The unconventional war seeks to topple governments without the direct use of the nation’s armed forces, using instead paid civilian actors who operate from the United States and in the targeted country. In the unconventional war, states are attacked in a variety of ways: economic blockades, including the prohibition of commercial relations and the blocking of financial transactions; financial and ideological support for opposition political parties and organizations; false claims of electoral fraud; supplying local fascist gangs with arms; financing local destabilizing activities; enlisting the support of NGOs in the targeted country; and ideological attacks through the corporate-controlled media and paid “influencers” in social media.
By Charles McKelvey
Published on the author’s own Substack column, Apr 9, 2022
The concept of unconventional war
Beginning in 2019, Cuban journalists along with Cuban academics who are regular news analysts on Cuban television have made reference to the concept of “unconventional war,” so-called by a U.S. Army manual. On the basis of their observations with respect to Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, China, Russia, Iran, and Syria, the Cuban analysts argued that the policy of “unconventional war” was being implemented by the USA with respect to nations anywhere in the world that refused to comply with its dictates; and whose resistance constituted a threat to U.S. interests, either because of the natural resources of the nation in question, or because of the political global transcendence of said nation.
As I observed in my commentary of July 23, 2021, the unconventional war seeks to topple governments without the direct use of the nation’s armed forces, using instead paid civilian actors who operate from the United States and in the targeted country. In the unconventional war, states are attacked in a variety of ways: economic blockades, including the prohibition of commercial relations and the blocking of financial transactions; financial and ideological support for opposition political parties and organizations; false claims of electoral fraud; supplying local fascist gangs with arms; financing local destabilizing activities; enlisting the support of NGOs in the targeted country; and ideological attacks through the corporate-controlled media and paid “influencers” in social media. The economic and ideological attacks seek to create conditions that could be used to discredit the targeted government in international public option, thereby justifying further aggression. U.S. naval or land forces have presence in the region, constituting a continuous threat of direct military interventions. But ideally, they would not be directly committed; and if used, their presence would be short-term. (See “The doctrine of preventive war plus unconventional war,” July 23, 2021).
The strategy of unconventional war is an intelligent strategy, in that it is well-adapted to U.S. weaknesses and strengths. U.S. weaknesses include its declining productivity and commercial competitiveness of the past half-century, due to short-sighted underinvestment in industry, with the result that the USA can no longer use productive and competitive advantage to attain its foreign policy vision. And a second weakness is the reluctance of the people to accept sustained military engagement in distant lands, in part due to the decline in legitimacy of the U.S. political establishment. In the unconventional war strategy, the USA can take advantage of its still large economic market to effectively impose sanctions; its continuing capacity to produce and sell arms; and its remaining lead in the media and technology of communication.
The historic beginnings of the unconventional war in Ukraine
In the 1990s, the United States was in the grip of a false optimism, and few in the political establishment could foresee the need for unconventional war against Russia. The former Soviet Union was fragmented, and Russia was in disarray, with increasing Western economic penetration. Meanwhile, the Chinese opening was misread as steps toward its ultimate integration into the capitalist world-economy on terms set by the West. The U.S. political establishment could not see the Russian potential for revitalization based on renewed nationalism; nor the Chinese capacity to grow its economy through planned state-directed investments and through mutually beneficial trade with nations rejecting imposed neoliberal policies, thus forging in practice new international rules of trade. Nor was the U.S. political establishment capable of seeing the long-term destruction to its own economy through excessive investment in financial speculation.
The initial expansion of NATO in the context of the false optimism of the 1990s was, first, a reclaiming of nations that had been viewed as a cultural part of Western Civilization; and secondly, a military consolidation to manage points of conflict in defense of Western interests, such as in the former Yugoslavia and in the Libya of Gaddafi. But as the renewal of Russia and the rise of China came into view, NATO increasingly was seen as an instrument of Western imperialist aggression against Russia and against the emerging Russian-Chinese economic, political, and military alliance.
Unconventional war in practice in Ukraine
The battle for Ukraine is the most recent stage of Western imperialist aggression against Russia, and it was initiated in 2013. From that time to the present, many of the characteristics of unconventional war, listed above, have been dimensions of the dynamics in Ukraine.
Enlisting the support of NGOs in the targeted country. As I noted in a previous commentary, Alan Macleod reported in MintPress News that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a U.S. financed entity that provides financial support to opposition groups in various countries, has spent $22.4 million on operations inside the Ukraine since 2014. (See “Russia, Ukraine, and the media,” February 25, 2022).
Financial and ideological support for opposition political parties and organizations. NED activities in Ukraine, as Macleod reports, included propping up and training pro-Western political parties.
