The NATO leadership is consistently introducing new ways of influencing its adversaries, be they real or potential. Today, there is a great deal of talk about NATO engaging in so-called “hybrid warfare”, while previously Russia, Iran, China and other NATO rivals had been vilified as states that carry out such activities. Actually, the term, similar to the concept itself, appeared inside the Euro-Atlantic bloc and provided for an integrated approach to the conduct of confrontation in the information society. Initially, the concept of “hybrid confrontation” or “hybrid warfare” was based on the “Warden’s Five Rings Theory”: leadership, system essentials, infrastructure, population and fielded military forces. Through this theory an image is created of the adversary’s stability, seen as the capacity of each individual element of the system and the connections between them. It is presumed that the most important or most vulnerable of these structural elements should be targeted from a distance. Engaging in direct armed confrontation is only conducted as a last resort.
According to NATO experts, the complex nature of non-linear threats complicates the task of identifying their sources, which are typically anonymous. The balanced combination of methods and means of asymmetric warfare complicates any operational assessment of the current situation, blurs the boundaries between war and peace, significantly complicates the decision-making process and the choice of measures to be used as a response.
The following are considered as forms of “hybrid” action:
- informational and psychological operations against state and military command bodies, personnel of the armed forces and the population of the adversarial state;
- information attacks on state, military and commercial computer networks and infrastructure;
- a complete or partial disruption of economic relations, violation of transport communications, the introduction of an embargo and a blockade;
- organization of protests of opposition movements and destructive actions through “agents of influence”;
- carrying out armed actions and sabotage by special operations forces, terrorist groups, or irregular units.
The key principles of carrying out “hybrid warfare” are considered timeliness, surprise and secrecy. The initial phase of the conflict, according to the NATO alliance, is the deliberate and planned destabilization of the domestic political situation in the state through an aggressive information campaign.
In the context of the developing crisis, special operations forces are transferred to the territory of the adversary state with the task of taking control of key objects of state and military command, as well as information and communication infrastructure.
At the same time, large military drills are organized for the greater conventional armed forces, demonstrating the possibility of a large-scale military intervention.
In the future, it is presumed that an outbreak of hostilities would be organized, using the armed forces of the opposition, separatists, bandit groups and organized crime, in conjunction with the most active propaganda and information technology pressure on facilities of the adversary’s infrastructure.
After effectively undermining the sovereignty of a part of the territory of the adversary state under control, measures are taken to legislatively consolidate its new status, change the political and territorial structure, and permanently deploy NATO units and subunits.
Despite the relative novelty of the term “hybrid warfare” itself (used within NATO since 2014, a bibliography on the topic can be found HERE), the development of measures and methods to exert comprehensive pressure on the adversary have been ongoing in the West for several decades. Since the late 1990s, this approach has been known as a combination of forces, means, approaches and methods of “soft power” for military and military-political purposes. It later received the name, “NATO Comprehensive Approach” to guarantee security. The corresponding concept was approved at the NATO Riga Summit in 2006.
According to the concept and documents developed on the basis of the Comprehensive Approach, the plan is to achieve NATO’s goals through cooperation with international and regional non-governmental organizations and local opposition, as well as with criminal structures at every stage of development of the crisis. At the same time, military, reconnaissance, sabotage, and diplomatic tools are to be employed for the prevention of reaching the undesirable scenario of open conflict.
The most significant portion of the “hybrid” actions of the bloc is the information-psychological confrontation. Throughout all of their operations in recent years, NATO allies have continuously influenced their target audiences through psychologically sophisticated propaganda. The US and NATO seek to completely eliminate the “information vacuum” that could be used by the adversary state. When this isn’t effective, an overwhelming information-technology domination in the global information space is employed.
The key role is played by “Mainstream Media”. In this case, a model of interaction is used, the essence of which is the formation of a group of “privileged” media, all of whom are provided with priority rights in the coverage and interpretation of events. This is supported by the full technological power of leading information platforms such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Tweeter, etc.
Particular significance is traditionally attributed to the use of direct disinformation, distortion of facts, ridicule and other methods of information-psychological influence.
In the scope of the development of the concept of “hybrid warfare”, NATO is taking active measures to protect against asymmetric threats and to develop offensive asymmetric means of influence. In particular, over the past three years, NATO has revised its “Crisis Response System Manual” and its “Defense” plans. In 2015, the approved NATO “Hybrid Warfare Strategy,” focused on countering the methods of “hybrid warfare.” In accordance with the document, the main objectives of the alliance are defined as follows: timely detection of the “non-linear” threat and its source; convincing a potential adversary of the unattainability of the goals pursued by it, and the implementation of measures to ensure the internal security of the member states.
In the best traditions of the language of double standards, the terms “protection and security” hide the offensive nature of the measures being developed. At the Alliance’s summit in Warsaw in 2016, the Allies pledged themselves to the “Commitment to Enhance NATO’s Resilience.” The document recorded the intention of NATO countries to develop an “individual and collective ability to withstand the whole spectrum of challenges from any direction.” At the same time, special attention was paid to strengthening the civilian sector, including ensuring the continuous functioning of government bodies and the uninterrupted operation of critical national services, improving the security of critical infrastructure, and providing support to civilian enterprises and companies in the energy, transport and communications sectors. Thus, the entire civil and business infrastructure of the countries of the alliance members are interlocked with the military component.
Given the complex nature of hybrid threats, the difficulty of their identification and the devastating nature of their consequences, the leaders of NATO countries did not exclude the possibility of involving mechanisms of “collective defense” (Article 5 of the Washington Treaty [The North Atlantic Treaty]) in response to asymmetric aggression. Consequently, at the NATO Summit in Brussels in 2018, it was decided to form counter-hybrid support teams, which provide tailored targeted assistance to Allies upon their request in preparing against and responding to “hybrid threats”. In this case, “hybrid threats” can be defined as any non-military actions that run counter to the interests of NATO.
At the same time, the number of personnel that comprise the NRF (NATO Response Force) were increased from 25,000 to 40,000 troops. This included an interspecific NRF high-readiness unit (Very High Readiness Joint Task Force [VJTF]) numbering 5,000 troops capable of deploying at short notice, between 2 to 7 days. The concept of enhancing the NRF VJTF was revised in detail, a Joint Intelligence and Security (JIS) division was formed in the International Secretariat, and the NATO Situation Centre (SITCEN), which is part of NATO HQ, was transformed into a 24/7 operation.
An important role in countering “non-linear” threats is achieved by establishing capabilities in the field of cybersecurity. Cybersecurity refers, inter alia, to the activity of objectionable mass media. The main directions of development were formulated in the “Cyber Defense Pledge” from 2016. They propose the development of a cooperation between national structures in the field of information technology, enhancing and increasing data exchange, staff development, and education regarding relevant issues during operational and combat training. Cyberspace was introduced as a field of warfare. Additional multimillion-dollar budgets were allocated, for waging war in the new cyber domain between 2017-2020. In 2018, the NATO Council decided to establish a Cyber Operations Center in Monet, Belgium, the operational readiness of which should be achieved by 2023. The new coalition body is presumed to have a special focus on identifying the sources of threats in the information sphere.
In the interests of identifying actions in the information environment that are considered aggressive, NATO countries collect data on the use of telecommunication facilities and information distribution channels. At the same time, large-scale campaigns are launched to discredit objectionable media, including by employing technical and administrative resources and the introduction of strict censorship.