The term “hybrid warfare” has been in use by political analysts since 2010 (with respect to the challenges faced by the US Army in Iraq). It was named in the year 2014 that the general public became aware of it as well – all due to the famed “annexation” of Crimea by Russia that took place that year. Ever since then, the Western Media have never ceased referring to the concerned development as the clearest example of what “hybrid warfare” is all about. In its turn, this causes many people to assume that the “hybrid” approach to conducting warfare is innately incompatible with the Western conceptualization of international relations, in general, and war, in particular.
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What adds to the situation even further is that many political analysts in the West make a point in promoting the idea that only the “evil Russians” are capable of waging “hybrid wars” and that the collective West has never considered doing the same. For example, according to Kilinskas (2016), “Hybrid warfare is the term used by representatives of mass media, politicians, professional military personnel… to define actions of the Russian army in occupying Crimea and invading the territories of East Ukraine” (p. 139).
Nevertheless, such a practice is far from being considered thoroughly appropriate. The reason for this is apparent – as indicated by the recent outbreaks of “democratic” revolutions in Georgia, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine, the collective West is, in fact, an active practitioner of “hybrid warfare” – at least for as long as the most updated definitions of the concerned term are in question. In my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion at length.
One of the main problems with describing a particular geopolitical development in terms of “hybrid warfare” is that there is no universally accepted definition as to what this type of warfare is all about. To complicate the situation even further, the concerned term continues to undergo a qualitative transformation – something that causes many political analysts to doubt whether it could be considered axiomatically legitimate, in the first place.
For example, as it was initially coined up by Frank Hoffman in the mid-2000s, the definition of “hybrid warfare” implies that resorting to the “hybrid” instruments of waging war is a prerogative of the specifically non-state players in the arena of international politics. According to him, this type of warfare refers to the “threats that incorporate a full range of different modes of warfare, including conventional capabilities, irregular tactics, and formations, terrorist acts including indiscriminate violence and coercion… conducted by a variety of non-state actors” (Wither 2016, p. 75).
The more recent definitions of the term, however, imply that the very essence of political dynamics in today’s world presupposes the eventual integration of “hybrid war” as an integral part of conducting international affairs by nation-states that compete for the same resource within a particular geostrategic niche. Stefanescu’s (2016) conceptualization of the term stands out quite illustrative in this regard, “Hybrid warfare is a war mixed with peace, where the conflict methods changed… while political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures being involved to a greater extent. All of these can be supplemented by inciting the local population and by using armed forces in disguise” (p. 156).
The logic behind the mentioned transformation has to do with the ongoing geopolitical confrontation between the US and Russia (with its de facto ally China), which ever since 2014 continued to attain exponential momentum. Being in the possession of the “nuclear triads” (land-based nuclear missiles, nuclear submarines, and strategic bombers) of their own, both conflicting parties are in no position to declare formal war on each other because this would result in the destruction of human civilization, as we know it.
Predictably enough, this prompts them to consider challenging each other indirectly (via “proxies”), just as it used to be the case during the Cold War. What this means is that there is indeed much rationale behind the idea that the collective West is no stranger to taking practical advantage of the various “hybrid” war-waging techniques, within the context of how it strives to weaken its main geopolitical rivalries – Russia and China.
The validity of this suggestion will become especially apparent, once we highlight yet another notable aspect of the most up-to-date definitions of “hybrid warfare” – they presuppose that the organized criminal activities and media-endorsed political brainwashing are the indispensable elements of how different countries compete for the “place under the Sun” in the 21st century (Fuchs 2016). After all, the most recent escalation of political tensions in the world would not have taken place had it been not up to the Western politicians’ willingness to assume that when it comes to confronting Russia, there can be no “right” and “wrong” approaches to doing it, but only the effective and ineffective ones – hence, the above-mentioned specifics of how the West addresses the task.
As of today, it is possible to identify what have been the distinctive characteristics of the specifically Western approach to indulging in “hybrid warfare” through the last ten years. They can be outlined as the circumstantially adjusted combinations of the following:
- Direct military action (the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO planes).
- Covert military action (using mercenaries hired by the private military contractors to topple political regimes in Libya, Syria, and Ukraine).
- Enactment of economic sanctions (enacting this type of sanctions against Russia in 2014, contrary to the provisions of international law).
- Information warfare propaganda (ensuring the ideologically biased media – coverage of the political dynamics in a particular part of the world and making up “fake news”, such as it was seen during the West’s latest attempt to spread “democracy” to Syria and Ukraine).
- Subversion (establishing the network of the Western-controlled Non-Governmental Organisations/NGOs across the world, capable of organizing the deposal of even the highest governmental officials on the locale, in case the latter refuse taking orders from their Western curators, such as it was done in 2014 in Ukraine).
- Criminal action (using the secret services to provide support to the terrorist organizations, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, whose main task is to wreak “controlled chaos” in the resource-rich countries friendly with Russia).
- Support of local unrest (using high-ranking diplomats to intensify political tensions within a particular country, just as it was the case in Ukraine prior to the Western-endorsed seizure of political power by the armed gangs of Ukrainian nationalists in 2014).
As one can infer from what has been said earlier, there is a well-defined global dimension to how the West has been taking practical advantage of the “hybrid war” concept throughout the last decade. Nevertheless, it is specifically the 2014 “democratic” revolution in Ukraine (which in essence was just another CIA-led military coup) which appears to be the most illustrative of just about every out of the above-outlined specifics of the Western way of conducting “hybrid warfare”, with the exemption of the “direct military action”.
There is even more to it – the concerning development is consistent with what has always accounted for another unmistakably Western (more specifically Anglo-Saxon) approach to fighting its wars in different parts of the world – exploiting the local populations (primarily made up of uneducated peasants) as a “cannon fodder” during the process (Pradhan 2015).
What this means is that the ongoing civil war in Ukraine, which the Western media describe as such that has been triggered by the imaginary “Russian aggression”, is nothing by a part of the Western-led “hybrid war” against Russia that has started as early as through the 20th century’s late nineties. The same can be said about the significance of the ongoing civil war in Syria, which is essentially a “proxy war” that is taking place between Russia and the US as we speak, with the international terrorists from ISIS acting as America’s de facto allies.
After having been appointed Yeltsin’s “successor” in 1999, Vladimir Putin began to consolidate more and more political power in his hands for the purpose of restoring Russia’s former military and economic might. Simultaneously, he proceeded to apply much effort in the reestablishment of cultural, economic, and infrastructural links between the post-Soviet countries.
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This move, on his part, was perceived to pose a clear and present danger to the West’s agenda of helping Russia to fall apart as a unified state, so that the broken-off segments of this country’s “body” could be “devoured” by the Western-based transnational corporations – hence, enabling citizens in Western countries to continue enjoying the world highest standards of living, without having to give much thought to what enables their continual prosperity, in the first place.
The West reacted to the threat by means of setting up an extensive network of NGOs in just about every post-Soviet country. While being formally concerned with the “promotion of democracy” and “protection of human rights”, the true purpose of these organizations’ functioning was to serve as the hubs of Western influence/espionage centers in host-countries. As Charap (2015) noted, “The main instrument of hybrid war is the notorious ‘fifth column’ of agents of influence controlled by the adversary… [Hybrid operations] involve the legitimization of anti-government political forces and a recognition of their right to represent the people who allegedly spoke out against the tyranny” (p. 51).
In this respect, the West’s ultimate objective was concerned with:
- Ensuring that only the most corrupted and inept politicians come to power in the post-Soviet countries,
- Inducing political and economic instability in these countries, which in turn was supposed to undermine Russia’s integrative efforts in Eurasia,
- Promoting the idea of joining the NATO among the locals,
- Encouraging the corrupted government officials in the newly emerged post-Soviet countries to provoke Russia economically and militarily on a constant basis.
Ukraine again stands out quite exemplary in this regard – the US top-officials have never even made a secret of their intention of keeping this country as America’s yet another “puppet state”. According to Mearsheimer (2014), “Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, estimated in December 2013 that the United States had invested more than $5 billion since 1991 to help Ukraine achieve “the future it deserves” (p. 83).
Nuland’s statement refers to the amount of money the American taxpayers had to pay, in order to have Ukraine saturated with the US-based NGOs – the actual organizers of Ukraine’s “democratic” revolution of 2014, which resulted in plunging the country into the chaos of the never-civil war ever since then.
Evidently enough, by endorsing the establishment of NGOs in the post-Soviet space, the West seeks to be able to meddle in the internal affairs of its “client states” in this specific region (to ensure the continued expansion of NATO towards Russia’s borders), without providing Russia with the formal casus belli to consider this an act of aggression and react accordingly. The “hybrid” quality of this specific approach to containing Russia, undertaken by the West, is quite apparent.
