NATO and New Ways of Warfare: Defeating Hybrid Threats
“True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information”.
Winston Spencer Churchill
Alphen, Netherlands. 19 May. This blog is devoted to my report on a major NATO conference entitled “NATO and New Ways of Warfare: Defeating Hybrid Threats,” for which I acted as Rapporteur and which was held between 29-30 April at the NATO Defense College in Rome. Below are the core messages and policy recommendations from the report. A full text of my report can be found at http://www.ndc.nato.int/news/current_news.php?icode=814. My sincere thanks to Major-General Bojarski, Commandant, NATO Defense College, Dr Daria Daniels-Skodnik, Dean and Dr Jeff Larsen, Director of the Research Divsion and his team for their help and support in the preparation of this report.
“NATO and the New Ways of Warfare; Defeating Hybrid Warfare” explored four main themes: NATO’s changing strategic environment, the scope and nature of hybrid threats; NATO’s pol-mil responses to hybrid warfare; and NATO’s military response to hybrid warfare. Hybrid warfare was defined as the denial of and defection from standard norms and principles of international relations in pursuit of narrow interests. Contemporary hybrid warfare is strategic in its ambition and employs a mix of disinformation, destabilising gambits and intimidation to force an adversary to comply with those interests. The essential purpose of hybrid warfare is to keep an adversary politically, militarily and societally off-balance.
Whilst much of the debate concerned the military aspects of hybrid warfare the need for a tight pol-mil relationship was seen as the essential pre-requisite for effective Allied engagement of the threats posed. Indeed, a fundamental issue at debate concerned how to create devolved political command authority in the early phase of a crisis to ensure that military high readiness is matched by the exercise of political agility in response to hybrid threats. Critically, whilst the debate centred on the threats posed by Russia to NATO Strategic Direction East, and by ISIS to NATO Strategic Direction South, such threats and risks were seen as reflective of a more conflictual world in which power is shifting at pace away from the Western liberal states.
Hybrid warfare exploits political seams within the Alliance and societal seams within open societies. Therefore, if NATO is to successfully adapt and adjust strategy, capability and resiliency it is vital that such threats are defined and properly understood and thereafter early indicators established as effective conventional and nuclear deterrence remains the first order principle of Alliance action and high readiness (and high responsiveness).
However, in the event deterrence fails NATO must have the capacity and capability to fight war. That in turn entails the strengthening of societal cohesion within NATO nations, the forging of close links between the civilian and military aspects of security and defence. The future NATO must be built on good intelligence, knowledge, robust command and control, rapid response allied to the capacity to “surge to mass” via a “big, agile reserve”.
NATO’s policy response to strategic hybrid warfare will in effect require reflection on and adaptation of the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept in light of the lessons of hybrid warfare. Effective strategic communications (Stratcom) will be vital both for home audiences and the strategic key leader engagement implicit in strategic hybrid warfare. Such an adaptation and the strategic realignment of the Alliance would in effect reflect a mid-term (five year) policy review of the Strategic Concept for accuracy, credibility and contemporary relevance given the challenges posed by hybrid warfare. Such realignment would need to incorporate the following elements:
Better understand strategic hybrid threats: NATO must establish a proper distinction between and granulated understanding of the threats posed to the Alliance from Strategic Direction East and Strategic Direction South.
Craft a hybrid warfare strategy: As part of NATO’s strategic realignment a NATO hybrid warfare strategy should then be considered and prepared by the Military Committee.
Establish adapted early indicators: Adapted early indicators must be established to enable more agile response to hybrid threats, especially in the early phase of the conflict cycle. This will require a new relationship between closed and open source information and better exploitation of the Alliance of knowledge communities.
Establish a Stratcom policy: Effective strategic communications is part of Alliance defence against hybrid warfare and effective messaging is central to strategic communications. A NATO Stratcom policy should be crafted to counter the narrative at the heart of an adversary’s conduct of hybrid warfare. Particular emphasis should be placed on NATO-EU synergy and tight joint messaging thereafter.
