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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