Abstract. Based on an analysis of the causes and conditions of hybrid warfare, as well as its sociopolitical nature, this article formulates some of the laws and principles of HW as a new type of interstate confrontation, revealing their essence and content. It also justifies the importance of knowing and understanding these principles and laws in order to effectively counteract hybrid threats to Russia’s national security.
A systemic analysis of changes in the typology of modern military conflicts amid globalization and the information-communication revolution helps reveal how US ideology, built on self-proclaimed exceptionalism and chosenness, imperial nationalism, and the desire for domination in the international arena, impacts their essence and content.
Since the start of this century, military conflicts have been transforming under the impact of interconnected processes that determine the formation of a new world order during the transition from a unipolar system of international relations to a multipolar one. The most significant factors determining the substance, speed, and scope of financial-economic, military-political, and information-psychological transformations are, according to many experts, the strengthening of Russia, the rise of China, and the weakening of the US and the West in general.
A powerful impetus of changes in military-theoretical views on the alignment of forces in the international arena and the strategy and tactics of military conflicts came from events related to Russia’s resolute exit from the mode of state destruction and submission to US hegemony imposed on the country in the 1990s. The point in time that marked this transition was the speech by the Russian president in Munich in 2007 and the operation to coerce Georgia to peace (in August 2008).
That was when the US and NATO realized that Russia was abandoning its subordinate position, while the use of forceful pressure on it was confined by the fact that Moscow possessed nuclear arms.
The Genesis of Hybrid Warfare
Under these circumstances, to bring to heel recalcitrant rivals, Washington and Brussels needed new influence mechanisms that would allow for the balanced use of primarily nonviolent methods of imposing their will on them and achieving victory by diplomatic, political, financial-economic, and military means. As a last resort, they envisaged the use of major military force in case the opponent proved firmly intractable.
The idea of this kind of mechanism, which eventually came to be known as hybrid warfare (HW), became a major subject of military-science research by some American experts and research corporations – in particular, the RAND Corporation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Hudson Institute, etc. Eventually, results of that research were reflected in official documents of the Pentagon and NATO, while the very concept of HW is now widely used by military leaders, politicians, and scholars.
However, the term still has many various, quite often very broad and blurred definitions, while the scale and variety of the areas of public life it covers create a lot of ambiguity. This suggests the need for further research into this multifactorial phenomenon and the formation of a scientifically verified conceptualization of the latter.
In recent years, many Russian scholars have also dedicated a number of major academic papers to studying the essence and content of HW and elaborating the theory and practice of using the new knowledge obtained.1,2,3,4,5 It is worth mentioning, in particular, the new approaches to war escalation and de-escalation proposed by A.A. Kokoshin, Yu.N. Baluyevsky, V.I. Yesin, and A.V. Shlyakhturov that attach considerable importance to the use of hybrid military conflict potential that is to play the role of a turning point, when the international situation transitions from political crisis aggravation to HW with the limited use of military force.6
This surge in interest in the HW issue inspires hope that scientific developments will yield a corresponding full-fledged theory. This task of considerable importance to Russia’s national security may be furthered by our attempt in this paper to comprehend the laws and principles of HW, since HW will apparently remain part of military practice for many decades to come as a type of interstate confrontation.
The Laws of Hybrid Warfare
A sine qua non for ascertaining the essence of HW and assessing its sociopolitical nature is getting to know its laws. Knowing and understanding the causes and conditions of this new type of international confrontation help pinpoint likely military, political, economic, informational, and cybernetic dangers and threats and see and analyze their nature and prospective development pathways, which is crucial when devising an offensive or defensive strategy.
It is common knowledge that among the general laws of the theory of military art are laws pertaining to the outbreak, course, and outcome of war in general (systemic laws), and those pertaining to armed and other kinds of struggle in war as its relatively independent parts (subsystem laws).7
It should be noted in the interests of further research that the properties of general war laws include their fluidity and historical nature (expressed above all in the fact that some emerge as others cease to exist); the changing trends of war and armed struggle; and the quantitative and qualitative employment of the combat (military) might of the opposing parties, which was graphically manifest by the transformation of the nature of armed struggle caused by the emergence of the HW concept.
The fluidity factor of the system of war laws is key to explaining the nature of modern military conflicts and the emergence of new types of interstate confrontation, including HW.
