NATO’s Misguided Response to “Hybrid Threat”

by Andrew Korybko

An analyst looks at code in the malware lab of a cyber security defense lab. © REUTERS

An analyst looks at code in the malware lab of a cyber security defense lab. © REUTERS

The NATO Defense College put together an extensive publication last December about “NATO’s Response to Hybrid Threats”, which sought to explain how the military bloc views the (re)emerging strategic shift in modern-day warfare. A collection of distinguished and high-ranking experts contributed to the Forum Paper and each of them endeavored to add their own insight into this topic. As it turned out to be, the author’s own book about “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change” was actually cited there as an example of “the Russian point of view” towards Hybrid Wars.
The purpose of this review is to present an alternative perspective that aims to highlight some of the shortcomings contained within it. The piece is admittedly critical and holds to the point that the entire exercise is fundamentally flawed owing to the overwhelming lack of strategic empathy displayed by the contributors. The author isn’t asking others to agree with or become sympathetic to the position he holds, but simply to exercise empathy in understanding the other side’s perspective. Failure to do so will only lead to NATO undertaking more unnecessary and misguided countermeasures which would ultimately serve to escalate the simmering New Cold War tensions between the US and Russia and needlessly prevent the two Great Powers from pragmatically cooperating with one another in areas of shared interest.
While there veritably are certain actors who want to preclude this possibility at all costs, it’s not to the overall benefit of either country to have this happen. Thus, it’s in the spirit of benevolence that the author proceeds with his constructive criticisms in hopefully convincing the relevant experts and decision makers that NATO’s present response to Hybrid War requires an immediate reformulation.
The articles of the edition are plagued with a couple major recurring problems that are visibly evident throughout the entire publication.
Mirror Imaging is the most significant of them. In a claim proposed by Diego A. Ruiz Palmer, a veteran analyst of the US Department of Defense, that..

in the typically Russian (and Soviet) practice of ascribing to foreign countries the paternity of concepts and practices developed and implemented by Russia (and, in its time, the USSR), the hybrid warfare concept described by Russian military theorists as the core of West’s devious foreign policies is, actually, the compass that Russia has been employing (p.62)

