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DOI: 10.5785/43-1-1110
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This article discusses a new form of war, ‘Hybrid War’, under inclusion of aspects of ‘cyber-terrorism’ and ‘cyber – war’ before the backdrop of Russia’s ‘Ukrainian Spring’ and the continuing threat posed by radical Islamist groups in Africa and the Middle East. It discusses the findings of an on-going Hybrid Threat project by the Swedish National Defence College. This interdisciplinary article predicts that military doctrines, traditional approaches to war and peace and its perceptions will have to change in the future.
Scientia Militaria, South African
Journal of Military Studies, Vol
43, No. 1, 2015, pp. 77 98.
doi : 10.5787/43-1-1110
Sascha-Dominik Bachmann,
Bournemouth University, UK
Håkan Gunneriusson
Swedish Defence University
This article discusses a new form of war, ‘hybrid war’, with inclusion of
aspects of ‘cyber-terrorism’ and ‘cyber-war’ against the backdrop of Russia’s
‘Ukrainian Spring’ and the continuing threat posed by radical Islamist groups in
Africa and the Middle East. It also discusses the findings of an on-going hybrid
threat project by the Swedish Defence College. This interdisciplinary article predicts
that military doctrines, traditional approaches to war and peace and their perceptions
will have to change in the future.
The so-called ‘Jasmine Revolution’ during the Arab Spring of 2011
challenged the political order in the Maghreb and the whole Middle East. While
some of the protests led to actual regime
changes and a move towards freedom and
democracy such as in Tunisia events in
other states in the region, such as Bahrain and
Syria, had been less successful and saw the
Assessor Jur, LLM (Stel) LLD (UJ), Associate Professor in International Law
(Bournemouth University, UK). Outside academics, he has served in various
capacities as lieutenant colonel (army reserve), taking part in peacekeeping
missions in operational and advisory capacities The author took part as
NATO’s Rule of Law Subject Matter Expert (SME) in NATO’s Hybrid
Threat Experiment of 2011 and in related workshops at NATO and national
PhD in Modern History, Associate Professor in War Studies, head of research
ground operative and tactical areas Department of Military Studies, War
Studies Division, Land Operations Section, Swedish Defence University.
return of the ‘old order’ of autocratic governments. The collapse of Muammar
Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, the on-going civil unrest in Egypt between supporters of
the ousted hard-line Muslim brotherhood and the military government, the on-going
brutal Syrian conflict and the collapse of Iraq after the withdrawal of the USA have
all significantly contributed to the proliferation and the ascent of evermore powerful
and murderous terrorist groups and organisations across the region.
The use of ‘cyber’
and kinetic responses to international terrorism have
increasingly blurred the traditional distinction between war and peace. Such a
distinction was replaced by the recognition of a notion of new, multi-modal threats,
which have little in common with past examples of interstate aggression. These new
threats to global peace and security seriously threaten our modern Western way of
life within the context of the present ‘steady-state’ environment at home (and against
the backdrop of the ongoing asymmetric conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali,
Somalia, Kenya and Yemen). These new wars “along asymmetric lines of conflict”
constitute “a dichotomous choice between counterinsurgency and conventional
and challenge traditional concepts of war and peace.
This article
firstly reflects on the new notion of so-called ‘hybrid threats’ as
a rather new threat definition and its (temporary) inclusion in the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization’s (NATO) new comprehensive defence approach with a
reflection on the last Swedish experiment. Secondly, it discusses the use of ‘cyber’
in the context of ‘hybrid threats’ before it, thirdly, addresses some implications for
military doctrine arising from such threats. The article concludes with a brief
outlook on new dimensions of possible future threats to peace and security by
highlighting the evolvement of the concept of ‘hybrid threats’ into ‘hybrid war’ by
reflecting on security issues arising.
‘Hybrid threats’ as challenges to peace and security
The novel concept of hybrid threats first gained recognition when Hezbollah
had some tangible military success against the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in
Lebanon 2006 during the Second Lebanon War.
Ironically, the definition of
‘hybrid’ then was that a non-state actor showed military capabilities one originally
only associated with state actors.
Multimodal, low-intensity, kinetic as well as non-
kinetic threats to international peace and security include cyber war, asymmetric
conflict scenarios, global terrorism, piracy, transnational organised crime,
demographic challenges, resources security, retrenchment from globalisation and the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Such (multi-)modal threats have
become known as ‘hybrid threats’.
Recognised in NATO’s Bi-Strategic Command
Capstone Concept of 2010, hybrid threats are defined as “those posed by
adversaries, with the ability to simultaneously employ conventional and non-
conventional means adaptively in pursuit of their objectives”.
Having identified
these threats, NATO undertook work on a comprehensive conceptual framework, as
a Capstone Concept, which was to provide a legal framework for identifying and
categorising such threats within the wider frame of possible multi-stakeholder
responses. In 2011, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation (ACT), supported by
the US Joint Forces Command Joint Irregular Warfare Centre (USJFCOM JIWC)
and the US National Defence University (NDU), conducted specialised workshops
related to Assessing Emerging Security Challenges in the Globalised Environment
(Countering Hybrid Threats [CHT]) Experiment’.