While preserving the continuity of system and subsystem groups of war laws, HW spurred the emergence of new specific laws of armed struggle based on a synthesis of HW time, space, suddenness, strategic mobility, state vulnerability, acceleration, friction and wear/tear factors, and broad use of scientific achievements in a great variety of areas (psychology, anthropology, history, cybernetics, science of the brain, etc.) pioneered by this article’s author in a number of publications in Military Thought and monographs.
The content of the laws of the HW unleashed by the US and NATO against Russia is largely affected by its following features:
● the global geopolitical nature of the conflict, since the US seeks to eliminate Russia as a major and powerful geopolitical adversary – the only one that can destroy the US militarily
● the civilizational nature, since the US intends to remove, first of all, Russia, China, and Iran as its most significant ideological opponents that, within their own cultural-worldview paradigm, have created national development projects that are fundamentally different from US ideas of globalization and liberalization. Russia’s resolute rejection of similar ideas in the early 2000s formed the conditions for constructing a qualitatively different model of human civilization, very unlike the US one, marked by its own historical time, system of values, and unique cultural and civilizational code. This is precisely the kind of model that is called for to promote victory over the US and radical liberalism in the war of ideas.
● the permanent and universal nature of the conflict, which is determined by the use of the attrition strategy in HW envisaging a gradual transition from nonviolent political, economic, and information-psychological actions to military operations. This is a long-term strategy implemented with varying intensity in specially created grey zones – the HW theaters.
● the diffuse (hybrid) nature of HW, which means the use of all currently known assets and methods of war, including, due to the integration factor of interaction, color revolution technologies, which are a synthesis of attrition and destruction strategies as a catalyst to speed up the disintegration of the adversary state
● the indirect nature of the conflict thanks to the proxy war strategy as an important tool helping conceal the state interested in winning the HW.
Considering the time frame of HW duration (years and decades), the decisive role in its planning belongs to long-term strategies built on forecasting likely situation development options, and also on the ability to create and use anticipatory reflection of reality related to advance accelerated preparation for future possible changes in the operational environment. Anticipatory reflection in developing a HW strategy is a long-term vision of how a military conflict will develop based on a clearly structured sequence of actions for attaining the established objective.
In military affairs, anticipatory reflection – the ability to mentally synthesize the future, i.e., to model likely outcomes of military-political situations, whether conceived, emerging, or already under way – creates the prerequisites for forming offensive and defensive strategies and choosing the most effective and expedient forms and methods of impacting the adversary. Thus, speaking of Ukraine, the US and NATO HW strategy against Russia, considering the anticipatory reflection factor, was implemented for 30 years and helped deal a crushing blow to the country’s national self-awareness, its self-identification, public mindset, and national culture and worldview in general.
The anticipatory reflection factor for likely military-political situations should be taken as the backbone of the entire set of HW laws and planning.
Let me formulate the main HW laws based on analyzing the essence and distinctive features of this phenomenon as a new type of interstate confrontation and examine the specifics of their manifestation in contemporary conditions.
The law of using corrupt local elites as a major tool to weaken and bring down the state. According to this law, HW is unleashed, waged, and won primarily thanks to drawing the local elites to one’s own side, setting up a so-called fifth column. Vivid cases in point are the situations in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, and some other states destroyed as a result of HW and color revolutions. In those countries, the focus of HW strategists’ efforts was to nurture, maintain, and motivate to betrayal elites in the top echelons of the state apparatus and business community, politicians, diplomats, military leaders, some intellectuals and cultural figures.
The law of forming the grey zone as an HW theater. The grey zone is an environment of secret confrontation by state and nonstate entities on the verge of international military conflict, but never crossing this line. It is a type of concentrator of factors having some effect on the content and practical application of HW laws. Activity in the grey zone embodies a version of the US containment strategy by means of denial and the coercion doctrine built on modern HW technologies. Special operations forces demonstrate exceptionally high effectiveness in grey zones.
The law of HW denial. Compliance with this law is designed to prevent the escalation of confrontation to a level where it would be possible for international security organizations such as the UN, CSTO, or NATO to intervene on the basis of statutory documents.
The law of multidomain containment. With regard to HW strategy, this law reflects the comprehensive potential of containment doctrines based on the threat of using strategic nuclear and precision-guided long-range conventional weapons, as well as complementary conceptions of coercion and deterrence by means of denial. A combination of various doctrines enables HW to transition from the nonviolent conflict stage to a full-scale war up to a nuclear war under the impact of various factors that are frequently difficult to predict.
