Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Review: What is Hybrid Warfare?

I did not review this article previously, it was pointed out to me yesterday.

I do not have a problem with this article, however, it fails in its originality and inclusiveness.

Putting aside the debate if the term Hybrid Warfare is even a legitimate term, let’s assume it is an acceptable if perhaps temporary term.

There are two very major forms of warfare being used as a part of Russian hybrid warfare which are not addressed and should be.

The first is Religious Warfare, the most recent event being the removal of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine from the Russian Orthodox Church.  From all appearances, the fact that the Ecumenical Orthodox Church has granted a Tomos of Encephaly, or independence, to the now renamed Orthodox Church of Ukraine means the Russian Orthodox Church is no longer the numerically largest Orthodox Church.  This also means the Russian Orthodox Church, often viewed as merged at the hip with the Russian Government, no longer wields practical power over that part of Ukraine.

The second is Lawfare, best illustrated in “Lawfare” – the forgotten element of Russia’s hybrid war against the West.  Russia is using Lawfare to not only undermine the rule of law in the West but uses Lawfare to blame-shift the West. Russia accuses the West of doing exactly what Russia is doing and uses the legal system as a weapon or a tool to try to establish that precedent.

Russian Hybrid Warfare is, first and foremost, a Whole-Of-Nation effort.  Every part of the Russian government is expected to support the Russian state and use every means at their disposal to attack the West, focusing on Ukraine, the UK, and the US. Every state-owned and independent corporation is expected to support the state by any means possible. Every Russian NGO should be viewed as suspect in doing the same, as are many Russian citizens.

If this perspective appears cynical, Russia has established this as their new norm through the constant and consistent establishment and reinforcement of this over the past five years. Denials, deceptions, and other rebuttals of responsibility are also Russia’s new norms.  Russia is never at fault and Russia is always the victim are the two key phrases seemingly uttered at every opportunity while pointing a finger at others.  Blameshifting is the norm, with sometimes as many as 32 alternate theories offered other than reality.

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The term “hybrid warfare” describes a strategy that employs conventional military force supported by irregular and cyber warfare tactics.

Conventional Western concepts of war are incompatible and fundamentally misaligned with the realities of conflict in the twenty-first century. The emergence of a unipolar post-Cold War world order has resulted in a significant paradigm shift.

This change now requires the U.S. and its allies to adopt a new legal, psychological, and strategic understanding of warfare and use of force, particularly by state actors.

The term “hybrid war” (military institutions use the term “hybrid threat”) connotes the use of conventional military force supported by irregular and cyber warfare tactics. In practical application, the Russian concept of “nonlinear conflict” exemplifies hybrid warfare strategy.

Linear conflicts are defined by a sequential progression of a planned strategy by opposing sides, whereas nonlinear conflict is the simultaneous deployment of multiple, complementary military and non-military warfare tactics.

Nonlinear Warfare

A nonlinear war is fought when a state employs conventional and irregular military forces in conjunction with psychological, economic, political, and cyber assaults. Confusion and disorder ensue when weaponized information exacerbates the perception of insecurity in the populace as political, social, and cultural identities are pitted against one another.

This “blurring” divides influential interest groups and powerful political organizations by exploiting identity politics and allegiances. Additionally, nonlinear warfare tactics act as a deterrent towards a more powerful ally of the besieged state.

To use the Ukrainian conflict as an example, Russian tactics in the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent civil war in eastern Ukraine caught the West off guard (the U.S. and U.K., in particular) and unable to guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Causes and Consequences

NATO’s inaction can, at least, partially be attributed to the rigid military taxonomy presently employed to define warfare. More critically, Russian military and intelligence experts have accurately identified and exploited international legal frameworks governing the use of force against a sovereign state.

Take, for instance, the dichotomy that exists in the realm of international law between the concept of “war” and the idea of cyber conflict, electronic warfare, and information warfare. To date, there hasn’t been any measurable Western response to Russian hybrid aggression.

Unless the legal framework defining an act of aggression is reworked, liberal democracies are at risk. Presently, it seems increasingly clear that the primary means of ensuring the continued rule of law is by overhauling our traditional interpretation of conflict. The West must develop a framework of strategic deterrence of weaponized information, finance, and other subversive forms of aggression. A “one size fits all” policy would not be an effective deterrence.

U.S. military planners must emphasize non-linear thinking in conflict modeling.

Analysts should review conflicts independently. The degree with which states will employ non-military and active measures will vary significantly, as will the actual measures themselves. While this factor complicates the development of a usable framework for countering hybrid threats, it is not a complete impediment.

Further, the flexible nature of hybrid warfare allows for more of a “trial-and-error” approach to foreign intervention, not unlike the agile development process used in marketing and technology firms. Russia’s continued Ukrainian escapades exemplify the concept of agile warfare. The proliferation of such tactics allows for a much more efficient and less-costly forum to test the efficacy of proposed nonlinear tactics.

Developing a comprehensive suite of actor-specific offensive-defense or defense-through-guaranteed-aggression policies—underwritten by a demonstrated ability to launch a multilateral response—would serve as one measure to dissuade further aggression from irregular powers and rogue states.