“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
“Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.”
--Chinese philosopher of war Sun Tzu
An accumulating mass of information suggests to me—and I hope I am wrong about this—that Vladimir Putin has launched a war against the United States and its European and other allies (the “West”). I also think that Vladimir Putin is a student of Sun Tzu, and has applied strategies like those above.
Whether Putin’s motive is simply a hatred for and desire to destroy the democracies that humiliated the Soviet Union, the reassembly of most if not all of Russia’s empire, or something else I don’t know. Certainly, the destruction of the West is part of whatever he seeks.
His method of waging this war seems reasonably clear. Russia is militarily and financially no match for the US and NATO. But he perceives that the West is rich and complacent, and concludes that, reminiscent of German Jews facing the rise of Hitler in the 30s, we are loathe to jeopardize our comfort by taking decisive but extremely costly self-protective action so long as his threat remains, shall we say, “soundless,” “formless” and “mysterious.”
Putin “knows when he can fight and when he cannot.” Russia lacks the financial strength to mount a powerful military, but information technology now provides a much less expensive as well as “mysterious” offensive force: cyberwarfare. Not only is it cheap and hard to detect, but extensive dependence on the internet and other computer-controlled infrastructure networks makes the West exceedingly vulnerable to it. And with our uncensored social media and belief in freedom of expression, we have forged weapons for our own destruction.
So Putin has for several years been developing and honing perhaps the world’s most aggressive and effective cyberwarfare capability. This has stolen sensitive information from the most carefully secured sites, locked up and ransomed expensively protected computer systems, disrupted vital communications and other infrastructures, and swarmed social media like Twitter and Facebook with vast clouds of false, scurrilous messages designed to enrage people, inspire hatred or fear, set communities against each other or themselves, and impugn politicians Putin deems dangerous. His efforts may well have thrown the US Presidency to Donald Trump, and provided crucial support to such disruptive causes as Brexit, Kurdish independence, Catalan secession from Spain, and the 5 Star movement in Italy, among others.
While Putin uses cyberwarfare against the West “to subdue the enemy without fighting,” he has also initiated small and camouflaged military invasions of Russian neighbors like Georgia, the Crimea, Ukraine, and Latvia. Nothing so far is clear enough to shatter our complacency and mobilize our overwhelmingly stronger military, but still valuable land grabs and useful threats to other neighbors. These actions, along with a cyberwar effort whose extent is not yet fully apparent, are the evidence for my concern that, without our knowing it, Mr. Putin has launched a deadly war against the US and its allies.