The law of covert use of a set of hybrid threats against the adversary. This law requires secrecy in planning offensive or defensive HW operations; skillful camouflage of own intentions, forces and assets; and diplomacy and restraint when informing the public of the interim results of the operation. The law reflects the need to keep the order and specifics of the use of the set of hybrid threats secret, including plans to synchronize them in terms of intensity, time, place, and type.
The law of blanket coverage of the state’s territory when conducting HW operations. It provides for destructive impact on all areas of the victim country’s public life in all of its regions, including confrontation in outer space and cyber space.
The law of anticipatory reflection in developing the HW strategy. This law is based on a long-term vision of the development of military conflict and the ability to single out the more vulnerable areas for the effective application of hybrid threats. To ensure anticipatory reflection, it is paramount to study the strategic culture of the adversary state carefully, including territorial, geographic, political, military-strategic, economic, environmental, ethnic, demographic, and religious factors, as well as specific features of the people’s mindset. This requires major analytical work done in advance based on the knowledge of history, anthropology, and the use of data from all kinds of reconnaissance.
The law of the priority of operations inflicting cognitive destructive impact on people’s consciousness and psyche. It envisages advanced destructive impact on the mind, feelings, and spiritual world of the people, and the use of color revolution techniques as a catalyst of HW operations in order to manipulate public consciousness and hasten the collapse of the state that is to be subsequently placed under external control. For instance, for over 30 years, the information-psychological (mental) sphere of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus has been the target of priority efforts by the US and NATO aimed at destructive changes in the mind and feelings of their ruling elites and population.
The law of development specifics of the HW military technical-sphere. It reflects two important factors of forming the HW technical-sphere. First, there are no types of armaments and military equipment devised specifically for it. Second, HW practice in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine suggests the need for the accelerated development of nonlethal weapons, as well as methods and techniques of information-propaganda work among enemy troops and the population involving modern cyber technologies and artificial intelligence. The high effectiveness of using precision-guided weapons and reconnaissance and strike drones is typical of the military technical-sphere of modern hybrid military conflicts at their use-of-force stage.
The laws listed here reflect the relative novelty of the HW phenomenon, whose strategy rests on the adversary’s ability to synchronize the use of artificial hybrid threats against the vulnerabilities of the victim state across its territory in terms of place, time, type, and intensity. Synchronization is achieved with a view to the nonlinear nature of HW and involving modern technologies of information-psychological and cyber impact.
Scientific analysis of the HW phenomenon is complicated by the fact that its broader development in the practice of confrontation is taking place amid an accelerated transformation of the world order, the most powerful catalyst of which has been the special military operation in Ukraine.
The Principles of Hybrid Warfare
Inextricably tied to the laws of HW are the principles used in its planning and execution. These constitute the most general fundamental rules and recommendations to be followed when devising and implementing the HW strategy.
It must be emphasized that the laws exist and operate objectively, outside human consciousness, and do not depend on people’s will and desire. It is precisely the laws that serve as a source of principles consciously and purposefully formed in the interests of HW practice; they are the basis of decision-making for the practical implementation of strategies depending on specific conditions.
A study of the diversity of factors determining the content, character, and behavior of the adversary in each domain that is the target of subversive activity prompts the formulation of the most significant principles for developing and implementing corresponding strategies.
Complete consideration of the factors that determine the potential of the adversary, including the strategic culture of the victim state, bottlenecks and vulnerabilities, weapons, and the forms and methods of conducting operations. Highly informative in this context is the strategic culture of the state, which fairly comprehensively describes the rules of its military behavior in foreign policy relations.
Support of uninterrupted interaction. This requires reflection of planned steps for coordinating actions by various forces and assets in worked out documents and support of their prompt preparation and timely conveyance to executors, lucidity at all control levels, and also measures to maintain communication among all operation participants so that they are all mutually informed. Much attention should be paid to ensuring a balance of the forms and methods of using soft and hard power and their mutual conditioning at various stages of HW.
Continuity of mutual information about the situation. This implies providing the conditions for maintaining continuity among HW operation participants at all levels of control.
Continuous monitoring of mission performance at the executor level. This implies assistance in maintaining interaction and avoiding duplication, organizing reconnaissance and additional reconnaissance of targets, and monitoring and assessing the damage inflicted on the adversary.
