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Contemporary hybrid war, then, is waged by state actors who want to change their position in the international system, at least at the regional level. In adopting a hybrid war approach, they are calculating that their interests are best served by pursuing their objectives without triggering a major conflict or waging conventional war. Why is this the case?

America's Struggle with Chemical-Biological Warfare

Why are states going to pains to pursue their objectives indirectly, patiently, through sustained measures just short of war, when in another age they might have simply gone to war? The main reason great powers seek to achieve their goals through hostile measures short of overt war is the existence of nuclear weapons and the risk that a conventional war between the great powers will escalate.

This situation, of course, is not new, so nuclear weapons alone do not explain the contemporary currency of hybrid war nor does it explain hybrid war waged by or against non-nuclear powers. But nuclear weapons remain the ultimate disincentive for great powers to wage [conventional] war against each other and thus a critical backdrop to other factors. The rise of hybrid war as a state-led strategy is also a response to overwhelming conventional US power.

Since about , the United States has been pursuing a concept called Prompt Global Strike, with the goal of being able to strike anywhere in the world with conventionally-armed long range precision weapons within one hour. One of these means was and is cyberwar, capabilities for which competing powers have been pursuing for close to two decades.

A Comprehensive Survey for the Concerned Citizen

Third, waging hybrid war allows powers to seek goals in circumstances where existing laws of war and global norms would not permit a use of force. But under the UN Charter framework this option was removed. Under the UN Charter all members must refrain in their use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any states.

Apart from collective security measures authorised by the UN Security Council, the only permitted use of force is self-defence when a threat is apparent or imminent. Over the past several decades global norms against war, conquest and territorial violations have continued to strengthen Ibid. While they have not stopped conflict, they have forced great power leaders to at least try to justify their actions in normative terms. Waging war without waging war enables states, in essence, to make their way around this framework.

That is to say, hybrid war, and particularly its cyber component, allows states to bypass international legal norms regarding the use of force and territorial sovereignty Bachmann and Gunneriusson, , in pursuit of territorial gain or what in another era might have been called reprisals. Finally, the rise of contemporary hybrid war cannot be divorced from changes in the structure of the international system.

During the Cold War, under a bipolar structure of power, the United States and the Soviet Union pursued a hybrid approach particular to the time: nuclear stand-off combined with proxy wars.

The nascent return to a multipolar world, now taking place for the first time in a nuclear era, is incentivising great powers to seek hybrid warfare approaches. Key state actors today are using hybrid war to increase their power and influence over other actors and thereby seek their self-interested objectives. In doing do they have stolen a playbook from non-state actors by combining conventional and irregular warfare in the same battlespace.

Contemporary state-led hybrid war is still more complex and potent because it might include novel irregular approaches along with tools of political warfare that are generally only available to states. Hybrid war is an offensive strategy waged, in the main, [7] by non-status quo powers who seek to challenge the US-led world order. The changing global power structure, and the unique ways hybrid war allows states to act in this environment, signals the centrality of hybrid war for the foreseeable future.


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Schnaufer, T. The U. Experts of the U. Strategic Air Command SAC , created in , viewed the possibility of delivering an immediate crushing blow against the Soviet Union, using atomic weapons, in the event of war with this country. However, according to estimates of the late s, atomic weapons had a limited destructive capability in particular, they could not destroy reinforced concrete structures and could be delivered only by aircraft Brown, The Korean War proved that air power could be blocked by air defenses and fighter aircraft.

The situation seemed to change after the creation of thermonuclear weapons in They had unlimited power and could destroy strategic targets and be delivered by both aircraft and missiles. However, U. A war turned out to have no political goal: it could not make America invulnerable, nor could it compel Moscow to surrender. In other words, the United States did not have the capability to quickly move a strong land army to Eurasia to back up an air offensive with successes on the ground.

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Moreover, in the event of war, American bases in Europe and East Asia could have been seized by Soviet troops. The Soviet Union encountered similar problems when in the late s it developed nuclear missiles that could reach the U. Even the destruction of major U. Another factor that made this task unfeasible was the absence of a powerful ocean fleet in the Soviet Union.

The only way it could use strategic nuclear weapons was to deliver a massive retaliatory strike against American cities and industrial facilities in order to inflict sufficient damage on them in response to a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. All scenarios of Soviet military exercises held in the Cold War period provided for offensives to the Rhine or the English Channel, but by no means to Washington or Los Angeles.

To break the strategic impasse, American experts proposed several options of a revised nuclear blitzkrieg between the late s and the early s Powell, :. Subsequent U. Their main problem was a low ability to convert the use of nuclear weapons into a political victory. Exchanges of nuclear strikes per se cannot decide the outcome of war. The destruction of key administrative and industrial centers, military infrastructure and launchers should be complemented by the transfer of ground forces to enemy territory to establish a desired order there.

However, neither the Soviet Union nor the United States could do this due to: 1 maximum geographical distance between the two countries; 2 difficult terrain for warfare; and 3 the lack of technical capability for prompt transfer of millions of troops across oceans. In the s, Washington and Moscow tried to solve this problem by building large-tonnage cargo ships, large-capacity military transport aircraft, and amphibious units capable of autonomous operation for a certain period of time.

However, these efforts only resulted in the emergence of expeditionary forces capable of defeating a weaker enemy.