Hybrid Warfare

This new form of warfare avoiding a clear differentiation between war and peace, soldiers and civilians is practices by all sides of the different divides. The US definition characterizes Hybrid Warfare as “Synchronized use of multiple instruments of power tailored to specific vulnerabilities across the full spectrum of societal functions to achieve synergistic effects.”

Posted on 10/5/18
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
(Image by Mattia Panciroli, CC license)

Hybrid Warfare came to prominence in the 21st century, the “Age of Globalization” that has opened up many new technologies and communication options and shrunk distances. According to Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz “Every age has its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions, and its own peculiar preconceptions.”  While fighting wars in a conventional manner. Russian General Gerasimov holds that “In the 21st century we have seen a tendency towards blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template”


This new form of warfare avoiding a clear differentiation between war and peace, soldiers and civilians are practices by all sides of the different divides. The US definition characterizes Hybrid Warfare as “Synchronized use of multiple instruments of power tailored to specific vulnerabilities across the full spectrum of societal functions to achieve synergistic effects.” Russian scholar Korybko, on the other hand, says “Hybrid Wars can be defined as “externally provoked identity conflicts, which exploit historical, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and geographic differences within geostrategic transit states through the phased transition from Color Revolutions to Unconventional Wars in order to disrupt, control, or influence multipolar transnational connective infrastructure projects by means of Regime Tweaking, Regime Change, and/or Regime Reboot.”


While clear differences may be visible between the two definitions, in common they envisage military strategy that employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyber warfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy and foreign electoral intervention. By combining kinetic operations with subversive efforts, the aggressor intends to avoid attribution or retribution. Hybrid warfare can be used to describe the flexible and complex dynamics of the battlespace requiring highly adaptable and resilient responses.


A variety of terms are used to refer to the hybrid war concept: hybrid war, hybrid threats, hybrid influencing or hybrid adversary (as well as non-linear war, non-traditional war or special war).  Hybrid warfare employs means other than conventional military troops, tactics, and strategies, to include the employment of irregular military and paramilitary forces like guerrillas, paramilitaries, etc. Islamic State, Hamas, and Hizbullah use terrorist acts as a means. Use of non-violent means by civilian institutions include psychological assaults using ethnic, religious or national vulnerabilities, provocateurs operating behind enemy lines, economic assaults through sanctions, boycotts and punitive tariffs so as to weaken the enemy economy, cyber assaults at elections and referendums, use of big data for manipulation of referendums like Brexit and the US elections and a vast selection of propaganda warfare via electronic and social media, TV channels and publications. Diplomacy is as much involved in this new type of warfare as is fake news.


The relative novelty of hybrid warfare today lies in the ability of an actor to synchronize multiple instruments of power simultaneously and intentionally exploit creativity, ambiguity, non-linearity and the cognitive elements of warfare.  Conducted by both state and non-state actors Hybrid warfare typically tailored to remain below obvious detection and response thresholds, and often relies on the speed, volume, and ubiquity of digital technology that characterizes the present information age. Already prevalent and widespread in the world and in Pakistan Hybrid Warfare is likely to grow as a challenge. For us it is important to understand its character, its underlying ideology and forms in order to be able to devise appropriate answers to it.


The combination of conventional and irregular methods has been in use throughout history. A recent book titled “Hybrid Warfare. Fighting complex opponents from the ancient world to the present” contains articles that acquaint us with different historical examples of hybrid warfare including the British “Great Game” and others. States and militaries use a variety of means to ensure that conventional warfare successful, these include using agents behind enemy lines to collect intelligence of the enemy strength or to influence the enemy by spreading rumors and fake news. Sun Tzu’s  book  “Art of War” written probably in the 5th c. BC describes methods of intelligence gathering behind enemy lines and methods of guerrilla warfare. The work has influenced many war-farers in East Asia from Mao Zedong to Ho Chi Minh. The Indian ‘Arthashastra’ (2 century. BC) is a textbook of statecraft and political economy that provides a detailed account of intelligence collection, processing, consumption, and covert operations, as indispensable means for maintaining and expanding the security and power of the state.


Closer to our time is the British “Great Game” that aimed to stop the Russian advance in Central Asia and defend the British colonial holdings in the subcontinent. As described by Kipling in “Kim”, the British used their intelligence network. They exploited conflicts and jealousies between Afghan tribes to make them proxies for their plans. Both British and Russians used traders, explorers and others to further their respective imperial interest.


One major ‘false flag operation’ by the British secret service was lieutenant (late Colonel) Thomas Edward Lawrence initiative, under the guise of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ successfully incite the Arab tribes to revolt against the Ottoman Empire and helped to Balkanize the Arab world into many small states that could be played against each other of special interest are the Chindits, long-range penetration units named after a mythical Burmese beast. Special operations units of the British-Indian army founded in 1942 in Jhansi they saw action in 1943–1944, during the Burma Campaign of World War II raiding operations against the Imperial Japanese Army, especially long-range penetration: attacking Japanese troops, facilities, and lines of communication, deep behind Japanese lines.  Not too long ago a special unit was created in the British Armed Forces by Gen Nicholas Carter to carry out Hybrid Warfare, not surprising it is called the 77th Brigade, same as the Chindits.