These workshops took place in
Brussels (Belgium) and Tallinn (Estonia) and were aimed at identifying possible
threats and at discussing some key implications when countering such risks and
challenges. In essence, hybrid threats faced by NATO and its non-military partners
require a comprehensive approach allowing a wide spectrum of responses, kinetic
and non-kinetic, by military and non-military actors. In a 2011 report, NATO
describes such threats as,
Admittedly, hybrid threat is an umbrella term, encompassing a wide
variety of existing adverse circumstances and actions, such as
terrorism, migration, piracy, corruption, ethnic conflict etc. What is
new, however, is the possibility of NATO facing the adaptive and
systematic use of such means singularly and in combination by
adversaries in pursuit of long-term political objectives, as opposed to
their more random occurrence, driven by coincidental factors.
The same report underlines that hybrid threats
are not exclusively a tool of asymmetric or non-state actors, but
can be applied by state and non-state actors alike. Their principal
attraction from the point of view of a state actor is that they can be
largely non-attributable, and therefore applied in situations where
more overt action is ruled out for any number of reasons.
The findings of the two workshops were published in the ACT’s final report and
recommendations in 2011. However, due to a lack of financial resources in general
and an absence of the political will to create the necessary ‘smart defence’
capabilities among its member states, NATO decided in June 2012 to cease work on
CHT at its organisational level while encouraging its member states and associated
NATO Excellence Centres to continue working on hybrid threats.
In 2012, the Swedish National Defence College as a Partnership for Peace
(PfP) partner
conducted its own hybrid threat experiment.
The scenario dealt
with a fictitious adversary in the East, not very dissimilar to Belorussia, except that
it was an island kingdom in the Baltic Sea. The situation deteriorated to the point
where neighbouring states were directly affected by a mix of conventional military
and hybrid threats. More traditional threats arose from the attempt to sink a hijacked
oil tanker in the middle of the sensitive maritime environment zone, launching a
small group of Special Forces operatives (SFOs) in Swedish territory and hiring
Somali pirates to hijack Swedish vessels off the Horn of Africa. The latter showed
how a conflict could spread from being very local in one part of the world to involve
remote hotspots in Africa. In this case, the problems at the Horn of Africa could
legitimise actions and events, which originally had their roots in Northern Europe.
The participants of the experiment acted as a committee of advisers for the Swedish
government, and their individual roles represented their normal functions: from
members of the armed forces and national support agencies to the university sphere,
the pharmacological industry, banking and internet security. The experiment showed
that existing and established standard operation procedures (SOPs) made responding
to specific threats rather efficient. This was mostly due to already established
command and control as well as communication and coordination assets and
abilities. The experiment did however also show the existence of shortcomings when
countering multi-modal threats due to the absence of a nationally defined
comprehensive approach for a joint interagency approach. With SOPs in place and
lacking a uniform command and control structure, it can also become harder to
respond in a tailored and united way for government agencies, as all contributing
agencies have their respective tasks and procedures. This lack of comprehensive
joint action and coordination is highlighted by the fact that the government in the
scenario did not have the authority to direct and control the work of subordinate but
autonomous agencies.
The participants of the hybrid threat experiment did
recognise that a coming hybrid conflict would lead to new levels of threat and
response complexity and that there was a need for active, uniform and collective
leadership beyond SOPs.
The participants identified as a weakness the lack of a
comprehensive response and coordination between agencies such as the armed
forces, the civil defence assets and other civilian actors, such as IT specialists and
pharmaceutical experts.
With a shrinking defence budget, the downscaling of
agencies and an obvious lack of civil society to accept the potential existence of
such threat in the future, it seems unlikely that these shortcomings will be addressed
in the near future.
In an African and Middle Eastern context, one cannot generalise as these
states differ in terms of stability and strength regarding the capacities of their
security assets. A state such as South Africa should and could rely very much on
SOPs in order to have a constant high readiness against unsuspected threats. Other
countries with weaker infrastructures and resources cannot expect their agencies to
react swiftly when faced with ad hoc security challenges. The recommendation
should then be to have very able actors (rather than structures, which the SOP
demands) at key positions (at ministerial level and the level below) who can
understand the threat and swiftly tailor a suitable response with the resources the
state has at hand itself and with allied states. The latter is important in general and
certainly so in Africa. As the borders have a colonial past, one should expect hybrid
threats stemming from non-state actors (NSAs), which will eventually encompass a
number of states.
Worrying and of particular relevance in the context of hybrid threats is
the danger of proliferation of advanced weapon systems by NSAs associated with
radical Islam, as for example the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria
and Iraq as well as the increasing use of new technologies by NSAs. The last Israel
Gaza conflict highlights these developments: new technologically advanced rocket
systems, supplied by Iran to their terrorist proxy Hamas, were used against Israel.
The capability of the Fajr (Dawn) 5 rocket to reach both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem has
been shown and has once more shown the vulnerability of Israel as a state when it
comes to conventional, kinetic threats.
