Hybrid warfare is a form of conflict that involves multiple actors, domains, and methods. It aims to achieve strategic goals without triggering a conventional war or direct overt violence. Hybrid warfare exploits the vulnerabilities of the adversary through a combination of military and non-military means, such as cyberattacks, disinformation, economic coercion, proxy forces, and political subversion. Hybrid warfare challenges the traditional notions of war and peace and the legal and ethical frameworks that govern them.
First, in 2005, two US military officials wrote about the “rise of hybrid wars” and emphasized the combination of conventional and unconventional strategies, methods, and tactics in contemporary warfare including the psychological and information-related aspects of modern conflicts.
One of the key features of hybrid warfare is the deliberate creation of ambiguity and uncertainty. Hybrid actors make it hard for the target to find and attribute the source of the threat while concealing their involvement and responsibility for their actions. This also makes it difficult for the target to respond effectively and proportionally, as it may face political and legal constraints, as well as public opinion pressures.
Hybrid actors can exploit the gaps and inconsistencies between various domains and regions, encompassing land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace. By running below the threshold of war or direct overt violence, hybrid actors aim to achieve their goals without provoking a full-scale military response from the target or its allies.
The characteristics of Hybrid Warfare remain deeply connected to the principles espoused by Sun Tzu, who famously said that “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Because of these attributes, Hybrid conflict has been increasingly more hired in a political, irregular, and conventional conflict with a big effect.
Hybrid Warfare in politics aims to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of target audiences through various methods, such as propaganda, disinformation, cyber-attacks, economic pressure, lawfare, and foreign electoral intervention. Political warfare looks to undermine the legitimacy, credibility, and cohesion of an adversary, and to create confusion, division, and distrust among its population and institutions.
Hybrid warfare poses significant challenges to the international security and defense community. It requires a multi-faceted approach that integrates all instruments of national power and uses multilateral cooperation and partnerships.
Whereas, irregular warfare involves the use of non-state actors, such as militias, insurgents, terrorists, criminals, and hackers, to conduct violent or disruptive activities against an adversary. Irregular warfare can also include the use of regular forces in a covert or deniable manner, such as the deployment of special forces or proxy forces. Irregular warfare aims to create instability, insecurity, and chaos in an adversary’s territory or region, and to erode its will and ability to resist. In addition, conventional warfare is the use of state actors and regular forces to conduct kinetic operations against an adversary.
One example of the use of hybrid warfare in politics is the Russian intervention in Ukraine in 2014. Russia used a combination of conventional and irregular methods, such as deploying special forces, supporting local armed groups, conducting cyberattacks, spreading disinformation, and exploiting ethnic and political divisions in Ukraine.
According to the Russian President, Russia also denied its involvement and tried to avoid attribution or retribution. This hybrid approach allowed Russia to achieve its strategic aims of annexing Crimea and destabilizing eastern Ukraine while avoiding a confrontation with NATO.
GREY ZONE- The Complex Conflict Landscape
Grey zone is a term that describes the space between peace and war, where state and non-state actors use various methods of influence and coercion to achieve their strategic aims without triggering a conventional military response.
Grey zone and hybrid warfare are closely related concepts that reflect the changing nature and character of warfare in the 21st century. They challenge the traditional assumptions and norms of international law and security and pose significant risks and challenges for states and societies.
To counter grey zone and hybrid threats, states need to develop comprehensive and adaptive strategies that use all elements of national power, enhance resilience and deterrence, and foster cooperation and coordination with allies and partners.
In pursuing zero-sum security goals hybrid warfare is increasing between states below the threshold of an armed conflict. Recent studies on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq prove how expensive all- eschewal wars can be in terms of mortal, profitable, as well as social, and political losses.
Advancement in technology is rising, asymmetric warfare making all-out wars ineffective which results in the tough proposition of victory in the wars. Briefly, the nature of conflict stays the same, but the overall security environment is changing.
“Struggle is not anything extra than the continuation of politics with the aid of different approaches,” Clausewitz said. In this contemporary period, the matrix of warfare has become overly complex, and the dynamics of war are in a state of flux. While war now means a range of possibilities. Sometimes, it might entail kinetic operations and sometimes involve launching cyberattacks. Comparable avenues are expansive and so are how they may be juxtaposed.
Hybrid warfare makes conflict dynamics murky. Another, yet unconsidered way in which a state’s security can be threatened is through challenges to its legitimacy. As a Norwegian Employer for Development Cooperation document notes, “kingdom legitimacy concerns the very foundation on which it linked to state and society and with the aid of which national authority is justified.”
Thus, the hybrid actor tries to erode trust between the institutions and the people of the state, which results in the loss of legitimacy of the state. Both the theoretical foundations and the kingdom’s functionality are broken via crossbred assaults.
Hence, Hybrid warfare poses significant challenges to the international security and defense community. It requires a multi-faceted approach that integrates all instruments of national power and uses multilateral cooperation and partnerships. It also requires a resilient and adaptable mindset that can cope with uncertainty and ambiguity. Hybrid warfare demands constant vigilance and readiness to counter and deter hybrid threats in all domains and at all levels.
Inshal Haider is a student of Defense and Strategic studies at Quaid e Azam University Islamabad.