Abstract. The radical transformation of international relations and the emergence of new types of conflicts are urging Russian military science to step up research on strategic culture. A matrix of strategic culture devised by the author serves the basis of making an integrated information environment that encompasses military-strategic, economic, and informational resources of the state. Using the matrix opens up new opportunities for analyzing the military-political situation prognosis, estimating resources and planning actions in present-day military-political situations.

The Covid-19 pandemic, oil wars, irregular migration, along with the worsening confrontation between the world power centers, the US, Russia, and China, render international relations more chaotic, which acquires an increasingly sinister coloring in conditions of an obviously inadequately administered international security system in the economic, military-political, and cultural-world outlook spheres.

Hybrid Warfare in Present-Day Reality

An important factor of the international situation getting increasingly chaotic is the US policy of global superiority involving the military and economic potential of the consolidated West, while the authority and capacity of organizations supposed to ensure international security, such as the UNO and OSCE, are plummeting unprecedentedly. The world is entering an age of greater disunity, while the unifying links between nations and countries are fairly weak. So one cannot help drawing an analogy between that and the 1930s events, which plunged humanity into the tragedy of World War II.

At the moment, global, regional, and international institutions (G-20, the EU, the OPEC), individual states and coalitions of same, as well as international organizations, are displaying ineptitude and inability to respond efficiently to challenges, risks, dangers, and threats not only at the level of concrete decisions taken, but also, most importantly, at the conceptual level.

Conceptually speaking, this kind of response could be worked out with the participation of systemic entities of international relations along several lines, namely, first, on the basis of forming a long-term strategic partnership between the EU and Russia, which could consolidate Greater Eurasia in mild form, and, second, on the basis of furthering a stable partnership between the United States, China, and Russia.

However, the tough rules of hybrid warfare waged by the United States and consolidated West against Russia and China precluded the necessary progress along either of the mutually advantageous lines. Rather the reverse, Washington and its allies stake their hopes on the threat of using military force, preserving unlawful economic sanctions, and waging information warfare built on falsification and misinformation. The synergy of the effect of military, economic, and information opportunities is ensured by the uniform strategy of hybrid warfare that is conducted purposefully against the rivals of the US and the West at large.

The point of hybrid warfare is to create conditions for unrestrained enrichment of the society elite and impoverishment of all the rest, while massive information support attempts to instill in the minds of the adversaries the idea that there is now no going back to the former lifestyle. The powers that be have already prepared the templates of the new world order, a far more cruel and inhuman one.

In the fierce competitive struggle, the things coming to the fore are no longer issues of the political system, degree of democratization, and liberalism of the political system, but the cultural, civilizational factor, which used to be discussed by S. Huntington1 and certain other geopolitics experts.

The political reality of today suggests convincingly that, given the effect of the culture and civilization factor on the ability to provide the country’s stability and survival, judging by the effectiveness of the fight against the pandemic, the cultures of states constituting Greater Eurasia (China, Russia, South Korea, Japan) possess a higher stability potential.

The capabilities of these countries prove more powerful both operationally speaking, as they managed to take concrete measures to fight new challenges, and also conceptually, because the weakening of liberal ideology and a democratic political system failed to cut the ground from under their feet, which is more than can be said of the states of the consolidated West.

Culture in Conflicts of the 21st Century

The above suggests that in the course of setting up a global comprehensive system of international security provision a place of honor should be given to the perception and consideration of the functions of culture in global politics, and in the military area in particular. Culture includes a sum of knowledge and visions of the world shared by the members of a certain community of humans, while the differences in their ideas affect the policy of individual states, the functioning of nongovernmental and international organizations, public opinion, and mass behavior.

Prominent US anthropologist M. Herskovits believes that each culture has a certain cultural focus, the predominant essential feature of this or that nation.2 The cultural focus reflects any society’s tendency toward a particular complexity and intricacy of some aspects and institutions against the backdrop of the relative simplicity of others.

