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Thursday, June 24, 2021, 07:55 (GMT+7)
Hybrid warfare and its implications for defence policy

Hybrid warfare represents a new form of war which is very dangerous and difficult to recognise. Therefore, it is necessary to research, analyse and evaluate this particular type of war as a basis for proposing and planning guidelines, strategies and countermeasures.

On hybrid warfare

General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces has studied socio-political upheavals in the Middle Eastern - North African region, the so called "Arab Spring" by the West and realised the importance of non-military means in military operations. He put politics and armed conflict in the same category, blurred the distinction between war and peace, and introduced the concept of hybrid warfare. It has been proven that Russia has implemented a non-traditional competitive strategy against its opponents, especially the stronger ones through new technologies. In order to prevent the spread of colour revolutions to Russia and other countries with Kremlin-friendly regimes, Moscow blocks social networks, and uses media networks to expose conspiracies and tricks of the enemy at the very beginning of the war, focusing on two main factors: “limited action” and “active defence”. Studying Russia's conduct, the Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) also considers it a hybrid-war and asserts that Russia has been applying conventional and non-conventional means to wage a strategic competition in order to achieve its agenda. Another study suggests that the term hybrid-warfare was originally used to refer to non-state actors with advanced military capabilities, such as: during the Israel-Lebanon war (2006), Hezbollah used guerrilla warfare, innovative and information technologies, etc., against Israel. This is the basis for American military scientist (Frank Hoffman) to expand the terms "hybrid threat" and "compound warfare" to describe the use of multiple tactics simultaneously to counter the opponent.

Thus, although there is no clear-cut definition, most of the views believe that a hybrid war is a "total" war in all fields, waged by one or more countries against one or some countries with the employ of both conventional and non-conventional means of war at various scales; in which, economic, information, psychological, cyber wars, subversive riots, terrorist acts play an important role. From the above examples, “Hybrid Warfare” can be defined with the following features:

1. An all-out war in which, information warfare is widely and thoroughly used by warring parties. By taking advantage of the development of information and exploiting information technology vulnerabilities, the parties carry out rigorous attacks on cyber space, creating information chaos from targets such as banks, businesses, academic institutions, government agencies, critical national infrastructures, etc. To undermine the enemy, information warfare also includes "hybrid space" activities, such as: jamming global positioning system (GPS) signals, transmitting fake GPS signals through the launch of a large amount of fake news that negatively affects public opinion at important times, such as: elections, constitution building, government announcement of implementation of some decisions that directly affect the interests of the nation and the people, etc.. At the same time, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks can also be carried out against government websites to prevent the public from accessing accurate information, etc. In fact, over the past time, radical terrorist organisations have taken advantage of the Internet, especially social networks to carry out their intelligence, recruitment, widespread mobilisation activities, etc., and have achieved certain results. Currently, information warfare has been actively used by parties, mainly those with disputes over sovereignty, territory, strategic competition in terms of economy, politics, military, etc. to condemn each other of violating international treaties in general, bilateral treaties in particular, or even the standards unilaterally set by them, etc.  To prove and create trust among the enemy's population, they also used the technology to make video clips as evidence and then post them online to dilute information, orient public opinion in the opposite direction.

2. Political and economic coercion, eroding the opponent's economic power is a common practice. For example, the US accused Russia of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. In response, the US imposed financial and commercial sanctions, reoriented Europe towards alternative gas supply, stimulated scientists and highly qualified professionals to leave Russia, emigrate to America or other advanced countries. At the same time, it conducted propaganda against Russia, incited frustration of the Russian people with the Government's policies, weakened people's confidence in the Russian electoral system, triggered demonstrations and opposition activities in Russia, etc. Similarly, the US and the West accuse China of using its foreign policy to trap and entice other countries to join the "Belt and Road" Initiative, thereby increasing the dependence on China and maximising benefits for this country. At the same time, the US also takes overall measures to undermine China's economic power, etc.

3 Interaction between military and civilian operations at the same time. This is very evident in the operations of some great powers, especially military powers in world flashpoints, such as Syria, Afghanistan, the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe, especially in the East Sea in recent years. To achieve their geo-strategic goals, some major powers increased their military, political, diplomatic and economic activities in which, military activities have been civilised in order to deceive public opinion and the international community. Realising their goals and objectives in the East Sea, major powers have thoroughly applied hybrid warfare at both tactical and strategic levels at all scales. At the tactical level, they use the "cabbage", "grey zone", "defend the freedom of navigation" tactics, etc. At the strategic level, they implement “salami slicing”, “belt and road”, “free and open Indo-Pacific”; “Look East Policy”, “Establishing Air Defense Identification Zone – ADIZ”, etc. In short, in the implementation of complex warfare, the great powers as well as the "small and weak", developing countries will deploy all forces both conventional and non-conventional, at the same time, in all threatres to create synergy at a "flashpoint" to overwhelm the opponent to achieve their goal.

Implications for defence policy

Hybrid warfare appears to be a fairly new phenomenon in human history. It has profound destructive power, seriously affecting all social platforms. The effectiveness of a hybrid war depends greatly on the synergy, internal situation, and the superiority of the political regime in the target country. Given the technology developments, the combined use of digital technology and information war on the Internet makes this issue even more complicated, especially when cyberspace is becoming a “new strategic threatre”, a “special territory” closely associated with sovereignty over land, sea, islands, airspace, etc. Therefore, each country in this special war needs to take proactive and strategic steps to effectively prevent the scenarios of hybrid war. Moreover, it is necessary to attach importance to maintaining the ideological foundation and orienting the public to the guidelines and policies of the incumbent government. One of the most important and necessary factors is to provide accurate information, prevent the dissemination of false information, and establish channels to clarify rumors, unorthodox news, fake news, etc. Concentrate resources, build an integrated force, especially a network information force strong enough to protect information technology infrastructure, digital and national secrets; regularly review the results of perfecting mechanisms, policies and laws on this issue; pay special attention to the role of ideological work and public opinion orientation.

Basically, hybrid warfare is intentionally waged by the great powers, but that does not mean that "small, weak", developing countries cannot use this type of war. In fact, in recent years, some countries with allegedly limited potentials have applied this form of war flexibly and effectively, upsetting some powers, including military ones. Therefore, each country, especially the "small and weak" ones, must build for themselves an active defence strategy, with many realistic solutions to neutralise this type of war. To correctly and comprehensively identify and evaluate the impacts, influences and risks from that war on national interests, security, and national sovereignty; have timely, proactive and clever countermeasures.

As for our country, under the leadership of the Party, it is necessary to flexibly and creatively apply Vietnam traditions, military art, Ho Chi Minh's military thought and the contemporary people's war lines. Promote synergy in all areas of social life, such as: economy, military, science, technology, environment, culture, society, etc. In particular, focus on promoting socio-economic development, especially issues directly related to people's lives; pay attention to consolidating the great national unity bloc, first of all the unity within the Party and political system, creating a consensus among Vietnamese communities. On that basis, focus on building a strong political system, strengthening defence and security potentials, building and promoting the strength of the "people's heart and mind" posture; promote positive, proactive, flexible and balanced external relations, creating synergy for the cause of national construction and defence.

New conditions with the strong development of science, especially military science, have given rise to a number of new types of war, including hybrid warfare. In order to successfully deal with this type of war, it is necessary to promote research to accurately identify and promptly make sound decisions to protect the national interests.

Major General, Dr. NGUYEN VAN OANH, Director of the Department of Military Schools

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