March , 2019

People Aur Politics

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On 23 June the Defence and Military Analysis Programme, in collaboration with the German Ministry of Defence, held a high-level workshop in Berlin to discuss and analyse questions regarding hybrid warfare and the changing character of conflict. The event brought together more than 80 leading international and German policymakers and experts, including German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, in support of the drafting process for the new German White Paper on Security Policy and the Future of the Armed Forces.

During his keynote address General Knud Bartels, Chairman of the Military Committee, NATO, explored the role of the military in national and multinational responses to hybrid threats. Hybrid warfare was designed to corrode state power, he explained, with the intent of a hybrid aggressor being to remain under the radar of a response threshold. This, he argued, is a strategy for a weaker adversary. Bartels notes that the West was currently confronted by two different hybrid models: the Russian model, in which military capabilities serve as a backdrop, and the IS model, which had created instability on the southern border of the Alliance. He stressed that other hybrid models were entirely possible, adding that the military contribution to countering hybrid threats had to focus on strong intelligence, capable command and control and large reserves and formations like the NATO Response Force.

The workshop’s first panel discussed the changing character of war in the context of hybrid threats. Speakers pointed out that while many different labels could be used alongside hybrid warfare to describe current conflicts, the concept provides decision-makers and analysts with a lexicon to understand contemporary conflicts in Europe’s eastern and southern neighbourhoods. They argues that Western states were not well equipped to distinguish between aggressive foreign policy and hybrid warfare and should develop a clearer understanding of when peace blends into war. While in the case of the Ukraine crisis it can be questioned whether Russia had actually developed a coherent operational concept of hybrid warfare, Russia managed to effectively combine all elements of state power and thereby challenged the fundamentals of Europe’s security order.

The second session built on the foundational discussions of the first panel by exploring case studies of the impact of hybrid warfare on NATO, the OSCE and Middle Eastern states. Regarding NATO, the announced measures of the Readiness Action Plan were put in context by the need for a new strategic framework within which these measures can be employed, with accelerated decision-making and better situational awareness. With respect to the Middle East, the audience was reminded that hybrid warfare has been closer to the norm than the exception in recent decades, both for state and non-state actors. This is reflective in part of the parallel hybridisation of both politics and military forces in many countries, and in part the combination of weak, delegitimised governments in possession of strong conventional militaries.  In both cases the importance of understanding the political context in which hybrid warfare occurs, and the aims of those actors employing a hybrid approach, was emphasised. The experiences of the OSCE in Eastern Ukraine outlined how existing security structures and organisations can play a role in this, but also the limitations of restricted mandates and relatively small budgets.

The third panel focused on the issue of strategic communication, which forms an important part of the responses available to Western nations confronted with hybrid challenges. Amid continued denials from Moscow of overt involvement in Eastern Ukraine, and assertions that Russia, Western policymakers have looked to use strategic communications tools as part of their response. It was generally agreed that information warfare was being conducted, and not just by Russia: the group also highlighted the information-based activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). In light of this, participants discussed what sort of information response there should be to such activities, and what body should deliver it.

The final panel also determined that effective strategic communications required a narrative, and that telling the truth in this context was highly important. This, participants concluded, gave the West a comparative advantage and could help it deconstruct an opponent’s narrative. They wondered, however, whether Western understanding of ‘truth’ was always the same as that of an adversary. They noted that any strategic communications response had to be nested within a strategy, and military means should not be at the centre of the corresponding narrative. A rapid analytical and response capability was important, but so was the ability to understand adversaries and their approaches to strategic communications. They noted, for example, that few full understood exactly how Russia’s ongoing disinformation activities worked.

The IISS delegation, led by François Heisbourg, Chairman of the IISS, involved experts from several research programmes, with Dr Bastian Giegerich, Director of Defence and Military Analysis; Nigel Inkster, Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk; Dr Samuel Charap, Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia; James Hackett, Editor of The Military Balance and Senior Fellow for Defence and Military Analysis; Alexander Nicoll, Senior Fellow for Geo-economics and Defence, Editor of Strategic Survey and of Strategic Comments; and Henry Boyd, Research Associate for Defence and Military Analysis, travelling to Berlin.
—Dr Bastian Giegerich, Director, Defence and Military Analysis Programme

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