When society focuses, concentrates its efforts on furthering any one aspect of its culture, this aspect becomes the breeding ground of innovation, for it is the former, and not any other, that is in the center of attention. In some countries this is progress in technologies (the countries of Europe), in others, improvement of their economic and military potential so as to achieve global domination on the basis of self-proclaimed exceptionality (the United States), in others still, law and legislation (Switzerland, Iceland).

Russia’s cultural focus has for centuries gravitated toward solving the problems of own state’s defense, and protecting the people, as well as supporting justice in international community. The issues of the correlation between the notions cultural focus and strategic culture constitute a major subject of research in its own right.

The reflection of the culture phenomenon in the military sphere of public life has a number of distinctive features. The military sphere of life should be interpreted as an area of the state’s vital activity that is objectively essential for the provision of its dynamic, steady, and safe development, where large numbers of specially trained people related to military affairs are employed, and which implies in its functioning use of the country’s military might by the state in potential or realized form and is regulated by means of military policy on the basis of military doctrinal provisions and a certain normative-legal base.3

The development and improvement of the military sphere is conditioned by the need to localize and minimize the negative consequences of military dangers and threats involving military force and the armed forces as intended, i.e. waging armed struggle in military conditions and in potential, deterring form to avert warfare and aggression against the state in peacetime. At the same time, use of the army to mitigate the consequences of emergency situations is reaching an increasingly great scale (e.g., Russia’s humanitarian aid in Syria, the Russian military aiding Italy, Serbia, and some other states in their fight against the Covid-19 pandemic).

However, military force remains a major constituent of international relations. In the current political reality the main point of justifying use of military force is not infrequently a discrepancy between the value guidelines of the victim country and civilization values of the dominant country alleged by the aggressor (US activity in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Syria).

In these conditions, culture is unquestionably one of the most important factors of today’s international security, yet it will take more interdisciplinary research into the depth and sphere of its influence. The thing that commands especial attention of contemporary researchers is the phenomenon of strategic culture as the fundamental basis of military-political analysis.

National Security and the Formation of the Strategic Culture Concept

According to the definition by RAS Academician A.A. Kokoshin, “Strategic culture (SC) finds expression in a singular nature of the armed forces’ behavior specific to the given country and its people, and in the ways of using military force. Strategic culture is a sum of stereotypes of stable behavior by the corresponding entity during politically significant tasks and military objectives of using military force, including during preparation, adoption, and implementation of strategic decisions.”4 This capacious formula reflects to perfection the peculiarities of SC.

At the same time, virtually every researcher attempts to give their own definitions of SC. And the thing they have in common is the realization that SC is an attribute not only of the armed forces, nor even of the state machinery, but of the entire nation at large. This is a long-term and fairly inertial sociopsychological phenomenon, which is frequently preserved in almost pristine form when military-political leaders, political systems, and political regimes change.

Analysis of theoretical works helps single out three upsurges of interest in matters of strategic culture.

Upsurge number one. Research into relations between culture and strategies of national security began in the United States in the early 1940s as part of the study of the national character of Germany and Japan as prospective adversaries.

However, shortly after the Second World War ended, the nuclear threat connected with the unfolding Cold War upstaged the study of culture and its influence on national security. The focus of attention was on furthering the geopolitical theory of deterrence based on the assumption that rational approaches predominated in the politics of opposing socioeconomic systems. By and large, research into the ties between national culture and strategy petered out during the Cold War.

Upsurge number two in the research into the strategic culture phenomenon in the context of studying the effect of cultural distinctions on international security started to take shape in the 1970s. The initial impulse for work in this area came from the research by RAND Corporation expert Jack Snyder titled The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Limited Nuclear Operations.5

J. Snyder invented the term strategic culture pointing out in 1997 that certain historical, institutional, and political factors had formed the unique Soviet approach to developing key constituents of the state strategy and compared the former with the views of the then ruling elites in the United States. He argued that the US doctrines of deterrence and limited nuclear war ran counter to the deeply rooted Soviet views; therefore, the Soviet leaders who took decisions saw the world from the perspective of their own unique strategic culture whose basic points were rather remote from the US ideas of mutual restraint when choosing targets and weapons.

