By Andrew Korybko
A global shift in US strategy is currently underway, with America transitioning from the ‘world policeman’ to the Lead From Behind mastermind. This fundamental shift essentially entails the US moving from a majority forward-operating military to a defensive stay-behind force. Part of this transformation is the reduction of the conventional military and its replacement with special forces and intelligence recruits.Private military companies (PMCs) are also occupying a higher role in the US’ grand strategy. Of course, it is not to say that the US no longer has the capability or will to forward advance – not at all – but that the evolving US strategy prefers more indirect and nefarious approaches towards projecting power besides massive invasions and bombing runs. In this manner, it is following the advice of Sun Tzu who wrote that “supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” The outcome is a mixture of Color Revolutions, unconventional warfare, and mercenary interventions that avoids the direct use of US combat troops while relying heavily on regional allies’ proxy involvement. This results in the promotion of American policy via oblique methods and the retention of relative plausible deniability. Importantly, the absence of conventional forces is thought to reduce the risk of a direct confrontation between the US and Russia, China, and Iran, the primary targets of these proxy wars.
The Eurasian-wide plan of strategic destabilization and state fracturing owes its genesis to Zbigniew Brzezinski and his Eurasian Balkans concept. The US is flexible in practicing this concept, and it does not meet a dead end if the destabilization encounters an obstacle and cannot be advanced. Should this occur, as it has in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, and possibly soon in the South China Sea, the stratagem evolves into maximizing the chaos within the launch pad states that are positioned on the doorsteps of the Eurasian Powers. The idea is to create ‘black holes’ of absolute disorder in which Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran are “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” intervene. Ideally, the US prefers that its intended targets are sucked into a quagmire that bleeds them dry and destabilizes them at home, per the example of the Soviet-Afghan War which Brzezinski conspired over 30 years ago. Moving away from the expansive Eurasian Balkans and reverting to the roots of ‘Afghan anarchy’ is the nature of the Reverse Brzezinski, and it poses the ultimate dilemma-like trap for the Eurasian Powers.
The US’ experience in training and arming the Mujahideen to bring about and manage the Soviet-Afghan War can be seen as the first foray into the Lead From Behind strategy. The US worked hand-in-hand with Pakistan and other Muslim states to sow the seeds of chaos in Afghanistan (including the creation of the international mercenary organization Al Qaeda), thus creating a strategic destabilization so tempting that the Soviet Union could not resist the urge to intervene. This was the goal all along and it was a resounding success. It also the pinnacle of Cold War-era proxy warfare that meshed perfectly with the international balance of power at the time. It was so successful that it is credited as one of the contributing factors to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This altered the global power balance and resulted in the US’ unipolar moment. During this period of time, the Afghan Lead From Behind prototype was no longer seen as necessary because the US now had the power, will, and opportunity to project power directly and forcefully all across the world.
The Unipolar Moment of Shock and Awe:
Drunk with power after emerging victorious from the Cold War, the US began a spate of military interventions beginning with the First Gulf War. Although marketed as a multilateral operation, the US was the primary participant in the warring coalition. Within a few years, the US was then bombing Serbian positions in Bosnia before initiating a unilateral NATO war in Serbia’s Kosovo province. It was the bombing of Serbia that awakened Russian decision makers to the need to defend their country from future threats, thus beginning a commitment towards modernizing its defense industry in order to deter a direct American/NATO attack against Russian interests. Nonetheless, this did not result in an immediate change, and in the meantime, the US’ power had yet to climax.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US undertook military operations and a subsequent occupation of Afghanistan, a country situated halfway across the world and near the Heartland of Eurasia. This massive expansion of American military might and reach inside the continent was unprecedented, yet even that did not mark the highlight of the post-Cold War era. The epitome of the unipolar moment was actually the 2003 Shock and Awe campaign in Iraq. During that time, the US massively bombarded Iraq in a show of force definitely made to remind the rest of the world of the US’ sole superpower status. It also deployed incredible amounts of troops and weaponry into the Mideast. Ironically enough, the subsequent financial and opportunity costs of the war and occupation would play a strong role in decreasing American power and allowing other countries such as Russia and China to catch up in challenging and defending against the US within their own spheres of interest.
The Eurasian Balkans:
It was at the middle of the unipolar moment in 1997 that Brzezinski authored “The Grand Chessboard” in which he laid out the US’ geostrategic priorities for Eurasia and how to best achieve them. He postulated that it was imperative for the US to retain a commanding influence over Eurasia, and that one of the best ways to do this was to prevent collusion between Russia and China. The strategic ‘Balkanizing’ of societies across the Eurasian landmass is a pivotal means of destabilizing the entire continent. If taken to its logical end, it is envisioned to create a tidal wave of ethnic, religious, and political anarchy that can crash into and dismember the diverse civilizations of Russia, China, and Iran. In some aspects, the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and their chaotic aftermath can be seen as following the philosophic dictates of this principle. The US has also historically undertaken regime change operations as a method of advancing continental destabilization and pushing Western power deeper into Eurasia.
Regime change has always been a characteristic of American foreign policy, owing back to the covert overthrow of the Syrian government in 1949. Since then, it has been estimated that the CIA has overthrown or attempted to overthrow over 50 governments, although it has only admitted to 7 of them. Regime change can be either direct or indirect. Pertaining to the former, one can look at the examples of Panama in 1989 or Iraq in 2003, whereas the latter can be witnessed by the 1953 Iranian coup or the trail of Color Revolutions.
As can be evidenced from the recent Ukrainian coup, regime change today can be as cheap as only $5 billion, a fraction of the cost that it would have taken to directly overthrow Yanukovich and invade the country. Additionally, owing to international circumstances and the resurgence of Russian military might and will, it may not have been possible for the US to do so without risking a major war. Therefore, covert regime change operations are seen as preferable when the interests of other Great Powers are at stake. It is very important for the new leadership to have perceived legitimacy within the international community following the coup. Seeing as how Western democracy is viewed as a legitimate governing standard, pro-Western Color Revolutions are the optimal method of regime change among targeted states not currently practicing this form of government.
Color Revolutions are outside-supported pro-Western coups. They specifically use the tools of social media and NGOs to infiltrate societies, increase their ranks, and expand their efficiency after the regime change operation has been commenced. Because they typically manipulate large groups of people, they create the illusion of a broad grassroots movement of disaffected masses rising up against a tyrannical dictatorship. This misleading perception enables the coup attempt to gain wide support and acceptance among the Western community, and it also denigrates the legitimate authorities that are trying to put down the illegal overthrow. The manipulation-prone masses are drawn to the street movements largely as a result of Gene Sharp’s tactics, which adroitly seek to amplify social protest movements to their maximum possible extent.
This new method of warfare is extremely effective because it presents a startling dilemma for the affected state – does the leadership use force against the civilian protesters (de-facto human shields unaware that they are being politically manipulated) in order to strike at the militant Right Sektor-esque core? And with the eyes of the Western media following the developments, can the government afford to be isolated from that community of nations if it legally defends itself? Thus, Color Revolutions present a strategic Catch-22 for the targeted government, and it is therefore not difficult to see why they had been deployed all across the post-Soviet space and beyond. They have replaced ‘traditional’ CIA coup action and have become the modus operandi of covert regime change.