Elite Warriors: A Book Review in Defense News
MOSCOW — Advocates of nuclear weapons like to play up their peacekeeping utility. Often they will point out that there has not been a major war between great powers since the end of World War II. But as history has shown, conflict remains a regular facet of international relations. Only the means of conflict have changed; and since the 1980s, this process has accelerated.
A new book authored by experts from the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, or CAST, titled “Elite Warriors: Special Operations Forces From Around the World,” explores one of these key changing aspects of modern war: the proliferation of special operations forces by major and minor powers across the globe.
Printed by American publisher East View Press and edited by CAST founder Ruslan Pukhov and Christopher Marsh, editor of the Special Operations Journal and a professor at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies, “Elite Warriors” claims to fill an important gap in the academic literature on special operations forces.
“Elite Warriors” represents one of CAST’s broadest analytical efforts to date and one of the first such studies dedicated to special operations forces. Previously, CAST’s outfit of military and political analysts in Russia have focused on single-issue topics, as seen in their book “Brothers Armed: Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine,” as well as the China-focused “Red Star Rising.”
It is overall a quick read, structured into 14 standalone chapters focusing on different special forces outfits from different nations — though it breaks format to present Russian efforts to develop and field such units into two chapters. While Elite Warriors may lack a broader narrative, it is useful as a reference book to support further academic works.
Each chapter offers accessible breakdowns on the histories, organizational structures and capabilities of the world’s leading special operations forces. The book features pieces by some of CAST’s most capable analysts. These include entries focusing on Chinese, Israeli, Turkish, Iranian and even a chapter on Polish special forces units authored by Pukhov himself.
As Marsh notes in his introduction to the book, the topic of special forces units warrants further study as a capability that “most states are developing, many states have, and all states covet.” In an attempt to provide a framework to the study, Marsh leans briefly on prominent theories in the realist school of international relations that deal with proliferation of military capabilities.
To help frame the study, Marsh cites the scholar Kenneth Waltz, who theorized that “states tend to emulate the successful policies of others.”
Of particular interest to American readers, given CAST’s status as a leading Russian military affairs think tank, are the two chapters detailing the development of modern Russian special operations forces. Russia’s development of its modern special operations forces is a key example of states mimicking the development of U.S. special forces since the 1980s.
Indeed, the Kremlin has been quite specific on this point. Russia recently created a standalone special forces command, a move that was openly responding to by “leading powers of the world.” In the first of two Russia-focused chapters, Alexey Ramm reviews the rapid transformation and development of Russia’s special forces over the past three years.
Russian military reform in general has seen several false starts and changes of directions in recent years, but the process has been perhaps most turbulent for the Spetsnaz forces, who from 2008-2012 saw their scope greatly deteriorated, only to be drastically redefined by a new defense minister — Sergei Shoigu — in 2012. Since 2013, they’ve been again reworked.
Ramm’s first chapter on Russia’s special operations forces focuses mostly on recent history and current makeup. The second chapter of Russia’s forces, authored by Alexey Nikolsky, takes a broader historical look at the development of these forces in the past eight years and their performance in three wars.
Overall, these two chapters present possibly the best English-language overview of Russia’s special forces units today.
The remainder of the book provides no less rigorous overviews of various national special forces efforts. It is always worth reading the works of Russian scholars on nations such as Iran, for example, with which Moscow is generally more familiar than Western scholars. Ultimately, the value in “Elite Warriors” is for reference and support for further research efforts.