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The West on the Receiving End: Hybrid Hysteria.

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Hybrid Hysteria. 03/06/2015






Before we get all hysterical over so-called hybrid threats, it is essential that we define what we are talking about.

The most eye-catching hybrid approach is hybrid warfare as practiced by Russia in Ukraine: fomenting armed rebellion by covert (or at least officially denied) arms deliveries, troop contributions and military operations, propping up friendly local leaders, propaganda, promises of economic benefits and threats of economic reprisals.

The aim can be regime change or secession of part of the territory (which can then quickly become a puppet state). Whether the method be hybrid or covert: the key thing is that this is war.

One step down from war is subversion, which is what many fear is happening in the Baltic states: fomenting political unrest by all means short of military action on the ground, but including for example cyber attacks, incursions into national airspace and territorial waters, espionage, corrupting politicians and other opinion-makers, propaganda, and economic stick and carrots.

The aim is to turn part of the population against the regime so as to weaken it and render it less able to exercise its sovereignty, including in foreign policy.

Staying below the threshold of clear armed aggression, subversion blurs the boundaries of what constitutes an attack that would trigger an armed response or the activation of a collective defence commitment such as NATO’s Article 5.

Covert wars and active subversion are obviously violations of national sovereignty and therefore illegal under international law. Because today this is happening in Europe, it makes us nervous, but we seem to have forgotten to which extent we have engaged in this ourselves in other parts of the world.

Many regimes in Latin America, Africa and Asia were subverted or brought down and replaced by a leader judged more amenable by the West during the Cold War and – let’s not kid ourselves – even afterwards.