Süreyya YIĞIT, PhD*
Unless the nation’s life is in direct danger, war is a murderous crime.
Abstract. The Russian intervention in Ukraine, its occupation of eastern territories, and the annexation of Crimea provide an excellent example of hybrid war. After such a conflict and previous similar incidents one may well ponder if hybrid war is really a war or not, or whether hybrid war is nothing more than a simple tactical procedure. This article explores the intellectual development of this new concept of war, whether it is a substitute for adopting military, political measures.
Keywords: Hybrid War, Ukraine, Russia, Geopolitics, War
The concept of hybrid warfare has become, alongside false news, trolls, bots, or disinformation, one of the new additions to the international relations lexicon in the last few years. Whilst some consider that there are not sufficient reasons to coin new terms and ideas as they only add confusion to the art of strategic analysis, others argue that hybrid conflict is the product of a natural adaptation of irregular war, contrary to the customs of war reflecting an asymmetric power balance aimed at exploiting the vulnerabilities of regular armed forces in the world today. Others emphasise that this concept is not consolidated, nor is there any consensus concerning a fully accepted definition which only provides the lowest common denominators of media content, unconventional methods, tactics and the asymmetric use of force. Finally, some warn that this idea runs the risk of losing its explanatory value as it has become quite popular for defining any activity carried out by a state or non-state actor without clearly crossing the borderline between peace and war, one example of which is Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, especially the specific territory of Crimea. Defined initially as a warning of tactics employed by the insurgent Chechens against the Russian Army during the First Chechen War (1994-96) the term hybrid warfare has been employed to explain the combination of two or more types of operations either as a traditional, irregular type with its impact being catastrophic or disruptive.1
This article aims to address a series of relevant aspects that allow for a reflection from a strategic perspective. What is hybrid war? Is it an entirely new phenomenon? The birth or the milestone of hybrid war is generally considered the conflict of 2006 that pitted Israel against Hezbollah, a war in which this religious formation could not be defeated – or come out victorious against the powerful and well-trained Israeli Defense Forces.2 In that war, Hezbollah used a mix of militia, specially trained forces, anti-tank missile teams, signals intelligence, tactical and operational employment of rocket firings, unmanned aerial vehicles and anti-ship missiles, being state-of-the-art equipment and weapons in many cases. Faced with this reality, the leaders of the Shiite militia described their forces as a cross between an army and a guerrilla and considered that they had developed a new model.3
Throughout the last few centuries, there have been a large number of conflicts in which such a method has been employed combining regular and irregular forces and procedures as essential means to achieve victory, such as: the United States War of Independence, the Peninsular War of 1808, the civil war of Mao in Communist China and the Vietnam War. In both imperial, Soviet and present stages, Russia used regular and irregular forces, either through their own or delegated from allied countries or similar ethnic groups in most of their wars. To illustrate this point, focusing on the stages of imperial growth, it is worthwhile to remember the role of the Cossacks in the many wars fought against the Ottoman Empire expanding to reach positions in the Balkans, employing the Slavic peoples in the Great Patriotic War.4
Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, wrote an article entitled “The Value of Science is in Foresight” in the journal Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer in February 2013, noting the importance of ideas and soft power.5 In a short time, this work came to be referred to as instigating the new Russian hybrid war strategy. During the Ukraine crisis, which continues unresolved as of writing, approximately 40,000 Russian troops were initially deployed near the border with Ukraine. This display of conventional forces was simultaneous and obviously related to combat actions and destabilisation both within Ukraine and beyond; the repeated statements of President Putin on the possibility of using force to protect Russian populations in their immediate environment; the proliferation of so-called “green men” – people with combat uniforms who were perfectly equipped, in the manner of Russian special forces, with different identifications – occupying sensitive points or fighting in small groups; the blocking of Ukrainian television signals in Crimea – being replaced by those of Russian state television -; the information provided through Russian media – especially the Russia Today channel -; the communications related to economic aid, cuts or maintenance of gas supply; affirmations and denials regarding the presence of Russian military convoys – whether humanitarian aid or not – inside of Ukraine and finally, without analysing in detail the degree of fulfilment of the objectives that Russia could have scored in this campaign, the truth is that, so far, it has annexed Crimea, moreover, two eastern provinces of Ukraine are under the control of pro-Russian forces, all in exchange for economic sanctions. Russia has employed a mixture of special operations, economic pressure, intelligence agents, the instrumentalisation of the flow of natural gas, cyber attacks, information warfare and use of military force, and conventional pressure / deterrence measures to achieve its political objectives. All this, perfectly synchronised, forms part of an operations plan which can be framed and located within the concept that has come to be known as “hybrid warfare”.