The result was a conclusion to the effect that the opposite strategic cultures of the two countries ruled out any hope of “admissible” resort to limited use of nuclear arms against the U.S.S.R., and the forecast was for Moscow’s likely unilateral response that made for limiting the damage to its country by delivering an unlimited counterforce strike at the adversary. Snyder tried to find an explanation for this phenomenon in the Russian history of unprotectedness and authoritarian control. He defined strategic culture as “a combination of ideals, conventional emotional reactions, and habitual behavior models that the members of the national strategic community had acquired by instruction or imitation and shared them with one another with regard to strategy.”

Snyder’s work at the time constituted one of the few attempts to devise a concept of strategic culture relative to the Cold War reality and make a comparative analysis of rival states’ SC.

On the whole, the second generation of works on SC describes the synergetic ties between strategic culture and politics in the area of WMD employment. Researchers of authority maintained that culture possessed semi-permanent influence on politics formed by elites and socialized into distinctive ways of thinking. One of the conclusions they made was allegation that the nuclear strategy of potential adversaries was predictable.

The approach of Snyder described the Soviet preference for offensive, preemptive use of force and explained modernization initiatives in the nuclear infrastructure to back this orientation. The result of this research was renewed attention of scholars to the potentially prognostic power of SC.

Upsurge number three in research into strategic culture spans the period from the late 20th century and to this day. Among the more important works on SC in the third generation of research papers one should mention the book Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Great Strategy in Chinese History by Alistair Johnston,6 which explores the strategic culture of China, its formation, essence, and nature. This work constitutes a species of interim result of the entire set of previous SC research and aims at a study of the existence and nature of Chinese SC, and the cause-and-effect ties involving military force against external threats. A. Johnston believed that the conception of strategic culture made for obtaining concrete forecasts about the strategic choice. In his research, he defines the notion SC as an imaginable strategic situation that predetermines the gamut of behavior models therein and helps the selection of the end action. He views culture as a medium of ideas and notions, which restricts strategic choices. Also, SC is an integral system of symbols (i.e. methods of argumentation, analogies, and metaphors) that forms the idea of the role and efficiency of military force in interstate relations, lending to them a halo of obviousness. By this SC creates long-term strategic preferences, and forms basic ideas of the strategic environment, among them the following:

  • The role of war, and also whether war is the norm or deviation;
  • The adversary and related threats;
  • The efficiency of using military force and ability to control the result of force employment, and also the conditions under which use of force is expedient;
  • The idea of the most effective options of strategic responses to threats.

In the early 21st century, there were increasingly frequent attempts to use the potential of the SC concept to deepen the analysis of such problems as the aggravation of relations between Russia and the United States, the ever more chaotic Iraq, the failure of the operation in Afghanistan, the development of the Syria situation, the worsening US-China standoff, the nuclear tension with Iran, and war on terror. That conditioned a heightened interest in SC issues and its military-strategic aspects on the part of the US Department of State and DoD.

In 2006, the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency Advanced Systems and Concepts Office prepared a number of works on the strategic culture of countries of especial interest to Washington (Russia, China, Japan, India, Israel, and some others). The SC of the United States itself was likewise examined.

Americans proceed from the assumption that studying other states’ SC, as well as their own, will allow them to work out a new view of the military doctrine and critical decisions, such as nuclear strategy and use of force.

The work that appears methodologically significant is that by D. Lantis that came out in 2005 under the title Strategic Culture: from Clausewitz to Constructivism, which raised a number of key problems of fundamental importance for theory and the vector of further research in this area. The author ponders whether various SC theories ensure adequate explanation for the national security policy choice, whether SC can display a degree of constancy or is capable of continuous development, and how universal SC is.7 Of considerable practical interest are a series of SC issues analysis tasks, including the development of the conceptual apparatus, identification of the SC sources, custodians, and entities, and finally, development of SC models.