Against the backdrop of the on-going conflict in Ukraine and the
classification of the conflict as a ‘hybrid war’ by Ukraine’s national security chief,
NATO’s decision to discontinue working on the hybrid concept as an organisational
objective might turn out to have been made too early.
The role of ‘cyber-space’ in hybrid threat scenarios in post-Cold War security
Despite NATO’s failure to agree to a joint and comprehensive approach in
countering hybrid threats, there is little doubt that “hybrid threats are here to stay”.
Even a mainly conventional war will have a ‘hybrid’ element such as for example a
‘cyber-attack’, ‘bio-hacking’, and even ‘nano-applications’.
Old threats, such as
nuclear threats, can these days be reconsidered as within reach for state actors.
Warnings have already been made that some university courses in nuclear
technology might be in danger of being used by terrorist organisations.
attackers will rely increasingly on technological and scientific ways to execute their
operations, and one of the documented examples is the use of ‘cyber-space’ for
carrying out or controlling ‘hybrid threats’.
‘Cyber-conflict’ and cyber-war’ serve as examples of the use of new
technologies within the scope of hybrid threats. Cyber-war
basically refers to a
sustained computer-based cyber-attack by a state (or NSA) against the IT
infrastructure of a target state. An example of such hostile action taking place in the
fifth dimension of warfare is the 2007 Russian attempt to virtually block out
Estonia’s internet infrastructure as a unilateral countermeasure and retribution for
Estonia’s removal of a WWII Soviet War Memorial from the centre of Tallinn.
Governmental and party websites as well as businesses were severely obstructed by
this incident of cyber warfare, when Russian military operations were augmented by
cyber operations against Georgia. This incident was followed by the employment of
cyber measures in connection with the Russian military campaign in Georgia in
2008. Russia once again acted in a way which utilised the potential of the hybrid
threat as a military strategy and modus operandi, this time in the Crimea.
Another example of how multi-modal threats, asymmetric terror and warfare
are supplemented by terrorist (dis)information campaigns can be seen in the Israel
Gaza conflict. Then and now, Hamas has been employing tools and strategies of
disinformation normally associated with clandestine psychological operations
(PsyOps) of traditional military state actors, such as the sending of emails and text
messages with hoax news updates as well as propaganda ‘news flashes’ sent to
Israeli and non-Israeli email addresses and cell phones and the use of the internet to
disseminate their propaganda.
During the eight days of conflict, text messages
were sent which warned, “Gaza will turn into the graveyard of your soldiers and Tel
Aviv will become a fireball.
The (reported) use of a sophisticated computer worm to sabotage Iran’s
nuclear weapons programmes, called Stuxnet, by presumably Israel, has highlighted
both the technical advancement, possibilities as well as potential of such new means
of conducting hostile actions in the fifth dimension of warfare.
The continuing and
intensifying employment of such cyber-attacks by China against the USA, NATO,
the European Union and the rest of the world has led the USA to respond by
establishing a central Cyber War Command, the United States Cyber Command
(USCYBERCOM) in 2010
to “conduct full-spectrum military cyberspace
operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of
action in cyberspace and deny the same to their adversaries”.
Following these
developments and perhaps supplementing the work of USCYBERCOM NATO
set up a special hybrid threat study group, which is studying possible responses to
such threats, the so-called NATO Transnet Network on Countering Hybrid Threats
‘Cyber’ in the context of armed conflict does not necessarily establish
genuinely new categories of conflict per se; it rather constitutes another and
improved ‘tool’ of warfare, namely ‘cyber warfare’. The military will find new ways
to conduct its operations by militarising ‘cyber-space’ as a force multiplier and
operational capability enhancer, and will continue to operate at the tactical,
operational or strategic level. The increasing hostile use of cyber-space’ by NSAs to
further their economic, political and other interests, and the present problem of clear
accreditation of the originators of cyber activities make it increasingly hard to
identify and counter such threats. Terrorist NSAs (or terrorist proxies of a state
sponsor such as Iran and Syria) are increasingly using cyber capabilities in the wider
sense to augment their attack capabilities. Apart from the above-mentioned use of
‘cyber-space by Hamas as a means of disinformation during the last Israel–Gaza
conflict, ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has been successful in utilising
the cyber-space’ for self-promotion and as a means of psychological warfare in its
operations in Iraq and Syria.
One such example of the role of the internet and social media as an enhancer
and force multiplier for terrorist activities can be found in the Mumbai attacks in
India in 2008. Terrorists from Pakistan attacked the city, with a particular focus on
the Taj Mahal Hotel.
Tactical intelligence during the raid was gathered from social
media and the exploitation of existing mass media such as cable TV. Readily
available home electronic equipment and cell phones were used as means of
command and control’. Terrorist operatives on the ground were directed by their
handlers in what can only be described as a classic war (situations) room in
Pakistan. They were in permanent cell phone contact with the field operators in
Mumbai, and were able to use both internet and major television channels for a
situation update on the evolving situation on the ground, comparable to a situation
report (SITREP) used by conventional armed forces. Live coverage of the attacks
was made available by news channels, and as a novelty, by the social media, such as
Flickr, Twitter and Facebook. The handlers of the operation ‘data mined’ and
compiled this information in real time and communicated operation-relevant
information directly to the terrorists through the use of smartphones.