Looking at the Russian strategy employed against Ukraine, as shown from Figure 1, it is possible to classify four categories: Leadership, Agencies and Proxies, Channels and Consumers.6 Russian leadership comprises Putin and the Kremlin, the Russian Armed Forces, and other authorities or persons close to Putin. The leading agencies and proxies are identified as the official media, such as Sputnik and Russia Today and the unofficial media, such as the Internet Research Agency. The main channels utilised include social networks with real and fake accounts, bots, western media and unofficial websites. The consumers for such actions include western citizens, politicians and opinion leaders and allied and partner nations of the targeted nation.
Figure 1: Russia’s Strategy
Source: Valery Gerasimov Doctrine. (2021, August 10). Retrieved August 25, 2021,
Russia’s intervention in Ukraine was concentrated through two types of forces: on the one hand, through unconventional armed groups, primarily the intelligence service and on the other, through clandestine military forces. Ukraine’s western partners, especially the United States and Great Britain, initially responded to the threat, offering their support to maintain Ukraine’s sovereignty and calling on Russia to curb its aggressive actions.7 However, in this geopolitical crisis, a logical question needs to be asked: if international law qualifies Russian actions as aggression, and the evidence shows that Russia is waging hybrid war in Ukraine, why does the international community not openly recognise, accept the existence of a war between these two states? The answer to this question can be found in the changing nature of war that is increasingly adapted to technological and social environments.
Therefore, neither Russia, Ukraine, nor the West seems interested in recognising a traditional inter-state war. In reality, the Minsk Agreement, which consists of the representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE, recognises the legitimate qualms of the separatists indirectly; therefore, the existence of a civil conflict is recognised.8 The threat of a potential Russian invasion in the future continues. In this sense, it is crucial to remember that President Putin is preparing for parliamentary elections to be held in September 2021, against the background of a fall in the popularity of his party – United Russia. In this sense, military deployment in Ukraine could revitalise the popularity of Putin across the country. In the unlikely scenario of the Russian Army crossing the border into Ukraine, a completely new stage in the conflict could begin, which would have severe implications for international security.
Taking this reality into account, two hypotheses can be drawn. Firstly, Moscow can try to occupy a position of force to intimidate the Ukrainian President Zelensky and test the position and allegiance of the new American President Biden. It is also helpful to recall Russia’s yearning to recover the territories of its previous sphere of influence of the ex-USSR. Added to this is the fact that, in recent months, the EU has imposed sanctions against a significant number of Russian officials, at the same time limiting business with Russian banks and energy companies. A threat to block the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline could also force Russia to take action.9
Secondly, President Zelensky could take advantage of troops on the borders with Ukraine to request NATO integrate his country into its cooperative schemes as the only way to end the war. In such a scenario, only an action plan for his country’s accession to NATO would stop the intentions of any attack by Russia, which has been assisting separatists to fight Ukrainian forces in Donbass since 2014. So far, quite expectedly, the United States has refused to address the sensitive issue of Ukraine’s integration into NATO precisely because of the hybrid war accepted by the West and the corresponding lack of involvement in the region.10
NATO AND HYBRID WAR
The recent history of Eastern Europe, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, demonstrates that neither NATO nor the EU would include in their cooperation schemes the countries of Russia’s Near Abroad, namely Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, until open and frozen conflicts in their territories – South Ossetia, Abkhazia, or Transnistria have been resolved.11 Consequently, the response of the West, with some neutral exceptions on the part of some EU countries, is, for now, solely supportive of Ukraine, signify only a threat towards Russia, and at the same time, support non-intervention, thus leaving an open scenario for future confrontations in the framework of hybrid war existing between the two countries.