Strategic culture affords vast opportunities for politicians, diplomats, and military to study the strategic choice versions in the 21st century. SC models reflect prospective options of selecting national and international security provision and help adjust diplomatic moves to the cultural differences to the utmost degree possible.

For instance, the clumsy US attempts to do away with the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran illustrate the importance of understanding the distinctions of SC in various states. Diplomatic maneuvers and power pressure aimed at dissuading and preventing potential adversaries from developing nuclear arms are yet to succeed convincingly. In this context, the knowledge of SC peculiarities in a specific country serves a foundation for forecasting its likely reactions during negotiations, action planning, and rational step justification.

Stemming from the fact that such concepts as coercion, risk, and deterrence possess a high degree of cultural specifics, the development of adaptive models is becoming a must for international cooperation in the area of security provision.

The Formation of the Russian Strategic Culture Research School

Works by Russian and Soviet military leader and theorist A.A. Svechin, outstanding military theorist and philosopher A.Ye. Snesarev, our contemporaries General of the Army M.A. Gareyev, RAS Academician A.A. Kokoshin, Colonel General L.G. Ivashov, O.P. Ivanov, E.N. Ozhiganov, T.A. Alekseyeva, and some others make up a unique layer in the sphere of domestic research into issues of strategic culture.

A.A. Svechin in his fundamental work Strategy emphasizes that strategy development includes a study of both matters directly connected with the armed forces (construction of armed forces, military mobilization, etc.), and issues of the influence of politics, diplomacy, and economics on the course and outcome of war, which is due to the appearance of several new economic, technological, and military-technical factors that make warfare per se qualitatively different. This assertion fully applies to the matter of studying the strategic culture of both one’s own state and many other countries.8

A.Ye. Snesarev in his review of Svechin’s Strategy materials pointed out back in 1926 that war could be waged not only with the sword, but with other means as well. Thus, along with the area of armed struggle proper, modern warfare makes for confrontation in the political, economic, ideological, and other spheres, with the sphere of armed struggle predominating.

Ex-President of the Academy of Military Sciences General of the Army M.A. Gareyev, and Major General N.I. Turko pointed out, “Active use of tough nonmilitary means combined with soft unorthodox ones (above all, informational) constitutes the chief distinction of the first phase of war in present-day conditions. The aim of war is not to do away with the adversary, but to redistribute by force the role functions of countries.”9

At the same time, according to Russian philosopher V.V. Serebryannikov, if we take armed struggle out of war, it will become a different form of power struggle, very probably warlike, but it will not be war. The mention of the mandatory presence of armed struggle is the central element in the definition of war, the main criterion that helps distinguish war from forms of peaceful resolute and tough confrontation between political entities.10

Some of the authors named above did not use the term strategic culture, most likely because it has not been properly elaborated in domestic research. At the same time, works by Soviet and Russian military scholars laid the foundation of an approach to SC as the integrator of research into the possibilities of various types of confrontation, both armed and unarmed, in the interests of ensuring military security and conduct of warfare. Moreover, SC is a reflection of the state’s national approach to war as a tool of politics, and, in turn, acts as an effective instrument of military-political analysis and decision-making.

E.N. Ozhiganov singles out six basic (intersecting) reasons that explain the significance of the SC conception.

First, it destroys the effect of ethnocentrism on anything that implies the theory and practice of strategy. Ethnocentrism affects strategic interaction in a variety of ways, yet its results are most evident in the warped perception of one another by strategic actors.

Second, SC comprehension is the fundamental part of a major principle of war, “Having got to know your enemy, you will also get to know yourself.” This makes for the strategic entity assessing its behavior in accordance with its own characteristics, which is the starting point of understanding.

Third, one has to note the method related to the previous one by which SC calls our attention to the importance of history, if we are to ask correct questions about motivation, the idea of ourselves, and also behavior patterns of others.

