Commentary: Hybrid warfare is a way to combine the masses of infantry on the ground with new technologies that create a whole new domain of operations. Certainly technological superiority counts – indeed it is essential – but what really matters is the full and absolute political power on a territory or on a specific technology, operation, influence or Denial Area action.
The first complete development of the “hybrid warfare” theory by Russia – which, anyway, invented it – can be found in an article by General Gerasimov, the Russian Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff of the time, in an essay published in the weekly magazine Corriere Military-Industrial Courier in February 2013.
The high-ranking officer of the Russian Command started from a simple consideration, i.e. especially in the post-Cold War period, but even earlier, any regional or continental military action increasingly came closer to the line in which peaceful operations and military operations in the proper sense of the term tended to get confused.
The article was entitled – in a rather anodyne way – “The Value of Science is in the Foresight”. A cryptic reference, but indeed very clear later on, as we will see.
The post-Cold War experiences marked General Gerasimov’s central idea: at the beginning of the strategic theory of the Russian General, however, there was the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), i.e. the U.S. doctrine of the 2000s that placed the relationship between new technologies and the overall reorganization of the North American Armed Forces at the core of the debate.
Both Russia and China placed the RMA – which they saw operating well in Iraq – as the terminus a quo of their necessary transformation of technologies, goals, but above all, military organizations.
The defeat of Caporetto was organized by a very young German lieutenant, Erwin Rommel, who – without considering ranks and hierarchies too much – made up a unit that broke the contacts between the Second and the Third Italian Army with its assault squads consisting of only 11 soldiers and three machine guns, having a counterattack function.
The paradox, however, is that it was instead a great Russian and Soviet General, Ogarkov, who invented the same RMA, which he called the Military Technological Revolution.
In General Ogarkov’s mind, new technologies such as robotics and direct energy weapons, would design the whole new space of operations and even the political function of war, thus marginalizing the vast masses of infantry that were once necessary to win.
Just think here, by contrast, of the USSR victory against the Third Reich, which has always been a model for the modern thinking of the Soviet Union and later of Russia.
In essence, “hybrid warfare” is a way to add the necessary masses on the ground, but exactly as a function of the RMA and the new applications of psychological warfare.
Hence without unnecessarily regimentalizing them in an old nineteenth-century-style army.
General Gerasimov also rightly maintained that the basic rules of war had changed: the role of the non-military structures useful to achieve goals that were previously reached exclusively by war increased out of proportion. Here Russia had in mind the operations of Soft Power and economic and cultural influence by the United States and NATO, but also, in many cases – and this is the point that gave rise to the concept of “hybrid warfare” – the non-traditional means that achieved and sometimes outperformed the effects of conventional weapons. Financial warfare? War of information manipulation? War for raw materials? It depends on where you are.
Hence conventional warfare is related to armies and their size defines their ability to “last”, but only up to the enemy’s breaking point.
Lasting, a philosophical and even strategic concept that Henri Bergson, the great French philosopher – who walked around, with the yellow Jewish star, in front of the Nazi SS units in occupied France – described in his La Force qui s’use et la Force qui ne s’use pas.
In his hybrid warfare, General Gerasimov thought about the great peacekeeping forces, which currently consists of as many as 11,000 U.N. “policemen” – often with Rules of Engagement which apply above all to children playing football in parks – but will rise to 16,900 in three years’ time.
We shall solve the cases of Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic, which the U.N. and its peacekeepers shall convince to reach the umpteenth peace agreement between the Justice and Equality Movement and the Janjawid.
The NGOs, an excellent instrument of influence – as also General Gerasimov admitted – serve to cure the effects of war operations on the population, nothing more.
Hence, again in General Gerasimov’s mind, the final victory came above all from the covert and symmetrical work of many organizations: local volunteers; allied military; the more or less “spontaneous” people’s organizations; companies’ safety nets; criminal organizations (which everybody used anyway) and large mass demonstrations, as well as the traditional psyops operations.
This was the initial Russian response to the U.S. and NATO operations in the former Yugoslavia, where Russia was particularly interested in Serbia, as the axis of its national interest in the Balkans, which obviously exists.