In a statement issued after the 2014 Cardiff Summit, NATO expressly highlighted the term “hybrid warfare threats”.12 The sentiment expressed the need to be able to face such types of challenges, for which, it was pointed out, the Alliance needed to possess the tools and procedures necessary to deter and respond effectively to these threats and the capabilities to reinforce the forces of each nation. The ensuing debate attracted a range of opinions and positions, which were very varied. NATO identified hybrid methods of warfare to include “propaganda, deception, sabotage and other non-military tactics [which] have long been used to destabilise adversaries. What is new about attacks seen in recent years is their speed, scale and intensity, facilitated by rapid technological change and global interconnectivity”.13 Hybrid warfare has also been categorised as being “designed to exploit national vulnerabilities across the political, military, economic, social, informational and infrastructure spectrum.”14
Figure 2: NATO Response to Hybrid Threats
The primary responsibility to respond to hybrid threats or attacks rests with the targeted nation.
NATO is prepared to assist any Ally against hybrid threats as part of collective defence. The Alliance has developed a strategy on its role in countering hybrid warfare to help address these threats.
In July 2018, NATO leaders agreed to set up counter-hybrid support teams, which provide tailored targeted assistance to Allies upon their request, in preparing against and responding to hybrid activities.
NATO is strengthening its coordination with partners, including the European Union, in efforts to counter hybrid threats.
NATO’s Joint Intelligence and Security Division has a hybrid analysis branch that helps improve situational awareness.
The Alliance actively counters propaganda – not with more propaganda, but with facts – online, on air and in print.
Source: NATO. (2019, May 28). NATO’s Response to Hybrid Threats. Retrieved August 25, 2021, from https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_156338.htm#:~:text=Hybrid%20threats%20combine%20military%20and,and%20use%20of%20regular%20forces.
NATO has taken the issue of hybrid threats very seriously, as seen in Figure 2, contemplating what kind of response should be given under such circumstances. Not surprisingly, given that it is a collective defence organisation, the response should be coordinated and incorporate all the allies and reach beyond to other international organisations and like-minded states. Moreover, in keeping with the fluid development of security and threats, the response foreseen goes beyond purely hard security and envisions utilising soft power, attributing far greater importance than before to communication in general and traditional and electronic media in particular.
In all of the conflicts mentioned so far, the general trend has been the mixture of regular and irregular forces, using the most advanced technologies of the time, information warfare – or disinformation for the rest of the world and its citizens – political pressure as well as diplomatic, all of which are well orchestrated and synchronised using the media interspersed on occasions, with simple, straightforward as well as blunt slogans.One need only focus on the recent past, for example, witnessing the actions taken against Georgia in 2008, to assess how effective such a strategy can be.15
Within the framework of the novelty of this type of war, conceptual approaches are being sought from or adapted from the great theorists, whether it is Clausewitz from the Western point of view or Sun Tzu from the Eastern; pointing out the view of the Asian thinker, that war is entirely based on deception, on attacking the enemy’s vulnerabilities and forcing them to confront our strengths. Concerning Clausewitz’s approach towards political primacy and violence of war, they constitute characteristics directly correlated with the concept of hybrid warfare.16 If one does not regard this as a genuinely new phenomenon – at least as an adjective of “war” – the reason for the debate is that it may not be, or can be fully, framed in the concept of “war”.
When faced with the question of what war is, war is a political act, an act of will, and an act of violence. The decision to employ the Armed Forces corresponds to the political level. War was born from a political purpose, this conception being the most prominent of Clausewitz’s contributions to military theory as his insistence on the relationship between war and politics. When, from the political level, it is decided to enter or participate in a conflict – or a war – there are three general questions to consider at each level: the goal (end) to be achieved, the mode (manner) in which it must be reached and the means (ways) to be assigned. For all nations based on democratic systems, the Armed Forces constitute elements subordinate to political power, which authorises their use, decides upon the major strategic approaches, determines the basic guidelines for its action.17 However, specific nuances may be different regarding the role of the government, the head of State or the legislature.