In addition, as I noted in my March 5 commentary, there was a U.S.-supported coup d’état by neofascist elements against Viktor Yanukovych, who had been democratically elected in 2010. When negotiations with the European Union for the entrance of Ukraine were moving toward terms economically unfavorable to Ukraine, Yanukovych suspended the negotiations, which led to peaceful protests. Western financed NGOs sent agents to sustain the demonstrations and convert them into violent attacks on police and government properties, which created the conditions for the parliament to remove Yanukovych and install a government favorable to U.S. interests. This maneuver was consistent with the strategy of “color revolutions.” It is a matter of converting peaceful demonstrations, which may reflect legitimate concerns of the people expressed in a lawful manner, into violent confrontations, establishing the conditions for determined interests to seize power. This has been successfully carried out in other nations. (See “More on the media and Ukraine,” March 5, 2022).
Supplying local fascist gangs with arms. In 2014, in response to a measure eliminating Russian as an official language, two eastern territories declared themselves to be autonomous governments within the political structure of Ukraine. In spite of the Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015, a civil war ensued, and by October 2018, the Ukrainian Army was suffering from desertions to the autonomous troops, poor morale, corruption, and lack of support among the population, according to Jacques Baud, a former Colonel of the French General Staff and a former member of Swiss strategic intelligence. Therefore, “to compensate for the lack of soldiers, the Ukrainian government resorted to paramilitary militias” made up of foreign mercenaries, often far-right activists, “fanatical and violent individuals.” As of 2020, they constituted around 40% of Ukraine’s forces. “They are armed, financed and trained by the United States, Great Britain, Canada and France.” (See “The military situation in Ukraine,” March 25, 2022).
Ideological attacks through the corporate-controlled media. Since February 24, Russia has presented its military operation in Ukraine as a defensive military action with specific, relatively limited strategic objectives: stopping NATO expansionism; ensuring a demilitarized and neutral Ukraine; maintaining Russian control of the Crimean peninsula; and protecting the Russian civilian population of Donbass from fascist military groups. The Western media dismiss this explanation and portray the Russian military action as an unjustified invasion.
The credibility of the Western dismissal of the Russian explanation is aided by ignoring fundamental facts, including NATO Eastern territorial expansionism since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and NATO support of fascist militias and their attacks on the Russian-speaking population since 2014. In contrast to the Western media, the Cuban media does not permit these relevant historical facts to be ignored. Cuban daily newspapers have informed the Cuban people of these dynamics, including one or two excellent historical overviews. Furthermore, the Cuban media takes the editorial stance that Russia has a right to defend itself against Western imperialist aggression that has been unfolding since 1990 and intensified since 2014, an aggression against which Russia has repeatedly protested. (See “Cuba backs Russia on Ukraine,” March 1, 2022).
The Swiss-French military intelligence specialist Jacques Baud also does not permit the false claims of the Western media to go unchallenged. He notes that the operations and movements of the Russian military forces in Ukraine have been consistent with Russia’s declared intention of demilitarization, in that they focused on the neutralization of defense systems and command structures. He ridiculed the Western media for believing that the Russian “invasion” failed to capture Kiev, when in fact the Russian forces did not attempt to take the capital city. From the beginning, Russia’s declared goal had been demilitarization and not the occupation of cities, and its compliance with these stated goals can be discerned from troop movements and operations.
Baud also observed, contrary to the misreporting of the Western media, that the Russian military occupation was going to plan. Russia disengaged from the area of Kiev, because it had completed the first stage of its operation, namely, the reduction of the military capacity of Ukraine’s armed forces; because it was turning to the elimination of control of urban areas by fascists militias in Donbass; and because it was offering disengagement from the area of Kiev as a gesture relevant to the peace negotiations. (See “The military situation in Ukraine,” March 25, 2022).
U.S. naval or land forces must have presence in the region, constituting a continuous threat of direct military intervention. Continuous NATO territorial expansion to the east has functioned to fulfill this requirement of the non-conventional war. It has included the development of biological arms laboratories in the Ukraine, which The New York Timescontinues to dismiss as a false rumor, even though Russia and China repeatedly return to the theme and demand answers. (See “Biological labs found in Ukraine,” March 15, 2022).
The prohibition of commercial relations and the blocking of financial transactions. The United States, Canada, and European nations are applying commercial and economic sanctions. The purpose of sanctions is to prevent a country from following its own sovereign path to socioeconomic development. As a symbol of its present orientation to the world on a basis of unconventional war against any and all nations that defy Washington’s dictates, in addition to having military bases around the world, the USA presently has in place economic sanctions against more than forty countries.
The propaganda battle at full throttle
Bucha is a city of 37,000 inhabitants located a few kilometers to the northeast of Kiev. During the first stage of the Russian military operation, designed to reduce Ukraine’s military capacity, Russian and Ukrainian troops initiated combat on the outskirts of Bucha on February 25. The confrontations continued into March; resulting in Russian troops taking control of the city. On March 30, with the Russian command determining that the first stage of the operation was completed and that troops were to be redeployed for confrontation with the right-wing militias in Donbass, the Russian forces withdrew from the entire region of Kiev.
On April 1, the mayor of Bucha, Anatoli Fedoruk, confirmed that the Armed Forces of Ukraine had retaken control of the city. His commentary, disseminated by Ukrainian press, made no reference to murdered civilians in the locality. During the following three days, Fedoruk spoke on television, saying that the city was returning to normal.
