This Means War

By Peter Roberts

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Conversations about contemporary warfare and what it means for the future of fighting. Each episode will look at how wars are being fought around the world today, whether (and why) this is important, and what it all might mean for militaries and national security in the coming decades.

Episode Date
Relishing Duality - flexibility in Russian National Security calculations

If you look at Russian actions in different regions of the world, their strategies differ considerably. This covers economic policies as well as foreign policy activities and military ones. From Africa to the Rimland, Moscow signals their intentions clearly, watches for reactions and then executes pretty nuanced plans. Nowhere is this clearer than in the different approaches Russia has been taking in the Arctic and Ukraine over the past 15 years. In this episode Peter is joined by Professor Katarzyna Zysk, from Norway’s Institute for Defense Studies in Oslo, to talk about duality, rationality, logic, and pragmatism in Russia’s national security decision-making. While there is an idea of muddling through in the Kremlin there is more depth at the organisational level than Western analysts give credit for. This has significant implications for discussions on things like regime change and ceasefires. Don’t expect Moscow to stop behaving like Russia anytime soon; with or without Vladimir Putin at the helm.

Aug 18, 2022
Learning to fight again – realigning Special Forces

Between 2004 and 2014, NATO armies coerced the militaries and special forces of Georgia and Ukraine into a doctrine and design built around Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorist operations. When this met the Russians in 2008 and 2014 respectively, these forces failed. Dramatically. Today, Ukraine’s special forces are performing with dogged determination and expertise – in spite of what the West taught them. Dr Sandor Fabian argues that if today’s special forces want to learn about how to conduct successful operations against a larger conventional military power, they need to look to the Taliban, ISIS, Hezbollah, North Korea and Iran for inspiration: Western militaries have been teaching SF from smaller states the wrong stuff, and forcing them into a shape and form that simply won’t work for them. He and Peter discuss the differences in force design that states require, in everything from equipment and training, to education and doctrine.

Aug 11, 2022
Fear and Loathing in Tbilisi

A now frozen but forgotten conflict in Georgia dating from 2008 was the result of a Russian invasion and occupation of two large regions: it was a stark warning of Moscow’s imperial plans that went ignored by Western leaders. Fourteen years after the ceasefire was established, Russia continues to wage war on Georgia with tools other than uniformed troops and high explosives. Peter talks to Natia Suskuria from the RISS in Tbilisi about what it feels like to live under the threat of renewed invasion from Russian military forces, and what lessons Georgia has learned from recent events in Ukraine. The greatest risk seems to be not from Russia but rather, once again, by Western powers failing to recognise the opportunities and risks of their own actions.

Aug 04, 2022
Ammo, railroads, tyres and logistics are driving military operations in Ukraine

Even though Western militaries systemically underinvest in their own logistics and engineering capabilities, it is incredible that the Russian army is still operating on processes and with equipment from almost a century ago. Their reliance on people as the key to logistical resupply has hamstrung their ability to advance and win ground in Ukraine. Peter talks to Trent Telenko about how long-range, precision rocket systems being delivered to Ukrainian forces are now shaping military planning by both sets of combatants. From railroads to truck tyres, and the differences in Chinese military logistics machines, the lessons from Ukraine since February 2022 are beguiling.

Jul 28, 2022
Facing A Callous Adversary

As the Iranian proxy in Yemen, the Houthi’s have evolved from a guerrilla organisation to one capable of facing down a first-world military and becoming adept with ballistic missiles, maritime warfare, and influence operations in Western capitals. In this episode, Peter talks to Dr Michael Knights about what an effective – if morally dubious – ‘train and assist’ mission looks like when conducted by an adversary. It’s not just about what you weapons you fight with, it’s about how you fight and who (and how) they support you, ending with the lesson that military power is no absolute; it is only relative to the enemy.

Jul 21, 2022
Fighting in Urban Ukraine

Peter talks to Prof John Spencer, doyen of Urban Warfare at West Point, after his recent trip to Ukraine. They cover the Battle of Kyiv, urban terrain as a warfare discipline, the peri-urban, phone-a-friend intelligence, the precision paradox, the failures of John Boyd's theories, and the admirable ability of the Russian army to break contact and retreat under fire. As both parties in this Ukrainian-Russian war prepare for the next phase of violent action, Peter and John try to deternmine what will be critical in the outcome of the campaign: momentum and resistance being key facets to any material capability.

Jul 14, 2022
A Turning Point in Ukraine?

Dr Jack Watling talks to Peter as he returns from his most recent trip to Ukraine. As both Ukrainian and Russian forces reorganise for the next phase, the conflict is poised at a critical moment: one dependent on stockpiles, logistics, resupply, people, leadership and styles of fighting. Whilst Jack brings his latest insights to the listeners, he and Peter have a discussion over the information war and debunk some of the myths and fallacies around the public face of the war. Jack also highlights some of the lessons emerging from the conflict that are likely to endure and apply across other wars. Sobering stuff.

Jun 30, 2022
Analysing wars for lessons: Context is everything

Peter talks to Ewan Lawson, a Senior Associate Fellow at RUSI, about the context of wars and why this is important in drawing lessons from them. Analysis of contemporary wars has led to some knee-jerk reactions in terms of force designing Western militaries for the future: think about the hype over 'hybrid' or 'grey-zone' warfare and how European militaries tilted towards this as the pace-setting threat for the future, only to be surprised by the visibility of conventional warfare in Ukraine in 2022. Is this all a broader failure to appreciate context - of the war, each states own situation (political, economic as well as military), and - perhaps most importantly - the adversary?

Jun 23, 2022
An introduction to the podcast

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has stimulated a considerable outpouring of emotion, passion and commentary – not to mention the death and destruction that always accompanies war. The same level of interest by the general publics of Europe, America and Australasia was not present for wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, across sub Saharan Africa or during the bloody civil wars and engagements fought elsewhere around the globe in the last decade or so. And whilst the border clashes between China and India could have started something much more catasophic than what started in Ukraine earlier this year, it received little attention in terms of debate and discussion in diplomatic, economic, political or military circles. Let alone failing to capture the imagination of the international public. I want to explore why this is – and talking to people in the profession of arms and wider community – I understand they are curious too.

Jun 13, 2022