Fourth, SC helps remove the artificial barrier between the internal environment within which politics are carried out, and the outward security environment. Strategic culture reminds us that the structures of decision-making, military institutions, the processes of decision-making, all of those function within special political cultures. This is precisely the reason why SC calls attention to differences between national states, whereas the scholarly pretentions in political science try to reduce them to nil.

Fifth, SC helps explain the obvious irrationality in the thinking and behavior of those who have not been socialized in the cultural traditions of the observing expert. This improves the ability to communicate and interact with other participants in global politics.

Sixth, understanding the SC variables may be crucially important for assessing scenarios and threats, since it enables one to detect nuances and comprehend the way of actions in major and minor matters. The scholar emphasizes that SC, among other things, is the strategic community’s ability to foresee long-term consequences of its decisions and take them while estimating numerous competing viewpoints and assessments in the face of complex and dynamic processes with fairly uncertain outcomes.11 The results of E.N. Ozhiganov’s analysis are an important argument in favor of expanding use of the SC concept in military scientific research.

O.P. Ivanov in his thesis Employment of Military Force in the United States in Present-Day Conditions: The Rational and the Irrational Approach, and in several theoretical articles defines the content and evolution of the SC theory;12 and singles out and analyzes the distinctive features of US SC as a factor of planning and using military force.13

The scholar observes that the thing strongly affecting the peculiarities of using military force on the whole, and of implementing the strategy of containment in particular, is SC. It is precisely the culture factor that creates the local context in which foreign-policy and military strategy finds expression. SC reflects the national attitude to war as a tool of politics. Knowing and using this factor may facilitate the development and implementation of strategy. It is strategic culture that may help explain the irrationalism factor, and also the behavior of the state that exceeds the boundaries of the rational behavior model. Knowing the other party’s SC is of practical value, for it helps work out the most efficient policies in relations.

T.A. Alekseyeva in her paper Strategic Culture as an Instrument of International Politics Analysis looks at the potential of the strategic culture concept as an instrument of classifying security issues and preparing for negotiations with the other party. The conclusion that appears important is that it is necessary to create theoretically advanced models based on the SC conception, and go beyond the limits of linearity in the SC formation, that SC is universal, and also that relations between external and internal factors of security policy should be specified. The author displays close ties between the SC concept and political culture, and also with the constructivist paradigm in the theory of international relations.

Expert in geopolitics L.G. Ivashov, analyzing Russia’s tasks as a key world civilization, writes, “I am profoundly confident that Russia is to do the following as conditioned by its history: carry justice to the world community; stop claimants of world domination, and regulate relations between the West and the East; show to humanity the direction of aspirations (outer space, nuclear power engineering, world ocean, socialism, etc.), promote all-round development of intelligence, unite around a common project hundreds of various nations, and ethnic groups while preserving their national cultures, traditions, and religions. As for economics, it is to be constructed with a view to fulfilling those functions. To reconstruct the current global financial and economic model is what we have to do first and foremost.”14 For centuries Russia seeking to solve the problems enumerated above, of both national and general human dimension, helped shape the unique Russian strategic culture. There are two basic hypotheses at the bottom of viewing SC as a context.

Hypothesis one. Researchers proceed from the assumption that the way states behaved in previous periods strongly affects their current and future opportunities and behavior options on the international arena, and this implies looking for an answer to the question of precisely how these states acted in the past.

Hypothesis two rests on the states’ and nations’ perception of themselves, or to put it differently, on their identity or national character that imply predilection for a certain type of politics. Culture inevitably exerts a powerful influence on strategy, either organizing the competence of decision-makers, or shaping their idea of reality.15 Other works by the author of this paper likewise focus on matters of comparative analysis of individual states’ strategic cultures.16

Thus researchers seek to enlarge the vision of the SC conception and its heuristic potential, show the ways it can be used in comparative political research, and reveal the relations between SC and other aspects of political phenomena and processes in the interests of military-political comparative analysis of political developments and decision-making.

