successes of Putin’s propaganda offensive.

Donnelly adds a curious statement, that ‘Seizing and occupying territory is not the ultimate Russian objective, whereas for the Soviet Armed Forces it was. Their objective today is the destruction of our Armed Forces and war-fighting capability.’ I say this is curious because as Clausewitz pointed out, in war ‘the aim is to disarm the enemy.’ So of course the objective of the Russian military in case of war against us would be ‘the destruction of our Armed Forces’. But I don’t think that Donnelly is thinking in those terms. He takes a lot of effort to explain that the boundaries between war and peace have disappeared. So when he talks about the Russians wanting to destroy our armed forces, I think that he means right now, ‘today’ as he puts it, not in some future war.

How is that to be achieved? A clue comes in another report which came to my attention this week, published by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and entitled ‘Complex Strategic Coercion and Russian Military Modernization’. The Canadian Global Affairs Institute might seem far removed from the Integrity Initiative, but I read in the blurb at the end that the report’s author, Julian Lindley-French, is among other things a ‘Senior Fellow for the Institute for Statecraft’. According to Lindley-French, Moscow intends to achieve its objectives ‘via complex strategic coercion’:

 The modernization of Russia’s armed forces must thus be seen in the context of a new form of complex strategic coercion that employs systematic pressure across 5Ds: disinformation, destabilization, disruption, deception and implied destruction. Russia’s strategic goal is to conduct a continuous low-level war at the seams of democratic societies. … In the worst case, complex strategic coercion would be used to mask Russian force concentrations prior to any attack on NATO and EU states from above the Arctic Circle and Norway’s North Cape in the north, through the Baltic States and Black Sea region and into the southeastern Mediterranean.

Again, we see an interesting combination of beliefs in Russia as a) inherently aggressive, b) remarkably powerful (able to attack all the way from the North Cape to the Mediterranean!), and c) extraordinarily capable when it comes to strategic thinking and to the enactment of coherent policies which integrate all aspects of state power in pursuit of clearly defined objectives. Allied to this is a belief that the distinction between war and peace has disappeared, and that the West must act as if it is at war.

So, let us return to how I started this post and to the distinction between deliberative and instrumental thinking. When you look at the Institute of Statecraft, you see in essence the following argument: Russia is aggressive, its policy is coherent, it aims to destroy us, and it is already waging war against us. Alternatives – such as that Russian actions are largely reactive and improvised – are not considered. The conclusion is that we should stop thinking about whether we ought to be at war with Russia (we are), and think instead about how to fight it – i.e. we should start thinking instrumentally not deliberatively. And that, far more than Donnelly’s connections with British military intelligence (of which I too could be accused), is what worries me about him. For as Johnson and Tierney point out, what gets you into serious trouble is when you start thinking about how to do stuff which you really ought not to be doing at all. Fighting wars with Russia is a case in point. Donnelly and Lindley-French represent the Institute for Statecraft, but the statecraft they propose is one which we should all reject.

13 thoughts on “Bad statecraft”

  1. Who is the customer of these fellas? They won’t be doing it for free; someone has to order it and pay for it, right?

    Can you investigate, follow the money, find out who is financing it?


    1. The funding for the Integrity Initiative project comes largely from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but I don’t know about the funding for the parent body, the Institute for Statecraft – its website doesn’t say.


  2. The comparison between UK, US and Russia strategy and coherence is accurate in so far that within the last 10 years – since the final days of the second Chechen war and the West’s PR effort to spin the Georgia war – it has added to this coherence also an increasing awareness of how to deal with the PR battles. This is shown not only in the fact that the tide against RT turned positive – I refer to the ‘in-vogue’ resignations of US and US-educated Russian anchors from RT so many years ago, to now, where RT actually became more attractive overall. The anti-RT strategy has failed miserably – riling against it is like running a commercial for it.
    I have said before that the experience of a massive collapse such as was the experience in Germany and Japan in post WW2, the economic collapse post-USSR but especially compounded in the Yeltsin collapse, has kindled the ability to siphen down and laser-focus national interests so much that economic and other miracles are possible. The failed UK empire and the flailing US empire frantically resist this reductionist exercise and have had to swallow repetitive defeats; and now they are faced with a Russian president who, at least on the surface, succeeds on nearly every plain. It is no wonder that such a disparity of experience gives birth to minds like Donnely. It is also no wonder that Putin appears to don this mantle of invincibility, that of the lone statesman able to understand the trends of the world while others babble in confusion. Overall, Putin’s genius shines more brightly through the stupidity and flailing of the West. To those elites in the West, he becomes the almighty and omnipresent devil. It is no wonder to me that Western propaganda have, in all but the actual words, declared Russia the current-day Mordor.
    Obama’s prediction of Russia getting stuck in a Syrian swamp was proven wrong, and although it is also wrong that Russia now controls the Middle East, the panic in British and US intel circles is palpable. David McIlwain in the OffGuardian accurately shows how linking chemical warfare as a PR red line between Salisbury and Syria was deliberate on the part of the Five Eyes network, most likely led by the UK. If one remembers that this didn’t stay just with words, but that actual people were “highly likely” killed in false flag operations both on UK soil and in Syria, then war has indeed already started with its ugliest face.


    1. One Brit (Sara Firth) and an American (Liz Wahl) resigned from the RT anchor role. A US reporter (whose name escapes me) resigned from RT, in protest to the coverage related to the 2008 war in the former Georgian SSR.