What one
could observe in the Mumbai example was the amazing readiness, availability and
affordability of using new technologies for setting up an effective and workable
system of ‘command and control’.
This observation is a post-Cold War reality and a direct result of
globalisation and technical advancement. The ways of accessing information in
cyberspace are changing rapidly and are becoming increasingly hard to counter. One
recent example of an ingenious way of ‘hacking’ into otherwise protected sources
involved the use of Google programs for inserting a so-called ‘backdoor’ Trojan for
the purpose of data theft later.
Using the Google server, which already had access
to the information of interest, hackers bypassed any firewall used by the ‘target’.
Another example of using an otherwise ‘innocent’ host like Google for carrying out
‘cyber attacks’ took place in late 2012 when hacker ‘vandals’ defaced Pakistan’s
Google domain along with other official Pakistan websites.
Other examples are the
use of Thingbots such as TVs, media players, routers and even a refrigerator to
send out spam in a coordinated and prolonged fashion.
While spam is mostly used
for phishing activities, it also could be used for DDoS attacks (distributed denial of
service attacks).
To summarise, one could state that the combination of new technology and
the availability of these ‘cyber’-supported or cyber-led hybrid threats is what make
these threats so potent. Command and control capabilities can be established in a
relatively short time and without too much effort, and the media could be used for
influencing the public opinion as a means of ‘PsyOps’, both at home and abroad.
‘Cyber threats’ in general strike at the core of modern warfighting by affecting
command and control abilities, which have become vulnerable to such ‘cyber
Hybrid threats and military doctrines
Military doctrines provide guidance for the military logic of operational
practice. It is therefore alarming that most Western military doctrines are apparently
unprepared when it comes to hybrid threats. It seems as if NATO’s inability and
perhaps unwillingness to formulate a binding comprehensive NATO approach to
hybrid threats is a testament to the perseverance of an overwhelmingly conservative
military doctrinal approach. Time will tell whether this is to change. Latvia regards
the 2014 events in Ukraine as clear evidence that NATO is unwilling and unable to
provide protection at all if Russia was to repeat its Crimean operation in the Baltic
States. A suggestion was made to change NATO’s Washington Treaty so that
Article 5 can deal with this kind of hybrid threats.
This is of course very unlikely
as few of the NATO member states have anything at all to gain from military
confrontation with Russia. It does however send a message to all states within the
Russian interest sphere that there should be no doubt about Russia’s strength and,
correspondingly, NATO’s weakness in this part of the world.
The failure of defining a NATO policy on countering hybrid threats is even
more unfortunate given that the USA has a national military security strategy in
place, which recognises certain hybrid threats as part of new and existing threats to
its national security.
This failure may have its cause in a continuing Cold War-rooted psychology
and thought among the political actors. During the Cold War, the world was locked
in an intellectual doctrinal approach which viewed all conflicts in the context of the
global ideological struggle coded by the laws and political paradigm of its time.
Once the Cold War had come to an end in 1991, new national conflicts arose along
once pacified conflict lines. This new era manifested itself in, for example, the
bloody conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s as a consequence of the breakup of the
old communist regime, and the various conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet
Union. While the Cold War was not necessarily only about the conflict between two
opposing superpowers, nor exclusively about ideological confrontation, it
nevertheless led to a strict division of the world and its conflicts into two major
ideological spheres with only few exceptions, namely the spheres of the US-led
West versus the Soviet-led East. This division made potential threats more
foreseeable and even ‘manageable’.
Since the end of the so-called ‘Cold War’, the world has changed
dramatically and it is clear that this is also affecting military operations and
doctrines. While the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in 1991
removed the original raison d’être of the Alliance, the prospect of having to repel a
Soviet-led attack by the Warsaw Pact on Western Europe, the end of the Cold War
also ended the existing balance of power after World War II and led to a
‘proliferation’ of armed conflicts around the globe. It seems as if the use of inter-
state force has once more become ‘acceptable’,
as highlighted in the two ‘War on
Terrorism’ campaigns, the Russian–Georgian conflict of the summer of 2008, the
NATO-led Libyan Intervention of 2011, and Russia’s recent operations in the
Crimea and Ukraine proper. This potential for future interstate conflict adds to the
above-discussed proliferation of ‘hybrid conflict’ where non-state actors have
become very successful actors, aggressors respectively, in an inter- and intrastate
conflict setting.
The end of the Cold War gave rise to a new way of thinking, which was no
longer based solely on technological capabilities and/or sheer numerical superiority.
It is possible to view the European postmodernism and the ‘fourth generation
warfare’ following 9/11 as parallel tracks, with the latter challenging the paradigm
of the Western positivistic materialism.
While military academics in the Western
world do not lack warnings about the new challenges brought by these changes, it
will eventually be up to politicians to ‘drive’ new initiatives, a prospect often marred
by ‘Realpolitik’, which will determine any policy in the end.
