The Russia connectionHybrid warfare: Russia is “arch exponent” of the disappearing “distinct states of ‘peace’ and ‘war’”: U.K. military chief

Published 29 January 2018

The West’s adversaries “have become masters at exploiting the seams between peace and war. What constitutes a weapon in this grey area no longer has to go ‘bang’. Energy, cash - as bribes - corrupt business practices, cyber-attacks, assassination, fake news, propaganda and indeed military intimidation are all examples of the weapons used to gain advantage in this era of ‘constant competition,’ and the rules-based international architecture that has assured our stability and prosperity since 1945 is, I suggest therefore, threatened,” Sir Nicholas Carter, the British Army chief of staff, said last week. “The deduction we should draw from this is that there is no longer two clear and distinct states of ‘peace’ and ‘war’; we now have several forms. Indeed the character of war and peace is different for each of the contexts in which these ‘weapon systems’ are applied,” he added. “The arch exponent of this [new approach to war] is Russia…. I believe it represents the most complex and capable state-based threat to our country since the end of the Cold War. And my fellow Chiefs of Staff from the United States, France, and Germany shared this view.”

On Monday, 22 January 2018, Sir Nicholas Carter, the British Army chief of staff, spoke at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), where he discussed the main security challenges the United Kingdom, and NATO, are facing.

He opened his presentation by devoting a paragraph each to two threats: terrorism, and the “longer-term implications of population movement and how that might affect the stability and the cohesion of our society.”

He then devoted the rest of his lengthy discussion to the main threat the West faces: A resurgent Russia. Russia has become more threatening because it has mastered the art of “hybrid warfare.” Hybrid warfare is a strategy which blends conventional (or kinetic) warfare with two elements of subversion: irregular warfare and cyberwarfare. Cyberwarfare comprises hacking and disinformation, and both cyberwarfare and irregular warfare – the two “subversion” elements of hybrid warfare — make it possible for the aggressor to avoid attribution, and thus escape retribution.

Here are the relevant excerpts from General Carter’s presentation:

But, I think it is the rising threat from states and the consequences that stem from this for the military that is of most immediate concern. And particularly to me as the head of the Army. We now live in a much more competitive, multi-polar world and the complex nature of the global system has created the conditions in which states are able to compete in new ways short of what we would have defined as ‘war’ in the past. It is what U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis described last week as ‘great power competition.’ I quote:

“We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we’re engaged in today, but great-power competition - not terrorism - is now the primary focus of U.S. national security” And I think, viewed from this perspective: with increasing competition in the South China Sea; the potential grave consequences of North Korea’s nuclear program; the arms race and proxy wars that you see playing out in Yemen and Syria, that perhaps stem from Iran’s regional aspirations. With Russia the most complex and capable security challenge we have faced since the Cold War superimposed on much of this, it would be difficult I think, on that basis, not to agree with Jim Mattis’s assessment.