John Robb on how the Seam can fight the Gap

In the past, I’ve occasionally been hard on John Robb’s theories. I’ve made fair criticisms. Robb has previously focused on very angry men, superempowered individuals who would lash out in acts of violence. Of course, such actors can only create random violence, and so their effects will be drowned out in the noise. Robb also focused on terrorist groups attacking the economies of their enemies, but terrorist organizations are much smaller than states, and by trying to take down the economies of their enemies they often are attacking their enemy at the strongest point. Very foolish.

However, John Robb is exactly right on how seam states like Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova can defend themselves against Russia. Russia is a Gap state with a brittle, fragile economy. Indeed, “Russia” is almost just another name for “Gazprom and her mecenaries.” Attacking the mercenaries attacks Russia will she is strong. Attacking Gazprom attacks Russia will she is weak:

Global Guerrillas – HALTING RUSSIAN ENCROACHMENT
Beneficially for these countries, the costs of maintaining a defensive posture that relies on systems disruption is nearly zero. There is no need to maintain a “toy army” or any defensive systems at all. In fact, it’s likely preferable not to put up any fight at all during a Russian incursion to minimize damage/casualties. What is needed are small teams (given how may in these countries already speak Russian and can pass for Russian) that can disrupt pipelines, powerlines, etc., which are very inexpensive to maintain (another option is to purchase guest workers/criminals to do the job). Further, some of these countries have a well developed software industry and can generate cyberattacks on Russian corporate targets. Even better, these countries can invite anyone in the world offended by the Russian action, through sites that provide target lists/exploits and offensive software, to join in the attacks (bounties/rewards could be offered for exceptional attacks). In many cases, the returns on investment (ROIs) for these disruptions can top one million $ to one $.

Every country that borders Russia or has friends that do should be studying how they can attack Russia’s hydrocarbon infrastructure. The simpe stupidity of Russia’s invasion of Georgia has already taken 40% off the Russian stock market. Imagine how much more painful that war could have been if Georgian special forces went Robbian, and began attacking Gazprom’s oil infrastructure across Russia.

13 thoughts on “John Robb on how the Seam can fight the Gap”

  1. First, Dan Tdaxp say this:

    “Robb also focused on terrorist groups attacking the economies of their enemies, but terrorist organizations are much smaller than states, and by trying to take down the economies of their enemies they often are attacking their enemy at the strongest point. Very foolish.” (Dan)

    Then, Dan Tdaxp supports the following strategy for small States to fight Russia:

    “What is needed are small teams (given how may in these countries already speak Russian and can pass for Russian) that can disrupt pipelines, powerlines, etc., which are very inexpensive to maintain (another option is to purchase guest workers/criminals to do the job). Further, some of these countries have a well developed software industry and can generate cyberattacks on Russian corporate targets. Even better, these countries can invite anyone in the world offended by the Russian action, through sites that provide target lists/exploits and offensive software, to join in the attacks (bounties/rewards could be offered for exceptional attacks). In many cases, the returns on investment (ROIs) for these disruptions can top one million $ to one $” (J. Robb)

    Confused?

  2. Another method that might work, at least in relatively mountainous areas like the Caucasus: a defensive, population-wide militia. Would YOU want to invade a country where every able-bodied man and woman is armed, organized and equipped to fight a guerrilla war against your troops? Especially if the terrain and plant cover makes it harder to use air power and gives them the advantage in the countryside as well as the city? The reduced need for expensive offensive weapons systems also makes it relatively cheap and easier to swallow for third-party nations you’re trying to get onto your side.

    Problem: If you AREN’T so well endowed, geologically, the value is reduced. Robb’s idea is also limited when Russia has the ability to fight back with the same tactics. If I’m correct in guessing that Ukraine is in both categories, they may need other approaches.

  3. The problem with granting “Letters of Marque and Reprisal” to computer hackers to disrupt Russian computer systems is that the Russians have a very large and capable intelligence service that is very likely to discover who is doing the disrupting, especially if they claim cash rewards for their cyber guerilla actions. The Russians also have people who are skilled in “wet work” and they are not shy about using them.

    The way to deal with Russia is to make petroleum less valuable and important.

  4. Seerov,

    Where does your confusion come from?

    Terrorists are sub-state actors. States possess sovereignty over land.

    It’s unlikely that a GG gang can accomplish much (outside of what any mafia could do) by disrupting hydrocarbon transmission. However, as Robb points out, a small state could use such tactics to increase the cost of war for an aggressor, leading to a quicker peace.