The United States, however, responded by choosing, above all, the jihad, in spite of Russia’s quick entry – as a surprise operation – into Kosovo in 1999, when the Russian troops based in Bosnia entered Pristina – breaking an old agreement with NATO – by bringing Russian troops to close the border between Kosovo and Serbia.
That was the moment in which the United States radicalized – due to an anti-Russian bias – in the protection of Balkan countries that were almost completely jihadist at the time.
There was also the subsequent and stable U.S. presence in the Bosnian jihad, with Alja Izetbegovic, when Sarajevo was often visited by Osama bin Laden.
General Gerasimov, however, was a good prophet: the irregular forces in the Crimea, the other ones in Chechnya, many other “little green men” in Georgia and then in many peripheral areas of the new Russian empire did an excellent job and will still do so.
Because certainly technological superiority counts – indeed it is essential – but what really matters is the full and absolute political power on a territory or on a specific technology, operation, influence or Denial Area action.
China’s doctrine of hybrid warfare is very different from the Russian one. For Russia a stable relationship between its West and the Eurasian peninsula is always and in any case necessary – otherwise the Russian Federation would only be mostly Asia, Islam and the Siberian Far East.
For China the hybrid warfare doctrine is always direct heir to Sun Tzu and is currently defined as the technique of “winning without fighting”.
Meanwhile, China wants to securitize the peripheral territories in which it is interested, but without firing a shot.
The area of South China Sea, of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands, of Guam, of the Vietnamese Sea, as well as the Guam air base (with the “Andersen” and “Apra” locations), which is fundamental for the United States to reach the Philippines and obviously Taiwan.
Nevertheless, whether you want to understand it or not, also the jihad has learnt the hybrid warfare lesson with great intelligence.
It has merged it – even neglecting some secondary Koranic rules – with the new conception of war that China interprets as “unrestricted warfare”.
The United States and Westerners interpret all this new hybrid warfare only as “terrorism”, thus attributing it to some “madmen”, according to the outmoded script of the reductio ad hitlerum. But it is indeed a very new form of war, a new war “from weak to strong”, like the French nuclear weapon against the Soviet Union (and not only it) and as it is currently thought by Russia, albeit by equalizing the nuclear potential.
The hybrid warfare gathers all the walks and parts of civil society, manipulates them, puts them together and turns them towards a Stay Behind-Gladio-style guerrilla warfare, but adapted to modern and future times.
Here it is not a matter of putting up resistance, as in the old Gladio structures, until “people rise up”, or to slow down the almost certain conquest, by the Warsaw Pact, of the Po Valley, because the new invaders and their friends will be well careful not to hurt the feelings or clash with the habits and needs of the non-belligerent local population. And they will not take their territory, but their resources.
Quite the reverse: again with its hybrid warfare, Russia will mainly carry out operations “from weak to strong” blocking its enemy’s information actions, backing their population and mixing with them, thus becoming unrecognizable and, above all, carrying out fully unconventional operations.
Either you take the radio and TV stations, as Nasser did at the beginning of his revolution with his “Free Officers”, or currently you control social media remotely, either through fake news – which are true instruments of “unorthodox” warfare, as it was called by NATO when a Marine officer, who led it, found himself lured and tricked by a pretty girl from the GDR Intelligence Services – or possibly even with the techniques of support, local manipulation and protection of the local population.
Hence currently Russia mainly plays the game of non-State actors, even imitating them, but there is the whole panoply of the current unorthodox war. It is evangelically waged on a small-scale with the small countries and on a large-scale with the big ones.
The important thing is always to eliminate the buffer areas around the enemy which, for Russia, is always the West and the United States.
The manipulation of illegal immigration, for example, or the organization of coups or separatist operations – shaping the aforementioned mechanism as the United States did with OTPOR, “Resistance”, the old brand that nowadays no one uses or understands any longer, which organized the fight against Milosevic from the basements of the U.S. Embassy in Hungary – or even the targeted assassination, or also the use, as strategic weapons, of energy assets.
Westerners’ tunnel vision towards “Islamic terrorism” did the rest – and forced them into the tunnel.
While it expected an enemy operating with very different criteria from the usual ones. This is the reason why, until now, the West has failed with the jihad. Another enemy arrived, mimicking the jihad but from State to State, and was much more dangerous.
