Colonel, you are researching hybrid warfare. What makes it different from “normal” military warfare?

Reinhard Bingener

Political correspondent for Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Bremen based in Hanover.

Hybrid warfare is nothing new, we in the West just have a hard time understanding unorthodox forms of warfare. What is important is that in hybrid wars there is a horizontal blurring of boundaries in the battlefield. They are not only waged militarily, but also take place as a propaganda war, an economic war, a culture war. Hybrid wars do not necessarily have to be decided militarily. Consider the Second Indochina War. The USA did not lose this war militarily in Vietnam, but because it lost the legitimacy of taking up arms in its own society. Of course, we also find non-military elements such as propaganda in – from our point of view – classic wars. The distinction between hybrid and classic wars is by no means trivial. The key point is that classic wars like the Napoleonic campaigns seek a battlefield decision, so they are military-centered. More recently, the Falklands War, the first Gulf War and Azerbaijan's conquest of Nagorno-Karabakh corresponded to this pattern. However, hybrid wars are more common.

How do you see the war in Ukraine?

It is important to place the Russian attack on Ukraine in February 2022 in the overarching framework of the overall hybrid conflict since 2014. In this respect, it represents a military escalation. With the military struggle, the propaganda war, the economic war, the culture war and the international dimension of this conflict escalated at the same time. The biggest catalyst for continued hybrid warfare in Ukraine is the inability of both sides to decide the war militarily.

Is Russia also waging a hybrid war against Germany?

Hybrid actors like Russia specifically exploit all the weaknesses we offer. The frightening thing about hybrid warfare is usually less the virtuosity of the attacker than the carelessness of the person being attacked. He is vulnerable, ill-prepared, not even aware of the challenge.

Is Russia acting this way because it itself lost a hybrid war with the Cold War?

Examining the Cold War through hybrid warfare would definitely be worthwhile. But there is another aspect that plays a role: the further east you go, the more philosophical thinking seems to assume hybrid wars. We first have to learn this hybrid, holistic understanding of war again.

Which battlefields are important in hybrid wars?

This is about the overall context. The spectrum ranges from disinformation, espionage and cyber attacks to economic or military pressure to the instrumentalization of migration flows, radical ideologies and parallel societies with divergent loyalties. It is crucial to recognize the convergence of these risk factors.

Are there areas that we have not paid enough attention to in relation to Russia's hybrid warfare?

Yes. For example, what is known in English as “weaponized migration”, i.e. migration as a weapon to destabilize the enemy through irregular migration flows. We have seen this openly when Poland, Lithuania and currently Finland were approached in this way. The EU is a constant target of such activities from very different directions. Our hybrid challengers have learned that we cannot deal with this problem. And that's why they reinforce it or even organize it. In addition, not all states in the EU react in the same way. After many countries, such as Sweden, have changed their migration policies, Germany still has a pull effect due to the easy access to its social systems. This makes it easy for hybrid challengers to place their fifth columns and sleeper cells under the guise of migration and have them indirectly supported by taxpayers. This has never been easier than it is today.