    Mark in Texas,

    Structurally lowering the price of hydrocarbons is an important long-term goal. However, it should not blind us to short- and medium- goals, as well.

    As for the letters of marquis… PKK-style attacks on gazprom lines to Europe seems much more direct and effective than playing into Russia’s strengths in a cyberwar.

  5. Dan Tdaxp,

    Isn’t the fact that terror groups ARE non-State actors more beneficial to them? If Estonia hires people to sabotage stuff in Russia, Russia can respond in many ways to the Estonians. If a terror group sabatages stuff in the US, where are we going to respond? I think somebody suggested nuking Mecca?

  6. Oh, and another thing. We better not see you screeching about the Russians being “State sponsors of terrorism” if you’re going to support such tactics. I once pointed out to you that the US has sponsored “terror” groups in the past, and you didn’t respond? Instead of trying some moral arguments, just say that you don’t like the Russians, and will support any means necessary to see them fall.

  7. Seerov,

    Isn’t the fact that terror groups ARE non-State actors more beneficial to them? If Estonia hires people to sabotage stuff in Russia, Russia can respond in many ways to the Estonians. If a terror group sabatages stuff in the US, where are we going to respond? I think somebody suggested nuking Mecca?

    Well, in the sense that a begger is freer than a king, because a king’s action is constrained by the power he might lose while a begger’s is not… sure.

    So?

    Oh, and another thing. We better not see you screeching about the Russians being “State sponsors of terrorism” if you’re going to support such tactics. I once pointed out to you that the US has sponsored “terror” groups in the past, and you didn’t respond? Instead of trying some moral arguments, just say that you don’t like the Russians, and will support any means necessary to see them fall.

    I assume you mean by ‘screech’ simply ‘state, with a conclusion I dislike.’ I think this is a non-standard definition, not to mention rude.

    That said, your assertion is clearly false. Of course Russia is a state-sponsor of terror. Likewise, Russia is a major arms-dealer. [1]

    No need to major moral judgments one way or the other about ‘Russians.’ An analysis of Russia [2] goes far enough.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/09/14/buying-from-the-gap.html
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/08/14/russia-is-bad.html

  8. I do apologize about the “screech” comment.

    But don’t you think its hypocritical to demonize Russia about being State sponsors of terror when the US has done the same thing and while you call for the same actions against Russia?

    And don’t you think its hypocritcal to call Russia “totalitarian” when China is as well? Your writings on Russia stick out at me because usually you’re objective and thoughtful.

  9. Seerov,

    But don’t you think its hypocritical to demonize Russia about being State sponsors of terror when the US has done the same thing and while you call for the same actions against Russia?

    How so?

    I would equally ‘demonize’ a gang for maintaining a large, mobile, armed force of men who cruise the streets, while praising the police for maintaining a large, mobile, armed force of men who cruise the streets.

    And don’t you think its hypocritcal to call Russia “totalitarian” when China is as well? Your writings on Russia stick out at me because usually you’re objective and thoughtful.

    Where have I done this?

  10. The problem with state actors playing the terrorist game is that if it works well enough, Russia will simply commit genocide. I don’t mean the Serb kind, but rather the Mongol kind, the Roman kind, Carthago delenda est. Russia has enough salt to do the entirety of Estonia and both Russia and Estonia knows it.

    No, the policy of sabotage and terrorism would not work as described. I’m afraid the choices for small nations remain the three that I’ve written about since at least 2004. They can become a colony of a Great Power (likely Russia), they can enter into a military alliance and fall under a nuclear umbrella, or they can get their own nuclear deterrent force. Russia has to decide which it fears the most because while it can hope for colonies, a responsible Russia must prepare for the eventuality that it will fail in any given case. Which nukes are scarier for it, the ones controlled in Washington or a future with nukes controlled in Tbilisi, Vilnius, and Astana among many other places?

  11. TM,

    Excellent comment.

    Terrorist tactics don’t work well for a state as an offensive weapon.

    As a defensive weapon, I think they might.

    The purpose would not be to defeat Russia. Rather, force a quicker cease fire to get beyond the kinetics stage as fast as powerful.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if China’s PLA is thinking of something similar, in case they could quick seize Taiwan but not hold it against a US counterattack.

  12. Russia’s secret security services have a record of false-flag operations against Russian citizens, so the idea of Russian false-flag operations against Russian clients is hardly surprising.

    Hard to know what is up.

    Great analysis.

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