In whichever way, at whatever level, the political objective to be achieved must be defined, an objective that must be reached by the use, in a synergistic way, of the means and resources put to disposition. These, in a simple way, are usually defined with the acronym DIME (Diplomatic / Political, Intelligence / Informational, Military, Economic); in addition, the general mode and limits to the use of these means and resources must also be defined.18 This reality is what is commonly referred to as “Grand” Strategy.19 However closely the modes are analysed, studied, and refined, it will always be necessary to use and put resources at a certain level of risk – even intangibles, such as prestige and credibility – to achieve the stated objectives. To guarantee the State’s survival – if a threat to survival is realised or perceived – all the resources are at stake, which at its maximum extent of the nation results in a case of total war.
To achieve lower political objectives, fewer resources will be allocated; therefore, the degree of force / means / capabilities to be used against the enemy / adversary / other party in the conflict depends on the political demands on each side. Descending from the political level, in the necessary stratification of the leadership levels of war, each level has to design its plan concurrent with that of the steps taken by superiors. Lastly, all levels must be synchronised – coordinated in time, space and purpose – so that ends, means, and modes form a coherent whole. One of the ideologies of total war, Ludendorff, Head of the German General Staff during World War I, explained how total war should be, emphasising the total identification and the use of all the energies of the people in the war.20 Similar to previous periods is the role played by the people, which in previous wars were in full force, forming a compact mass behind the nation’s armed forces.
The degree of force to be used against the enemy depends on the demands and policies on each side. To the extent that they are known, these demands will indicate what efforts must be made by each one; but they are seldom fully known, which may be why the degree of effort is not the same on each side. Nor are the situation and circumstances of the belligerents. This can be a second factor, just as different are the character, the will, and the ability of governments. These three considerations introduce uncertainties that make it difficult to gauge the amount of resistance one faces and, consequently, the necessary means and the objectives to be established.
That is the essence of military strategy, operational art and tactics – at the military, operational and tactical strategic level, respectively. The last two levels are purely military, which indicates that they are not used exclusively for military resources. However, the planning and conduct of the campaigns, battles and combats corresponds – or should correspond – basically to the military command, always within the framework of the stated political purpose. Nevertheless, it is at the top level, the strategic-political level, where the vital questions are decided that, logically and necessarily, delimit and define the framework in which the rest of the levels have to work. Therefore, the military objective contributes to the achievement of the political objective. However, they do not necessarily have to be identical, as Clausewitz pointed out, sometimes the political and military objectives coincide – and confusion in this regard leads to a situation repeated many times throughout history and is fully applicable at the present time: battles and combats can be won, but eventually the war is lost, thus, not achieving the political objective of the contest.21
As a corollary to this sequencing, if the political objective is not clearly defined, is it feasible to get a favourable result if the necessary resources are not allocated or if the modes are constricted excessively? Is it a question of who possesses the will to win? War is a clash of wills. War is an act of force designed to ensure the enemy accept our will. This affirmation, a fundamental nucleus of warlike reality, is completed and qualified in Western thought with the so-called War Trinity, which indicates that this must be explained from the dialectic of three factors: violence and passion, attributable to the people; courage and competence that depends on the character of the military command and the preparation of Armed Forces and, finally, subordination and reason of the political leadership and definition of the political objectives, which are within the exclusive competence of the government.22
Trinity – people-army-government – is crucial to maintain a proper balance and proportion in all types of war – balance to be kept the same in a war that is “conventional” as in the so-called “hybrid” war – because if any of the elements of the trinity do not make their proper contribution, defeat will be inevitable; if the people do not provide the passion, the will to fight, if the government does not adequately exercise its leadership and define clearly the political purpose of the fight and if the Army is not sufficiently prepared, basically if one is not competent, one cannot achieve any decisive results.