Reconsider information management: To defeat hybrid warfare NATO must beat the adversary to the message. That will require reconsideration of the use of classified information, a move to ensure the early release of mission critical information, and the relationship between classified and unclassified information.
Adapt nuclear posture: NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture, readiness and messaging also needs to be re-considered in response to Moscow’s heightened use of nuclear weapons as part of hybrid warfare. The Alliance message must be clear: Moscow must be under no illusion. The Alliance still understands the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence and Russia will never achieve escalation dominance. Deterrence will thus be enhanced by a heightened role for the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) and a demonstration that since the end of the Cold War NATO has lost neither the knowledge nor understanding of the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence.
Close the conventional/nuclear seam: NATO’s military preparedness and readiness will also need to include exercising and training for the transition from conventional operations to nuclear operations. Specifically, NATO must respond to Russia’s stated military doctrine that seeks to use nuclear weapons to “de-escalate crises” in Moscow’s favour.
Adapt exercising and training: Allied Command Transformation (ACT) must be given a clear tasking to develop exercise and training programmes to reflect recent developments in and reactions to hybrid warfare. Specifically, NATO needs to make far better use of lessons identified and lessons learned from recent campaigns and incorporate them in a ‘scientific’ development programme in which the future force (and forces) are built via a series of linked exercises and defence education initiatives that test the unknown rather than confirm the already known. The two joint force commands and the high readiness force headquarters would have a key role to play in the development of such a programme.
Re-consider the role of Partners: A specific study is needed on the role of Partners in a NATO hybrid warfare strategy. Such a study would re-consider partnership mechanisms in light of hybrid warfare, such as the Mediterranean Dialogue, Istanbul Co-operation Initiative, Partners across the Globe and Partnership for Peace.
Enhance Resiliency: A NATO hybrid warfare strategy would need to properly consider how best to enhance resiliency of Allies and Partners. A particular focus would be needed on the protection of critical national information and infrastructures and consequence management. A useful first-step could be an analysis of key vulnerabilities to better understand how individual NATO nations could be undermined by hybrid warfare. Such an analysis would include a better understanding of how minorities are susceptible to manipulation; the vulnerability of the media space to external saturation; how the lack of a binding national narrative could be exploited; and how electorates could be alienated from leadership during a hybrid warfare-inspired crisis, particularly through elite corruption.
Enhance military responsiveness and agility: Hybrid warfare seeks to exploit the seams between collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security. Therefore, twenty-first century Alliance collective defence will also require a mix of coalitions and Alliance-wide action. The capacity for the rapid force generation of coalitions of allies and partners, supported by effective command and control at short notice will be central to NATO’s military responsiveness and agility.
Establish credible forward deterrence: In countering hybrid warfare forward deterrence is as important as forward defence. Indeed, NATO must not be forced to trade space for time in the event of a full-scale war of which hybrid warfare is but a prelude. Critically, the Alliance needs to consider how best to force an adversary and its forces off-balance, both politically and militarily. Critically, NATO forces must be aim to force an adversary onto the defensive via a counter hybrid warfare strategy that imposes the unexpected on decision-makers. Such a posture will require demonstrable reassurance and readiness.
Reconceive NATO forces: In support of forward deterrence combined and ‘deep joint’ Alliance forces must be able to operate effectively in and across the seven domains of strategic hybrid warfare – air, sea, land, space, cyber, information and knowledge. Critically, the military relationship between NATO’s first responder forces and heavier, follow-on forces many of which may be deployed outside of Europe will need to be worked up.
Implement Wales in full: The September 2014 NATO Wales Summit was a benchmark summit; much like London in 1991 and Washington in 1999 and must be implemented in full. Therefore, NATO political guidance must establish credible capability requirements for twenty-first collective defence that generates a new kind of ‘defence’ through a mix of advanced deployable forces, cyber-defence and missile defence. Strategic hybrid warfare is not simply an alternative form of warfare; it is the new way of warfare.