What’s wrong with a little hybrid warfare?

The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies has just released a new monograph that presents an alternative view of the character of warfare in the 21st Century. This new model argues that future conflicts will blur the distinction between war and peace, combatants and noncombatants.

Rather than distinct modes of war, we will face "Hybrid Wars" that are a combination of traditional warfare mixed with terrorism and insurgency.

Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars, by Research Fellow Frank Hoffman, summarizes the background and analysis of the changing character of warfare in our time. Examining the debate over the past decade about the evolution of modern warfare in the post Cold-war world, several thinkers have claimed that we were in the midst of a "Revolution in Warfare." Hoffman takes this discussion to a new and much more mature level by recognizing that we are entering a time when multiple types of warfare will be used simultaneously by flexible and sophisticated adversaries. These adversaries understand that successful conflict takes on a variety of forms that are designed to fit one's goals at that particular time—identified as "Hybrid Wars" in Conflict in the 21st Century.

Russia’s chief of General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, and his oft-cited article in VPK, published in late February 2013 with the title “The Value of Science in Prediction,” outlined what he calls “non-linear warfare.”

A blueprint of Russian military thinking and doctrine, a “Gerasimov Doctrine” if you will. Frank Hoffman’s definition, “ is a tailored mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism, and criminal behavior in the same time and battlespace to obtain [a group’s] political objectives.”

Gerasimov spent most of this treatise on non-linear warfare scrutinizing how the West conducts war, based less on traditional invasions like Iraq in 2003, and more on the 2011 intervention in Libya, the events of the Arab Spring, and “color revolutions” in Russia’s near abroad. In his view, the West pioneered indirect approaches to warfare, leveraging political subversion, propaganda, and social media, along with economic measures such as sanctions. From his perspective, humanitarian interventions, the use of Western special forces, funding for democracy movements, and the deployment of mercenaries and proxies were all features of a U.S. doctrine of indirect warfare.

Here's the famous Gerasimov chart, outlining the phases of non-linear warfare. Gerasimov made the point that there is a four to one ratio of non-military to military measures in modern conflict, but he was talking about how the West shapes the battlefield prior to intervention.

The term itself is at least a decade old and is often traced back to the U.S. Marine Corps, although one can easily find references to similar conceptions in other countries including Russia and China. But the general practice of blending conventional state-on-state conflict with irregular warfare has been around for centuries. Even if one were to avoid the rather quotidian reference to Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, it has arguably played out recently in the Vietnam War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Hezbollah’s attack on Israel in 2006 to cite just a few examples.

Frank Hoffman has written previously over at War on the Rocks about how we ought to pay attention not only to the mix of conventional weapons as well as irregular tactics, terrorism and criminal behavior, but also non-violent actions. These include not just information operations, but also economic, financial and subversive political acts. As Hoffman correctly notes, this is not just merely a definitional debate.

According to NATO “Hybrid threats are those posed by adversaries, with the ability to simultaneously employ conventional and non conventional means adaptively in pursuit of their objectives”. (Source: “NATO countering the hybrid threat”, NATO ACT, 23 September 2011)

This concept builds upon and is contrasted with alternatives including "New Wars," "Wars Amongst the People," Fourth Generation Warfare, and Unrestricted Warfare. It absorbs useful elements from many of these concepts, and incorporates the best of foreign analysts as well.

Potomac Institute Chairman and CEO, Michael S. Swetnam remarked that "Frank Hoffman's work on Hybrid Wars is a masterpiece of enlightened thinking on conflict in our time. It should be required reading for all students and practitioners of modern warfare."

Hoffman is an accomplished defense analyst who is highly sought after for his insights on historical analyses of the past and on the character of future conflict. He lectures frequently here and abroad on long-range security issues. His areas of expertise include military history, national strategy, homeland security, strategic planning, defense economics and civil-military relations.

The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies is an independent, not-for-profit public policy research center that identifies key science, technology and national security issues, and aggressively follows through with focused research and policy advice. From this research and subsequent public discussions, the Institute has a track record for developing meaningful policy options and assisting their implementation at the intersection of both business and government.


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