This construct, which provides a solid conceptual framework, which continues to have a complete application and is necessary adequately to contextualise the means that can be used to break the will of the adversary, has also had its detractors since Ludendorff, who pointed out at the dawn of the twentieth century that all the theories of Clausewitz must be replaced, hence that is why politics must serve war, denying political preponderance of the war, to, at present, those who question the usefulness of his theories, alleging, basically, the non-adaptation of his theories to the new typologies of conflicts. If one analyses the different conflict paradigms, wars can be observed where the decision-making capacity essentially lies in autocratic governments on the fringes of the people, so that defeat in the battle of the adversary, it is military power that usually prevails. The defeat that Prussia suffered at the hands of Napoleonic France had a significant impact on Clausewitz; analysing its causes, he pointed out that above all, Prussian society had been absent; the country saw the war as a whole matter for the Army.23
In that respect, war is violence. When the word war is used, it implies using a military tool; in the package of resources at the disposal of the political command, one of them is constituted by the armed forces. What differentiates the military tool from the rest of the instruments in the hands of the political command is the possibility and ability to apply force, and it is necessary to understand what that implies and means in terms of application. The actual or potential application of force constitutes the basis of any military activity, and, when military force is used, there are two types of immediate effects, people die and/or material things are destroyed; noting that this destruction serves to achieve the final political objective – for the purpose behind military action is merely to contribute to achieving the political objective – this depends on having adequately carried out the planning process, of having adequately aligned means ends and modes at all levels of operations. A recent noticeable development has led to banning the word “war” and even of the concept. The term “war” has gradually disappeared – even from documents of reference in the military profession – and become replaced by “armed conflict”, by “conflict” by “crisis” or even by “complex humanitarian emergency”.24
It is important to call things by their proper name; in other words, one should not be afraid to use the idiom: to call a spade a spade. By eliminating the word, the concept is also lost: war – as there are still armed clashes – battles replace them, and this, gradually, by combat, by small-scale confrontation and so on, thus proposing the perception of minor violence and, as a collateral effect, a move away from the legitimately exercised violence of society. It is no longer war; they become minor confrontations restricted to the purely military sphere. Consequently, the overall vision is lost; it obviates the system of ends, means and modes from the political to the tactical level, being reduced mainly to the latter. Therefore, victory is usually obtained in confrontations, thanks to the technological superiority and quality of the Armed Forces – one of the pillars of the trinity -, but, if the rest fails, obviously, and despite winning the fights, and even the battles, and although it seems a paradox, the war is ultimately lost.
From the point of view of war, what does hybrid mean as an adjective? Hybrid in its accepted meaning concerns everything that is the product of elements of a different nature. Various other interpretations refer to permanent structures, either to living beings or things or, for example, to fruit being composed of different elements. Therefore, despite not being a strictly military term, what the hybrid concept indicates intuitively and semantically is achieving an adequate and viable result – be it a living being or thing – the fruit of the union or grouping of different elements.
The definitions can be varied, although they pose common aspects; it is feasible to define the hybrid threat as any adversary that simultaneously and adaptively employs a mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism and criminal behaviour in the battlespace to achieve their political objectives, the use of the term combined warfare, compound warfare to respond to the situation generated by the fact of fighting regular and irregular forces in a concerted manner, since their complementary capabilities influence the adversary forcing the deployment of resources that allow him / her to face the panoply of different threats to which he / she confronts, making it difficult for him / her to concentrate, posing the old military dilemma of concentration versus scattering.25 Thus, hybrid war is when at least one of the adversaries resort to a combination of conventional operations and irregular warfare, the latter mixed with terrorist actions and connections with organised crime.
