What do Latvia and Japan Have in Common? Coping with Military-Leveraged Power


2014-05-28 by Robbin Laird

The evolving nature of 21st century military threats and challenges have shaped a common challenge for Japan and Latvia – countering indirect threats serving a competitor’s national agenda.

The Japanese are dealing with China and Latvia with Russia, but in each case the state working to gain an advantage has built up military power but is seeking to use at as part of an influence package.

Protesters clash with police in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, January 19, 2004.
Protesters clash with police in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, January 19, 2004. 

It is not about going to general war or even deliberately building a ladder of escalation to dominate an adversary.

It is about using paramilitary forces, surrogates, strategic communication, and economic pressure backed up with an insertable military force at the appropriate time to achieve the national strategic objectives.

It is neither hard nor soft power, but the use of hard power as the underwriter of a strategic communication strategy to achieve objectives short of war.

Now both Japan and Latvia are facing exactly the reality of what one might call military leveraging as part of proactive strategic communication.  It is speaking loudly, and carrying an effective stick.

The Japanese Case: How to deal with military challenges disguised as security ones?

We have written at length about the reworking of Japanese defense.  But underlying the reworking effort is the nature of the threat, which they face from China, which is clearly to work to shift the region and global balance in their direction.  And the PRC leadership is positioning itself to operate in ambiguous situations and shape outcomes in the favor using their security and defense forces.

The dilemmas which Japan faces in working a new defense policy precisely rests on the challenge of how to engage defense forces in dealing with the military leveraging pressures operating in gray areas.

A recent piece in The Japan Times provided a very good overview on the nature of the challenge and the dilemmas for Japan.

With tensions in Asia growing, the greatest risks involve low-intensity conflicts rather than full-scale military attacks. But critics say that Japan’s dependence on the policing function of the Coast Guard or Self-Defense Forces isn’t enough to respond swiftly and effectively to such threats.

Low-intensity conflicts, also called gray zone scenarios, fall short of full-scale military attacks but can pose major security problems. In Japan, these potential attacks are viewed as a dilemma because they are too big to be addressed by one or the other, but might fall short of the conditions that would be required to launch an armed response by the SDF, which requires aggression deemed as a premeditated attack by a sovereign nation…..

It is believed that gray-zone scenarios can be handled without the use of collective self-defense, which is a more contentious issue. Coalition partner New Komeito is against legalizing the use of the right since it involves reinterpreting the pacifist Constitution instead of amending it. The coalition has thus decided to discuss the gray-zone cases first.

The center of this discussion revolves around whether and how the SDF should take on more of the coast guard’s policing roles and whether the SDF restrictions on weapons use can be eased without increasing political tensions, especially when Japan and China are chasing each other around the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The number of Chinese ships entering contiguous waters and intruding into Japanese waters has spiked since the Democratic Party of Japan-led team of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda put the Senkakus into state ownership in September 2012. Even though there no serious clashes have occurred, any mismanagement could spiral into a military confrontation.

One scenario presented earlier this month by a panel of experts hand-picked by Abe involves a surprise landing on remote islands by commandos disguised as fishermen. Many politicians assume this would take the form of Chinese commandos raising a flag on the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan but claimed both by China and Taiwan.

At the moment, the Coast Guard has the primary responsibility for patrolling Japanese waters. But the defense minister can order the SDF to assume its policing authority, with the prime minister’s approval, if an incident develops into a low-intensity conflict that exceeds the Coast Guard’s policing abilities.

The SDF can’t use lethal force except for self-defense or during evacuations because commanders are bound by the law governing police officers and the Japan Coast Guard Law.

New Komeito says the restriction should be relaxed so that the SDF can counter the threat more effectively without a full-scale counterattack.

Critics also point out that transfers of responsibility should be done swiftly because aggressors could land while the government is still debating whether to pass enforcement authority to the SDF….

The challenge is heightened when one understands that the Russians are demonstrating innovations in working gray zone scenarios through military leveraging in shaping what one analyst calls a new form of strategic communication to achieve national objectives.

