In recent years, the term “hybrid warfare” has often been used in the West to refer to the new dangers that exist in the world of the 21st century. What exactly it is, however, often remains unclear, and often it does not describe much more than the increase in harmful actions against these states.So how should this supposedly new phenomenon be dealt with?
Relations between the Kingdom of Morocco and the states of the European Union are tense. It does not help to ease the situation that within only 24 hours in May this year, about 10,000 people had crossed the Moroccan border to Ceute, a Spanish exclave on the African mainland, and now wanted to enter Spanish territory, albeit not the Schengen area, from which Ceuta is excluded. The government in Rabat was thus able to put pressure on the government in Madrid and thus also on those in Berlin and Paris. The background to the current escalation is the medical treatment of Brahim Ghali in Spain, one of the leaders of POLISARIO, a guerrilla group fighting against the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. It is these forms of semi-military conflict that are currently causing so much trouble for the West. Whether the Ukraine conflict, IS, the use of migrants as leverage or the ubiquitous cyberattacks, they are all part of the so-called hybrid war.
The term itself already suggests the blending of different elements, which are now being deployed in an apparently coordinated manner to weaken an opponent. But why is this danger currently receiving such attention? Several reasons could be given. For example, there are a number of problems that were not present or simply not possible in this form a few years ago. The most obvious example is the internet. Historically, the importance of this technology is still a new phenomenon and is still characterised by a high degree of uncertainty. In particular, the relationship between the attacker and the defender must be mentioned. While our classical view assumes that a military attack is very expensive and involves considerable risks for the attacker himself, as in the case of the protracted siege of a fortress or the risks involved in a campaign against a foreign nation. Here, however, the situation is completely different. The aggressor does not have to fear high costs or personal consequences if his state employs him in this attack or gives him a free hand in his operations. And for the state itself, this approach also offers the possibility of reducing the negative effects to a minimum. Precisely because cyberattacks do not represent a military action in the true sense of the word, i.e. with human victims, the countries hit tend to be very restrained in their counter-reactions. This avoids escalation and allows the adversary to continue to be weakened.
For Europe, the relatively new phenomenon of uncontrolled mass immigration has become a common way for countries like Turkey, Libya or Morocco to strengthen their position. The threats posed by terrorists, in principle not a new phenomenon, are now considered to be much greater than before, even if this is not reflected in the numbers in most European countries. However, various terrorist organisations, especially the Islamists, have been able to gain considerable power in the regions around Europe, a development for which the European states have not been able to develop an adequate strategy to date. The US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the 2006 Lebanon war between Israel and Hezbollah as well as the increasing anarchy in the Sahel zone show how difficult it is to fight such an opponent. Since it is very difficult to defeat them completely, they in turn can always launch new attacks, which can destroy the morale of the troops.
A central aspect of this warfare seems to me to be the fact that much of it is kept hidden, i.e. it is primarily a case of “covert warfare”. Thus, there is a permanent attempt to raise doubts about the true authorship of an operation, which naturally makes a counter-reaction more difficult. The best-known example of such an approach is probably Russia’s actions in the conflict over Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Moscow has repeatedly rejected accusations from the West, only to confirm them at a later date. Russia’s role in the fighting in eastern Ukraine and within the warring parties there is also difficult to determine. On the other hand, there is now also a kind of mirror-image variant of this tactic. In this case, certain actors are blamed for attacks whose authors are unclear, without any evidence or only circumstantial evidence, which complicates the situation even more.
In summary, it can probably be concluded that the term hybrid warfare primarily shows a narrow understanding of war before the word was introduced. That different forms of influence and attacks are used in a conflict is nothing unusual and certainly nothing new. However, new techniques are being used, and from the point of view of the Western nations, it is above all the intensity that has taken on new proportions. They become more aware of their own weakness than before. In particular, the many ambiguities regarding the authorship of certain attacks can lead to unpleasant uncertainty and in the long run represent a burden for a society and the security of a country.