As it was implied earlier, one of the most peculiar aspects of how “hybrid wars” are being waged now these days, has to do with the conflicting parties’ willingness to resort to committing a variety of even the most despicable criminal acts while striving to undermine each other and use Media as a powerful propaganda weapon (Giegerich 2016).
The ongoing military confrontation in the Eastern part of Ukraine between the Russia-backed rebels (who refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Western-endorsed military coup of 2014) and the armed formations of Ukrainian nationalists (who aim to “cleanse” Ukraine of its Russian-speaking citizens), will again come in perfectly illustrative – specifically, with respect to the downing of the Malaysian flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014, which resulted in the deaths of 283 innocent people.
As we well remember, within a matter of less than even a half of an hour since this plane had hit the ground, both Obama and Poroshenko (Ukraine’s President) came up with the official statements blaming Putin personally for what had happened and accusing him of having committed a “crime against humanity”. For no less than a few days after the incident, most TV-channels in the West continued to feature live coverages of the developments that followed the shooting down of the flight MH17 by “evil Russians”, with news anchors striving to convince ordinary citizens that Russia was indeed a culprit – despite the fact that even up until today there has not been procured even a single piece of evidence in support of this point of view. Then, the Media have ceased focusing on this tragic event all of a sudden, as if it turned out not to be of any importance, whatsoever.
Despite the fact that it has been more than three years now since the incident, the official investigators from the affected countries and ICAO continue to claim that they are still in the process of “collecting evidence”. Moreover, in the Netherlands (the most affected country) the preliminary investigative reports of relevance have been classified to constitute a “state secret”, with the general public being denied the right to access them (Toal & O’Loughlin 2017).
There is, however, nothing truly secretive or mysterious about the downing of MH17 – the event that proves the insightfulness of the old saying that the actual thieves are necessarily those who yell “catch the thief” the loudest. The application of the cui bono? (to whose benefit?) principle for defining the event’s cause-effect subtleties will inevitably bring one to conclude that it was named the US/West (and not Russia) that benefited the most from the destruction of the fated Malaysian plane. After all, it legitimized the American government’s intention to impose economic sanctions on Russia and served as the best argument to convince the EU countries doing the same.
Back then the Russian Media used to report sarcastically that the pilot’s last message to the ground was – “We’ve been hit by evil Putin! Enact economic sanctions against Russia at once!” Given what we know about the role that the CIA played in the downing of the Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 in 1976 (Bolender 2010), it is indeed thoroughly appropriate to suggest that the concerned tragic episode should be seen indicative of the West’s ability to resort to even the most morally despicable means of waging “hybrid war” on Russia, in full accordance with Realist take on the essence of international politics.
I believe that the deployed line of argumentation in defense of the idea that the new “Cold War” that is being currently waged by the collective West on Russia is an essential “hybrid”, correlates well with the paper’s initial thesis. It appears that the Russians have come to recognize the “hybrid” nature of their confrontation with the West as well – hence, the sheer effectiveness of Russia’s asymmetric responses to be provoked by the former. There are many reasons to believe that as time goes on, the West will continue to sustain more and more setbacks within the context of how it conducts “hybrid warfare” against its main geopolitical adversary. This, however, would be the subject of a separate discussion.
Bolender, K 2010, Voices from the other side: an oral history of terrorism against Cuba, Pluto Press.
Charap, S 2015, ‘The ghost of hybrid war’, Survival, vol. 57, no. 6, pp. 51-58.
Fuchs, G 2016, ‘Hybrid warfare – identifying the cause of potential conflict is important – not the ways and means?’, Online Journal Modelling the New Europe, vol. 2, no. 21, pp. 77-96.
Giegerich, B 2016, ‘Hybrid warfare and the changing character of conflict’, Connections: The Quarterly Journal, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 65-72.
Kilinskas, K 2016, ‘Hybrid warfare: An orientating or misleading concept in analysing Russia’s military actions in Ukraine?’, Lithuanian Annual Strategic Review, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 139-158.
Mearsheimer, J 2014, ‘Why the Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault: the Liberal delusions that provoked Putin’, Foreign Affairs, vol. 93, no. 5, pp. 77-89.
Pradhan, R 2015, ‘Russo-American engagement in Ukraine: Geopolitics at work’, IUP Journal of International Relations, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 7-20.
Toal, G & O’Loughlin, J 2017, ‘Why did MH17 crash? Blame attribution, television news and public opinion in Southeastern Ukraine, Crimea and the de facto states of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria’, Geopolitics, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 1-35.
Wither, J 2016, ‘Making sense of hybrid warfare’, Connections: The Quarterly Journal, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 73-87.