News | June 11, 2020

ROC(K) Solid Preparedness: Resistance Operations Concept in the Shadow of Russia

By Otto Fiala and Ulrica Pettersson PRISM Vol. 8, No. 4

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COL (R) O. Fiala, PhD, JD is the author of the Resistance Operating Concept at SOCEUR. Ulrica Pettersson PhD, is an Associate Professor at Swedish Defence University.)

Wall of former KGB headquarters in Vilnius inscribed with names of those tortured and killed in its basement.
(Phillip Carter)
Wall of former KGB headquarters in Vilnius inscribed with names of those tortured and killed in its basement. (Phillip Carter)
Wall of former KGB headquarters in Vilnius inscribed with names of those tortured and killed in its basement.
(Phillip Carter)
Wall of former KGB headquarters in Vilnius inscribed with names of those tortured and killed in its basement. (Phillip Carter)
Wall of former KGB headquarters in Vilnius inscribed with names of those tortured and killed in its basement. (Phillip Carter)
Photo By: Phillip Carter
VIRIN: 200612-D-BD104-004

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

(Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940)

During the Cold War, NATO, led by the United States, and the Warsaw Pact, led by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), maintained vast numbers of military forces in Central Europe, facing each other along what Winston Churchill labeled as an Iron Curtain. On the western side, in addition to these conventional forces, several NATO allies also maintained what were called “stay-behind networks,” intended to remain within territory potentially over-run by Soviet forces in a war. These networks were established to remain within Soviet occupied territories, to conduct sabotage and other guerrilla type activities against Soviet forces, and to send intelligence to NATO allies. The networks were intended to engage in resistance against a Soviet occupation. Upon the dissolution of the USSR, these stay-behind networks were completely dismantled, due to the perception that the threat had disappeared with the end of the Cold War.

In the 21st century, Russia, which had been the core of the former USSR, became resurgent and began to re-assert its power and influence in and over several former Soviet Republics. In 2008, Russia seized the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In 2014, Russia seized the Crimea from Ukraine and continues to support separatist activities in Eastern Ukraine. These aggressive acts, coupled with additional aggressive Russian behavior toward the Baltic nations, prompted the 2014 U.S. European Reassurance Initiative, renamed the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) in 2017. This was an initiative of the Obama administration in 2014, which was included in the Department of Defense’s FY 2015 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget request to Congress. Since FY 2015, the initiative has provided funding in support of five lines of effort: (1) Increased Presence, (2) Exercises (e.g., Exercise BALTOPS is an annual, multinational maritime exercise focused on interoperability, maritime security, and cooperation among Baltic Sea and regional partners) and Training, (3) Enhanced Prepositioning, (4) Improved Infrastructure, and (5) Building Partnership Capacity. Additionally, at NATO’s 2016 summit in Warsaw, the United States sponsored and NATO adopted the enhanced forward presence (EFP) program to expand the number of NATO participants forward deploying troops into the Baltic NATO allies on a rotational basis. This resulted in a continuing NATO program whereby the United States rotates a forward deployed battalion size Army presence in northeastern Poland, near the Suwalki Corridor, while the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany rotate similar-sized elements in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, respectively. These sponsoring nations rotate their troops on a heel-to-toe basis approximately every six months, resulting in a seamless continuous presence.

Concurrently, United States Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) began its concept exploration of resistance, as it recognized that the forward deployed NATO conventional forces were not adequate to defeat a major incursion. SOCEUR then collaborated with the Baltic NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as with other allies and partners in seminars and workshops, to relearn what had been forgotten from the previous stay-behind organizations of Western Europe, to add new knowledge, and to develop a practical and effective Resistance Concept.