In the heat of new definitions emerging, an ongoing debate is taking place between the terms and meanings of hybrid war, compound war or combined, between the term hybrid war and hybrid threat – of hybrid conflict. Different from conflicts of the past – of which, consequently, many could be classified as hybrid – is the issue of an increase in terrorism capabilities, organised crime and information warfare, and the fact that these capabilities can be integrated. Although each differential issue addressed possesses the importance to narrow the term, perhaps it does not present too much significance in understanding the concept as a whole. The disquisition regarding forces that perform regular or irregular actions are the same or are different forces – such as hybrid vs compound – recalls the debate on whether peacekeepers should be a separate part of the Armed Forces or that they as a whole should be prepared to face such missions.26 As if to further complicate the debate, delegated forces are also used, outside forces – whether allied, mercenaries, related groups – therefore, one more element to the disquisition is added.
All of this represents the potentiality and capabilities provided by employing combined conventional and irregular methods and forces to achieve the noted objectives. It is necessary to consider that a large part of the analysis on this issue focuses on the forces and procedures, means and modes – in many respects, too focused on issues at the tactical and operational level – forgetting to some extent a broader vision associated with their cost-effectiveness ratio, which implies and conditions the choice of those who are necessary to achieve this. In a world where all things are interdependent, the meaning of boundaries becomes simply relative. Therefore, it is necessary to combine all the dimensions and military and non-military methods of conducting warfare in an excellent method of warfare.
The analysis of ongoing conflicts and the academic debate continues to generate and contribute nuances to the hybrid concept: its preponderance in failed states or areas outside of control, the need to assume that this is going to be the typology of current threats and the need to adapt to face them, the assessment of the term hybrid concerning the struggle for the support of the population, the position relative to the fact of having to win in both battle spaces, both symmetrical and asymmetric, desiring to achieve the stated objectives, the idea of increasing the frequency and diversity of hybrid threats, and the variety of media and modes that used to achieve their ends and, lastly, the hybrid concept representing the inevitability of progress in military thought, organisation, and timing.27
Consequently, the actor who intends to wage a hybrid war must have an organisation more robust than that of a simple terrorist or insurgent group or organisation, to be able to organise, plan and conduct this type of war; one will need a wide range of capacities that include the possession of equipment at a certain technological level, so that the difference with the adversary is not too significant, both on the battlefield and for fighting in cyberspace, in the fight for information / disinformation and, on the other hand, one must be perceived as a capable actor with a mission, to generate both the adhesion, interested or not, of related groups or delegates as well as of a human group, part or all of the society in a struggle before which is presented as an option for a viable future.28
In this sense, it is a significant fact to assess that a state always finds behind this typology of threats the ability to deter. In the face of terrorist or insurgent groups, this capacity was, at times, almost non-existent. These circumstances motivate the actors who consider waging a hybrid war have to be states – or proto-states, such as Hezbollah – or powerful and well-organised groups fighting with the substantial support of a foreign state or doing so by a delegation of that state; otherwise, the wide range of capabilities required – state-of-the-art technology, support networks, financing – become too complex to acquire autonomously, at least initially, by terrorist or insurgent groups, however well organised they may be.29 This is one of the essential nuances of this typology of wars, which, in general, always assumes that there is a state behind this type of war, either directly or providing a very high degree of support to their delegates, thus marking a distinct difference concerning an insurgency or terrorist movement, no matter how much they may receive or receive external support.
In light of the above, if a threat of this type can be defined as one that, being able to include a combination of state and non-state actors, in a simultaneous way adaptively employs some combination of political, military, economic, social and informational – the pillars of the Grand Strategy – and methods which are conventional, irregular, catastrophising, terrorists and criminals, it can undoubtedly be the hybrid war or the war of the future. One must recall that all nations need to be able to deter and respond effectively to such threats.
Figure 3: Responses & Recommendations
Hybrid warfare is designed to exploit national vulnerabilities across the political, military, economic, social, informational and infrastructure spectrum. Therefore as a minimum national government should conduct a self-assessment of critical functions and vulnerabilities across all sectors, and maintain it regularly.
