Some time ago, back in 2013, China sent troops traveled en route to Mali. A Chinese presence has remained ever since. Russia continues to exasperate Ukraine’s military forces. Mali’s extremist problem has grown in recent years. French interests in Africa are no way in retreat, and the U.S. is at a time when European reassurance is of the essence.

At what point does China make a more apparent, maybe kinetic, effort to shape nations of interest in their long-term strategic interests, or have they already begun in a way too faint for most to notice? Like Russia in Ukraine might have been before events there escalated like they have, today.

For nation states – overt violence and activities are not en-vogue. Russia has championed a mode of warfare that’s utilitarian. Their war runs the gamut of their capability just short of overt and blatant activity. Meddling is in no way new.  However, looking at the results of the aggressive actions in Ukraine; they can be devastating.

The Donbass in Ukraine has become a dystopian rebel-held land. The West has yet to intervene in a meaningful way, and Ukraine’s future hangs in the balance. What happens when things go south in an African nation? By most international standards Africa was and is the most unstable environment. All the dominos could fall, and Africa’s geopolitical barely landscape could be inextricably different. But, in truth, many in the world won’t care. Even so, we don’t know the consequences in full.

Russians had begun to shape Ukraine far before there was a rebellion. These courses of action do not emerge overnight. They’re shaped and worked over the years. Every poker player has a tell, and it’s probably prudent for the world to look at what the world’s meddlers cues might be. No doubt, hedge funds, and banking institutions hold a keen interest in understanding phase zero of the next Ukraine.

I guess the best thing the West can do is recognize and acknowledge there’s a new game afoot. A game that employs multiple domains and one where nothing is off-limits, like cyber attacks, “fake news,” political actions, diplomatic uncertainty, low-level disputes and civil unrest are in the mix. These are ongoing, relatively low-level competitive behaviors that go undeclared. Today, virtually every incident that appears that could be a terror attack is claimed as such by the Islamic State. But, we’re robbed of reality when actions go undeclared. It requires a new kind of vigilance in a more global world where nation states easily intermingle and access one another’s borders.

They’re playing with new tactics in Unconventional Warfare (UW), or, updating them to fit a modern world.

This ‘new’ war might one we already know. Obviously, it’s not conventional – where a conventional force reduces the enemy military via military weapons and tactics. So, this is Unconventional Warfare. Maybe, this new machination it isn’t really how we define it but, that can be changed. However, this is something the U.S. has been thinking about for some time. We have a doctrine for it. US Army Special Forces’ reason for being is to conduct Unconventional Warfare (UW). Russia and China’s massive landmass and sizable army are distracting from their more subtle, nuanced approach to reshaping the world.

The actions taken or not taken by our adversaries among our proxies and contested lands hover below a threshold for war. The U.S. military has the world’s premier conventional military. The major powers of the world have no interest in a military confrontation with the United States military.

Image courtesy of

Within the U.S. government agencies and elements within are often fighting for their “piece of the pie.” Every combat unit in the military has a core purpose and competency. In the Army Special Forces – that core mission is UW. To handle this ongoing competition around the world – it might work to update our doctrine and empower the force designed to respond. Simultaneously, other combat units can begin to re-vector themselves to address a part of the UW domain, as well. Maybe, eventually, the respective forces can work more efficiently, together, to solve these difficult problems.

It might be that capabilities across these forces aren’t defined accurately to address the growing threat. More over, it might require a whole-of-approach where timely coordination and authorization is necessary even to assess the situation. At any rate, Ukraine has become a laboratory for the next generation of UW and disputes across the African continent may become where these techniques are realized in the proxy wars to come.

Featured image courtesy of AP