The Russian style of developing and practically considering the SC concept in military-political analysis is still in the making. Whereas the list of works by Western experts on SC issues runs into several dozen pages, domestic contribution to the development of this matter is a lot more modest as yet.

In this context, the relevance of the problem related to the transformation of international relations, changes in the views on use of force, and emergence of new types of conflicts in the 21st century, namely, hybrid warfare and color revolutions, is crying for stepping up research into SC as a major system-forming factor in solving the problems of strategic prognostication and planning followed by inculcating results in various spheres of state activity, political, diplomatic, socioeconomic, military, cultural, and ideological.

Using the concept of strategic culture in military-political prognostication and planning helps understand better the continuity that underlies international crises, and the motives of actions by states and their coalitions. Each state enters the international arena with its own historical stock of accumulated experience, convictions, cultural influences of geographical and resource limitations, all of which affect its behavior. Continuity in the state’s foreign policy is maintained by the historical trend toward preserving the traditional spheres of influence, which lends considerable temporal extension to the analysis of potential actions by the ruling elites. Strategic culture helps integrate cultural considerations, combined historical memory, and their effect into analysis of the states’ security policy and international relations.

The above allows the following advantages of practical use of the SC concept to be singled out as an instrument of analysis and prognostication of external policy conducted by other international entities and planned by own state:

  • better understanding of the sum of factors that influence the politics of the state;
  • conducting efficient deterrence policy based on a more profound understanding of other states’ cultural values and efficient choice of the cost-profit balance;
  • clear idea of the military force factor in the policies by other states and the balance of power and nonpowered methods in imposing one’s will on the adversary;
  • consolidating relations of cooperation with allies and partners;
  • greater precision and adequacy of interpreting the intelligence data gathered by various kinds of reconnaissance;
  • choice of effective strategy of public diplomacy aimed at weakening the adversary’s propaganda campaign and use of own cultural values in foreign policy;
  • a more successful and accurate estimate of likely consequences of foreign-policy moves.

Comparative interdisciplinary study of the SC formation, effect, and changing in major powers in this age can doubtlessly make a useful contribution to research into issues of war and peace.

The Matrix of Strategic Culture as the Basis for Creating an Integrated Information Environment

In the interests of further systemic exploration of the SC phenomenon this paper pioneers a compact presentation of SC-forming factors as elements of a strategic culture matrix species. The matrix helps create an integrated information environment for analyzing forecasts, auditing resources, and planning actions in the current military-political situations. Using the matrix enables one to systematize the tasks of data gathering in the interests of their assessment by both parties, as well as to process and form recommendations for politicians, diplomats, and military taking administrative decisions. In a general way, it gives a classification of the body of factors according to their manifestation sphere, and forms groups of objective and subjective geopolitical factors.

The group of objective geopolitical factors.

1.         Territorial-geographical:

  • The country’s spatial and territorial position (size and configuration of territory, physico-geographical features of the borders, location with regard to major international transport communications, set of natural conditions;
  • Presence of natural resources and their accessibility;
  • Chance of reaching the Ocean waters;

2.         Political:

  • Form of political regime, form of government, and form of state structure;
  • Degree of efficiency in the political system;
  • Nature of the party system and presence of political pluralism;
  • Place of the country within the system of international relations;
  • Degree of the state’s involvement in international conflicts and the nature of these conflicts;
  • Presence or absence of acute political conflicts within the country;

3.         Military-strategic:

  • Level of fighting efficiency and combat readiness of the armed forces;
  • Development level of the military-industrial complex and its ability to provide the armed forces with combat equipment and armaments;
  • Efficiency of the system of military personnel training;
  • Participation of the country in military-political alliances and the nature of international military-technological cooperation;
  • Presence of historical experience in warfare, development standards of the public defensive consciousness;
  • Readiness and ability of the armed forces to take part in peacekeeping operations, in combating international terrorism and epidemics.