..the words “Russia” can be legitimately switched to “the US”, and “West” – vice versa.
In essence, the NATO authors are unable to discern that the exact same types of tactics of Hybrid War that they’re writing about in their publication and attributing to Russia have actually been employed by the US all across the world, with the most globally pertinent case being the War on Syria. The inability to recognize this obvious fact isn’t necessarily due to any deliberate cunning on the part of the contributors, but is emblematic of the socio-political preconditioning that they’re intensely exposed to in their workplace environment and home countries.
So the second major flaw is Groupthinking. The most plausible explanation for why NATO strategists continually project the machinations of their bloc’s own leader (the US) onto that of Russia is in large part due to their sincere belief in the ‘self-evident truths’ that they’ve been taught, namely that Russia is always “aggressive” and “wicked” and the US, NATO, and the West as a whole are always “defensive” and “virtuous”. The pervasive promulgation of this presumption into every facet of Western life is actively encouraged by all relevant stakeholders – the media, military, political, and educational classes – in order to craft a narrative that accords to the ‘politically correct’ precepts of “American Exceptionalism”.
In turn, the population comes to accept such ideas as unquestionable due to their upbringing in this particular indoctrinated info-system. The pertinent result of this is that many experts lose their creative flexibility and thus become unable to place themselves into positions of strategic empathy, which correspondingly prevents them from understanding their opponents and identifying what truly drives their behavior.
They no longer have the capacity to countenance that Russia and the US might not behave in the manner that they’ve been preconditioned to expect, instead only seeing what they’ve been trained to see and remaining blind to whatever the actual reality may be.
The failure to view a given situation, let alone a grand strategy, through the eyes of their rivals and the harsh condemnation that smeared “apologists” receive for daring to engage in this sort of ‘politically incorrect’ ‘blasphemy’ leads to a crippling incidence of groupthink that severely limits the accuracy and practicality of research projects such as “NATO’s Response to Hybrid Threats”.
Another logical paradox of this NATO edition is that it represents a Hybrid Warfare tool itself. Ironically, the authors find themselves engaging in the same informational aspects of Hybrid War that they apparently condemn Russia for. It’s uncertain to what degree this might be wittingly or unwittingly done, but the effect is nevertheless the same since the use of clichéd descriptions such as “authoritarian”, “repressive”, and “autocratic” in reference to Russia clearly shows the normative bias that’s being promoted. It can be surmised that they are ‘preaching to the choir’ as a means of narrative reinforcement, though it’s unclear what purpose it serves to employ infowar rhetoric in the given context of crafting tangible responses to “hybrid threats”.
Venturing to make an educated supposition about why this may be, it’s reasonable to wonder whether the contributors and/or their editor(s) were trying to reassure the appropriate decision makers of the righteousness of their existing policies and convince them to follow through with whatever forthcoming proposals they suggest within the document, all of which would be wrapped in a tidy package of ‘squeaky clean’ normative judgments. The reason that the author believes this is the most logical explanation for why some people were ‘hiding Hybrid War in an ‘anti-Hybrid War’ package’ is because of the conspicuous manner in which “NATO’s Response to Hybrid Threats” overly relies on conventional means to counter admittedly unconventional challenges.
For example, one of the experts fears that Russia might try to ‘pull a Crimea’ in the ethnic Russian-populated areas of Estonia (p.178), but astoundingly suggests that this and the scenario cascade that he believes it will trigger should be countered by a conventional military buildup and the dispatching of American troops to the country. Similar odd examples such as the one just mentioned are characteristic of most of the chapters, raising the disturbing question about whether such obviously inappropriate conventional “responses” to asymmetrical supposed challenges are being purposely made in order to ‘legitimize’ preordained and unrelated ‘solutions’, such as in this case the eastern buildup of NATO and American forces in the former Warsaw Treaty space.
If that’s the case – and in some instances it convincingly appears to be – then it would mean that the informational aspects of Hybrid War are being self-inflicted by NATO experts against their own upper-brass, the political leadership of their member states, and the general Western population in order to ‘legitimately’ scare them into agreeing to these measures under the convenient cover of ‘countering the Russian Hybrid War threat’.
Ironically, “NATO’s Response to Hybrid Threats” would then be functioning just like the “state propaganda” that it accuses Russia of unleashing against its domestic population (p.26), except in this case the military bloc is also gearing its artificial message towards its own ruling deep state (military, intelligence, diplomatic) decision makers in an effort to reinforce their existing groupthink stereotypes and ‘butter them up’ for agreeing to an unrelated set of proposals.
Summing up, the edition’s correlation to existing narratives prevalent within the Western academic-media-political info-system does not mean that its contents are objectively correct. Furthermore, it’s unrealistic to think that support for the preordained ‘solutions’ thought up by the strategists could be perpetually sustained by the incessant use of information warfare against foreign and domestic audiences. It’s strategically precarious to base one’s entire narrative on a package of carefully crafted deceptions, especially when globally renowned alternative media outlets are speedily dismantling these myths and exposing them for the set of falsehoods that they truly are.
NATO’s strategists need to look inward in order to understand the essence of Hybrid War, since the US and its slew of NATO allies have been extensively waging this sort of warfare all across the world, and especially since the end of the Cold War. Imagining a make-believe Russian “threat” just because it’s politically convenient to do so will not reveal any important information about the nuances of their strategy, but will instead reinforce a false reality that takes away from real scholarship and distorts it into an unwitting informational Hybrid War accomplice

Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, journalist and a regular contributor to several online journals, as well as a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. His other areas of focus include tactics of regime change, color revolutions and unconventional warfare used across the world. His book, “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change”, extensively analyzes the situations in Syria and Ukraine and claims to prove that they represent a new model of strategic warfare being waged by the US.