      How many tens of thousands paid to them, much unlike more deserving others, in terms of being objective, but more in line with mainstream Russian views? How Russia screws itself in a way that isn’t so commonly discussed remains an actual ongoing issue.


  3. “aggression is inherent in the Russian condition, ‘aggression will [only] be over when Russia is over.’

    Told you so. What is so notable about Integrity Initiative docs is that they were for the internal consumption where they don’t need to pay even a lip service to the “political correctness”. So – here you go. Russia IS Mordor for the, and the Russians are Orks.

    Told you so. Just a few days ago.

    The parts about the need to “fight back” as if the war is already ongoing are priceless. I think this line of thought must be lead to its logical conclusion.

    Here I have a for you an interesting half-arsed explanation by a sci-fi and fantasy writer, concerning his part in IntIn:

    “I understand that amongst the latest batch of hacked documents from the Institute of Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative is one that lists me as part of their team. Given how many queries from journalists I’ve been fielding, I thought it would be easier all round for me briefly and publicly to address this for once and, hopefully, for all.

    Back in January 2018, IoS co-director Chris Donnelly reached out to see if I would be interested in perhaps being involved with a proposal they were making for funding to address Russian information operations. We had a chat, I made some comments, and I said that I’d be glad to be involved in some way if the project got off the ground, depending on quite how it evolved.

    And that was it. I never heard any more, so I don’t know if the bid was successful or not. I have no other relationship with the II or the Institute of Statecraft.”



    A few ill-judged tweets do not an anti-Labour political black ops infowar make. Nor does FCO funding demonstrate any kind of nefarious intent. The FCO funds all kinds of projects, some smart and some stupid, some political and some purely cultural. Given that there can be no doubt that there is a Russian political-information campaign being waged, through open media and covert influence, it is right and proper that measures are taken to understand and respond.

    I have no idea if the Integrity Initiative is a good choice for this. I have no idea if it is not. But just as I often find myself wishing those determined to find a nefarious Muscovite hand behind everything that goes wrong, from Brexit to football hooliganism, dialled down their reflexive Russophobia and thought a little more sharply about the purely domestic crisis these incidents reflect, in this case I can only hope that those determined to present the II as some anti-left smear factory, instead think that maybe there are genuine and understandable reasons why Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Russia could be alarming. As someone who regards himself as being on the left of the political spectrum, I certainly would be alarmed were his statements to be manifest as British foreign policy.

    [Let us all clap to the internal integrity of this sci-fi and fantasy author]

    I think this is marvelous. How would like such headline – “Academia leads credence and veneer of respectability to propaganda efforts”. Or how about “Internationally famous professors volunteers to the frontlines of the Hybrid War against Russia (Later Turned Down due to (Mental?) Health Issues)”. Indeed, this “Integrity Initiative” needs more, you know, integrity. Open up recruit stations at every handshakable center of the intellectual liberalism. Allow brave Westerners to sign up to Do Their Part. AgitProp posters are not a problem – there are plenty of them already. Issue every one of these Best People a spiffingly good uniform by Hugo Boss (Tradition!)


    Call them by their proper name – “propagandists”. If, nevertheless, they engage in propaganda but without wearing with pride either uniform or a title, they are unlawful combatants (we already established the fact of war with Russia, right?) and should be treated properly. So, should anyone of them be captured by the airborne-underwater Buryato-Chechen armoured elk cavalry Guard Regiment (by the direct orders of the GRU!), bloody Orks would be within the Laws of War to hang them on the nearest, pardon my Ukrainian, гiляка.

    Now, if you excuse me, I have so much to do – paint my WarTrukk red (‘cuz red ‘un goes fastah!), feed captive elves to my war bear, sharpen my choppa and then drink myself to sleep with orkish ‘shrooms vodka in preparation for tomorrow’s big WAAAAAAAAAAGH into the Blessed Valinor of the West.

    For the Horde!


    1. Ah, it’s from Mark ‘Gerasimov Doctrine‘ Galeotti! Poor sod, he’s just misunderstood and he did nuffing nevva watevvva to get a rep as a poisonous russophobe. He who suppeth at the teet…


      1. Was the simple authorship declaration helpful marketing wise? Or was he otherwise well-recognized before in the field of geopolitics?

        It largely passed unnoticed, but Robert Coalson of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the U.S. government-funded TV and radio service broadcasting to Russia and other unfree countries, picked up on it and translated it. He sent it to me and, with his permission, I published the translation on my blog, with my own comments.

        Put another way, did no one else the him and RFE/RL really pay attention? Doctrine seems a standard usage in such contexts. Bush Doctrine? Wasn’t there something like that?


  4. Gilbert Doctorow has a very timely and sensitively written “discussion” of the second Epilogue of Tolstoy in “War and Peace”. Tolstoy raises the issue that “The precondition for war is the near universal acceptance of the coming war by not only those who will be doing the fighting but also by all those who must support the war effort in civilian capacity in production and logistics.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Donnelly”s view of Russia as a constant source of aggression is pure distortion but it does apply to Israel.

    Russian expansion eastward adds absurdly little to its territory and given the competence of Russian military leadership no rational person can think that it thinks physical expansion can offer superior security to that of first class artillery, air defense, armor, ATGM, EW, and nuclear forces employed on Russian soil to defend in layers. Russia clearly has zero interest in expansion but will respond to provocations by the neocon morons of the US as necessary. Short of that its focus is on defense and making clear, as Mr. Putin has, that the next war in which Russia is involved will not take place on Russian territory.

    Only children and liars can get “inherent Russia/Soviet/Czarist aggression” out of the above.


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