How does that affect military (and) security doctrines? Doctrinal changes for
the military will depend on how the laws of war and the use of force will be shaped
and this, in turn, will be shaped by the practice of those who should adhere to it.
This has been highlighted by examples where legitimacy has been ignored on behalf
of Realpolitik, as the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq show. What one can hope
for in military doctrine is an integration of the rest of society in the common effort to
protect itself from all forms of threats, conventional interstate aggression as well as
new hybrid threats. One such example is the recent suggestion by the UN that states
should and ought to be more proactive when it comes to fighting the use of the
internet by terrorists.
Only society as a whole can protect itself, a task which is not
limited to the military only, but which, on the other hand, cannot take on this huge
task alone. An integration of the capabilities at interstate level, something NATO
refers to as ‘smart defence’, and increased defence cooperation may be the only way
forward to counter the multitude of ever-evolving threats in the future.
The capacity of NSAs to copy the command and control structures of
conventional military has increased with the ready availability of mass-produced
information technology and the possibility to tap into open sources for ‘data
mining’. These developments have changed the traditional view of asymmetric
warfare, where an AK-47 and the insurgents morale were traditionally the only and
often most important factors in achieving victory. The asymmetric warfare concept
used to be an idiom to describe war against opponents who also used to be weaker in
terms of available weaponry and utilisation of technology.
Hybrid threats as such are not new threats; what is new is the recognition
that such multi-modal threats command a ‘holistic’ approach, which combines
traditional and non-traditional responses by state and NSAs as well, such as
multinational companies. Responses to hybrid threats have to be proportionate and
measured: from civil defence and police responses to counterinsurgency (COIN) and
military measures. On the other hand, even NATO has something to win on the lack
of codification. There will be a grey area of conflict where all actors can act states,
as well as non-states. Not that this seems to be the recipe for a bright future, but at
least the possibilities for action will be there, even for Western states.
Hybrid threats and their possible responses challenge Carl von Clausewitz’s
dogma of war as constituting “a mere continuation of [state] politics by other
and might degrade the definition by Clausewitz into an early
modern/modern moyenne durée definition of armed conflicts to use Fernand
Braudel’s term,
namely that of a permanent state of war and conflict of varying
intensity. NATO followed this rationale in its approach to countering hybrid threats,
as they wanted a conventional threat element in the hybrid threat definition in order
to ensure the operational usefulness of its conceptual approach. NATO’s failure to
formulate a comprehensive response strategy to asymmetric and ‘hybrid’ threats is
an omission which will come at a cost in the future. International cooperation on
capabilities is the sine qua non of future counter-strategies in order to respond to
such threats and to be prepared for evolving new threats. This necessity of being
prepared reflects on Sun-Tzu when he said, Victorious warriors win first and then
go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
Conclusion: From hybrid threats to hybrid war
Russia and Ukraine
Russia’s offensive policy of territorial annexation (of the Crimea), the threat
of using military force and the actual support of separatist groups in the Ukraine
have left the West and NATO practically helpless to respond.
NATO seems
unwilling to agree on a more robust response; thus, revealing a political division
among its member states. This unwillingness can partly be explained by Europe’s
dependency on Russian gas supplies but also by the recognition of legal limitations
and considerations, such as NATO’s Article 5 (which only authorises the use of
collective self-defence in cases of an attack on a NATO member state). It does not
seem far-fetched to see the events of spring 2014 as the emergence of a new power
balance in the region. As it was the case with the two historical examples, the
overall outcome will be different from what was initially expected. The recent
events have also brought Russia back into the region as the main player. Russia’s
(re-)annexation of the Crimea in April 2014 is a fait accompli and unlikely to be
revised anytime, and the on-going support of separatist groups in the eastern parts of
the Ukraine where the Russian-speaking minority is in the majority, such as Donetsk
and Luhansk, has seen an increase in open military combat.
Ukraine is already a
divided country, with fighting taking place along its ethnic lines. The break-up of
the old Yugoslavia in the 1990s and its ensuing humanitarian catastrophe may serve
as a stark reminder of things to come. Yet, it is the prospect of such a civil war that
has also removed the necessity for open Russian military intervention. Russia has
begun to fight the war by proxy, by using covert military operatives and/or
Reflecting these developments and having nothing further to gain
from an invasion, Russia announced the temporary withdrawal of regular combat
troops from the border in June.
After adopting a ‘retro’ USSR foreign policy,
Putin needed and found new
strategic allies: in May 2014, he entered into a gas deal with China,
which has the
potential not only to disrupt vital energy supply to Europe but also to question the
emergence of a future long-term cooperation based on mutual economic interest and
trust. Whether these developments herald the coming of a new ‘cold war’ remains to
be seen. What is evident, though, is that the Cold War’s ‘Strategic Stability’ dogma,
which prevented any direct military confrontation between NATO and the Soviet-
led Warsaw Pact, does not exist in the 21st century. New technologies in cyber-
and the use of ‘new warsalong asymmetric lines of conflict ‘hybrid war’
will see to it. Russia’s operation has also shown that the hybrid approach can be
adopted by states as well and not only by NSAs in an asymmetric context. In fact, it
seems as if a resourceful state can wage hybrid war very effectively against
opponents who lack the same resources. For example, one can look at the media
advantage, which Russia had against Ukraine, a media advantage that is very much
the backbone of the Russian new way of waging war. Once again, we have to
remind ourselves that this media component is not a mere side-effect any more but
the very core of post-industrial warfare.
