Tag Archives: hybrid warfare

Book of the year prize 2018

Barring the publication of something quite remarkable in the next couple of months, I can now announce the winner of the 2018 prize for ‘best book about Russia I’ve read this year’ – Russian Hybrid Warfare: Resurgence and Politicisation by Ofer Fridman, a research fellow in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. Actually, the title Russian Hybrid Warfare is a bit misleading, as the book is not exclusively about Russia. Rather it’s about hybrid warfare in general, and more specifically about how it has been conceptualized and politicized in both Russia and the West. Readers will come away with a good understanding of how the term ‘hybrid war’ came into being, what people mean by it, and how it has been used, or more correctly misused, by various actors to serve their own political and bureaucratic interests. Russian Hybrid Warfare is succinct, solidly researched, clearly written and jargon-free, devoid of obvious political biases (a rarity in discussions of Russia these days), challenges clichés, and brings nuance and understanding to a field of study too often characterized by black and white simplicities. The one weakness of the book is that it is a little repetitious; Fridman enjoys saying the same thing more than once; he likes to tell us what he’s already told us; he says things over and over. But apart from that, I found nothing to fault. I realize that strategic theory isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but given how hybrid warfare has become part and parcel of public discourse in the past few years, everyone with an interest in international security should give this book a read.

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Debunking myths

In my final post of 2015, I said that I would try to focus more on good analysis of things Russian and less on bad. So here are links to three recent articles which go some way towards debunking some common myths about Russia.

First, Mark Galeotti punctures the myth that Russia is ‘weaponizing’ everything from information to refugees. As Galeotti correctly points out, the weaponization meme, ‘reflects and encourages poor analysis’. He concludes:

Realistically, it is unlikely that there will be any change from the Kremlin. Rather, it will have to be the West that instead starts to wean itself off the addictive temptations of caricature. Not to be the bigger party (though it will be), not on the condition that Russia follow suit (it won’t), but because better policy comes from better understanding.

Second, Michael Kofman points out the fallacy of the concept that Russia is waging ‘hybrid war’ against the West. I said the same back in December 2014, and endorse Kofman’s final words:

We spend too much time chasing hybrid ghosts, confusing ourselves, and diffusing lines of effort. In Washington, Russian hybrid warfare has come to embody Frederick’s [Frederick the Great’s] warning on defending everything; while in Europe they seek to defend against Moscow everywhere. If the West is to come up with a political and military strategy that deals with Russia, it must start by killing bad narratives and malformed analysis: Russian hybrid warfare should be the first on that list.

Third, Sergei Armeyskov denounces the recurring claim that Russia is on the verge of collapse. As Armeyskov says, ‘real Russia’s problems do exist and they serve as the realistic basis for the mythology of “imminent Russian collapse”. This Western “collapsophilia” can be referred to as crussialism (from crush +Russia + [certain amount of] realism). Crushialism [sic] has been an inseparable part of Western master discourse of Russia for years.’ But this crussialism is wrong. According to Armeyskov:

Russia has many serious economic and social problems. I know it much better than any BBCNN ‘Russia watcher’ because I’m a common Russian living in Russia, so I see the signs of crisis every day. But ‘crisis’ doesn’t mean it will necessarily result in a revolution/regime change (we had enough), and even the latter isn’t equal to ‘collapse’.

Amen to all that.

Crackpot theory #3: Hybrid Warfare

Although it has been around for a few years, the expression ‘hybrid warfare’ really caught on in 2014. All and sundry are now repeating it to show that they are ‘in the know’ and understand that warfare is changing in important and mysterious ways.

The theory is that war has undergone a profound transformation. Whereas once it was just a matter of armies fighting armies, now it is a hybrid of military power and other forms of power. According to Captain Robert A. Newson of the US Navy, hybrid warfare can be defined as:

A combination of conventional, irregular, and asymmetric means, including the persistent manipulation of political and ideological conflict, and can include the combination of special operations and conventional military forces; intelligence agents; political provocateurs; media representatives; economic intimidation; cyber attacks; and proxies and surrogates, para-militaries, terrorists, and criminal elements.

And according to NATO:

A hybrid threat is one posed by any current or potential adversary, including state, non-state and terrorists, with the ability, whether demonstrated or likely, to simultaneously employ conventional and non conventional means adaptively, in pursuit of their objectives.

The NATO definition reveals an immediate problem with the idea of hybrid warfare: it is so vague as to be meaningless. But there are other problems with it too.

The theory that it represents something new is profoundly ahistorical. With the exception of the mention of cyber attacks, Newson’s definition above could apply to pretty much any war ever fought. War has rarely if ever been solely a matter of military force. ‘Political and ideological conflict’, ‘intelligence agents, ‘proxies and surrogates’, and ‘economic intimidation’ have accompanied war for centuries.

Even the claim that the non-conventional elements of war are becoming more important than traditional combat is hardly a new one. Martin van Creveld made this claim in his book The Transformation of War 25 years ago. William S. Lind has been making similar claims with his theory of ‘Fourth Generation Warfare’ for just as long. Before that, Cold War theories of guerrilla warfare, insurgency, and counter-insurgency similarly stressed that combat was just one facet of a wider socio-economic-political struggle. And even before that, Clausewitz spoke of war as consisting not just of armies, but also of governments and the people, while Sun Tzu spoke at length about secret agents and the importance of maintaining popular support.

The main example currently used by hybrid warfare theorists to illustrate their case – the war in Eastern Ukraine – in fact proves the opposite. The weapons of choice are rifles, machine-guns, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery pieces, and multiple launch rocket systems. The war in Ukraine is not hybrid warfare – it is war, as traditionally understood.