“War has changed its character. More recently the reasons for which war has fought have changed in order of importance”, these are the words of George Orwell used to depict the state of warfare in his dystopian society of 1984. However, these words best describe the contemporary era of hybrid warfare.
We’re living in an era of warfare where words are more dangerous than bullets and where data can be used to engineer the perception of masses creating chaos. Information has been weaponized and can incite the adversary’s religious and ethnic fault lines. People can be conditioned to stand against their national interest and question their security institutions. Therefore, it is imperative to carry out a detailed examination of Hybrid Warfare to analyze its threats and develop a comprehensive strategy against it.
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Hybrid Warfare: origin and definition
This postmodern concept of warfare came into limelight through two strategic papers: The Value of Science, a foresight written by Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov, in 2013 and Russian new Military Doctrine announced in 2014. Both these documents talk about the new method of warfare: Hybrid Warfare. According to them, this method is the cobweb of both conventional as well as unconventional methods. Hybrid Warfare includes military measures, sabre-rattling, coercive diplomacy along with psychological engineering through information, political intervention, economic blackmailing and cyber threats.
Aspects and objectives
The aspects of Hybrid warfare are different from the conventional methods on three grounds: adversary is complex and fluid, techniques are blended of traditional and non-traditional methods and battlespace is not only the conventional ground but also cyberspace and indigenous population with protest potential.
Similarly, the objective in hybrid warfare is not always to secure immediate victory over the adversary. Instead, the main goals are to soften the adversary, isolate it, demoralize it before the actual conflict. In short, it is a technique to secure a victory without bloodshed.
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Threats of Hybrid Warfare
The threats of Hybrid Warfare are multidimensional which makes them difficult to comprehend. Therefore, it is imperative to use the best available case studies of hybrid warfare. Russian Invasion of Crimea 2014, information campaign against western democracies and Indian unrelenting campaign against Pakistan to secure its strategic interest are the kinds of threats posed by this postmodern concept of warfare.
Threat of psychological engineering and constructed chaos
“Words also shoot”, noted the Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu when opening the first military media festival in Russia in 2015 because words are real weapons. They can kill the idea as well as engender new ideology, they can erode public faith as well as construct chaos. Therefore, the words or flow of disinformation is considered a serious threat posed by Hybrid Warfare.
The juggler of this dangerous game is none other than Russia. For example, in the Baltic states, Russian-owned media outlets exploit fears of U.S. abandonment among the population while stoking Soviet nostalgia and feelings of alienation among ethnic Russian. In Romania, they erode public belief in democratic institutions by creating the impression that EU accession was a failure; and they portray anti-corruption and reform initiatives as foreign intervention.
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In the same way, Indian efforts to exploit the protests of Pakistan Tahafuz Movement (PTM) and disseminate the propaganda against Pakistan army, its attempt to pitch the Pakistani masses against its institutions, sow the seed of hatred and divide the public into ethnic, sectarian and linguistic grounds are the manifestation of the same psychological game. It is the main threat of hybrid warfare: an internal manoeuvre employed by a country to advance its villainous aims to eviscerate the victim’s country internally.
Threat of political interference
Hybrid warfare also made it possible to influence the adversary’s political system, interfere in it and delegitimize its democratic process to trigger political anarchy. The classic case study in this regard is Russian intervention in the US presidential election of 2016.
An assessment report titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”, issued in January 2017 by the American Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), stated that the Russian administration through fake news, propaganda, BOTS, echo chambers and logarithms on social media platform had favoured presidential candidate Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
The Washington Post wrote while quoting Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s product manager for civic engagement, “It’s abhorrent to us that a nation-state used our platform to wage a hybrid warfare intended to divide society”.
The exploitation of ethnic and religious fault lines
Another major threat of hybrid warfare is that it can incite the socially backward and frustrated masses of rival state towards separatism, extremism and terrorism. The best example in this regard is the Indian sponsored Free Balochistan campaign at International fora.
