Hybrid warfare and international security
The international security agenda and the theoretical ways to study it have expanded tremendously since the end of the Cold War. Once the strict control of the global east-west military ideological rivalry lifted, various new threats and ways to analyze them emerged. These were the issues discussed in a three-day workshop organized recently by the International Relations Council of Turkey.
Looking at security discussions since the end of the Cold War, it is easy to draw a conclusion that the world has gotten less secure since then with the rise of new threats, new actors and new tools. In the good old days of the Cold War, as the saying goes, we all knew clearly who the enemy was, where the threat came from and how to respond to them. The enemy was almost exclusively states; they threatened other states with military means and the responses were formulated mostly through the military.
Today however, the concept of an “enemy” has become elusive as, beyond states, non-state actors such as terrorist organizations, cell units, domestic vigilante groups and even a lone individual could easily pose a deadly threat. Threats, too, have multiplied. Beside state-to-state military threats, we are now talking about environmental disasters, terror activities, financial destabilization actions, covert operations and propaganda warfare as forms of threats that states perceive. We are even talking about the concept of securitization, whereby the rulers could turn seemingly less threatening issues into a security problem by perceiving them as such. In short, in today’s world, anything could become a security threat if and when the decision makers decide to portray them as such.
Responses to these perceived threats have also changed. As most of them emerge from below the level of the military, the appropriate response has to be devised outside the military to be effective. We cannot, for example, respond to a refugee crisis or environmental disaster by military means. Similarly, cunning employment of propaganda tools and ideological postures, renamed as public diplomacy, cannot be countered with armaments.
Connecting all these in an altogether new security environment is a newly coined concept of hybrid warfare and threats posed by various actors towards states that struggle to respond to them with traditional tools. A good case in point is the recent behavior of Russia in the international arena. Take for example its actions in Ukraine since 2014. We now know that it employed widespread media tools against the Ukrainian government to vilify it, organized armed local vigilante groups in eastern Ukraine, infiltrated special-ops personal into its territory, first having them remove their military insignias, used intelligence operatives to instigate people against their government, organized cyberattacks towards government institutions, launched ideological propaganda rhetoric to defame and disparage Ukrainian leadership, organized large scale maneuvers near its border with Ukraine and finally send in the military to secure positions in Crimea, topping them with a local referendum to join Russia.
The crafty aspect of all these is that almost all of them, except sending in the military, remain below an Article-5 level threat as far as the NATO is concerned, thus a coordinated response could not be organized in time. Clearly NATO is not a propaganda machine, nor an intelligence organization or a police outlet. However, the final outcome is an international environment that is less secure then before and difficult to respond to once the enemy takes its final position. This is where the struggle is concentrating today, and the ways NATO finds to respond to these hybrid threats will define the global security environment in the coming years.