The failure to agree on effective and far-reaching economic sanctions
against Russia has also highlighted the weakness of the globalised economical
system as such. But does the Crimean scenario teach something new about warfare?
Some researchers have focused on the conventional part of the operation.
But it
seems that the use of a term like semi-covert operations in such texts is just a
placeholder for a more accurate term such as hybrid war.
Others have focused on
what is new in Russian warfare, something about which Russia is very explicit.
Among a host of features of the new war, there are some worrying elements we
would like to consider: the non-declaration of war, the use of armed civilians, non-
contact clashes like the blockade of military installations by ‘protestors’, the use of
asymmetric and indirect methods, simultaneous battle on land, air, sea, and in the
informational space, and the management of troops in a unified informational
Why bother with all these methods, as Russia can be strong enough to take
on whatever Russia is interested in within its sphere of interest? Seen from the
perspective of hybrid warfare, it is all about muddling Clausewitz’s dictum of war as
the continuation of politics with other means: no war was to be declared officially
and civilians were to be used instead of combatants. What we have seen in the
Crimea is that Russia acted very much in this way, actually denying the existing of a
state of war but defining military action in a holistic way with armed as well as
unarmed civilians, supported by regular combat elements, doing the actual military
manoeuvre acting. The nature of the conflict remains undefined to a certain extent:
war or civil unrest, interstate aggression or intrastate conflict. The latter was
especially true in eastern Ukraine where the situation was very unclear when it came
to whether Russia actually was active or not in an instrumental way. Against that
backdrop, the following has become reality:
With the advent of hybrid threats we will redefine what war is and
we will most likely go into an era when we must get used to war and
all its implications on society, there will possible be no difference
between mission area and at home anymore, nor will the boundary
between war and peace be well defined. ‘Normality’ will thus be
redefined accordingly in a radical way.
The international community and jus ad bellum are oriented towards limiting
the possibilities of action in regular conflicts as we have come to know them in the
20th century. The hybrid logic of practice effectively amends the rules of war.
Further, the practice of not acknowledging one’s own actions makes the legal
liability a difficult issue.
In Ukraine and the Crimea, we have seen Russia utilising the hybrid
approach. This is a bit of a novelty as when the term emerged at first it was a way of
describing a non-state approach, namely Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2006. One could
argue whether the term ‘hybrid threats’ can still be applied on NSAs, if one lays
claims, that what we have seen in the Ukraine, is a hybrid conflict between Ukraine
and the Russian separatists. On the other hand, one has to look at the logic of
practice in every conflict in order to determine what the indicators are. It is of course
important to note whether an actor is a state or not.
But which kind of indicators do we find in Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab that
we can see as rather new and within the discussion of hybrid threats? For radical
Islamists, the religious and political representations of the West do not match the
attitude of their own culture towards a non-material rationality breaking through in
the West with the Enlightenment. The Western world and its secularisation serve
more like a warning example for these groups. In any case, the rise of the radical
Muslim movements can be seen as a reaction to modernism. Is an upsurge of Islam a
form of neo-conservatism? This is an empirical question which will have to wait for
now. But many of the insurgents in Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab come from
countries where there is little room for anything else than radicalisation when it
comes to political room within which to manoeuvre.
Something that should be taken into consideration is that it is rather
prejudiced to view all forms of religion as a quest for the past. It is possible and
often the case, that religion defends the past. But it is also possible to imagine a
progressive religious movement that, much like postmodernism, embraces and
builds on rather than repels the movement that it reacts to, a concept which will
be further explored later on when presenting examples of contemporary Islamist
movements. Either way, both Islamism and postmodernism can be seen as reactions
to a modernism that culminates in a globalisation and weakened national states. The
trigger of this culmination was the end of the Cold War. Religion can provide
existential comfort in an ever-changing world in a more striking way than
Which similarities between the events in the Crimea and the African theatres
of terrorism can we then identify? Are there any similarities of Russia’s conduct of
operations and NSAs such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab? The most important
similarity is the urge for media recognition, as proper media attention is crucial in
the age of modern mass media communication. Is there something in common
between the Crimean and Kenyan/Nigerian scenarios? Is it the same, and are both
hybrid wars? In our perspective, hybrid threats is a term which should be the
litmus test of what future conflicts are to present to us as our immediate future
reality. Yes, that is true, both scenarios use media as an integral part of warfare, not
just as a collateral effect of the belligerent actions. But in the African radical Islamist
cases, we see the same pattern as we have seen in, for example, Iraq both now under
ISIS and under the insurgency against the USA. The difference in the use of media
is fundamental. Radical Islamists use media as a ‘force multiplier’ for their terrorist
agenda. In the Crimean case, we saw a plethora of misinformation: from the tactical
level up to the Russian president, trying their best to communicate strategically that
they were not involved in the operations while actually being caught red-handed.
