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Research Questions

  1. What Russian operational practices and IC challenges can inform current efforts to improve warning?
  2. How has Russia's military modernization affected the Intelligence Community's ability to warn of aggression, particularly on NATO's eastern flank?
  3. How have post-Cold War declines in Russia's priority affected U.S. ability to provide effective warning?
  4. What are the major challenges to providing timely warning?
  5. What are the themes in past Soviet and Russian warning events that pertain to current concerns about Russian aggression?
  6. What can be realistically expected from warning?
  7. How can warning be improved?

Since 2008, Russia's military has embarked on an extensive modernization program designed to overcome shortfalls in readiness, competence, sustainability, and deployability. These and changes in logistics and operational capability have raised concerns about the Intelligence Community's (IC's) ability to warn of future Russian aggression. Achieving timely warning has proven extremely difficult, for a variety of reasons, in large part because of a lack of insight into Russian leadership intentions. This study examines six Soviet and Russian events that occurred in the past 50 years to highlight themes that pertain to current concerns about aggression on NATO's eastern flank. It addresses developments that have shaped warning since the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of Russia's military modernization efforts, including a decline in Russia's priority for U.S. policymakers and the IC effort devoted to it. It identifies continuity in Russian operational practices and IC challenges and distills the findings into recommendations for improving warning, including increasing analytic effort to improve the IC's current indicators, developing better understanding of key civil-military processes and functions necessary for transitioning to war, and rebuilding the experience and expertise on Russia the IC has lost over the past two decades.

Key Findings

Challenges to Providing Timely Warning of Russian Aggression and Ways to Meet Those Challenges

  • Russian military forces are in the midst of a major modernization effort, and the demand for intelligence on Russia continues to grow at a pace unparalleled since the end of the Cold War.
  • Russia's emergence as a national security priority presents new challenges to meet planning and policy requirements throughout the U.S. government.
  • Achieving timely warning has proven extremely difficult, largely because of a lack of insight into Russian leadership intentions.
  • Actions necessary for warning frequently do not conform to immediate needs.
  • It is unclear whether additional warning time would have allowed policymakers to develop better, more-effective policy options in many Soviet and Russian events.
  • It is necessary to ensure that warning indicators, both military and nonmilitary, have diagnostic value and are related to some critical function in the peace-to-war transition.
  • Strategies for collecting new indicators of Russian intent will require detailed analysis of activity patterns, technical parameters, and systemic relationships, which in turn will require an understanding of objectives and tasking.
  • Nonmilitary exercises could indicate essential wartime functions focused on ensuring internal stability and supporting key mobilization processes and could also provide information on important civil-defense and disaster-preparedness functions.
  • Failure to address the fundamental area of denial and deception can lead to additional challenges to the IC's already stressed warning capabilities.
  • In areas where there is an already overwhelming Russian advantage, bolstering U.S. and NATO posture will remain the best option for deterring future Russian aggression in the Baltics.

Recommendations

  • To support improvements in warning, research should be focused on immediate issues that will illuminate key problems that Russian political and military leaders believe they will have to address in a crisis or wartime situation.
  • Renewed emphasis must be placed on rebuilding expertise on Russia, improving collection and analysis capabilities, and emphasizing key elements of analytic tradecraft that might improve warning.
  • Analytic effort should be dedicated to research to improve the IC's current indicators, develop better understanding of key civil-military processes and functions necessary for transitioning to war, and rebuild the experience and expertise on Russia the IC has lost over the past two decades.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction: The Warning Dilemma

  • Chapter Two

    Warning Pitfalls

  • Chapter Three

    Warning of Soviet Union and Russian Events

  • Chapter Four

    The Warning-Response Dynamic and NATO's Eastern Flank

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusions

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Headquarters United States Air Force in Europe, Directorate of Plans, Programs, and Analyses and conducted by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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