Color Revolutions: Nine theses about the war we are engaged in

…” “color revolutions” are considered by modern states not as an internal threat (where the police and special services would be interested), but as an external threat. It has the characteristics of a military aggression, so that counteracting it is the job for the military.”

from The Saker: 

by: Rostislav Ishchenko

Translated by Seva


On April 27-28, the Russian Defense Ministry held an international conference on security. I participate in a panel discussing “color revolutions”.

The time allotted to speakers (5 min) and discussion participants (1 min) was too short to present the entire concept of color revolutions in modern politics and their impact on general and military security of the affected state. Therefore, I will present my views in bullet points. I will be succinct, because one can write a multi-volume study of “color revolutions” and hybrid war in general, and even then the topic might not be thoroughly covered.

Thesis one. The very fact that the military were interested in this topic (in fact, representatives of several dozen defense ministries of various countries participated in this discussion) shows that “color revolutions” are considered by modern states not as an internal threat (where the police and special services would be interested), but as an external threat. It has the characteristics of a military aggression, so that counteracting it is the job for the military.

Thesis two. Color coups, being an element of modern hybrid warfare, came into being not only because a direct conflict of two nuclear powers became impossible due to mutually assured destruction. Different scenarios of a limited nuclear war or a military conflict between superpowers using only non-nuclear weapons were and are being considered. However, if countries have nukes, a military conflict where they are used is possible, and general staffs must have plans for this eventuality.

Color coups were an answer to this political dead end, which emerged as a result of the formation, both within civilized nations and at the level of international law, of a view that war is not an allowable tool to solve political problems. Thus, political and moral costs for a state that initiates hostilities, even when a huge advantage in force allows for a quick win with minimal losses, became higher than material and political advantages of controlling the enemy’s territory. Blitzkrieg, let alone a protracted military campaign, became cost-ineffective.

Thesis three. A color coup is not conducted when the situation is ripe for regime change (classical revolutionary situation), but when there is an external force interested in achieving control over the victim-state.

Color coup is impossible without external interference. When the color coup mechanism is initiated in a country, this means that this country is under attack by an aggressor.

Identification of this aggressor is usually easy. However, to prove its aggressive intentions, however obvious they are, within the rule of international law is usually impossible. The aggressor will always explain its interference into internal affairs of the victim-state using humanitarian excuses and the protection of human rights.

I would like to remind you that by Helsinki accords (which are now rules of OSCE and UN) the defense of human rights cannot be an exclusive internal business of any state.

Thesis four. Still, an aggressor needs to legitimize its actions in the eyes of the international community. Therefore, as a rule, it tries to obtain a mandate to interfere from the UN or OSCE, or, at least, to form a formal international coalition of several dozen states to mask its aggression picturing it as forcing a “dictatorial regime” to observe international norms.

Thesis five. This limits what kind of state can use the mechanism of color coups. The aggressor-state has to have not only a huge military superiority over the victim-state (this is desirable, but not absolutely necessary). It needs to have sufficient political and diplomatic clout to ensure legal cover-up of its interference.

Thesis six. Like any war or military operation, the color coup is carefully planned and prepared. Usually, several plans are developed, depending on the level of resistance of the victim-state.

The ideal scenario involves capitulation or treason of the national elites. It is the cheapest option. In this case, all resources of the victim-state, including the political system and administrative structure, can be immediately used by the aggressor for its geopolitical ends.

When the national elites do not capitulate, the method of “peaceful street protests” is used. The resisting elite is forced to transfer power to its more pliant colleagues under the pressure of street protests. It is, in essence, given a choice between voluntary capitulation and an attempt to suppress the protests, with a risk of “accidental” casualties, which give the pretext to call the regime “repressive and dictatorial”, accuse it of “police brutality” and declare that it has lost legitimacy.

If this kind of peaceful pressure does not work, within weeks or months (depending on the situation and the resilience of the regime of the victim-state) it switches to armed uprising. In this case, the regime is forced to choose between capitulation and inevitable casualties of a military confrontation, which would be in dozens or even hundreds.

Along with inciting “peaceful protest” or military uprising, the aggressor-state organizes political and diplomatic isolation of the victim-state.

If the military uprising in the capital does not happen or does not result in regime change, the next scenario is civil war. In this case, the aggressor-state declares the powers illegitimate, recognizes the “opposition” and provides them with political, diplomatic, financial, and then military support.

Finally, if the civil war results in a stalemate, or the “opposition” is losing, a direct aggression (under humanitarian pretext) is possible. The softer version of this is enforcement of no-fly zones and massive supply of weapons, including heavy weapons, to the rebels. The harsher version involves direct invasion of foreign troops, as a rule, masked as “volunteers” or implemented by special forces.

Thesis seven. As we see, despite ostensibly peaceful and informational character of the color coup, its success is guaranteed by the presence, behind diplomats and journalists, of a military force, which can suppress, if necessary, the resistance of the national elite, even if this elite decides to fight to the end.

This variant was used in Iraq, Serbia, and Libya. So far, it failed only in Syria. But in Syria there was an important new component. The resources, including military, of another super-power were engaged in support of the legitimate government. The situation changed from color coup to direct confrontation of two super-powers, like in Korean and Vietnam wars.

Thus, a necessary condition for any scenario of the color coup was eliminated: absolute political, diplomatic, economic, financial, and military advantage of the aggressor-state over the victim-state.

This leads us to thesis eight. Color coup can be stopped neither by consolidation of the national elite (it would simply progress to the next scenario), nor by preparedness of its military to fight (it will eventually be exhausted), nor by effective work of the national media (they will be overwhelmed by the technological capabilities of the aggressor).

The preparedness of the victim-state to resist is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to block the mechanisms of the color coup.

Only the support of the legitimate authorities of the victim-country by another superpower able to confront the aggressor-country with equal force in any way with any means can stop color aggression.

Finally, thesis nine and the conclusion. Today’s color coups are local operations within the global confrontation of the superpowers. The same way as Korean, Vietnam, and other wars of the 1950s-90s were often only proxy wars between the USSR and the USA on somebody else’s territory. Modern color coups, being one of the forms of hybrid war, are also the elements of the confrontation between Russia and the US.

This is war. A new kind of war. Not the war as an extension of policy by other means (using the expression of von Clausewitz), but color technology as an extension of war by other means.

We engaged in this war before even realizing we were at war. As often happens with Russia, we started with defeats of the 1990s, then came to our senses, learned to fight, and have been fighting successfully in the last two years.

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