America’s strategy community has a problem that it likes to call “A2/AD,” and while the symptoms are very real, in the case of Russia strategists and planners have largely misdiagnosed the nature of the challenge. Anti-access and area denial, commonly known as A2/AD, is more than another defense community buzzword: It has become a deeply rooted way of talking about the military capabilities of adversaries that the United States considers to be relative peers. The term has enjoyed great utility as short-hand for a select grouping of adversary capabilities that pose major problems to America’s preferred way of conducting combat operations (unrestricted and uncontested). But when applied to Russia, the “A2/AD” frame has become dangerously misleading. Over time, anti-access and area denial has evolved from a vehicle for useful conversations about Russian conventional capabilities to a vision of a Russian doctrine or strategy for warfighting that frankly does not exist. The result is a general misreading of the Russian military’s operational concepts and strategy for large scale combat operations.
The armies of the Islamic State running roughshod over government forces in Iraq and Syria. Russian little green men infiltrating eastern Ukraine following the military annexation of Crimea. Houthi rebels overthrowing the Yemeni government and seizing large swaths of the country. Taliban fighters seizing an Afghan provincial capital and carving out ever-larger strips of the countryside. Groups inspired by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State attacking government forces in the Sinai, Libya, West Africa and Pakistan.