Publication: The Military Balance 2015
12 February 2015
Russia’s actions in Ukraine in 2014 have given defence planners in the West, and beyond, much to consider. The sophisticated combinations of conventional and unconventional means of warfare deployed by Russia, seen by many analysts as a form of ‘hybrid warfare’, have demonstrated that policymakers need to take these activities into account when crafting new concepts and re-examining existing strategies.
Concerns over hybrid warfare are manifest for states in the West – particularly those in NATO, whose Eastern members feel threatened by the combination of an assertive Russia and its capacity to rapidly seize territory. Meanwhile, Alliance members are again engaged on military operations in the Middle East, where additional anxieties have been prompted by the blend of conventional light infantry, part-insurgent and part-terrorist tactics employed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), fuelled by illicit oil sales and criminal activity. Furthermore, in some areas, such as the employment of coercive information operations, the 2014 versions of hybrid warfare employed in these very different theatres, by very different actors, display some similarities. As part of a cohesive response to these challenges, and in order to deter or defend against state or non-state actors employing hybrid warfare, NATO, its members, and partner states must be able to develop, implement and adapt strategies combining diplomatic, military, informational, economic and law-enforcement efforts.
The lessons are broader, however. Western policymakers may anticipate that some current or potential state or non-state adversaries will also learn from these hybrid-warfare activities, potentially including states in East Asia or the Middle East. They might discern, simply, what tactics worked and what capabilities are required to effect results; other lessons might derive from perceptions of how Western governments and armed forces have reacted and adapted, politically as well as militarily. These lessons might not necessarily be applied in conflicts with Western states, but their potential to rapidly destabilise could, if applied in other zones of political and military competition, mean they have global ramifications.