Even when three tanks crossed the border from Russia to Ukraine, none of the actors
stated that they were the perpetrators and Ukraine did not push the point against
Russia either.
The common denominator is the use of media in a very central role.
The difference is that Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab try to translate tactical success
into terror, while in the Crimean and Ukrainian examples, Russia tried the opposite
while denying being an active agent. In the former case, jus ad bellum is ignored; in
the latter, it is evaded.
This article was written with the intention of making ‘hybrid threats’ as a
21st-century security threat known to the wider audience despite NATO’s decision
not to adopt a comprehensive approach. This failure does not reduce the dangers of
this category of global risks. Ongoing debate and academic engagement with the
topic and rationale of ‘hybrid threats’, such as the Swedish experiment in 2012, will
hopefully lead to further awareness and eventually preparedness. This submission
concludes with a sobering prediction: it is the opinion of the authors that the present
legal concepts on the use of military force, the jus ad bellum, have become relatively
anachronistic and even partially outdated, something that will not suffice when
dealing with the security threats and challenges of the 21st century. The authors
predict that the emergence of hybrid threats and their recognition as potential threats
to peace and security as such, the proliferation of low-threshold regional conflicts
(such as the 2011 Libyan conflict, Syria and now Iraq), as well as continuing
asymmetric warfare scenarios (such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) will
have a significant influence on the prevailing culture and prism of traditional
military activity, which is still influenced by concepts from the previous century.
With such a change of military doctrines, a change of legal paradigms will be
inevitable: new adaptive means and methods of ‘flexible responsiveness’ through
escalating levels of confrontation and deterrence will question the existing legal
concept of the prohibition of the use of force with its limited exceptions, as
envisaged under Articles 2(4) and 51 of the UN Charter and Article 5 of the NATO
Future direct intervention in failed state scenarios will require flexibility in
terms of choice of military assets and objectives. Future responses to multi-modal
threats will always include the kinetic force option, directed against most likely
NSAs. They will also affect our present concepts of the illegality of the use of force
in international relations, as enshrined in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter with limited
exceptions available under Article 51 of the UN Charter, namely individual and
collective self-defence (cf. Article 5 of the NATO Treaty) as well as UN
authorisation. Already today, the continuing use of UAVs (unmanned aerial
vehicles, or drones) for ‘targeted killing’ operations effectively emphasises the legal
challenges ahead: the ongoing ‘kill’ operations in the so-called ‘tribal’ areas of
Waziristan/Pakistan are kinetic military operations, which demonstrate how quickly
the critical threshold of an armed conflict can be reached and even surpassed. These
operations clearly fall within the scope of the definition of ‘armed conflict’ by the
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the appeal decision in
The Prosecutor v Dusko Tadic
and therefore giving rise to the applicability of the
norms of the so-called ‘Law of Armed Conflict’, the body of international
humanitarian law governing conduct in war. The ‘lawfulness’ of such operations
does, however, require the existence of either a mandate in terms of Article 51 of the
UN Charter (in the form of a United Nations Security Council [UNSC] Resolution
authorising the use of force in an enforcement and peace enforcement operation
context) or the existence of an illegal armed attack in order to exercise a right to
national or state self-defence in terms of Article 51 of the UN Charter. Whether such
military operations are within the scope of these categories remains open to
NATO’s Strategic Concept of 2010 was aimed at prevention as well as
deterrence in general and at developing a holistic or comprehensive approach to a
variety of new conflict scenarios of multi-modal or hybrid threats, from kinetic
combat operations to multi-stakeholder-based non-kinetic responses. Even with the
failure to formulate a binding comprehensive approach to such threats at the
supranational level, the findings of NATO’s hybrid workshops have shown the
significance of such threats and the need to respond in a flexible way.
New roles of states, their militaries and their politicians but also NSAs, such
as multinational corporations and non-governmental organisation (NGOs), are
needed. Geography as a term has already become obsolete as the ‘war on terrorism’
has shown: with its abstract categories of distinction into ‘abroad’, such as ‘mission
area’, ‘area of operations’ and theatre of operation’, and ‘at home’ having merged
into one abstract universal ‘battlefield’ with an often-shifting geographical
dimension. The dogma of ‘flexible response’, which has often been regarded as a
tenet in military operational thinking and doctrine, has lost much of its meaning as a
means of military force projection within the context of hybrid threats.
Hybrid threats pose not only security challenges but also legal ones and only
time will tell how Western societies with their military will eventually adapt within
their existing legal and operational frameworks.
The term ‘cyber’ is used in a wider sense, referring to the use of computer
technology and the internet for operations in the so-called fifth dimension;
‘cyber operations’, ‘cyber war’ and ‘cyber attacks’ are examples of such
operations, depending on their intensity. For a classification of ‘cyber
conflicts’, see Schmitt, M. “Classification of cyber conflict”. Journal of
Conflict & Security Law 17/2. 2012. 245260.
Lamp, N. “Conceptions of war and paradigms of compliance: The ‘new war’
challenge to international humanitarian law”. Journal of Conflict & Security
Law 16/2. 2011. 223.
