Hybrid War for Dummies
By Patrick Armstrong
First published on Russia Observer
“Hybrid war” is an expression that is much used of late. It has two opposing meanings which must carefully be distinguished.
The first is the way the term is commonly used; that use is imaginary;
the second is the way it is not used; that use is factual.
To take the first use: “hybrid war”, they tell us, is what Russia is doing and NATO has to create a response. And here’s a whole paper about it. (Although I must confess I can’t figure out whether the author thinks that asserting that Russia is cunningly practising “hybrid warfare” is true or or whether he thinks saying so is just plain nonsense.) In the paper we find this:
In sum, Russian hybrid warfare as widely understood in the West represents a method of operating that relies on proxies and surrogates to prevent attribution and intent, and to maximize confusion and uncertainty.
The author also tells us it is sometimes called the “Gerasimov doctrine” after an article written in 2013 by the Chief of the Russian General Staff.
According to Gerasimov, the lessons of the Arab Spring are that if the ‘rules of war’ have changed, the consequences have not – the results of the ‘colored revolutions’ are that a ‘thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe and civil war.’
In short, the theoretical foundation of this supposedly amazing, tricky, sinister and almost invisible Russian way of waging war originates in a paper written about Western-inspired “colour revolutions”. But I’ll return to that point later.
We started to hear a lot about “hybrid war” after the referendum in Crimea. And still more after the fighting started in eastern Ukraine. And this is where we see the term used in an imaginary sense. “Russia invaded Crimea“. Well, it didn’t: it already had 20-25 thousand troops in Crimea (by treaty – the Russian Black Sea Fleet has been based at Sevastopol since before the US Constitution was drafted) and those were the troops used. What were they used for? To make sure that a referendum was peaceful. Which it was and the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants voted to re-join Russia. No evidence of invasion? all the more proof that it’s… “hybrid war“!
Then Russia “invaded” Ukraine. Again, no serious evidence was presented – I covered the laughable “evidence” that NATO was handing out at the time and there is no need to go over it again: blurry satellite photos of something or other, “social media and common sense”, reporters who saw but – !! – forgot the means to record it. But, the lack of evidence makes us all the more certain that it must have been… “hybrid war”!
Then they read comments on their flacks’ articles that show their audience doesn’t believe it any more. Trust in the MSM continues to drop. RT appears on TV screens and attracts an audience. People catching on to the lying? No way, it must be… “hybrid war”!
Disagreement… “hybrid war”! Vote against it… “hybrid war”! Doubt it… “hybrid war”! Criticise it… “hybrid war”! Question it… “hybrid war”!
So, if you want to assert something, but you don’t have any evidence, call it “hybrid war”! If somebody catches you in a whopper, it must be “hybrid war”! No US Navy base in Sevastopol, it must be “hybrid war“!
“Hybrid” is used here in the sense of “invisible”.
And you hope that no one noticed that when Moscow actually did intervene with military force – as in Syria – reporters remembered their cameras, satellite photos became so sharp you could almost read the serial numbers and there was evidence of Russian military activity all over the place. Nothing “hybrid” about that.
So, that is the term “hybrid war” in its common, but imaginary, sense.
We now turn to the rarely used, but non-imaginary sense of the term. Remember that Gerasimov wrote his piece while discussing “colour revolutions”. A colour revolution is the nickname given to a regime change operation. As, for example, the Rose Revolution in Georgia that overthrew Shevardnadze and brought in Saakashvili. Or the Orange Revolution in Ukraine that overthrew Yanukovych (the first time) and brought in Yushchenko. Or the Libyan Arab Spring that killed Qaddafia and blew up the country. Or the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan that everyone has forgotten. Or the abortive White Ribbon Revolution in Russia. Or the abortive Umbrella (a colour is a giveaway these days, but there has to be a catchy slogan) Revolution in Hong Kong. Now that’s real “hybrid war”. And, as we have seen in course of the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, sometimes it becomes a real shooting war, with real dead bodies and entrails. Used to be that to get rid of a ruler you didn’t like, you invaded and eventually fished him out of a hidey hole and hanged him. Now, you invest the money ($5 billion in Ukraine we are told) to organise protests against corruption and overthrow him. But, different methods in different places: sometimes the one thing, sometimes the other; but it’s all war, and it’s all “hybrid”.
It’s “hybrid” because it uses many methods to bring about the desired regime change: propaganda, manipulation, protest and, occasionally, a little judicious bombing. So how ironic – how “hybrid”, in fact – that Gerasimov’s so-called textbook of Russian “hybrid war” should actually be written about the real “hybrid war” that Washington practises. A neat illustration that the common use of the term “hybrid war” is imaginary and that the hidden use is real.
For any objective observer, the evidence of who actually practises “hybrid war” is all around. Look at what we have learned just in the last month or so. The Guardian informs us that “The British government is waging information warfare in Syria by funding media operations for some rebel fighting groups…“. In the USA “15 years ago, there were two PR people for every reporter in the country. Now there are 4.8 PR people for every reporter.” “One of President Obama’s top national security advisers led journalists to believe a misleading timeline of U.S. negotiations with Iran over a nuclear agreement and relied on inexperienced reporters to create an ‘echo chamber’…”. Even respected organisations like MSF are suspect: “It seems that current MSF actions and statements on Syria are biased and effectively serving the coalition of governments waging war on Syria in violation of international law.” The US funds “White Helmets” – an allegedly independent neutral organisation in Syria – but won’t allow its leader into the USA. “Millions of pounds of British humanitarian aid sent to Syria may have fallen into the hands of jihadists, it has been claimed“. “The problems of the Middle East and North Africa are being compounded by a lack of ‘Western involvement,’ former Tory Foreign Secretary William Hague has claimed.” “Referenda are becoming a huge problem for the EU. The latest result in the Netherlands on the Association Agreement with Ukraine is probably the worst possible outcome.” “Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, you have been manipulated, war was staged – Former CIA officer.” “And as life has shown during these two years, Ukraine today is not a successful project. That is, America has not coped with this task.“
A recent sample; and none of it from Russia or from any Putin “hybrid war” troll. What have we learned? Let us translate:
Most of what you hear about Syria actually comes from London;
Most reporters these days are full time PR flacks;
Your government manipulates what you think you know;
NGOs – well forget the NG part, only the O part is true;
Different “NG”O, same story;
Either we’re not as smart as we told you we were or we always intended to give the so-called enemy all that stuff. You’ll never know;
More wars and more wars after that; eventually we’ll get to the Last War of All;
Democracy is for losers; which is what Dutch voters are;
Oops! Ukraine is a disaster, but the next intervention is guaranteed to be a winner. Trust us.
Definitely warfare – if you’re in Syria, Iran, Middle East, North Africa, Netherlands, former Yugoslavia, Ukraine. Warfare and pretty “hybrid” too. “Hybrid” here means sometimes bombs, sometimes “democracy promotion”, but always lies and manipulation.
By the way, this sort of thing began some time ago – “It’s recently [ February 2011] been revealed that the U.S. government contracted HBGary Federal for the development of software which could create multiple fake social media profiles to manipulate and sway public opinion.”
Which makes it all the more “hybrid” to assert that Gerasimov dreamed it all up three years ago.
Patrick Armstrong is a retired analyst in the Canadian Department of National Defence specialising in the USSR/Russia, and a Counsellor in the Canadian Embassy 1993-1996. He is regular contributor to Sic Semper Tyrannis, the former military intelligence analyst colonel Patrick Lang’s website.