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Strategy (Spotlight Brief 7/21)

The content in this article is an extract of Spotlight Brief 7/21.

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Land Operations and Competing Perspectives on Warfare

Comparative Strategy — Jul 21

Niklas Nilsson’s article explores how different conceptualisations of the character of warfare have given rise to  conflicting ideas about the contemporary role and mission of land forces. Some perspectives validate the continued relevance of conventional land operations, whilst others imply that they are not as useful as in the past. Nilsson presents the prevailing Cold War conceptualisation, then four modern competing perspectives on the nature of war. Nilsson explains the four subsequent modern conceptualisations of warfare are:

  1. Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) — Progress with computer technology and sensor systems enables an unprecedented degree of coordination of precise military strikes and remote combat.
  2. New Wars — Military action is largely intrastate and targeted against civilian populations, involving non-regular and low technology participants.
  3. Counterinsurgency (COIN) — Modern war primarily involves fighting irregular groups of insurgents who are employing primitive weapons.
  4. Hybrid — Adversaries mix regular with irregular warfare, utilising certain high-technology equipment to conduct information warfare, exert economic pressure, and employ a range of other kinetic and non-kinetic techniques.


Can the US Army Transform Without A New Approach to Warfare?’ Breaking Defense, 16 Sep 21

British Army Outlines Battlefield of Tomorrow,’ Mirage, 15 Sep 21

Land Forces, Irregular Warfare, and a New Strategic Landscape’, Modern War Institute, 30 Jul 21

Tanks Are Here To Stay: What the Army’s Future Armored Fleet Will Look Like,’ Defense News, 15 Jul 21

To Survive, Deceive: Decoys in Land Warfare,’ War on the Rocks, 22 Apr 21

Speaking of Hybrid Warfare: Multiple Narratives and Differing Expertise in the ‘Hybrid Warfare’ Debate in Czechia

Cooperation and Conflict — Mar 21

While ‘hybrid warfare’ has become a focus of Western strategic thought over the past decade, fundamental ambiguity remains about the term. Jan Daniel and Jakub Eberle attempt to unpack this concept by building a framework for evaluating security narratives. Applying this framework to the case of Czechia, they discern three distinct narratives generating conflicting definitions of ‘hybrid warfare.’ They then attempt to develop a tangible way forward by ascertaining how each of these definitions can address contemporary concerns. If we do not settle on an agreed definition for the concept of hybrid warfare, the risk of over-securitisation of government policy is very high. Daniel and Eberle’s narratives (defence, counter-influence, and education) step outside the Department of Defence’s remit, reinforcing that one Department alone is unlikely to defeat a hybrid threat.


UK’s Future Force to Lean Heavily Into Robotics, AI and Hybrid Power,’ Defense News, 17 Sep 21

Expulsion of Russian Diplomats Exposes Hybrid War in Czechia’, Visegrad, 22 Apr 21

The Nine Commandments on Countering Hybrid Threats’, Internationale Politik, 22 Apr 21

Hybrid War and What to Do About It’, The Strategy Bridge, 21 Apr 21

Democracy: Between Fights for Freedom and Against Hybrid Warfare’, Young Initiative on Foreign Affairs and International Relations, 16 May 20

COVID-19: Observations for Contemporary Strategists

Defence Studies — Mar 21

James Wirtz seeks to illuminate some of the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. He asserts COVID-19 cannot be characterised as an intelligence failure, as the threat of pandemic was foreseen and analysed in security studies literature. Wirtz identifies the global response to the pandemic as an example of a ‘spiral model’, where real-world events outpace ‘political time’ (defined as the time needed by officials to accurately assess the situation and respond effectively). The pandemic also casts new light on assumptions concerning biological weapons. It demonstrates that it is difficult to target a specific population (or part of a population) with a contagious agent, and that genetic engineering can rapidly develop defences against biological attack.


The Scourge of the Pandemic on Children in South Asia,’ Observer Research Foundation, 14 Sep 21

A Blockchain Solution to COVID-19 Scams,’ The Interpreter, 07 Sep 21

The World Isn’t Ready for the Next Outbreak,’ Foreign Affairs, 06 Sep 21

COVID-19, Disinformation and Hateful Extremism’, RAND, 14 Jul 21

Pandemic On Our Northern Doorstep Likely To Get Worse,’ ASPI Opinion, 08 Mar 21

Democratic Deterrence: How to Dissuade Hybrid Interference

Washington Quarterly — Mar 21

While the ADF is aware of the threat posed by hybrid warfare, Mikael Wigell argues attention should also be focussed on the more subtle ‘hybrid interference’ that has started to impact liberal democracies. Some regimes have used hybrid interference to manipulate Australia’s democratic institutions and society. Such carefully crafted attacks avoid the use of overt means to maintain plausible deniability and amplify political, ideological, economic, or other social polarisations within society. Another central element of hybrid interference is subversion, which involves an aggressor purposefully destabilising or undermining the authority of a target state by using local proxy actors. Wigell suggests the most robust way to counter hybrid interference is through deterrence. Some measures that do not involve escalation include attribution, distilling doubt concerning Australia’s level of response, and the wielding of soft power. Wigell asserts hybrid interference also requires a whole-of-society response, which he labels ‘democratic deterrence.’ The second half of his article is devoted to elucidating how this mechanism can minimise vulnerability to hybrid interference and ensure Australia remains robust and resilient.