On the evening of April 2, images of bodies in the streets of Bucha were disseminated. Mijail Podoliak, adviser to the President of Ukraine, declared that it was a question of unarmed civilians who were shot and killed by Russian soldiers prior to their March 30 withdrawal.
Russia categorically rejected the suggestion that its military forces were involved. The Ministry of Defense of Russia, Serguéi Lavrov, declared that the images of bodies in the streets of Bucha were staged for the media of communication. He stated that “while that locality was under the control of the Russian Armed Forces, no local resident was the victim of a violent action.”
Russia requested a meeting of the UN Security Council on the situation in Bucha in order to discuss the criminal exacerbation of the situation by Ukrainian military forces and radical elements, in disseminating emotionally unsettling images without verification of the facts. The Russian Ministry of Defense maintained that what occurred in Bucha ought to be fully investigated, with the participation of international organizations of human rights.
Russia interpreted the event as a criminal dissemination of false claims. It maintained that the staged images were disseminated by Ukrainian nationalists with the full support of the Ukrainian government. Russia also declared that the West was a co-participant in the fact by immediately disseminating the claim, without investigating its veracity, that Russian soldiers were responsible.
Officials of the Russian government speculated that radical elements disseminated the story with the hope of disrupting negotiations, and that the Ukrainian and U.S. governments wanted to distract attention from accusations of biological arms laboratories in Ukraine.
A big shift in The York Times discourse occurred from April 2 to April 3, when the accusation of the Russian killing of civilians was the big story. But is the story credible? Why would the withdrawing Russians, who were not being forced out in battle, leave cadavers in the street as incriminating evidence? Why would they leave cadavers in the street for days or weeks, as one New York Times story suggests? Why would they make no effort to cover up their war crime? Why were there no indications of such a crime on social media in the days prior to the Russian withdrawal? Why would the mayor of the city act as through all is normal in the aftermath of the Russian withdrawal? If there is a pattern of Russian soldiers shooting unarmed civilians, what is an explanatory context for the pattern, beyond a negative stereotype of Russian soldiers? Do the Ukrainian nationalists, the government of Ukraine, and the Biden administration have an interest in the dissemination of such a story?
We should keep in mind that imperialism is compelled to lie. Imperialism is, in essence, the intervention in the affairs of nations in order to ensure that governments adopt economic policies enabling the access of the imperialist powers to markets, natural resources, and cheap labor. Imperialist policies, however, are inconsistent with the principles that humanity has proclaimed, expressed in the documents of the United Nations and many other places; principles such as the sovereignty of nations and non-interference in the affairs of states. Imperialism must lie about what it does in order to give legitimacy to what it does in the eyes of the peoples.
The lies are big and small. They include a fundamental framing of the issue, ignoring relevant historical facts; and they include distortion about who did what in a field of battle.
An overwhelming pro-Western news narrative is found on the pages of The New York Times. It is a narrative that is flawed in its basics. It ignores the history of NATO expansionism and its supplying of arms and militias to Ukraine, in order to present the Russian military operation as an unprovoked invasion. It ignores Russian explanations of its operation, treating every Russian military movement as a retreat, without supplying images of heavy fighting against the Russian army, the presumed reason for its “retreat.” It covers damage to persons and property, without careful attention to the sources of the damage. It has many human interest stories, exploiting the human dimensions always present in such conflict, dimensions that do not in and of themselves explain. It relies on the subjectivity of American discourse, where claims of fact do not need careful scrutiny, because facts are what you think they are or want them to be. It is a constructed narrative, designed to support the line of the U.S. administration, prompting a Cuban journalist to refer to The New York Times as the propaganda office of the Biden administration.
Imperialist lies are not new. They have accompanied U.S. imperialist policies since the 1890s, when was consolidated the notion, pushed by the triumphant robber barons, that U.S. policies ought to engage other lands in the acquisition of markets (for industrial and agricultural goods beyond the capacity of the domestic market to consume); a policy reinforced as the economy of the nation became more dependent on the natural resources and labor of other lands.
Imperialist governments are aided by the press and the academic world in the dissemination of lies. Careers are stalled, if not ruined, by speaking anti-imperialist truths. Successful journalists and academics are those who have made an uneasy peace with the need for accommodation to the requirements of imperialism.
The U.S. unconventional war against Russia in Ukraine is one sign more of the decadence of U.S. imperialism. It no longer has the capacity to maintain its hegemony through the established rules of the neocolonial world-system, so it undertakes aggressive policies that undermine its own economy and prestige. It seeks to fragment Russia and revitalize a U.S.-European alliance under U.S. direction, in order to economically and militarily contain China. It is a risky policy that threatens human extinction or civilizational decline; and it also strengthens tendencies toward an alternative pluripolar world, with China playing a central role.
The U.S. strategy of unconventional war is intelligent, adapted to what the USA can and cannot do. But it is neither reasonable nor wise.
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