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 problem with the A2/AD lens is born from the term’s origins. The term began among the China-watcher community and has since been applied to Russia, a continental land power in a decidedly different geographical theater, and with a tradition of military thought distinct from China’s. The concept admittedly has utility when looking at a maritime theater involving Russia or China. Still, while there is commonality in capabilities between America’s great power adversaries, when broadly applied to two very different countries the term confuses more than it reveals because Russia is not China, and Europe is not the Pacific. In fact, the Russian term for A2/AD — restriction and denial of access and maneuver, (ogranicheniye i vospreshcheniye dostupa i manyuvra) — is just a ham-fisted transliteration of the Western term A2/AD because there is no Russian term for A2/AD. This is not a concept in Russian military thought, and there is no Russian strategy bearing that name.