Figure 1. The Baltic States. Source: Illustration generated by authors.
Figure 1. The Baltic States Source: Illustration generated by authors.
Figure 1. The Baltic States. Source: Illustration generated by authors.
Figure 1. The Baltic States
Source: Illustration generated by authors.
Photo By: Illustration generated by authors.
VIRIN: 200612-D-BD104-005

The Baltic Region1

The Baltic states each have relatively small populations: Estonia has a population of about 1.3 million people; Latvia has about 2 million; and Lithuania has about 2.8 million.2 Within these populations are many ethnic Russians. The populations of Estonia and Latvia are each about one quarter ethnic Russian, and Lithuania has a much smaller Russian population of about 6 percent.3 Most of the ethnic Russian population in each of the three Baltic states originated from Russian migration into those states during the Cold War, encouraged by the Soviet Union, and cannot trace their family history in the Baltics prior to World War II (WWII). However, most of those ethnic Russians or Russophones remain within those countries and within the European Union because they do not want to live in Russia.4 Though these Russian populations are not emigrating to Russia for many reasons, including the economic advantage of living inside the European Union, they are perceived as a threat by many non-Russian Baltic citizens. They are deemed possible targets for manipulation by Russian propaganda and information warfare, which could become acute and turn some ethnic Russians against their ethnic Baltic friends and neighbors if Russia decided to infringe on the sovereignty of any of the Baltic nations.

Each Baltic state shares borders with Russia. Estonia and Latvia are bordered by Russia to the east and Lithuania borders Russia’s oblast, or exclave of Kaliningrad, to its southwest. The geographic situation of these Baltic nations provides them no strategic depth against an adversarial Russia.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania each have a long history with Russian domination. Estonia and Latvia were conquered by the Russian Empire in 1710 and were dominated by it for two centuries until after World War I. Estonia and Latvia were only free from Russia for the twenty years between the World Wars. At the beginning of WWII, when the Soviets partitioned Poland between themselves and Germany, as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Estonia and Latvia lost their status as independent nations and were incorporated into the Soviet Union as Soviet Socialist Republics. They did not regain their national independence until 1991, during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Lithuania was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until the late 18th century when most of it became part of Russian territory. After that, it endured similar Russian domination as its two Baltic cousin states, experiencing independence from Russian domination only between the two World Wars. Lithuania was incorporated into the Soviet Union as a Soviet Socialist Republic at the same time as were Estonia and Latvia, and it was the first Baltic state to declare independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.

Resilience within Resistance - The Forest Brothers

The “Forest Brothers” was the title applied to the organized, anti-communist, anti-Soviet resistance effort in the Baltic states. Though the term was first used to describe people in the Baltic region who fled to rural areas to escape the effects of the Russian Revolution of 1905, the name earned prominence during the Baltic people’s resistance during their second occupation by the Soviets. That resistance began in 1944 and lasted until 1953.

In 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany placed the Baltics in the Soviet sphere and allowed the Soviets to annex the region.5,6 They soon suffered collectivization, deportations, and killings. When Nazi Germany reneged on its pact with the Soviets and invaded the Baltics in June 1941, the German troops were welcomed as liberators and the lesser of two evils. Having experienced massive repression under the Soviets, many Baltic citizens cooperated and fought with the Germans against the Soviets, including the early bands of Forest Brothers.7

After several years of Nazi occupation, the Soviets re-established their power over the Baltics in 1944 and began a more devastating wave of repression than their first occupation. Characterized by increased deportations of many former government officials and senior political party members, and more killings, the Soviets sent their secret police (NKVD – People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) against competing sources of power such as political and religious leaders. Additionally, large farms were confiscated and collectivized, large bank deposits were impounded, and local currency was banned.8 The armed forces of each nation were purged, staffed with Russian commissars, and incorporated into the Red Army. Tens of thousands of people were deported to Siberia.9

In Estonia, active resisters again became known as Forest Brothers.10 Gradually, the resisters in Latvia and Lithuania joined those in Estonia to engage in military actions against Red Army units and collaborators.11 The main strengths of the Forest Brothers were their loose organization, ability to blend into their environment, and a generally supportive population.12 The main hope of the Forest Brothers was the Atlantic Charter, a joint statement by the United States and Great Britain, issued on August 14, 1941, containing eight “common principles.”13 The Forest Brothers based their resistance efforts on one particular principle, from among the eight; that all countries could rightfully restore their self-government following occupation, and that all people could choose their form of government.

As resistance developed throughout the Baltics, the movements considered it vital to establish credibility and legitimacy to attain Western assistance. Each national element employed similar tactics and the same strategic aims, but did not engage in direct operational coordination. They wore uniforms, organized themselves along military lines, maintained military discipline, and initially engaged the Soviet forces in conventional battles. They expected to receive weapons, ammunition, medicine, communications equipment, and political support in fulfilment of the Atlantic Charter, which affirmed that all nations had a right to regain their lost independence.14 Resistance operations were intended to support the strategic goal of national liberation by the West, based on the declaration of “self-determination.”15 This hope remained even after the western powers ceded the Baltics to the Soviet sphere of influence at Yalta.

