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Ukens analyse

Hybrid defence – an idea worth pursuing

Brin Najžer, PhD candidate, Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen.
Foto: Forsvarets Mediesenter

This week's analysis is written by Brin Najžer, PhD candidate, Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen. Brin writes about the idea of “hybrid defence” – a concept that often has been somewhat overlooked compared to its related “hybrid warfare”. He recommends two sources for further reading on the concept, and elaborates why we should pay more attention to this idea. Enjoy the reading!

Since the early months of 2014 Europe and, in particular, NATO has had to deal with a new reality, the return of real war to the continent. Following extensive analysis of the events during the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia and the on-going separatist unrest in Eastern Ukraine, the term “hybrid warfare” has gained much traction in the political and military lexicon of NATO. But describing events and understanding them are two different things. If we accept the assumption that hybrid warfare or hybrid threats are currently the most important issues facing NATO, a position espoused numerous times by high ranking Alliance officials, then it is prudent to think not only of what hybrid warfare is, but also how to defend against it. Hybrid defence suffers from similar problems of definition as does the concept of hybrid warfare, but it would be negligent not to plan ahead. If hybrid warfare is a blend of conventional and unconventional modes of warfare than a hybrid defence should follow a similar path. After all, as numerous commanders have discovered throughout history, and as NATO has learned in Afghanistan, you cannot defend against unconventional forces with purely conventional means.

The current thinking on hybrid defence however, is asking the impossible; the complete and total protection of the entire society and state from any weak points that a hybrid opponent might seek to exploit. Comprehensive strategies, which have unfortunately become the norm in European and NATO defence planning, seek to achieve just that, but it is worth remembering what Frederick the Great told his generals: “To defend everything is to defend nothing.” Hybrid warfare targets specific weak spots and not the entirety of a society. Hybrid defence should therefore seek to identify those weak spots and correct them, particularly when it comes to conventional military forces. We often forget that the most important reason why the North Atlantic area is the most secure part of the world is because of the resources expended on security, including the military. Once the resources that fuel that security begin to dwindle, threats that would otherwise be swept aside can quickly become real world crises. That is not to say that hybrid defence should focus exclusively on the military instrument. Cyber security, intelligence cooperation and effective policing should be towards the top of the list of priorities for NATO members, but efforts should not focus excessively on social, economic or political measures. Inter-organisational cooperation is often put forward as one possible way forward and at first sight NATO and the EU make a good complementary duo, but with one crucial flaw, the lack of an effective, clearly articulated strategy.

Further reading:

Mark Galeotti: Time to Think About “Hybrid Defense”

Aapo Cederberg and Pari Eronen: How can Societies be Defended against Hybrid Threats?

Brin Najžer is a PhD candidate, Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen.