Hybrid Warfare is a term closely aligned with other terms that attempt to describe the area of conflict between peace and full spectrum warfare. The other terms that are similar include Unconventional Warfare, Political Warfare, Irregular Warfare, Gray Zone, and Asymmetric Warfare. Of course there are many more than just these terms. Russian hybrid warfare has been successfully used to advance the political and national interests of Russia.
Defining Hybrid Warfare
The U.S. Department of Defense has yet to publish an official definition of hybrid warfare. However, there is a common consensus within the military and foreign policy community on what hybrid warfare entails. Hybrid warfare is usually understood as a combination of the use of regular forces, irregular forces, proxy forces, criminal networks, political organizations, and insurgent groups that conduct a blend of traditional and non-traditional acts of warfare. This includes support of insurgencies, political pressure, economic pressure, information influence operations (through the media and Internet), and cyber operations.
Nations or groups that use hybrid warfare are either too weak to confront their opponent in a large-scale conventional fight, want to avoid the possibility of engaging in an all-out conflict, or wish to attain political goals or satisfy national interests with a reduced expenditure of effort, money and resources.
U.S. Army Special Forces has Unconventional Warfare (UW) as one of its core missions. UW and hybrid warfare are very similar but at times different. Many observers would say that the United States engaged in hybrid warfare during the Cold War. Some called the Cold War activities during the confrontation with the Soviet Union (and ‘Red China’) ‘Political Warfare’.
Russian Hybrid Warfare
Russia is an experienced practitioner of hybrid warfare. Recent examples are the use of “Little Green Men” in the Ukraine, occupation of Crimea, and acquisition of territory in the Republic of Georgia. There are other lesser known instances of Russia using hybrid warfare in other areas of the world.
Currently, one can define Russia’s national interests as creating a buffer zone between its national borders and those countries belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In addition, Russia desires to increase its regional influence (hegemony) in eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Russia’s use of hybrid warfare will continue over the next several years. It has realized success in its application in the past and will certainly seek areas to utilize it in the future.
The Way Forward
The United States (and NATO) will need to develop a coherent and viable strategy to counter the use of hybrid warfare by Russia. The revitalization of the NATO alliance through increased defense expenditures, periodic military exercises, and forward stationing of air power and ground forces in Eastern Europe surely is part of the response to Russia’s aggression. However, NATO and the US has to look beyond these (conventional) measures and address the best way to counter Russia’s use of hybrid warfare. The ability of the United States to conduct unconventional warfare or – as some would say – conduct counter unconventional warfare needs to improve as well.
Resources on Russian Hybrid Warfare:
USASOC, Little Green Men: A Primer on Modern Unconventional Warfare, United States Army Special Operations Command.
Fox, Amos C. and Andrew J. Rossow, “Assessing Russian Hybrid Warfare: A Successful Tool for Limited War”, Small Wars Journal, August 8, 2016.
Klus, Adam, “Myatezh Voina: The Russian Grandfather of Western Hybrid Warfare”, Small Wars Journal, July 10, 2016.
Palagi, Jamie E., Wrestling the Bear: The Rise of Russian Hybrid Warfare, National Defense University, April 2015.
SOFREP, Political Warfare – Defining the Contemporary Environment, July 2, 2016.