The anti-Soviet resistance in the Baltics began with large, conventional style battles between organized Baltic Forest Brothers units—with as many as fifty thousand members throughout the Baltics—and the NKVD, from July 1944 to May 1946. These battles resulted in significant numbers of casualties on both sides. However, only the Soviets could easily replenish their numbers.16

From May 1946 through November 1948, extensive battles against Soviet security forces were avoided. The overall number of active fighters went down to about 4,000, divided into smaller groups, and they moved into camouflaged underground bunkers in the forests.17

From November 1948 to May 1953, the resistance movement continued losing strength, particularly active fighters, and thus devoted greater attention to propaganda work through print media, in an attempt to sustain nation-wide hope in regaining independence.18 However, despite thousands of copies of dozens of periodicals, songs, prayer books, and proclamations printed in cramped underground bunkers, they could not overcome Soviet information dominance among the population. The resistance was limited to secret, underground printing presses with a limited ability to distribute printed material, while the Soviets dominated all the major newspapers and radio stations which distributed only pro-Soviet information.19

Throughout the Baltics, heavy blows to the movement were dealt by mass deportations and collectivization beginning in March 1949. Many of the farmers and their families who supported the Forest Brothers were deported to Siberia. Removing those farmers and forcing collectivization robbed the Forest Brothers of their logistical support. Further, the NKVD’s consistent improvements in their ability to locate, penetrate, and destroy resistance groups took a severe toll on the morale of the Brothers and the general population.

Eventually, the majority of the population saw the partisans as fighting a lost cause and simply wanted an end to the violence and the disruptions of their lives. Ensuing from battle casualties, subsequent deportation of supporters, and return of members to their legal lives, the numbers of guerrillas within the Forest Brothers declined precipitously. Finally, the peoples of the Baltics realized that after the defeat of Germany and large scale demobilization of western forces, the West would not uphold the Atlantic Charter signed by Churchill and Roosevelt in 1941 and risk igniting a major conflagration in Europe, and therefore material aid would not be given. This caused active resistance to appear increasingly futile. The Forest Brothers’ reliance on the intervention of the West in order to free them from the Soviets, by maintaining themselves as a “force-in-being” ready to assist the allied armies as they fought the Soviets, had failed. Infiltration and betrayals became the prevalent Soviet method of finding and dismembering the remaining partisan cells, while more people sought some form of accommodation to a situation many viewed as irreversible. The relentless NKVD became increasingly ruthless.20 Soviet suppression, combined with popular despondence, gradual acceptance of their situation, and a general amnesty granted by Soviet authorities upon the death of Stalin in 1953, resulted ultimately in the Soviet suppression of active armed resistance. After 1953, resistance became increasingly infrequent, although some partisans held out in the forests for decades.21

During both the anti-Nazi and the anti-Soviet fights, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania retained a strong sense of nationalism. They had failed in the goal of their resistance, to re-establish independent self-government, but their resilience persevered. This resilient nationalism was kept alive through retention of their native languages, church gatherings despite atheistic Soviet rule, and family and community gatherings where their national identities were subtly and non-threateningly asserted. This resilience provided the backbone for decades of quiet and passive resistance to Soviet domination and the retention of hope for eventual freedom. With the fall of the USSR in December 1991, sovereignty was reclaimed by each nation, with Lithuania becoming the first Soviet Republic to break from the Soviet Union in 1990, followed in 1991 by Estonia and Latvia.

Norwegian Resistance Under German Occupation

During WWII the Norwegian resistance movement played an important role in the battle against the Nazis. They managed to do substantial damage to the occupying forces, taking advantage of Norway’s geography, a long coastline with vast amounts of uninhabited land and a long border with neutral Sweden that could be crossed over easily.

At the beginning of the war, there was a race between the United States and Germany to create atomic weapons. In Germany, atomic research had made significant progress; however, the Germans needed the critical element of heavy water to create an atomic reactor.22 The reactor was a stepping stone to produce plutonium and in the long run an atomic bomb. This very rare water was only produced on a commercial scale in one place in Europe, on an ice-bound fortress in Vemork in the north of Nazi-occupied Norway.