In the 1990s Russia drafted four strategic documents.
In the NATO evaluations of the same period, especially in the field of hybrid warfare, there was little or nothing of politics and little of operational matters.
It seems that the von Clausewitz’s rule that “victory is the imposition of one’s own will on the enemy” has been forgotten and precisely by Westerners.
A sort of “damage reduction” theory, as with youth drugs, or a memory of the time when we were good, during the Cold War, at launching leaflets on the enemy’s population.
Too little. Much more was done by the carpet/saturation bombing, developed by the British Sir Arthur Tedder, after many Nazi examples.
All these Gerasimov-Primakov’s notes, however, are contained in the various military doctrines signed by Putin.
In January 2000, the Russian President signed the first modern Gerasimov-style National Security Concept, which listed the destabilization factors that are also those that Russia sees in the operations currently existing in the East: ethnic, nationalist and religious factionalism, a theme that is much far from Western doctrine, which exalts precisely factionalism, as happened in the template of the hybrid warfare of the time, the Second Yugoslav War.
There is also the weakening of the current mechanisms of international crisis control, which we see currently operating within the United Nations and its peripheral organizations, in which, indeed, the United States no longer wants to participate. There is also the “illegal implementation of military power and strength under the pretext of humanitarian operations” – and this is precisely dedicated to the West.
The response of this Russian document was directly targeted to the 1999 NATO Strategic Concept, in which the Russian side stated that only the U.N. Security Council could establish legal rules for regional interventions.
Certainly to be later present together in the West and control it.
The Russian national interests, reaffirmed in the 2000 document, were still the same: military cooperation in the CIS, on which Russia does not want foreign eyes; the creation of a unified military area (which is the basis for hybrid warfare), as well as stable unity with Belarus, where Western agents are now actively operating.
For Russia the criterion is always that of “broad security”.
What about NATO? Since 2015 – and severely late, indeed – the Atlantic Alliance has reached its own “doctrine” for hybrid warfare.
Again for NATO, which has probably not understood the size and the types of threat (and, in fact, it lost in the Crimea), hybrid warfare is “propaganda, strategic deception, sabotage”.
Probably it was so in the past, but nowadays hybrid warfare is much more, as we have quickly noticed.
Moreover, the responsibility of countering hybrid operations, which are not well defined in the NATO documents, falls within the allied nation.
With regard to Russia, the 360° approach adopted by the Alliance in July 2018 established that NATO planned to implement an advanced deployment of conventional deterrence forces in the Baltic States.
Furthermore, NATO is creating a centre for cyber operations to strengthen also “resilience” – now a magic and fashionable word – in the countries concerned.
All right, but there is never an attack strategy. Certainly the Alliance is only defensive, but it would be good to have a clear idea that, from Thucydides to the present day, defence and attack have always been closely interwoven.
There is also the support for the countries of the Southern Flank, with a very generic strengthening of the “fight against terrorism”, as already noted above.
Certainly, the 360°approach claims it has “bogged down” Putin in the Crimea, but it already accepts the basic defeat in the Southern Flank where, however, there would be an enhanced “fight against terrorism”, regardless of what this expression means.
Hence “all-out war” – not palliatives – even in times of peace and this is the real final goal of “hybrid warfare”, while the world war is today kept as a remote option by the U.S. residual power of conventional or not conventional first and second strike – which will certainly not last forever.
The only ones who are thinking about the new scenarios – leaving aside Italian pettifoggers in the Intelligence Services and in other organizations – are the French.
General Thierry Burkhard, a man of the Foreign Legion, is thinking of a new concept: after the defeat or, however, the marginalization of the jihad, the real future clash will be the return of the old into the new, the struggle between States and States.
The conflicts of the future will be symmetrical again, State against State. He also maintains that Europe has become structurally weak; it does not “think” about the conflict, so it will lose it.
Hence General Burkhard thinks that France shall military strengthen its Armée de Terre and then focus on credible deterrence, also at nuclear level, as well as on the new concentration of its future operations both in the cyberspace and on the ground.
A hybrid counterwarfare. In Italy, as usual, we have mere accountants in power, not even particularly brilliant, and the rest goes accordingly.
Giancarlo Elia Valori