3 September 2017

Introduction: The evolving threat of hybrid war

John Mecklin

John Mecklin is the editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Previously, Mecklin was editor-in-chief of Miller-McCune (since renamed Pacific Standard),...

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In little more than a decade, the use of hybrid warfare techniques has expanded dramatically as technology has advanced at what sometimes seems light speed, roiling international affairs on a constantly shifting basis. Russian, Chinese, and US security experts have all noted this new form of international conflict, which can combine Internet-enabled propaganda, a global “dark web” of encrypted communications, cyber attacks, positive and negative economic pressure, espionage, irregular military action, and other efforts that aim to advance political interests without progressing to full-scale war. Sometimes also called “new-generation warfare,” “non-linear war,” “ambiguous war,” or “gray-zone conflict,” hybrid war is perhaps best illustrated by the Russian government’s efforts to undermine the government of Ukraine via a combination of cyber attacks on electrical, banking, and other infrastructure, sophisticated propaganda, and support for irregular forces known as “little green men” (efforts that some suggest are responses to perceived US hybrid support early in this century for so-called “color revolutions” in parts of the former Soviet Union and the Balkan Peninsula). But governments and terror groups alike have seen that advantage can be sought and gained, just below the threshold of open war, and many countries – including, beyond Russia and the United States, China, Iran, Israel, and North Korea, among others – and non-state groups – such as the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah – are using hybrid or “gray” strategies to push their international agendas. Read more of Bulletin editor John Mecklin's free- access introduction to the September/October digital Journal.