There is no uniform understanding of the term and its implications of hybrid warfare. The US Department of Defence (DD), NATO and EU see Hybrid Warfare mainly as a means to undermine democratic states and democracy as such. Col. Frank Hoffman’s approach is to see it as a combination of regular and irregular warfare that includes the use of terrorist acts and extreme violence. The US Army Chief of Staff defined a hybrid threat in 2008 as an adversary that incorporates “diverse and dynamic combinations of conventional, irregular, terrorist and criminal capabilities” and the United States Joint Forces Command defined a hybrid threat as, “any adversary that simultaneously and adaptively employs a tailored mix of conventional, irregular, terrorism and criminal means or activities in the operational battlespace. Rather than a single entity, a hybrid threat or challenger may be a combination of state and non-state actors”.  In 2011 the U.S. Army defined a hybrid threat as “the diverse and dynamic combination of regular forces, irregular forces, criminal elements, or a combination of these forces and elements all unified to achieve mutually benefiting effects”.


An opposite understanding of this new type of warfare is held by the Russian military. They understand it as a Western plot against the new Russia-China axis and use Hybrid Warfare to prevent implementation of the Eurasian concept and Russia‘s return as a global power. A prominent example is the article of Russian general Valeri Vasilyevitch Gerasimov, the current Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, and first Deputy Defence Minister appointed by President Vladimir Putin in 2012. In February 2013 he published a widely noticed article titled “The Value of Science Is in the Foresight: New Challenges Demand Rethinking the Forms and Methods of Carrying out Combat Operations”. Gen. Gerasimov did not use the term ‘hybrid war’ but called it “indirect and asymmetric methods” – other than sometimes stated he did not attempt to develop a doctrine that was later practiced in Ukraine, but he considers ‘indirect and asymmetric methods’ as tools from the toolbox of the West.


Because the article was published approximately a year before the Maidan revolt in Ukraine that set in motion a chain of events ending with the Russian occupation of Crimea and the civil war in Eastern Ukraine the views expressed in the article were understood in the West as an expression of Russia’s understanding of hybrid warfare. Mark Galeotti, Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Institute of International Relations translated the article into English and posted it in his blog. To make the thing catchier he called it the “Gerasimov doctrine” though even then he admitted that it was not a doctrine. The term “Gerasimov doctrine” was picked up and started a ‘destructive life’ of its own. Today Galeotti is sorry to have created the term admitting “it doesn’t exist, “the longer we pretend it does (exist), the longer we misunderstand the — real, but different — challenge Russia poses.


Charles K. Bartels a Russian linguist and analyst at the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas said that Gerasimov doesn’t use the term ‘hybrid war’ what he mentioned was the idea of “indirect and asymmetric methods” that has been interpreted by the West as hybrid war. From the Russian point of view ‘indirect and asymmetric methods’ are from the toolbox of the West. For the Russians Hybrid Warfare is a Western attack on Russia to encroach on what they consider their comfort zone or their territory of influence, when Yugoslavia was divided by an unannounced and unsanctioned by the UN war on Serbia in the 1990ies, foreign interference in Transnistria in the 1990ies, in Georgia in 2008 and in the Ferghana valley in 2010. He writes: “The Russian military has been adamant that they do not practice a hybrid-war strategy.


Western and Russian ideas about and definitions of hybrid warfare are different and much wider than those in the West. Gerasimov rather means irregular warfare or asymmetric tools in an otherwise rather modern but conventional warfare. One figure used by him also shows that he sees the war in today’s world conducted by non-military means in a ratio of 4:1. That includes false flag operation like use of chemical weapons by rebels that can be blamed on the Syrian government, economic sanctions and rupture of diplomatic ties and even regime change.


A political analyst and a regular contributor to several online journals, Andrew Korybko is a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia. His recent (2015) book “Hybrid wars: The indirect adaptive approach to regime change” which is available online. Written three years after General Gerasimov’s article one can detect the change that has taken place: While Gerasimov was not even using the term Hybrid Warfare Korybko is written a book about it.


The basic understanding between the two seems to be the same in Russian understanding the main aim of Hybrid warfare is regime change – a tool of the West used to encroach upon the Russian sphere of influence. Korybko writes: The  book focuses  on  the  new  strategy  of  indirect  warfare  that  the  US  has  demonstrated  during  the  Syrian  and  Ukrainian  Crises.” Korybko treats Hybrid Warfare not only as an attack against Russia but against the Eurasian concept and the initiatives to implement it, i.e. OBOR and China. He mentions the name of Mackinder, the British geographer who predicted the Eurasian concept to be the ‘pivot of history’. As a motto, he uses the Chinese Sun Tzu “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” From that can be easily deducted that Russian understanding of hybrid warfare is based on Russia’s experience with Western encroachments on what they consider their comfort zone.


The first part of extracts from a talk delivered at the National Defence University (NDU) recently by the defense and security analyst.




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