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Jul 9, 2016 10:01 AM

that they’ve been taught, namely that Russia is always “aggressive” and “wicked” and the US, NATO, and the West as a whole are always “defensive” and “virtuous”. The pervasive promulgation of this presumption into every facet of Western life

Regrettably this doltish dogma does indeed form the primary basis for NATO thinking on Russia. It is worth examining the reasons for its prevalence among politicians, military strategists and service personnel within the NATO ambit.
# Exceptionalism . Exceptionalism is the American/NATO development of the Nazi policies of Albert Speer – viz, that their nation has some (unexplained) genetic superiority over other peoples or nations, which in turn arises from some form of (god-given) Fate which makes them shaped to govern the affairs of (other) men on Earth. This appealing bunkum has been used by nations and people throughout recorded history as a justification for their (otherwise) unjustifiable self-imposed rule over others. The Roman Empire, for example, claimed they were ‘entitled’ to keep all other nations under their power due to an intangible phenomenon they named Fas in Latin – the ‘Fate’ of the Roman people to govern the rest of the world nobly, on behalf of the (Roman, ‘natch) gods they believed ruled the Universe. The British Empire similarly referred to the ‘White Man’s Burden’ – the (allegedly wearisome) responsibility of white British men to keep their dusky brethren in check by policies of beatings and shootings. It is, of course, racist baloney. Thus it appeals to simian simpletons like Curtis Crapalotti and Philip Breedhate.
# Doing the Lord’s Work Like all forms of religious fundamentalism, the appeal here is the simple-minded. When no logical argument can be made in favour of warfare or violence, the more simplistic ‘God wants it!” is a cause that defies all forms of logic. As part of the Holy Trinity of high unemployment levels, and economic downturn, it’s a powerful recruiting tool for getting shallow-minded psychopaths into uniform. It brings meaning, boots, and regular vittles into the lives of drifters.
# Racial Superiority. Another borrowing from the lexicon of the Third Reich is the notion that non-NATO lives don’t count. Colin Powell famously said that he ‘didn’t bother’ compiling fatality statistics for those whose lives he had summarily terminated. By denying basic humanity to the alleged ‘foe’, all feelings of guilt for their deaths are sublimated. They are not humans – they are not even statistics. They are not Americans, and so they can be murdered, relocated or liquidated at will. This moves on further into Eichmann’s ideas of cleansing the genetic pool of ‘inferior’ elements which pollute the race – it’ s not only permissible, but desirable, and a moral responsibility.
# They cain’t even speak English For monolingual Americans who struggle to spell even simple words in their own language, the idea of a vast nation of people writing things in a hocus-pocus alphabet which no God-respecting people can read is deeply unsettling, and needs to be ‘dealt with’. Why cain’t they jes’ speak the Lord’s language like we does?