The need for a covert operation behind enemy lines was now an urgent requirement.23 Destroying the heavy water production, or sabotaging its transportation, seemed to be the only way for the Allies to hinder Nazi Germany’s forward progress toward an atomic bomb.

Britain had established a secret unit known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE) which trained operatives for covert sabotage raids. They recruited Norwegians who fled to England or Sweden during Germany’s invasion and occupation. In order for the operatives to prepare for their future mission back behind enemy lines in Norway, they were put through a type of Special Forces training. It included, for example, climbing mountains, fording rivers, and outdoor camping for extended periods.24

In 1942, a reconnaissance group, code-named Operation Grouse (four Norwegians from SOE), was deployed into Norway along with a glider containing a strike force, Operation Freshman (combat engineers from 1st Airborne Division). However, Operation Freshman failed tragically on November 19, due to navigational difficulties and severe weather. Both aircraft and glider crashed into a mountain with some of the troops killed outright, and others captured before being quickly executed by the German response unit. Despite the highly dangerous and inhospitable terrain, SOE decided to leave the Operation Grouse team in place to do reconnaissance in preparation for a subsequent mission, Operation Gunnerside (an assault team). After four bitter winter months in theater, Operation Grouse finally linked up with Operation Gunnerside. On February 27, 1943, nine Norwegian saboteurs from the Operation Gunnerside team scaled the cliff in Vemork in cold and difficult weather and managed to blow up the German-controlled heavy water production.25 The group was led by 23-year-old, Joachim Rønneberg, who interestingly did not have any previous military experience, apart from his SOE training and its special explosive technology component.

For the command team back in London, the wait for indications of the mission outcome was an anxious one, but at 11:55 hours on March 10, the British Prime Minister and the Chief of SOE received the good news at Baker Street: “Operation carried out with 100 percent success.”26

Joachim’s group included a disparate collection of individuals, including a teacher, a postman, and a tour guide who decided to do something about Norway being invaded. Joachim later stated, “You have to fight for your freedom and for peace. You have to fight for it every day, to keep it. It’s like a glass boat; it’s easy to break; it’s easy to lose.”

The Norwegian example shows how ordinary people can do extraordinary things when motivated by a strong belief in their right to freedom. Operation Gunnerside highlights one specific group of young men, but there were hundreds of others—men and women—who performed equally patriotic actions in the name of resistance. It also highlights the importance of readiness and preparedness to strengthen resilience. Acknowledging this, the Swedish Government has recently published and distributed a pamphlet of important information for the population of Sweden: If Crisis or War Comes. The purpose of the brochure is “to help us become well prepared for everything, from serious accidents, extreme weather and IT attacks, to military conflicts.”27 It contains the basics of emergency preparedness, total defence and warning systems.

From a long term perspective, actions like this can help the public prepare for and cope with disinformation during potential hybrid warfare, manage to survive with limited electricity, food, and water resources, and finally maintain the “...we will never surrender”28 mentality. The successful SOE raid on the Norsk Hydro Plant is also an important example of the value of international cooperation against a highly capable and more powerful opponent.

The Potential Russian Threat to the Baltics

After the fall of the USSR, each of the Baltic states joined the European Union for economic security and NATO for military security. Their inclusion in NATO, in particular, meant that NATO now shares borders with Russia. Additionally, the loss of these three former Soviet Republics physically separated Russian Kaliningrad from the rest of Russia. As a port city, Kaliningrad’s sea lines of communication provide its primary link to Russia, and it is Russia’s only Baltic port that does not freeze in the winter. A rail line running along the Suwalki Gap provides Russian land access facilitated by agreements with Lithuania.

The Suwalki Gap lies in the northeast corner of Poland and southwest part of Lithuania. It is a marshy, lightly populated lowland area along the sixty-mile border between Poland and Lithuania. It is a strategically situated, narrow pass of land connecting Kaliningrad to Belarus, through Lithuania. Belarus often cooperates with Russia, for example conducting joint military exercises. The rail link facilitates Russian ground transportation between Kaliningrad and Belarus, based on the agreement with Lithuania. Russian control of the Suwalki Gap would allow it unfettered, year-round access along a direct land route from the Baltic Sea to Moscow. This would greatly enhance its ability to control the Baltic region, while granting it a significant military logistical advantage over NATO. Russian control of the Gap would physically cut off the Baltic states from the rest of NATO.29 The Baltics could then only be accessed by NATO by sea and air over the Baltic Sea, reversing the present situation, vis-a-vis Russian access to Kaliningrad.

