Current developments have again brought hybrid warfare into fashion, most notably in the wake of the Russian military intervention in Ukraine.

To a large extent, the term refers to a blend of conventional warfare and non-conventional warfare containing several non-military aspects.

Blurring divides and disinformation

‘The term hybrid warfare was coined nearly a decade ago in US military writings to describe a “new” type of battlefield adversary confronting American forces that did not fit neatly into the traditional Western analytical categories of either conventional or unconventional threat. Instead, these new hybrid threats blurred the two, combining mixtures of high-tech and low-tech weaponry, new strategy and tactics, and a wide and confusing array of state and non-state combatants with overlapping political, criminal, informational, economic and terroristic methods and agendas’, explains senior research fellow Dr. Patrick Cullen at NUPI.

He is one of the researchers participating in the project Countering Hybrid Warfare. The aim is to develop concepts that make us better prepared to counter such forms of warfare. The project is led by Norway through NUPI, and is to last for two to four years.

‘The term hybrid warfare usefully captured Moscow’s use of “little green men” - like soldiers without insignia, irregular militias and other proxy forces, its combination of high-end and low-end weapons systems and tactics, and its intentional blurring of the state/non-state and conventional/unconventional divide’, Dr. Cullen states.

Through the coming years, the researchers taking part in Countering Hybrid Warfare will investigate the nature of hybrid warfare; what it is that constitutes something new and what is well known, and how to distinguish it from other, similar concepts such as ‘non-linear warfare’ and ‘ambiguous warfare’.

Importance for Norway and its partners

‘More intriguingly, and more problematically for Norway, Moscow’s two-pronged approach of using a disinformation campaign designed to blur or hide its role in the conflict, in tandem with limiting/ratcheting the degree of violence being deployed in Ukraine, seems strategically tailored to undercut a robust Western political or military response to the crisis,’ Cullen explains, adding:

‘This debate is far from academic. Norwegian politicians and defense officials - as well as other European and NATO officials - have expressed concern that NATO’s commitment to collective defense may be undermined if NATO member governments refuse to initiate Article 5 actions due to disagreement over whether or not a fellow member state is actually under attack by a foreign enemy or in a state of civil war.’