Jul 9, 2016 9:18 PM
Reply to  reinertorheit

Well said – I add that self-specialness and a presumption of a superior judgement is not ONLY found in the attitudes and behaviours of others. I don’t bring this in to undermine honest addressing of such error when met in our world, nor to blame us for having such a pattern of behaviour – but to illuminate an arena of choice – as the freedom to re-cognize and re-align more honestly with a sense of shared worth and integrity or honesty from which to extend a different quality of communication and relationship (indeed an actual receptivity to the other) – rather than some form of one-up-man-ship seeking agreement, justification or validation.
The wish or attempt to better than or superior to is inextricably one with its other face – of being less than inferior and subject to. Readers here might say “yes – but you’ll never get everyone (else) to change – and indeed as long as everyone is looking at what is lacking or wrong or unworthy and inadequate in others – this thinking is guaranteed to be a self-reinforcing truism.
The key is I am not trying to ‘get anyone to change’ and therefore can bring at least some receptive willingness to listen and therefore of relationship in which the action reaction of hate – for that is what is actually being traded in when we define, feel, think and act from a loveless sense of self, even if we believe our own mind-spin of being caring, kind, easy going and helpful. Our ‘love’ is extremely conditional – and turns to hate in a moment. This suggests that much that is called love is not love but a substitute by which to hide what is felt necessary to keep hidden. The substitution of a real relationship with a false narrative is the name or nature of the game that operates like a mind-trap. Self-specialness is very deeply imprinted or embedded and associated with survival and therefore calls on resources and abilities that ‘work’ – including very complex layers of deceit that operate as if out of sight and out of mind of other aspects of the same You.
So be alert to self-righteousness in our own thought and deed for if we give it our trigger finger it goes forth to multiply and reinforce hate. Identifying the underlying issues rather than focusing in the personal – because personae are masks of displacement – unless we recognize that we don’t need or truly want to operate in that way – and allow our personality to be aligned with our true presence. Each and every one is a unique expression of individuality and when we are in a safety of genuine trust – this stands forth as a signature of Life (under any or no name).
Extending trust will not come from fear and blame believed – but it can come from a willingness to open negotiation in which steps can be found that open perspectives that are not available if no real negotiation is allowed because ‘the enemy’ is our first and last judgement on each other and our world (and of course firstly and secretly on our self).
I feel that being human is a curriculum or journey of uncovering – but that such curriculum is determined or set up by the nature and configuration of that which ‘covers’ over or usurps a true receptivity and expression of the Life that (regardless of appearances) we are. Or to put it the other way around the Life that is actually here right where we are asserting and operating a narrative spin that may or may not be aligned – but cannot actually substitute for the intimacy of being. Though it may seem philosophical, the substitution of self concept or self image for a directly felt quality of wholeness – is the basis of the ‘lording it’ over ones experience syndrome. But having opened Pandora’s box or fragmented Humpty Dumpty – All the kings resources are failing to put together again – indeed our seeming solutions spawn more complex problems. So abdicate a false sense of personal capacity and acknowledge that a balanced sense of what is – and where and how we fit and flow and find our way – is not control OVER life or others – but an uncovering of balance and control within the Living that is natural to being aligned with a true sense of worth. Not a manufactured or asserted justification – but for example; doing something well because you enjoy it. Then there is no call to guilt or coerce yourself to do what you don’t want – nor playing the game of setting conditions for joy that the world will never give you. The sacrifice of our joy is in the belief that the world has denied or rejected it – and so of course a sense of ‘self’ arises that seeks to ‘get back’ what it feels deprived or denied, and ‘get even’ with a world that gave it such pain – and needs to feel it too – so that the denied and rejected can be known in a true acceptance.
To feel known in an unconditional acceptance is release – both from a conflicted sense of self and for a sharing in life from a sense of wholeness. But I add this noticing… you all press my buttons. the world is a persistent trigger of conditioned reactions – and an opportunity and privilege in which to share Life – both. Self-responsibility cannot be thrust on another – but it can witness to and extend invitation. Collectivism operates a false substitute for community and true individuality is a bringing of wholeness into one’s relationship and not a power apart from and over relationships – as if to use and exploit them for some fantasy evaporation. No blame in recognizing a mistake and accepting a corrected alignment – though it seems humiliating at face value. But in truth a burden falls away. The world or the other may persist in blaming even if you withdraw your investment and allegiance – but you cannot make another’s choices for them, though you can join in their power and capacity to choose. Here is the opportunity to uncover a shared willingness if indeed that is your willingness extended.
As long as we look to get one up, or play one down so as to ruse another to overextend and trip themselves – we are not in a willingness to embrace and share Life on Earth – and so there need be no surprise that a different purpose operates our world – through us while we hate everyone else or special others for failing our wishes, expectations or demands.

Richard Le Sarcophage
Richard Le Sarcophage
Jul 11, 2016 5:52 AM
Reply to  reinertorheit

The Yankee Herrenvolk don’t follow the Nazis-it’s the other way around. The eugenics movement was mainly and Anglo-US creation, later adapted by the Nazis, who admired its ambitions.

Jul 11, 2016 9:53 AM

You can pin it on German Nazis if you want but I see it much more pervasive and with much more long term focus through the power seeking identity. Chosen elite people is not a new idea. The Nazis were cultivated. supported and used by corporate cartel power – which itself is used to break down and replace society or national, traditional , family or personal identity.
The doltish term used is the revealer of the ‘superior’ intelligence. As long as the right to hate and push down and undermine is given power of acceptability or legitimacy, then the competition to align with this or that power in terms of such hate persists and feeds and fuels the war-mind which operates the device of NOT resting in knowing who and what you are.

Jul 8, 2016 2:42 PM

The imprinting of terror captures the mind to then align with it as power. This is not rational – rather all rationality is subordinated to defend and protect the fragment that terror ‘saves’ by conferring ‘special’ privilege and protection.
The role terror plays in mind-control is – I believe – a re-enacting of the core separation trauma by which a segregative and manipulative mind replaces the open communication of natural being – and is effectively at war with its own being. therefore there is a war on Consciousness and upon Life on Earth that is not rationally apprehensible because our ‘mind’ is already compromised to operate the evasion of terror and the suppression of rage. This embodies itself in caricature with the loud public accusations of the evils of the ‘other’ that are manifestly and openly being enacted by the accuser. The power to carry this off without being openly disregarded is the terror of the consequence of honesty. However, addiction running out of control is a demonic and destructive mind-trap and honesty has to open within it – one way or another if Life is to restore a true foundation. Honesty is not a strategy – but a release of strategic thinking for a true account. Bad intelligence – bad outcome. We each make a persona for everyone in our life and assign it the qualities and roles that we then react to as true – but these come from – and reinforce – our own personality construct.
Curiously, ‘war on terror’ can be indicative of the desperate attempt to avoid it – thus giving power to any and every pretence and illusion that keeps it at bay or delays its ‘violation’ of our self-assertive power – and with this kind of ‘power’ the terror of a house of cards falling down hides behind the apparent broad spectrum dominance – because it all has to be held in place with a multitude of lies that demand increasing control amidst increasing disorder.
However, we can only work with where we are at – with the material at hand. Projecting fears into others and future scenarios and then making them true by acting as if they are – is an insanity of dissociation and displacement. Not a call to blame. Mind control has been much studied and operates in many levels in many ways. Re-integrative healing is the other direction. Not an anti-mind-control so much as a mind-aligned correction to a divide and rule imprint. perhaps the core nature of which is a genuine acceptance of feelings – not in rationalizations but simply having safe ways to own that we feel – and allow it to evolve – for rage-hate is hurt-heart of denied being. But the words mean nothing to us when we are acting out the suppression of or hateful expression of pain and without some willingness for healing – nothing can begin no matter what is tried or said or offered. So only those who are found in and can find such willingness are able to grow it to the noticing or recognition and synchronicity of others at any level of seeding or fruiting.
Using the mind as a weapon defeats its function and purpose – or rather deceives the intent with a private sense of mind that cannot know what it does nor recognize itself in another – excepting of course as the ‘enemy’!

Secret Agent
Secret Agent
Jul 8, 2016 12:22 PM

It’s all bullshit. If it wasn’t this it would be that. They are just making it up as they go along. Obama is a weakling and has let the war party push him around since day 1. Putin is saying this will lead to a nuclear war but nobody is willing to push back against the crazies for fear of damaging their reputations. What a bunch of feckless hacks. Do Western leaders believe in anything at all? Are they incapable of decency? And yet the MSM will not utter a single word of criticism.
Alex Jones gets it. The MSM says he is crazy and laughs at him, but honestly he is a better source than anything in print. At least Alex tries to report the news. The MSM is valid. They are paid to be clueless. They are a danger to our democracies, and to life on Earth.

Jul 8, 2016 11:08 AM

Perhaps under the empathic strategic banner of ‘Make love, not war’, could NATO not agree to send the horniest intelligence operatives available to Moscow or other places in the Russian Federation, tasked with successfully seducing any female suspected or previously shown to be currently or recently active as President Putin’s mistress, should the Russian President be showing unsuitably aggressive military tendencies, actions which would be incompatible within a harmonious sexual relation without risk of legal action associated with ‘lack of obtaining suitable female consent’??

Mike McPherson
Mike McPherson
Jul 9, 2016 8:43 AM
Reply to  rtj1211

Oh! Ha! Ha!