Improved understanding of hybrid warfare – a precondition for common and comprehensive action

Dr Johann Schmid, Director COI Strategy & Defence, Hybrid CoE has contributed to the latest issue of the Journal on Baltic Security with an article developing a theory of hybrid warfare.

Drawing on the war and conflict-related events in and around Ukraine, the article examines the actions of the main actors involved with regard to hybrid elements, and duly  derives points of reference to identify and characterise the essence of hybrid warfare.

With the takeover of Crimea by masked Russian soldiers/fighters without national insignia in February/ March 2014, and with the Kremlin initially denying its involvement, war became ‘hybrid’ in our minds. The ensuing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, with separatism supported by neighbouring countries and the armed establishment and military securing of pseudo-state people’s republics – including recourse to pro-Russian fighters ‘on holiday’ – has reinforced the impression of this form of warfare, raising the question: What is hybrid warfare exactly?

The article argues that the specific nature of hybrid warfare is essentially a strategic matter characterised by three key tendencies and their orchestration within a hybrid ‘grand strategy’:

  1. Focusing the decision for the war/conflict as such primarily on a broad spectrum of non-military centres of gravity in a flexible and dynamic manner.
  2. Operating in the shadow of various interfaces against specific vulnerabilities of the opponent, thereby challenging traditional lines of order and responsibilities, creating ambiguity and paralysing the decision-making process of the opponent.
  3. A creative combination and parallel use of different civilian and military means and methods, categories and forms of warfare and fighting, thus creating ‘new’ mixed, hybrid forms.

At the same time, there is a growing sense that hybrid forms of warfare will shape the face of war in the 21st century. They seem to offer unpretentious political success by smart recourse to a limited, deniable and supposedly manageable use of force. The assumption that the risk of military escalation and political damage could be kept within limits may at the same time increase the likelihood of the offensive use of hybrid forms of warfare. For this reason, it is high time to improve our common and comprehensive understanding of hybrid warfare as a precondition for common and comprehensive action in defence and response.

The complete article can be downloaded here.

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