Schaefer’s debut is an in-depth critical assessment of the Russo-Chechen conflict that reflects a deep understanding of counterinsurgency in general and how it relates to that region specifically.
Although the Russian government officially declared an end to the Second Chechen War in 2009, the insurgency in the North Caucasus is far from over, according to Schaefer. In clear, layman-friendly prose, he argues convincingly and meticulously that Russia’s strategy failures stem from a vital misunderstanding of the nature of Chechen resistance; the Russian government’s insistence that Chechen rebels are less resistance fighters than they are mere terrorist criminals is a misinterpretation that, in Schaefer’s view, has led to the misapplication of counterterrorist tactics that not only failed to quell the Chechen resistance movement while the war was on, but have allowed it to regroup in the last two years. Schaefer, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Special Forces, wields his military and foreign policy expertise handily, building his arguments from the rudiments up so that casual readers can easily follow while also scoring insights that ought to make this work indispensable to more interested actors and observers. He provides invaluable context by explaining the nature of insurgencies and terrorist acts, details the long history of regional power struggles (and particularly the protracted hostilities between Russians and various North Caucasian ethnic groups) and analyzes the extent to which certain Islamic sects have shaped the conflict and motivated insurgents’ causes. At root, Schaefer’s argument is that the Russian approach, in deviation from Western standards, puts too little emphasis on political strategies to combat the insurgency, instead relying on vastly superior firepower in an attempt to break the Chechens, who have been waging a campaign without an end-game strategy and are destined to fail as long as Russia’s interest in the region remains strong. Whether or not Schaefer’s conclusions are persuasive, his reasoning is honest, well-researched and refreshingly free of partisan rhetoric.
A tour de force in breadth and depth.