The Russian Engagement in Ukraine

In a seminal piece on the Ukrainian crisis by a Latvian researcher, new ground has been laid to shape a clearer understanding of the evolving nature of 21st century military power.

Neither asymmetric nor convention, the Russians are shaping what this researcher calls a strategic communications policy to support strategic objectives and to do so with a tool set of various means, including skill useful of military power as the underwriter of the entire effort.

According to Janis Berzinš, the Russians have unleashed a new generation of warfare in Ukraine. The entire piece needs to be read carefully and its entirety, but the core analytical points about the Russian approach and the shaping a new variant of military operations for the 21st century can be seen from the excerpts taken from the piece below:

The Crimean campaign has been an impressive demonstration of strategic communication, one which shares many similarities with their intervention in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008, while at the same time being essentially different, since it reflects the operational realization of the new military guidelines to be implemented by 2020.

Its success can be measured by the fact that in just three weeks, and without a shot being fired, the morale of the Ukrainian military was broken and all of their 190 bases had surrendered. Instead of relying on a mass deployment of tanks and artillery, the Crimean campaign deployed less than 10,000 assault troops – mostly naval infantry, already stationed in Crimea, backed by a few battalions of airborne troops and Spetsnaz commandos – against 16,000 Ukrainian military personnel.

The Russian Approach to 21st Century Military Operations. Credit: Janis Berzinš
The Russian Approach to 21st Century Military Operations. Credit: Janis Berzinš 

In addition, the heaviest vehicle used was the wheeled BTR-80 armored personal carrier.After blocking Ukrainian troops in their bases, the Russians started the second operational phase, consisting of psychological warfare, intimidation, bribery, and internet/media propaganda to undermine resistance, thus avoiding the use of firepower.

The operation was also characterized by the great discipline of the Russian troops, the display of new personnel equipment, body armor, and light wheeled armored vehicles. The result was a clear military victory on the battlefield by the operationalization of a well-orchestrated campaign of strategic communication, using clear political, psychological, and information strategies and the fully operationalization of what Russian military thinkers call “New Generation Warfare”…..

Thus, the Russian view of modern warfare is based on the idea that the main battlespace is the mind and, as a result, new-generation wars are to be dominated by information and psychological warfare, in order to achieve superiority in troops and weapons control, morally and psychologically depressing the enemy’s armed forces personnel and civil population.

The main objective is to reduce the necessity for deploying hard military power to the minimum necessary, making the opponent’s military and civil population support the attacker to the detriment of their own government and country.

New Generation Warfare

An Estonian Perspective on How To Respond

The Latvian analysis has been widely read in the Baltic Republics.  It is not a question simply of think tank meetings, but one of national survival.

Interestingly, the Estonian leaders have directly taken up the themes of the Latvian analysis and provided his own assessment of what needs to be done to deal with the threat.

Dealing with new-generation warfare shows the need for a more comprehensive national-security strategy. According to Estonian leaders, Estonia has already made such preparations.

For example, Riho Terras, the chief of the country’s armed forces, said at a conference in Tallinn on Apr. 26.

“We have put a lot of emphasis in the last years to create units that are able to deal with unconventional threats,” Terras said. The government needs to have clear crisis procedures and be legally prepared “to take a swift decision to shoot and kill the first green man and the second one won’t come.”

Putin may target the Baltic and Balkan regions after Ukraine if the U.S. and its allies fail to show “serious counterbalance,” Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Yukos Oil Co. owner freed from jail last year, said in an interview with Lithuanian daily Lietuvos Rytas…..

NATO has to adjust to having “very little if any warning time” from Russia, where decision-making is centralized, Mikser said. A revision of long-term plans for defense and military exercises would boost security in the Baltic region, which the Kremlin views as the alliance’s “soft underbelly,” he said.

“Russia’s conventional military is still far inferior to NATO collectively and they know that,” Mikser said. “But the modernization effort that they have undertaken in the last few years has delivered a Russian military capable of acting against individual neighboring countries.”

 For Steve Blank’s look at the new face of warfare see the following:


I want to thank Hans Tino Hansen for bringing the Latvian piece to my attention via the following link: