NATO and Hybrid Warfare

by Marie Gibrat, represented the UK in the NATO North Atlantic Council, at BEF 2015

“In preparation for BEF 2015, the chairs of the NATO simulation requested participants to write an essay on hybrid warfare and the position of their country. The essays were entered into our committee competition, and we are happy to present our winner!” – Marian Fritz

Clausewitz stated “Every age has its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions and its own peculiar preconceptions”.

Definition of hybrid warfare

Hybrid warfare can be defined as the use of a combination of conventional and irregular methods such as military operations, cyber-attacks, propaganda, and terrorist acts. It is composed of an interconnected group of state and non-states actors pursuing overlapping goals where the social and political context is complex and the state is weak.

Due to the growing proliferation of non-state actors, information technology and advanced weapons system, it has renewed.

 Photograph © Philipp Mehl 2015

Nowadays hybrid warfare involves four threats: traditional, irregular, catastrophic terrorism and disruptive which exploit technology to counteract military superiority. The environmental context in hybrid warfare is one of the chief characteristics of this type of war. Hybrid war takes place on three distinct battlefields: the conventional battlefield, the indigenous population and the international community.

The lack of flexibility and adaptability within conventional militaries explains difficulties to defeat hybrid threats. In order to balance the latter one need to focus on the overall environment, not simply on the enemy. Armies should have in mind an operational approach with a holistic understanding of the environment. They should think on the conflict termination with a respect to the political and social grievances instead of focusing on a purely military-security end-state.

Besides operational shock i.e. attack the coherent unity of the hybrid threat as a system and dislocation i.e. the art of rendering the enemy’s strength irrelevant should be used simultaneously.

Hybrid warfare and NATO

NATO is a military alliance that will never embrace the full spectrum of challenges embodied in hybrid warfare. The current NATO deterrence policy for hybrid warfare is based on a rapid military response. However the latter has three main limits. A quick decision from member states is difficult to reach. Hard power is not sufficient. A military response alone is not credible.

Nevertheless, facing the current Russian threat, NATO considers it a necessity to develop a set of tools in order to deter hybrid warfare. Russia has risen its military budget and has announced an ambitious military modernization. Informational war, propaganda and cyber-attacks are already taking place in Eastern Europe, especially in Baltic States. General Sir Adrian Bradshaw said that Putin could use “hybrid warfare to seize former Baltic States”.

Hence hybrid warfare constitutes a far-reaching institutional challenge for NATO. A solution would be to increase cooperation with the European Union. By intensifying consultations and by engaging in joint planning, NATO and the EU would be a solid counterweight to hybrid threats.

Moreover, NATO needs to be present during the first step of hybrid warfare and even before. Prevention represents the best possible means of countering hybrid warfare since irregular threats are far more difficult to manage once they become an over attempt at destabilization. That is why NATO encourages the Security Sector Reform. The latter aims at strengthening a state’s resilience of their security sectors, while embracing transparency and accountability.

Lastly, NATO has developed a refreshed system of warnings to identify threats such as cyber-attacks, subversion and hostile propaganda.

The UK and Hybrid warfare

Military chiefs have warned that Britain has entered a new Cold War with Russia. Russia military planes, ships and submarines have made at least 17 incursions close to the UK since the start of 2014. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the Russian aggression poses “as great a threat to Europe as the Islamic State”. Michael Fallon wants to deliver the strongest possible message to Putin and asserts the Alliance will be strong, resolute and will prevail. The Defence Secretary warned of the threat to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia posed by Russia and claimed Putin was continuing to test the UK and NATO.

Nevertheless some military chiefs said the UK could not cope in case of a Russian attack because of cuts in the UK defence budget. Moreover, dealing with these hybrid threats requires much more investment in cyber, in strategic communications and in intelligence because these are not conventional threats.

Notwithstanding the fact that the UK defence is one of the most advanced in the world, it cannot fight alone against hybrid warfare. The UK will need NATO and the USA to counterweight any hybrid threat.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.

One thought on “NATO and Hybrid Warfare”

  1. A follow-up on the hybrid warfare article, unfortunately available only in German. A major German publisher house “Suhrkamp” published a book by Anja Raabe, likewise a German author. The critical polit-blog ‘nachdenkseiten.de’ highlights some sources behind the appearance of this book, which ultimately leads to the perception of a transatlantic opinion fabric majorly funded by George Soros and other transatlantic ressources. Hybrid Warfare at its finest!

    http://www.nachdenkseiten.de/?p=26311

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