Hybrid Wars: Technological Advancements and the Generational Evolution of Warfare,’ Small Wars Journal, 09 Aug 21

Learning in the grey zone: how democracies can meet the authoritarian challenge’, The Strategist, 22 Jul 21

Cyber-Attacks: What Is Hybrid Warfare and Why Is It Such A Threat?The Conversation, 21 Jul 21

Defending Democracies From Disinformation and Cyber-Enabled Foreign Interference in the Covid-19 Era,’ ASPI Journal Article, 12 April 21

Enlarging NATO’s Toolbox to Counter Hybrid Threats’, NATO Review, 19 Mar 21

Negotiating [Im]plausible Deniability: Strategic Guidelines for US Engagement in Modern Indirect Warfare

Prism — 2021

Indirect attacks are a primary tactic in geopolitical competition. Australia has persistently had its interests challenged by competitors utilising hackers, proxies, and cyber-driven information campaigns. One reason these methods are becoming more common is because they are difficult to attribute , conferring adversaries a level of plausible deniability. While most commentators believe that indirect attacks pose a substantial threat to liberal democracies, the authors of this paper argue they may present an opportunity Australia can leverage. Direct attacks often evoke a strong public demand for a military response, cornering politicians into escalatory retaliation. Conversely, the point out indirect attacks provide space for policymakers to eschew escalation in favour of a response that is more measured and diplomatic. Reasons politicians may want to step down from the brink include the desire to avoid armed conflict, sidestepping the domestic pains associated with state-based war, avoiding the associated economic burden, protecting intelligence sources, and not wanting to legitimise the transgression. Moreover, such an approach affords the chance to render plausible deniability ‘implausible’.


Winning the Cyber War with Collective Defense,’ Security Boulevard, 21 Sep 21

ASPI’s Decades: Cybersecurity,’ The Strategist, 20 Sep 21

We Are At War; A Cyber War,’ Security, 20 Sep 21

ANZUS at 70: Cyberspace,’ The Strategist, 20 Sep 21

New Battleground: Cyber Attacks Targeting Australia’s Health System,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Sep 21

The Theory and Practice of New Generation Warfare: The Case of Ukraine and Syria

Journal of Slavic Military Studies — Dec 20

Western military strategists have tried to explain Russia’s contemporary approach by introducing concepts such as the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’, hybrid warfare, non-linear warfare, fourth-generational warfare, and grey zone tactics. Jānis Bērziņš argues it is counter-productive to confine Russian strategy within these artificial Western frameworks. Instead, Bērziņš seeks to clarify a Russian way of warfare by elucidating Russian concepts and theoretical developments. He goes into considerable detail analysing Russian ‘subthreshold’ or ‘new-generation’ warfare (although he stresses it is not new), explaining how it is comprehensive and multi-layered. According to this article, planners should be careful not to frame Russian military thought within a Western cultural or strategic lens when attempting to counter these tactics.


Zapad 2021: What We Learned From Russia’s Massive Military Drills’, The Moscow Times, 23 Sep 21

Waves of Ambition: Russia’s Military Build-Up in Crimea and the Black Sea,’ European Council on Foreign Relations, 21 Sep 21

ZAPAD-2021: What To Expect From Russia Strategic Military Exercise,’ War on the Rocks, 08 Sep 21

Grand Illusions: The Impact of Misperceptions About Russia on U.S. Policy’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 30 Jun 21

Russia’s Entry to Sixth-Generation Warfare: the ‘Non-Contact’ Experiment in Syria’, The Jamestown Foundation, 29 May 21

Technology is Awesome, but so What?! Exploring the Relevance of Technologically Inspired Awe to the Construction of Military Theories

Journal of Strategic Studies — Jun 21

Techno-centric theories of warfare litter the previous century of military-strategic thinking — each promising the end of all that came before through the advent of new technology. Air power in the 1930s and nuclear weapons in the 1950s are major examples, but even simple things like the idea of the guided missiles ending tanks, aircraft or ships are demonstrative Samuel Zilinick attempts to explain this trend based on the emotional impact of them, focusing specifically on how awe of new tech overpowers thinking that is more integrated.


‘“Over-The-Horizon Operations” in Afghanistan’, Articles of War, 08 Sep 21

The Taliban, not the West, won Afghanistan’s technological war’, MIT Technology Review, 23 Aug 21

Let’s Get Real About US Military ‘Dominance’’, Defense One, 01 Apr 21

Tools Are Not Strategies: A Short Guide on Artificial Intelligence for Defense Professionals’, Modern War Institute, 19 Mar 21

To End the Forever Wars, Rein in the Drones’, Just Security, 16 Feb 21

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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