In September 2017, political analyst Agha Iqrar Haroon asserted that India had spent INR 7 billion to run an anti-Pakistan campaign in Geneva, Switzerland. The main objective was to mobilize the self-exiled elements who felt sympathetic towards India’s approach towards Balochistan by giving them a sense of importance and cause.
Similarly, during Asia-Bibi episode in Pakistan, the interior ministry claimed that Indian state tried its best to exploit the crisis because religious protests are always a soft target for the enemy. Shehryar Afridi, the then interior minister claimed that around 160 tweets per minute were generated from the Indian side to incite the agitators.
Realizing this threat, Pakistan’s Army chief, General Bajwa, issued this statement at National Security Workshop-20 at GHQ, “We are now confronting a hybrid conflict where the focus is shifting to subversion on religious, sectarian, ethnic and social issues.”
Threat of economic blackmailing
Economic blackmailing through naming and shaming, sanctions, embargoes, limiting imports and exports, imposing quotas and trade wars to hurt the rival’s economy is another major threat of Hybrid Warfare. The US has mastered this dimension. From sanctions on Iran and Russia to the trade war with China to the undermining of CPEC by claiming it a debt trap demonstrate the scope of this threat.
Besides, Indian efforts to blacklist Pakistan in Financial action task force and get it tagged as terror sponsored state is yet another form of economic blackmailing to get strategic leverage on one’s adversary. In short, the economy is a major tool of hybrid warfare which in turn becomes a major threat to the enemy.
Threat of Lawfare
The threat of lawfare refers to the use of the legal system against an enemy to get strategic and political advantage. This lawfare technique is visible from Indian step to withdraw the special status of Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir by revoking article 375 and 35A from the Indian constitution. This step made Jammu and Kashmir the part of Indian federation.
Strongly Condemn abrogation of Article 370 by the BJP Govt. India's unilateral revoking of Kashmir's status as a disputed Territory is an open declaration of war against the United Nations and a test of the international community.— Shehbaz Sharif (Stay at home to stay safe) (@CMShehbaz) August 5, 2019
Now, India can easily change the demography of the state of Kashmir by converting Muslim majority into a minority. Subsequently, India would call a referendum to show the world that the majority of Kashmiri people want to remain with India. This would be a clear victory for India over Pakistan without waging any war. This accentuates the real threat of hybrid warfare that India has been plotted again Pakistan.
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Saber-rattling: a psychological threat
Military buildups and exercises, offensive statements, the introduction of new weapons in the region, disturbing the balance of power are also the threats of hybrid warfare targeted to demoralize, disorient and confuse the hostile groups. For example, India offence doctrine of Cold start, its military build-ups, its introduction of the ballistic missile defence system in the region to hurt the to structure of nuclear deterrence have only one purpose: to erode the confidence of the enemy and get it confused to take irrational actions which damage its national interests.
Hybrid Warfare needs Hybrid response
All the above discussion clearly shows that hybrid warfare is a complex and multidimensional method of waging a war. Hence, it needs a multifaceted response. The response should encompass a robust media strategy to counter adversary’s propaganda and provide a counter-narrative while filtering out fake news. It should contain socio-economic development policies for the deprived areas to eradicate the root cause of insecurity.
An offensive diplomatic campaign to counter the adversary at international fora should also be initiated. Besides, it is imperative to strengthen cyber as well as conventional security to tackle any impending threat of hybrid warfare.
To sum up the discussion, it could be said that the modern times completely altered the method of warfare. It presents an obscure and complex method, Hybrid Warfare, whose threats are not only complex and dangerous but difficult to understand and anticipate. Hence, it is indispensable to understand this concept and develop a robust strategy against it to secure the survival of the state before it is too late.
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French statesman of 17th century, cardinal de Richelieu, said “Man is immortal, his salvation is hereafter. The state has no immortality, its salvation is now or never.”
Agha Shahriyar Khan is an industrial and manufacturing engineer and a CSS (2019) qualifier. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.