Russia has a significant regional advantage and the Kremlin is upgrading its military, to include two new divisions in its western region. Since 2015, Russia has been increasing its military presence in Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad also has a formidable layered air defense, including two air bases in Chernyakhovsk and Donskoye that house S-300 and S-400 surface-to-air missile defense systems, fighters, and strike aircraft. These forces could quickly turn the Baltic Sea region into a de facto no-fly zone.30 

Kaliningrad now hosts approximately 20,000 Russian military personnel, including a naval infantry unit. Its substantial anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities are backed by an additional 120,000 personnel and large armored formations on the eastern side of the Baltics, in Russia’s Western Military District. Russia also has substantial air assets in the region, as well as warships in the Baltic Sea.31

Russia was most likely responsible for the massive cyber-attack against the Estonian government in 2007, additional cyber-attacks on Baltic governments, and kidnapping an Estonian intelligence operative on Estonian soil. Russian agents have also been expelled from the Baltics for spying on military positions. Similar to the rhetoric it employed to justify military invasions of territory in Eastern Ukraine and Georgia, Moscow has alleged anti-Russian discrimination against ethnically Russian minorities in all three countries. Russian forces in the Western Military District, which borders Estonia and part of Latvia, have performed large-scale exercises simulating an invasion of the Baltics and strikes on neighboring Poland. These exercises can provide practice for invasions, while a future iteration could be used to mask an actual attack.32 In fact, a 2016 RAND study war-gamed a Russian attack in the Baltics. It found that there were inadequate conventional NATO forces forward positioned to stop such an attack, and that Russian forces could reach the outskirts of the Estonian and Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga in 60 hours.33

Each of these three Baltic former Soviet Republics are NATO members. An incursion against any one of them would trigger NATO’s Article 5, which would oblige NATO to use force if necessary to restore their territorial integrity. However, unlike during the Cold War, the United States does not have large conventional forces based on the eastern periphery of NATO against a Russian threat.

Russia, on the other hand, does have large forces in close proximity to the Baltics. In 2017, Russia conducted its ZAPAD exercise in the Western Military District which borders Estonia, Latvia, and Belarus. Russia conducts annual large-scale exercises that are rotated among its four military districts (Southern, Western, Eastern and Central), so a large-scale exercise, ZAPAD, is conducted near the Baltics every four years. At the time, many Western observers were concerned because Russia used these large-scale exercises in 2008 and 2014 as precursors to invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, respectively.34

Russian Zapad Exercise, 2017. (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, September 14, 2017)
Russian Zapad Exercise, 2017. (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, September 14, 2017)
Russian Zapad Exercise, 2017. (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, September 14, 2017)
Russian Zapad Exercise, 2017. (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, September 14, 2017)
Russian Zapad Exercise, 2017. (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, September 14, 2017)
Photo By: Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
VIRIN: 200612-D-BD104-006

Adding to Western concerns over the exercise, the Russians publicly underestimated the number of Russian soldiers participating in the exercise in order to avoid international notification requirements agreed to in the Vienna Documents (threshold of 13,000). This Russian practice plays into Russian military deception known as maskirovka. Western analysts estimated that approximately 60-70,000 Russian troops participated in the exercise, with about 12,000 inside Belarus which borders Latvia and Lithuania, and with which Russia has a military defense treaty. The demonstrated Russian capability, coupled with its deceptive maskirovka practices, caused concern among many analysts.35 Though they did not make it appear obvious that they could quickly invade one or all Baltic nations, their demonstrated capabilities did nothing to disprove the above-mentioned RAND study estimate.