4.         Economic:

  • Level of economic sovereignty;
  • Development level of the country’s production base;
  • Development level of productive forces;
  • Nature and type of economic public relations;
  • Mobilization potential of the country, and reserves of strategic resources;
  • Living standards of the public;

5.         Environmental:

  • Environment pollution levels;
  • Presence and inculcation in production of environment-friendly technologies;
  • Degree of depletion in natural resources, degree of resource-saving technologies employment;
  • Presence and insurance of safe storage for weapons of mass destruction, methods and reliable utilization of radioactive, toxic, fire-hazardous, and other waste.

6.         Ethnic:

  • Level of homogeneity and ethnic consolidation in the country;
  • Presence and nature of internal interethnic conflicts;
  • Position of ethnic communities abroad and nature of relations with those;
  • Basic types of national self-determination in a multiethnic country.

7.         Demographic:

  • Size and dynamic of population;
  • Educational and cultural standards of the public;
  • The country’s mobilization potential in terms of human resources;

8.         Religious:

  • Main religions and creeds, their place and role in the country’s political system;
  • Presence or absence of internal conflicts on interreligious grounds;
  • Religious constituents of international conflicts where the state is involved.

Along with objective factors, SC formation is also tangibly affected by subjective geopolitical ones.

  • Level of public consciousness and culture in the country;
  • Degree of religiosity among the population;
  • Degree of ideological unity in the nation, presence of the statehood idea and its adequacy to the state’s specifics;
  • Presence and scientific justification of social development conceptions, their implementation within the framework of practical politics;
  • Nature of military doctrine, level of military thought development;
  • Professionalism of the political and military leadership, competence of public servants, efficiency of the structural organization of the state machinery;
  • National historical traditions;
  • National-psychological features of the bulk of the country’s population.

The inventory of geopolitical factors given here is not exhaustive. Moreover, not all of the listed factors affect SC formation in equal measure. The weight of each factor depends on specific features, and their inventory will be different for every state, as will be the character of their influence.

The Military History and Strategic Culture of States

In contemporary politics and diplomacy, it is important to take into consideration the ability of certain geopolitical factors to be transformed drastically, which entails radical alterations in the country’s SC, and frequently results in a kind of warping in the historically formed SC matrix, or even in its total disappearance. Typically, the initial impulse for similar transformations comes from various historical cataclysms, sharp changes in the country’s national destiny.

For instance, the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War brought about a cardinal transformation of once well-developed SC in the German state. The current rather blurred SC of Germany was virtually totally shaped in the postwar years. According to Jan Techau, researcher of the NATO Defense College in Rome, SC expressed in his work No Strategy, Please, We’re German! The Eight Elements That Shaped German Strategic Culture – Toward a Comprehensive Approach: Strategic and Operational Challenges, the strategic culture of present-day Germany is built on the following factors: disgrace and renunciation of normal life; militant pacifism and antimilitarism; the right to be left alone; truncated sovereignty; reserve, passivity, timorousness; Europe as an ersatz religion, or grueling many-sidedness; the great trans-Atlantic deal of 1949 (the US commitment to protect Europe in exchange for the Europeans’ obligation to bear some of the defense expenditures against the Soviet Union); major consensus of German foreign policy (Germany’s leading role in the EU, UN backing, military integration into NATO, and also close ties with the United States, friendship with France, pragmatic but distant relations with the U.S.S.R.).17 Judging by the result of the analysis, one of the NATO key objectives, namely, to keep Germany in control, is being attained so far.

However, some of the factors are of a blatantly humiliating nature for Germany, so little wonder that over the last few years Germany increasingly often refused to meekly go along with its unpredictable and despotic overseas ally-cum-suzerain. Berlin is beginning to bare its teeth, albeit timidly as yet.

One cannot help drawing a parallel with the Versailles agreements imposed on the Germans in WWI by the victors, and the consequences of Germany breaking up with the Versailles system….

