Understanding Hybrid Warfare
If we study the hybrid warfare through the lens of strategic studies, it is one of the modern shapes of unconventional warfare; a collection of various kinetic and non-kinetic, strategic and tactical methods and manoeuvres to dent the enemy. Most of the modern writers and strategists are of the view that hybrid warfare is a new kind of war but fact of the matter is that there is almost nothing new in it. Yes, these new combinations are more integrated, more effective and result-oriented as compared to the past modes of warfare. That’s the reason why the combinations of these methods have become to known as ‘hybrid’. There are divergent methodologies to wage war through hybrid methods with war zones decentralized and options wide open not only in the use of tactics but also in selection of targets. The effect of hybrid war on the enemy is not primarily physical but psychological, economic, diplomatic and political. To define hybrid war, Frank Hoffman said, “Hybrid wars can be waged by states or political groups, and incorporate a range of different modes of warfare including conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, terrorist acts, including indiscriminate violence and coercion, and criminal disorder.” The conventional weapons and methods of war are also part of hybrid warfare but they are used only in special conditions and at specific level which must be far below the nuclear threshold to avoid escalation. Actually, agility and adaptation, according to the needs, are the salient features of hybrid strategy.
The term hybrid warfare was first used by William J. Nemeth in a paper published in 2002. But he failed to provide neither any agreed-upon nor an all-encompassing definition of the so-called new phenomenon. According to Nemeth, “Hybrid warfare, the contemporary form of guerrilla warfare, is a continuation of pre-state warfare that has become more effective because it employs both modern technology and modern mobilization methods.” Similarly, in the white paper, ‘Defence of Japan 2016’, hybrid war has been defined as “aggression conducted by methods that are difficult to identify definitively as “armed attack” based on their outward appearance, involving a combination of non-military means, such as sabotage and information manipulation, and military means which are utilized covertly.” Combination of various conventional, sub-conventional and unconventional methods has proved more effective and lethal as it would bruise the adversary’s multiple vulnerabilities simultaneously.
Theoretically, the massive proliferation of modern technology through globalization has played a crucial role towards increased complexities in the contemporary dynamics of global politics and international security. These trends have contributed in a hyped scramble among nations for vested interests and power politics at all levels. Through hybrid war, all the possible tactics and methods are exploited to achieve national-security interests and to inflict maximum damage to the opponents without any formal declaration of war and also without any moral or Just War consideration. Also, this type of conflict has blurred the lines of war and peace and the distinction between enemies and friends, state and non-state actors have eroded. Deception, misinformation, lies, blackmailing, treachery and all such vile practices are among the tactical options of hybrid warfare that can be employed to achieve a state’s interests implying that nothing is actually permanent in global arena except interests. These all indicators lead us to, besides theories of unconventional conflict, the theory of Realism in International Relations as the realist school focuses primarily on achieving state’s core interests, accumulation of invincible power and relative gains.
In the past, most of the tactics and methods – that are also part of today’s hybrid warfare – were present in one form or the other, but were not fully knitted together for force multiplication, so their impact was not as profound as that of today’s warfare tools. Another point to understand here is that in the past, the hybrid tactics such as propaganda, deception and information war were used mostly in tandem with conventional military operations. So, those tactics were not themselves such impactful as they are today. In today’s digitalized world, disinformation, fake news, propaganda, etc. themselves have effect and are among the powerful weapons of psychological warfare. Similarly, the use and abuse of information and disruption created in enemy cyber networks can wreak such a huge damage to the adversaries that could be far atrocious than destruction created by conventional weaponry. Also, narratives matter the most in today’s globalized and interdependent world and thus the importance of media, news outlets and social media platforms to forward any specific version are phenomenally impactful. Even a NATO commander, in his presentation at NATO Defense College in Rome, in 2015, dubbed hybrid conflict “imposing your views on others, by force if necessary.” Hybrid warfare, due to its higher impact and practicality, has become very popular in today’s world and is also known as 5th generation warfare.
A nation is on the verge of collapse if its various groups cease to give the impression of common identity, common national history, common interests and a vision of common goals and destiny. Through hybrid methods, the enemy attacks on the fault lines to damage this commonness. If this commonness is weakened, and the sense of nationhood based on state or religion or any other common factor, is depreciated, the chances of the nation’s common strategic culture become elusive. The shadows of strategic instability and threats to national security and integrity start looming over that nation without even a single bullet fired by the enemy. This downgrade may deprive the nation of generating a collective and forceful response to any external threat at any level. Consequently, the nation’s resolve to orchestrate a collective defence to keep its very existence intact gets broken. This is how the societal aspect of hybrid war is crucial and decisive.
Main reasons why states are resorting to hybrid methods of war vary from state to state, depending on their regional strategic environment and security structure, their relative strategic cultures, military capabilities, geographic realities, economic conditions and the nature of threat perceptions. For example, if Russians use hybrid tactics against the US, as many Americans posit, what could be their main rationale? First could be their conventional military capabilities’ imbalance with the US, then the geographic barriers they naturally face, their economic disparity and several other factors. Similarly, America’s massive media and information campaigns against China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and, most importantly, the baseless Islamophobia and storm of ‘political Islam’ are proving no lesser detrimental than any of its direct military interventions. This type of warfare is cost-effective, politically appropriate and strategically safer to execute especially under the umbrella of nuclear hangover. As terrorism is many times dubbed as the weapon of the weaker, hybrid tactics, if employed dexterously, also prove ‘strength of the weaker’. Whenever and wherever direct confrontation seems geopolitically and financially unaffordable, these indirect methods work the best.
To understand the hybrid warfare concept, the South Asian context can be exceptionally helpful. Though hybrid kind of unconventional strategies is very much part of the teachings of India’s historical political forefather Chanakya Kautilya, the dependence of both Pakistan and India on these methods against each other have tremendously increased in recent times, especially after their overt nuclearization. However, even before nuclearizarion, it is no more a secret now that India had made massive use of unconventional and hybrid tactics in East Pakistan to prepare ground before launching conventional military campaign to dismember the country in 1971. Many independent journalists, even Indians such as Asoka Raina, have noted in their writings that the real work had already been done by Indian secret services before Indian troops crossing the international border into eastern part of Pakistan.
According to Pakistan’s perception, currently, “India is engaged in a massive campaign of ‘fifth-generation warfare’ to obstruct Pakistan’s road to prosperity mainly through targeting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Pakistan’s international image.” Arrest of senior Indian military operative Kulbhushan Jadhav from inside Balochistan in 2016 vividly attests Pakistan’s case in this regard. Then, recently, the startling revelations by EU DisinfoLab about Indian Chronicles – India’s well-organized disinformation campaign against Pakistan and China through over 750 fake media outlets – establishes that India is spending substantial resources on making Pakistan vulnerable and insecure on many fronts. Pakistan has handed over more dossiers containing evidence of India’s machinations and subversive activities against Pakistan but Indian authorities have spared no attention for them. Only armed forces cannot fight these wars; so a united, collective national effort, including all sectors of society, is required to thwart these amorphous threats to our national security and integrity.
The writer is a QAU alumnus and teaches
International Relations at University of Okara. firstname.lastname@example.org