The timing of Putin’s troops entry into Ukraine under the ISIS smoke screen in Iraq was no coincidence. A recent Economist article, titled Mr. Putin’s Wake Up Call, made the case for increased troop levels in Poland to send a “stronger signal” to Putin.

The Economist’s editorial thinking with regards to Russia is flawed in this case. Putin is not using conventional military strategy and tactics; he’s playing his own version of asymmetric warfare, and this cannot be countered with conventional doctrine.

America’s own Special Operations-centric military has become much better at asymmetric warfare strategy (with the exception of preventative solutions) since it was forced to adapt it after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. American military commanders surely see that conventional troop buildups are a thing of the past, and would be wise to influence NATO’s thinking in this regard.

“While asymmetric warfare encompasses a wide scope of theory, experience, conjecture, and definition, the implicit premise is that asymmetric warfare deals with unknowns, with surprise in terms of ends, ways, and means. The more dissimilar the opponent, the more difficult it is to anticipate his actions. If we knew in advance how an opponent planned to exploit our dissimilarities, we could develop specific doctrine to counter his actions. Against asymmetric opponents, doctrine should provide a way to think about asymmetry and an operational philosophy that would take asymmetry fully into account.”
US Army Doctrine

Increasing troops levels in Poland is just simple bluffing. It’s similar to parents threatening a child’s bad behavior by taking away a trip to Disneyland after the tickets have been bought and paid for, and the trip is underway. It’s a meaningless threat with no possibility of follow-through, and also bad parenting.

NATO is powerless against Russia as Putin moves closer to an annexed Ukraine, relying on proxy fighters and guerrilla tactics coupled with an asymmetric strategy that is exploiting a Ukrainian leadership void (minus one, Yanukovych), and NATO’s conventional structure and thinking – not to mention Europe’s very real reliance on Russia’s energy supply.

It’s a game Putin’s adept at, and he’s winning on the global chess board as we continue to see steady proxy fighters and short blitzkrieg-like moves during times of global distraction from Syria and ISIS in the Middle East. NATO will continue to be powerless against Russia unless it adopts an asymmetric plan of its own. Until this happens, it’s all empty threats and screaming children in the backseat of the car.