In fact, the Russians have caused non-NATO member Sweden to take several protective measures in recent years, among them the distribution to all Swedish households of the If Crisis or War Comes pamphlet by the Ministry for Society Protection and Preparedness. Sweden had not distributed anything similar since 1943 during WWII. In 2016, Sweden also reintroduced a permanent military presence on the strategic island of Gotland which could be a Russian target due to its location if conflict broke out between NATO and Russia. In September 2017, Sweden conducted a military exercise entitled Aurora, involving troops from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Lithuania, Norway, and the United States. In 2018, Sweden also reintroduced conscription, selecting 4,000 young people for service.36

SOCEUR Advances the Resistance Concept

In 2013, even prior to the Russian invasion of Crimea, SOCEUR began a project to examine resistance warfare capabilities within doctrinal unconventional warfare. This was to be done through developing a network of individual academic and practitioner subject matter experts and conducting multinational workshops to gather knowledge and disseminate it to a core group. The first workshop was presciently held in Warsaw, Poland in January 2014. The next month, Russia seized and annexed Crimea. That Russian action solidified the requirement to continue exploration of this topic and the capabilities that could be developed. The results of those continuing workshops and later Tabletop Exercises (TTX) formed the outline of what became known as the Resistance Operating Concept (ROC).37

Through this process it was clearly determined that resilience is a required attribute. Resilience is the foundation on which the “national will” to resist will be built. Therefore, national resilience is critical to an effective national defense, reinforcing the motivation to restore sovereignty over territory infringed upon. A government therefore must take practical measures to assess the nation’s vulnerabilities and to find ways to repair or protect them from foreign exploitation.

Externally, a government must strengthen relevant allied and partner nation relationships and increase interoperability with those nations in peacetime, resulting in a method of deterrence to underscore a cost-prohibitive outcome to any adversarial aggression. Internally, national and local emergency plans for natural and manmade disasters must be incorporated into national resilience. An incursion by a foreign power would likely bring effects upon the population that require a civil disaster relief response for immediate mitigation. Encompassing both external and internal efforts, government communications require notification of potential external threats to its own population, along with knowledge of prudent preparations to counter or mitigate those threats. These preparations, to ensure effective responses, require congruency within the necessary institutional and legal structures and policies to establish, develop, and conduct resistance if and when necessary, as well as individual measures of preparedness.3839

Figure 2. Resilience and Resistance in National Defense
Figure 2. Resilience and Resistance in National Defense Source: After Action Report, Unconventional Warfare/Resistance Seminar, Baltic Defense College, Tartu, Estonia.
Figure 2. Resilience and Resistance in National Defense
Figure 2. Resilience and Resistance in National Defense
Source: After Action Report, Unconventional Warfare/Resistance Seminar, Baltic Defense College, Tartu, Estonia.
Photo By: After Action Report, Unconventional Warfare/Resistance Seminar, Baltic Defense College
VIRIN: 200612-D-BD104-007

The ROC defines resilience as “the will and ability to withstand external pressure and influences and/or recover from the effects of those pressures or influences;”40 thus, national resilience is established during peacetime in a pre-crisis environment. National resiliency is then enhanced with the formation of a national resistance capability. The ROC demonstrates the significance of national resilience as a fundamental condition and differentiates resilience from resistance; it is a necessary condition and critical cornerstone of national defense.

Planning for a resistance capability is a part of enhancing national resilience. Government organizational authorizations within its legal framework allow for planning and preparation activities where cadres are trained, equipment obtained, and support arrangements made with allies and partners. The ROC defines resistance as “a nation’s organized, whole-of-society effort, encompassing the full range of activities from nonviolent to violent, led by a legally established government (potentially exiled/displaced or shadow) to reestablish independence and autonomy within its sovereign territory that has been wholly or partially occupied by a foreign power.” The ROC’s primary focus is the development of a state-authorized, trained, equipped, and organized resistance capability prior to an incursion. This is a component of national preparation for the possibility of full or partial occupation. Resistance, as a form of warfare, is part of a layered national defense.


The lessons learned from the above cases, as well as others from WWII and the Cold War are encompassed in the ROC. None of the resistance organizations from WWII, such as the above-mentioned Forest Brothers, the multitude of organizations comprising the French resistance, the western-oriented Polish resistance, or the above Norwegian resistance action had the benefit of extended pre-conflict planning and preparation. After WWII, several NATO states, learning lessons from that war, established resistance or stay-behind networks in case of Soviet invasion. Yet, many of those stay-behind networks, though supported with personnel, training, and equipment, were established without the benefit of an adequate, transparent, and complete legal framework, which eventually rendered political problems once their existence became known.

