If you want to understand international affairs but only have time to read one academic article, the one I’d recommend would be Robert Jervis’ “Hypotheses on Misperception,” published in World Politics in 1968. It contains 14 hypotheses about how states misperceive one another, creating many of the problems which endanger international security. None of it is exactly rocket science, but it’s the kind of obvious truth that needs to be said, and then repeated over and over again, because people seem to be unable to take it in.
I give the article to students in my defence policy course so we can discuss things such as “Hypothesis 8 is that there is an overall tendency for decision-makers to see other states as more hostile than they are,” and “Hypothesis 9 states that actors tend to see the behavior of others as more centralized, disciplined, and coordinated than it is.” Obvious stuff, as I said, but it comes in useful when we move on to discuss other matters such as this week’s class topic, which was hybrid warfare.
Long-term readers of this blog will know that I’m not a fan of the concept of hybrid warfare, but as it’s something students of defence policy will hear a lot about I kind of have to discuss it, for which purpose I googled around looking for suitable diagrams to use to explain the idea. In the process, I came across this one that accompanied an interview a couple of years ago with a guy called Mark Voyger who was at one time a special advisor to Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the former Commanding General of US Army Europe.
I thought this depiction of the Russian ‘hydra’ with multiple tentacles emanating from a central core to attack the ‘target nation’ was great because it so clearly demonstrates hypotheses 8 & 9 mentioned above, as well as highlighting the absurdity of the hybrid warfare concept.
For what it does is label absolutely everything ‘war’. Intelligence, diplomacy, law, social-cultural activities, cyber, information, energy, economic relations, infrastructure, crime, and conventional military forces are not just intelligence, diplomacy, law etc. They’re WAR!! Which if you think about it is kind of odd. Isn’t diplomacy meant to be kind of the opposite of war? Why are social-cultural activities (e.g. cultural exchanges) war? Why are information or economic relations war? It’s an extraordinarily paranoid view of the world, in which everything another state, or its citizens do, is part and parcel of a campaign to destroy us from within. They don’t trade with us to get rich. No, they trade with us to subvert us! And so on.
In short, the hybrid warfare concept is pretty much an embodiment of hypothesis 8, allowing those who propagate it to exaggerate threats, and make just about everything a matter of security. That, if you think about it, is more than a little scary. Trade, diplomacy, culture, etc. shouldn’t be securitized. But it’s also conceptual dodgy – after all, when everything is war, then the term war loses any meaning as something distinct.
Beyond that, the Russian hydra model in the diagram above perfectly illustrates hypothesis 9 – i.e. the tendency, “to see the behavior of others as more centralized, disciplined, and coordinated than it is.” For in the diagram, all the tentacles come out of a single core, suggesting that the Russian political leadership is coordinating everything everybody in Russia does and directing it towards a single common purpose – destroying the “target nation.” Which is of course absurd – not only does it exaggerate the Russian state’s power and abilities, but it also ignores the fact that many of those engaged in activities such as cultural exchanges, trade, the media, etc., etc., are following their own agendas not those of the state.
Unfortunately, the hydra model seems quite well entrenched in Western thinkers’ minds. I was looking today at the British government’s new review of foreign and defence policy, and it had the following to say:
A more integrated approach supports faster decision-making, more effective policy-making and more coherent implementation by bringing together defence, diplomacy, development, intelligence and security, trade and aspects of domestic policy in pursuit of cross-government, national objectives. The logic of integration is to make more of finite resources within a more competitive world in which speed of adaptation can provide decisive advantage. It is a response to the fact that adversaries and competitors are already acting in a more integrated way – fusing military and civilian technology and increasingly blurring the boundaries between war and peace, prosperity and security, trade and development, and domestic and foreign policy.
You get it – foreign, “malign” states have fully integrated policies, “blurring the boundaries between war and peace” by coordinating defence, diplomacy, trade, etc., etc, in a seamless strategy of aggression.
And here we run into another danger of the hybrid warfare theory. On the basis of the myth of the hybrid ‘hydra’, Western states are now arguing that they need to become the hydra themselves. I can’t see it ending well.