Hybrid warfare uses coordinated military, political, economic, civilian and informational instruments of power that extend far beyond the military realm. National efforts should enhance traditional threat assessment activity to include non-conventional political, economic, civil, international tools and capabilities. Crucially, this analysis must consider how these means of attack may be formed into a synchronized attack package tailored to the specific vulnerabilities of its target.
Hybrid warfare is synchronized and systematic – the response should be too. National governments should establish and embed a process to lead and coordinate a national approach of self-assessment and threat analysis. This process should direct comprehensive cross-government efforts to understand, detect and respond to hybrid threats.
Hybrid threats are an international issue – the response should be too. National governments should coordinate a coherent approach amongst themselves to understand, detect and respond to hybrid warfare to their collective interests. Multinational frameworks – preferably using existing institutions and processes – should be developed to facilitate cooperation and collaboration across borders.
Source: Cullen, P., Dr., & Reichborn-Kjennerud, E. (2017, January).
MCDC countering hybrid Warfare project … – GOV.UK. Retrieved August 25, 2021, from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/784299/concepts_mcdc_countering_hybrid_warfare.pdf., p. 4.
The options available to states in responding to hybrid threats can be seen in Figure: 3. From the outset, states need to identify their weaknesses, to be prepared to defend against any attacks directed towards those particular areas. Preparedness needs to go beyond the established hard security agenda and include non-military sectors. A national threat assessment needs to be conducted, which must not be limited to the military but go beyond all the parameters of state institutions and responsibilities. Specifically, the response of the state needs to be systemic and synchronised as well as international, calling on allies to defend against an attack on collective values and interests.30
Over time the margin of manoeuvre for threats becomes much more significant. Deterrence must be accompanied by certain proactivity in order to avoid staying in the field of reaction and cede the initiative entirely to the adversary; within the framework of international legitimacy, it is feasible to use the range of tools of the Grand Strategy – including the military – without reaching the outbreak of the armed conflict, as clear evidence of the determination to maintain and guarantee the priority political objectives, interests and permanent values of society.
The way to respond to these threats was written centuries ago; even if limited, war requires the use of the necessary capabilities from among all that a nation has, not only military resources. Those capacities – means – must be perfectly coordinated, both vertically horizontally, from the political to the tactical level, to be able, with sufficient breadth that provides and guarantee scope for action to achieve the political end. At the highest level, the difficulty of coordination is severe; power, which in democratic societies lies with the citizens, logically is compartmentalised and distributed, decentralised and limited, which, obviously, delays and slows down any response – such as necessary for the case at hand – that requires a wide range of means and decisions to be made.
In the final analysis, Russian strategic thinking since the end of the Cold War has been to pay far greater attention to the non-military dimension of security. It was primarily this trail of thought that prompted Gerasimov to identify that the status of war as an armed conflict had substantially changed, signifying the reduced importance of regular forces.31 In 2019, Gerasimov further elaborated on future trends by remarking, “An analysis of the nature of contemporary wars has shown a significant increase in the importance of informational dimension. A new reality of future wars will also include the transfer of hostilities precisely into this area. Information technology essentially is becoming one of the most promising types of weapons.”32
Needless to say, there are very few detractors concerning this view. At a tactical and, to some extent at an operational level, Sun Tzu’s metaphor of water avoiding strong points, adapts, wears down weak points and finally achieves its objective, has had a complete response in the Armed Forces on many occasions to adapt to the reality of the environment.33 Such adaptation and flexibility are achieved with leadership and initiative, confidence and commitment, the backing and support of all levels both lower and higher, with clear guidelines and extensive training becoming polyvalent. War does not just face military forces; it confronts the wills of human groups; if with all the nuances mentioned, we live in an era of relative peace, and hybrid war is not a new war; it remains nevertheless a war. Hybrid war as witnessed in Ukraine remains unresolved.34 It looks quite likely that the concept of hybrid war, similar to the global pandemic, is here to stay and susceptible to enduring multiple mutations. It will remain a vital threat facing all states for the foreseeable future.
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1* Professor of Politics and International Relations, School of Politics and Diplomacy, New Vision University, Tbilisi, Georgia
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