Stable, flexible, and continuous control of operations. This requires setting up flexible (adaptive) control levels that can be easily transformed and adjusted to new activity conditions, tasks, and assignments. Operation control in the grey zone is organized at three basic levels: strategic, operational, and tactical. Several specific features set it apart from classical military control, including activity in the grey zone of three international entities: the aggressor state and/or nonstate actors; the victim state; and neighboring states that seek to ensure their own security from the destructive effect of events in the grey zone. The combination of these and several other factors makes the grey zone a complicated geopolitical knot involving competing global and regional power centers, which predetermines the specifics of operation control at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels, as well as intelligence work.
Unified views on the plan, purpose, and tasks of HW per se and of its individual operations. This is achieved by maintaining undivided authority and organizing interaction between all forces and assets involved in HW on the basis of a single idea and plan.
Undivided authority. This is achieved by concentrating the main functions and powers of managing HW operations and organizing offensive and protective military and nonmilitary measures in the hands of a single person: the head of the interdepartmental HW control body. Undivided authority is important due to the very rapid, tense, and complicated preparation of HW operations, and the vast numbers of interacting diverse forces and assets. Under these conditions, the managing authority, when making a decision, defines the general and particular tasks for enlisted forces and assets and the methods for their implementation. At the operational and tactical levels, they likewise make decisions that specify orders from the higher authority.
Continuous reconnaissance of the adversary and prompt transmission of reconnaissance information to relevant forces and assets. Reconnaissance in HW is also hybrid, which implies encompassing various areas of interstate confrontation. It is conducted across and outside enemy territory and aims to ensure the strategic advantage in the grey zone. In this context, major reconnaissance efforts focus on the prompt and accurate identification of various elements in the grey zone as the HW theater.
Preemption of the adversary in actions. This principle is inextricably connected with the previous one and implies constant forecasting of how the situation might develop and flexible adjustment of one’s own activity to any changes in the situation. Implementing this principle is a sine qua non of justifying the expediency of launching preventive strategic strikes against the adversary after receiving guaranteed reliable intelligence information about its imminent aggression. The preemption principle is especially important when the adversary takes preliminary measures to prepare for cognitive warfare, such as creating subversive NGO networks, launching anti-government campaigns, discrediting the ruling elites of the victim country, conducting misinformation operations, invigorating the fifth column, etc.
It appears that ignoring the preemption principles played a fatal role in the Ukraine events, when the adversary managed to seize the initiative and impose a set of measures to prepare and carry out a color revolution and coup d’état thanks to coordinated outside interference and the support of domestic Russophobe nationalists, which ultimately resulted in a civil war with Ukraine turning into a bridgehead of US and NATO aggression against Russia. At the same time, observing the preemption and continuous reconnaissance principles was instrumental in Crimea’s successful reunification with Russia.
Foresight in forecasting situation development and flexibly adjusting one’s own activity to changes in the situation. This principle stems from the law of anticipatory reflection of the likely emergence and development of military-political, military, and military-technical situations in the course of HW based on an analysis of reasons for their inception, likely sources in the past and present, and also resources available to the adversary for creating all those.
The above list includes the principles whose observance is mandatory in all HW operations. At the same time, it is not definitive and can be supplemented or reduced depending on the transformation of forms and methods of confrontation.
In addition, at various HW stages, the importance and content of certain principles may change depending on the intensity of the confrontation, the use of innovative means and methods of combat, the emergence of new allies or disintegration of former coalitions, and progress in the military technical-sphere.
In conclusion, it must be said that the knowledge of HW laws and principles helps form relatively stable systemic structures whose interaction determines the strategy of offensive and defensive actions in a hybrid military conflict amid dramatically growing interdependence of the world. Studying and implementing them makes it possible to consider in advance the constant or slowly changing factors related to the geopolitical positioning of HW subjects and agents, to predict the composition of its participants, the ties established among them, the potential organizational mechanism of interaction, the hierarchy of relations, etc. It is also important to predict the effect of variables associated with the impact on the conflict of challenges, risks, dangers, and threats, some of which are difficult to predict and may spring up unexpectedly.
HW laws and principles may serve as important reference points in developing issues of Russia’s top strategy theory and practice intended to ensure the state’s stable progress and its ability to withstand today’s threats and challenges.
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