Hoffman, FG. “Hybrid threats: Reconceptualizing the evolving character of
modern conflict”. Strategic Forum 240. 2009. 1; also see Hoffman, FG.
“Hybrid warfare and challenges”. Joint Forces Quarterly 52. 1Q. 2009. 12;
Hoffman, FG. “Hybrid vs. compound war: The Janus choice of modern war:
Defining today’s multifaceted conflict”. Armed Forces Journal October
2009. 12.
The authors have undertaken some prior work in that field, which reflects on
various other aspects of the topic; cf Bachmann, S-D & Kemp, G.
“Aggression as ‘organized hypocrisy’: How the war on terrorism and hybrid
threats challenge the Nuremberg legacy”. Windsor Yearbook of Access to
Justice 30/1. 2012; Bachmann, S-D. “NATO’s comprehensive approach to
counter 21st century threats: Mapping the new frontier of global risk and
crisis management”. Amicus Curiae 88. 2011. 2426; Bachmann, S-D &
Gunneriusson, H. “Countering terrorism, asymmetric and hybrid threats:
Defining comprehensive approach for 21st century threats to global risk and
security”. Swedish MoD High Command, Internal Paper, releasable to the
public some notions of this article were published prior in another context in
“Terrorism and cyber attacks as hybrid threats: Defining a comprehensive
approach for countering 21st century threats to global peace and security”.
Journal for Terrorism and Security Analysis 2014. 2637.
Hoffman, FG. Conflict in the 21st century: The rise of hybrid wars. Arlington, VA:
Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, 2007, 37.
See for example Matthews, MM. “We were caught unprepared: The 2006
Hezbollah-Israeli War”. The Long War Series Occasional Paper No 26. Fort
Leavenworth, KS: US Army Combined Arms Center, Combat Studies
Institute Press, 2008.
(n 4) supra.
cf BI-SC input for a new NATO Capstone Concept for the Military contribution to
countering hybrid enclosure 1 to 1500/CPPCAM/FCR/10-270038 and 5000
FXX/0100/TT-0651/SER: NU0040, 25 August 2010.
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For a thorough discussion of the concept of hybrid threats, see Sanden, J &
Bachmann, S-D. “Countering hybrid eco-threats to global security under
international law: The need for a comprehensive legal approach”. Liverpool
Law Review 33. 2013. 16. Copyright of the authors is acknowledged;
Aaronson, M, Diessen, S & De Kermabon, Y. Nato countering the hybrid
threat”. PRISM 2/4. 2011. 115.
A programme of practical bilateral cooperation between individual Euro-Atlantic
partner countries and NATO.
Försvarshögskolan. Hur försvarar vi oss mot hybridhot?”. 30 October 2012.
Accessed on 27 January 2014.
A recent example highlights the problem of failed coordination between the Secret
Police, the National Defence Communication and Military Intelligence. The
official in charge did leave office, as it was little to coordinate;
Sverigesradio. “Spionchefer lämnar samarbetsorgan i protest”. 4 November
Accessed on 27 January 2014.
Feedback from scenario participants (answers to Gunneriusson’s call for feedback
by email): University representative 1; Medicine sphere representative 1;
Armed Forces representative 3; Cyber security representative 1 and the
Swedish Defence Materiel Administration representative 2.
Olearchyk, R & Buckley N. “Ukraine’s security chief accuses Russia of waging
‘hybrid war’”. The Financial Times. <http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/789b7110-
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Bachmann, S-D. “Crimea and Ukraine 2014: A brief reflection on Russia’s
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SNDC Hybrid Threat Workshop, Swedish Armed Forces representative.
On biohacking, see Ricks, D. Dawn of the BioHackers”. Discover.
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and Saenz, A. “Do it yourself biohacking”. SingularityHUB. 28 April 2009.
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27 January 2014.
dn.se. Säpo: Högskoleutbildningar kan sprida kärnvapen”. 10 April 2014.
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See in general Döge, J. “Cyber warfare: Challenges for the applicability of the
traditional laws of war regime” Archiv des Völkerrechts 48. 2010. 486.
See Traynor, I. “Russian accused of unleashing cyberwar to disable Estonia”. The
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Accessed on 12 May 2015.
Marcus, L. “Explosive new Arab music video: ‘Strike a blow at Tel Aviv’”.
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thinktank”. The Guardian. 18 January 2011.
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worm opens new era of warfare”. 60 minutes. 4 June 2012.
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With the decision taken in 2009, and initial operational capability as of 2010, see
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May 2015.
See NATO. “Transformation Network”.
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Some of the following content derives from Swedish National Defence College
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reaffirmed in NSS 2012.
… and often questionable in terms of legality and legitimacy, and might qualify as
the prohibited use of force in terms of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. The
planning and conducting of these operations would in the future fall within
the scope of Article 8 bis of the ICC Statute (in its revised post-Kampala
2011 version and coming into force only after 2017, potentially leading to
individual criminal responsibility).
The ideas of the extreme Wahhabism (the religious fundament advocated by al-
Qaeda), that man should live in the same technological conditions as
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