The ROC represents an effort to comprehensively, but succinctly, present the core elements of effective resistance and its underlying resilience within a whole of government framework by presenting and building upon what came before. These core elements of resistance involve pre-crisis planning and establishment of a resistance organization with the capabilities of recruitment, intelligence, financing, logistics sustainment, training, communications and security. It lays out the details of the resistance components of an underground, auxiliary, guerrillas, and a possible public component (if the occupier allows such a public component). It also describes the networks necessary for a resistance capability to function. The components and networks are not new. These are all contained in post-WWII U.S. Army doctrine and professional literature. A pre-crisis resistance capability can be factored into a nation’s layered defense while potential adversaries must be made aware of this capability in order for it to be factored into a nation’s deterrence. The objective of this government-established resistance capability is to restore national sovereignty and return the nation to its pre-conflict political status. The intent of the ROC is to assemble as much of this information as practical and useful within its covers to serve as a compendium of the topic and to assist in common planning efforts.

In the past several years, SOCEUR worked with the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) to develop resistance-focused courses for U.S. personnel deploying to the SOCEUR Area of Operations, as well as courses designed specifically for concerned allies and partners. The ROC forms the basis of JSOU’s National Resistance course available to allies and partners and is used as reference material in other JSOU courses. It is the primary resistance reference document for several allies and partners and is used at the Army’s Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) at Ft. Bragg. The ROC was published by the Swedish Defense University in December 2019 and will be published by JSOU in the second quarter of FY20. The ROC is fulfilling its role as a collaborative planning guide.


Resistance is a form of warfare. It can be planned. The ROC is simply a resistance primer. It contains guidance and advice toward establishing a nationally authorized resistance capability. It advises the establishment of a pre-crisis organization for nations under greater threat, for the purpose of having a unified resistance effort against an occupier, and renders specific organizational guidance. This stakes out the conceptual political space in a crisis by reducing the prospect of competing ideologies or organizations seeking a political goal other than re-establishing the pre-conflict political order. The focus is on the legitimate re-establishment of national sovereignty. This allows the nation to resume its natural progression, guided by the will of the people.

This government-organized resistance is only used against an occupier and it is always controlled by the government, even if that government is exiled. The goal is to re-establish lost sovereignty over territory, the status quo ante. A potential opponent’s knowledge of the will and capability of a nation to resist occupation will be factored into the calculation of a potential occupier and thus serve as a part of that nation’s deterrence. The ROC is an attempt to better understand and integrate resistance planning efforts, both within the nation seeking to establish a resistance organization, and the nation(s) seeking to support that effort. PRISM


1 Image from Encyclopædia Britannica website, published by Encyclopædia Britannica, url, accessed 20 July 2019.

2; accessed 20 July 2019.

3 Alexander Lanoszka and Michael A. Hunzeker, Conventional Deterrence and Landpower in Northeastern Europe, U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, (March 2019), p. 51.

4 Lanoszka and Hunzeker, Conventional Deterrence and Landpower in Northeastern Europe, p. xiii.

5 James S. Corum, “A View from Northeastern Europe: The Baltic States and the Russian Regime.” South Central Review vol. 35, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 130.

6 Uldis Neiburgs, “Latvia during World War II,” accessed 4 April 2018,

7 Corum, “A View from Northeastern Europe: The Baltic States and the Russian Regime,” 131.

8 Mart Laar, War in the Woods: Estonia’s Struggle for Survival, 1944-1956 (Washington D.C.: Compass Press, 1992), xiv-xv.

9 Daniel J. Kaszeta, “Lithuanian Resistance to Foreign Occupation 1940-1952,” Lituanus, Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences vol. 34, no. 3 (Fall 1988).

