By Harry SarlesOctober 2, 2018
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- The Culture, Regional Expertise and Language Management Office presented an expert panel discussion on the Strategic Culture of Eurasia: Challenges for U.S. National Security Friday, Sept. 28, at the Command and General Staff College's Lewis and Clark Center.
Steve Hecker, from the Office of the Director for National Intelligence; Jeffrey D. Vordermark of CGSC's Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations; Dr. Nicholas N. Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute; and Mark Wilcox of DJIMO were welcomed to the panel by Dr. Mahir Ibrahimov, Director of the Culture, Regional Expertise and Language Management Office. The panel members brought with them expertise in Iran (Hecker), Turkey (Vordermark), and Russia (Eberstadt and Wilcox).
Ibrahimov said the concept of strategic culture dates to the 1970's when miscalculations of the adversary's behavior by U.S. officials were determined to be wrong because they were based on American cultural behavior and didn't apply to the adversary. "The concept of thinking and viewing the world through a unique strategic culture as a combination of sociocultural and historical factors remains even more important today when we are increasingly dealing with groups which are operating in pan-regional and multi-regional battle spaces comprised of numerous cultures, both friendly and hostile, including the new emerging operational environment which would also require large scale combat operations," said Ibrahimov.
The panel intended to discuss the differences in the Strategic Cultures of the given countries, which might shape thinking and behavior among themselves as well as on the international arena. "In other words," said Ibrahimov, "given the limited time, we'll try to approach the discussion from their perspective to understand their behavior."
Hecker led off the discussion. He said Iran's culture today is mostly made up of the generations that experienced the Shah being deposed and the Iran-Iraq War. The culture focuses on four things: Iranian Identity, a mix of Persian Nationalism and Islam; a resistance doctrine and revolutionary history; the Iranian experience; and imposed war and sacred defense.
The top priority in Iran is regime survival said Hecker. That means Iran may be willing to negotiate in key areas to ensure the government and nation continues.
Mistrust and hostility between the U.S. and Iran, an on-going cultural war, and a national obligation to resist are the major challenges in dealing with Iran, said Hecker. In Iran, "resistance is victory," he said.
Following the presentation on Iran, Vordermark talked about Turkey. He said Turkey has a strong sense of nationalism that started after World War I when Turkey was formed out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey is largely Sunni while its neighbor, Iran, is largely Shia. Vordermark said Turkey is a natural competitor of Iran and Russia and has vast economic ties to Europe. The biggest change Vordermark has seen in Turkey is urbanization because so many young people have migrated to Istanbul seeking opportunity.
Much of Turkish culture is directly linked to the country's first ruler, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He established the six arrows: republicanism, nationalism, populism, statism (state ownership of industry), secularism, and revolution. He also abolished the caliphate. "Peace abroad, peace at home," was the Turkish ideal under Ataturk.
The Turkish regime did not embrace the new urbanites making them ripe for influence from opposition leaders eventually leading to a change in Turkish leadership. The current leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has made many changes in Turkey to reposition the nation as the champion for Sunni and Muslim rights in the region and to essentially establish himself as ruler for life. Erdogan was able to use the recent coup attempt to consolidate power and eliminate or silence enemies. "Following the coup attempt he had 150,000 people arrested," said Vordermark.
Eberstadt opened the discussion on Russia. His specialty is demographics. "Demographics, I think, is one of the foundations of national power," he said. He continued saying that using demographics to predict the future is easier than many other disciplines because the majority of people who are going to be in a given place in 2035 are already there. "Demographics slowly but very unforgivably alters the realm of the possible," he said. Using demographics, he showed what he described as a big disconnect between the Kremlin's ambitions and the national power base that those ambitions are based on.
In the first 20 years following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia experienced a large surfeit of deaths vs. births and experienced large population decline. That has rebounded since 2012 to the point that deaths and births nearly balance but Eberstadt said that may be a short-lived trend because of an aging population and declining number of women age 20-34 in the near-term. "Women in 2026 would have to be having almost twice the number of births that year as back in 1990 for there to be kind of equal numbers of births and deaths," he said.
The declining population pressure is similar in many European countries but Eberstadt continued with other issues facing Russia including a looming health catastrophe as indicated by the life expectancy of a young man in Russia being two to three years less than a similar aged man in Haiti. A second problem facing Russia is lack of knowledge production. "Russia has about two percent of the world's population, about four percent of the world's college and university education population, and it produces about three tenths of one percent of global international patent applications," he said.
"When you put all these factors together, you see on the horizon the possibility that the national foundations of Russian global economic influence may be headed down rather fast," said Eberstadt.
Wilcox followed Eberstadt and continued the Russia theme. He discussed the culture of Russia in three factors: geography, history, and identity. The geography is huge. "You name any country or concern in the region, the Russians are bumping into them," said Wilcox. That generates an ever increasing number of security concerns for Russia and its neighbors.
Wilcox said what Putin did to govern this huge piece of geography was take massive amounts of small governmental structures and manage them from the top. Despite its vastness, Russia is top-down managed government. Wilcox quoted Putin "for Russians a strong state is not an anomaly to fight against."
The current Russian regime has weaponized history as a means of pursuing policy said Wilcox. He noted that after the Crimean war in the 1850's Russia concentrated, lying low and reconstituting for a period before it reasserted itself again. Putin copied this behavior. The cycle of defeat, concentration and reassertion is well documented in Russian history. Other significant historic periods include the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Patriotic War (following the German invasion in 1941), and the period under Boris Yeltsin after the fall of the Soviet Union. "In Russia, Yeltsin becomes a poster boy for what we don't want to be," said Wilcox.
The last factor he discussed was identity beginning with Russian-ness or 'Russkiy-Mir.' Russia reserves the right to act in support of Russians wherever they are. This was a factor in Georgia, Ukraine and elsewhere. The second factor is where is Russia? East? West? Wilcox says Russia increasingly sees itself as uniquely Eurasian making Russia special, unique, and better than anyone else. The final identity factor is the sense of being a great power. Russians believe they are, have been, and always will be a great power, said Wilcox.
A spirited question and answer session followed the panel presentation. The full video of the session can be found at the CRELMO web page, https://usacac.army.mil/organizations/cace/lrec, under the Program Documents, Articles and Links of Interest heading