How to Win—or Lose—a War

Hybrid warfare has become the only way wars are fought—and won.

By Feodora Hamza.

In the twentieth century, horses and rifles gave way to the machine gun and the trench, which were themselves soon relegated to obsolescence by the tank and the bomber. But just as industrial military powers began establishing their dominance, new strategies emerged to challenge such militarily superior foes, strategies that have redefined the very concept of war.

In the shadow of nuclear arms and ballistic missiles, the diverse guerilla tactics of decentralized combatants hiding within local populations has become the only way to do battle. Belligerents have chosen this new battlefield because it gives the edge to methods of attack that require fewer resources, such as terrorism, cyberwar, and propaganda. Hybrid warfare combines strategic open combat with these more subversive efforts.

The term “hybrid warfare” emerged during the 2006 Lebanon War between Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The two sides fought for thirty-three days after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. The conflict merged conventional weapons and tactics with guerrilla tactics in the same space.

Increasingly, the member states of the E.U. are exposed to hybrid threats. Russia used hybrid tactics when it took control of Crimea and supported separatists in the eastern regions of Ukraine. Ukraine likewise is allegedly using a hybrid force by employing mercenaries to strike at Russian separatists during the ceasefire.

The nature of hybrid warfare blurs the lines between conventional and unconventional war, between states and non-state actors. Today, NATO commanders are preparing for the possibility that Russia will again use hybrid warfare in an attempt to destabilize or occupy Baltic countries with hybrid tactics.

Ironically, it can be said that the U.S. is to some extent responsible for the evolution of hybrid war to its current state, as it supported and participated in early forms of hybrid warfare during the Cold War in both Vietnam War and Afghanistan. Hybrid forms of combat have always existed; the difference now is that …

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