10 Olavi Punga, “Estonia’s Forest Brothers in 1941: Goals, Capabilities, and Outcomes,” Combating Terrorism Exchange vol. 3, no. 3 (August 2013),

11 Punga, “Estonia’s Forest Brothers in 1941: Goals, Capabilities, and Outcomes.”

12 Punga, “Estonia’s Forest Brothers in 1941: Goals, Capabilities, and Outcomes.”

13 The Atlantic Charter was a joint declaration released by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on August 14, 1941 following a meeting of the two heads of government on August 9 and 10, 1941 aboard the U.S.S. Augusta in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. The Atlantic Charter provided a broad statement of U.S. and British war aims. The Charter they drafted included eight “common principles” that the United States and Great Britain would be committed to supporting in the postwar world. Most importantly, both the United States and Great Britain were committed to supporting the restoration of self-governments for all countries that had been occupied during the war and allowing all peoples to choose their own form of government. The eight Common Principles: 1. Their countries seek no territorial aggrandizement; 2. Any territorial changes must accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned; 3. All peoples should choose the form of government under which they will live; with self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them; 4. They will endeavor, to further the enjoyment by all States, to the trade and raw materials of the world needed for economic prosperity; 5. They desire to bring about improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security for all nations; 6. They seek a post war peace affording all nations the means of dwelling in safety and allow people to live in freedom from fear and want; 7. Unhindered freedom of the seas; 8. All nations of the world must abandon the use of force. Nations which threaten aggression must be disarmed, pending a system of general security.

14 Marlies Voelzke, ed., War After War, Armed anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithuania, 1944-1953 (Vilnius: The Museum of Genocide Victims of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, no date).

15 The Atlantic Charter was a joint statement by the United States and Great Britain, issued on 14 August 1941, at the conclusion of a meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt aboard the U.S.S. Augusta in Newfoundland, Canada, through the U.S. was officially neutral at the time and not a belligerent. The document contained eight “common principles.” The reference here is to their commitment to the principle of the restoration of self-governments for all countries having been occupied and for all people to choose their form of government.

16 Voelzke, ed., War After War, Armed anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithuania.

17 Voelzke, ed., War After War, Armed anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithuania.

18 Voelzke, ed., War After War, Armed anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithuania.

19 Voelzke, ed., War After War, Armed anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithuania.

20 Keith Lowe, Savage Continent, Europe in the Aftermath of World War II (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012), 350-354.

21 August Sabbe, the last known Estonian forest brother, was killed while being arrested in Võrumaa in 1978, Estonica, “The post-WW II armed resistance to Soviet power in Estonia.”.

22 Neal Bascomb, The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb (2016).

23 P. Frode Kristoffersen, (2010). Operations GUNNERSIDE and GROUSE- Special Operations during World War II against the German Controlled Heavy Water Plant in Norway. United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Quantico Virgina.

24 Ray Mears. (2003) The Real Heroes of Telemark. Hodder & Stoughton, London.

25 Neal Bascomb, The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb (2016).

26 Ray Mears. (2003) The Real Heroes of Telemark. Hodder & Stoughton, London.

27 Swedish Government (2018) IF CRISIS OR WAR COMES. Information pamphlet to the Swedish population.

28 Speech by Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940.

29 Gregory Fetterman, ”The Suwalki Gap A Proving Ground for Cluster Munitions,” Military Review, July-August 2018, Army University Press, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas,

30 Fetterman, ”The Suwalki Gap A Proving Ground for Cluster Munitions.”

31 Steven Pifer, “I Just Returned from NATO’s Front Lines in the Baltics (And Russia Was On Everyone’s Mind),” National Interest, 25 June 2019,, accessed 11 August 2019.

32 Sebastien Robin, “The Suwalki Gap: The 40-Mile Line NATO is Ready to Go to War with Russia Over,” The National Interest, 13 April 2019, accessed 31 July 2019,

33 David A. Shlapak, and Michael Johnson, Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016.

34 Dave Johnson, “ZAPAD 2017 and Euro-Atlantic security,” NATO Review, 14 December 2017, accessed 9 February 2020,

35 Johnson, “ZAPAD 2017.”

36 Kenneth Dickerman and Loulou d’Aki, “Inside the Swedish military presence on Gotland, the most strategic island for defense against Russian aggression,” The Washington Post, 30 August 2018, accessed 8 February 2020,

37 Otto C. Fiala, ed., Resistance Operating Concept (Version 5) (Stockholm: Swedish Defence University, December, 2019).

38 Fiala, ed., Resistance Operating Concept (v5), p 8.

39 After Action Report, Unconventional Warfare/Resistance Seminar, Baltic Defense College, Tartu, Estonia, November 4-6 2014, p.4.

40 Fiala, ed., Resistance Operating Concept (v5), p 1.