In contrast to Germany, the SC of today’s Great Britain invariably displays unreserved allegiance to its overseas suzerain. Great Britain’s strategic culture was historically formed under the influence of the following factors: comparative isolation from its closest neighbors and, as a result, emergence of insular thinking; extensive experience of colonial activity (from the mid-1600s to the early 20th century); emphasis on the great power status (the legacy of Pax Britannica, the role of the English language in various spheres worldwide; the WWII winner country; permanent membership in the UN Security Council; nuclear power; the Atlantcism-Europeanism dilemma, i.e. to be a strong political entity, but to have numerous allies on the continent). However, the UK withdrawal from the EU diminished the role of Great Britain as a self-contained political entity on the stage of global politics, which will cause yet another transformation of the country’s SC. London will no longer be able to count on support from Brussels and will have to gravitate toward the United States even more.

It needs to be said that Great Britain’s SC, following the collapse of the British Empire, has changed substantially, and now has largely turned into an appendix of US strategic culture. The status of appendix nevertheless did nothing to prevent Britain from making an important contribution to the US nuclear project, and providing solid backing for the creation of the CIA. And these days London, falling back on the US financial-economic and military might, initiates various provocations against Russia and some other states.

In the context of EU military identity formation, things of interest are changes in the geopolitical factors related to the evolution of strategic thinking by European elites. The EU Institute for Security Studies and the NATO Defense College in Rome have recently made an attempt to estimate the prospects of NATO’s cooperation with the European Union using the notion SC in their joint report “NATO and the EU: the Essential Partners.”18 Under far-fetched pretexts the document alleges that the EU and NATO are interested in protection against Russia’s aggression, in its containment, and also in promoting peace and stability in the Balkans, as well as projecting stability onto the Middle East and North Africa in order to combat terrorism and prevent conflicts.

In this connection, shared interests can be a uniting factor, above all countering the “Russia getting stronger again” which, they say, is among the greatest challenges today, and also countering the entire sum of hybrid threats. Besides, the authors believe that the North Atlantic Alliance will remain guarantor of European security for as long as there are nuclear weapons.

Moreover, there is division of responsibility between the associations. Thus, the European Union plays the role of the internal player and becomes the main force in countering challenges where there is a major element of internal security, in particular, in the areas of fighting terrorism and hybrid threats, security and defense in cyberspace, and also military mobility. NATO, on the other hand, is viewed as the external player that looks after military aspects of the standoff with Russia and parrying other threats. Thus, both organizations are interested in jointly countering present-day threats in order to achieve maximum effect.

The degree of the impact on the EU development of Britain’s decision to quit the European Union, and the shifts in the balance between Europeanism and Atlanticism in British politics is yet to be fully sized up. A shattering blow to the myth of Europe’s unity was dealt by the coronavirus pandemic, uncontrolled immigration, and energy wars.

Paris, given the increasingly chaotic situation in Europe and the world, is trying to suggest that its EU and NATO allies more actively introduce the important principles of coalition policy typical of the French SC, in particular, military-civilian relations, as a factor of forming coalition strategic culture, as well as the organizational culture, and mechanisms of taking political decisions in the area of military politics, and the diplomatic art of finding compromise with seemingly recalcitrant interlocutors.

All in all, the influence of geopolitical factors as SC matrix elements does not only condition a stable and steady development of the state, but also makes for the creation of vulnerability windows, so to speak, which are used by rival countries to weaken the position of their adversary. This feature makes supremely important the SC study of both Russia’s allies and rivals.

The skill in using the knowledge of SC features as an instrument of military-political analysis rests on the consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of each geopolitical factor in own state and in its rival, ally or partner. A similar quality is the yardstick of professional readiness in the politician, diplomat or military to protect the interests of the state’s national security. An important incentive for profound study of the leading states’ policies in the West is the invigorated preparations of the United States and NATO against Russia, which is reflected in the transformation of their strategic cultures toward greater aggressiveness and consolidation on the anti-Russia basis.


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Col. A.A. BARTOSH (Ret.),

Candidate of Military Sciences