What's In Blue

Posted Thu 30 Mar 2017

Arria-Formula Meeting on Hybrid Wars

Tomorrow morning (31 March), Ukraine will chair an Arria-formula meeting on hybrid wars as a threat to international peace and security. The meeting will be open to the wider UN membership, UN entities and nongovernmental groups. Ukrainian ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko will deliver opening and closing remarks, while briefings are expected from: Patrick Cullen, Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI); Erik Reichborn, Research Fellow at NUPI; Taras Berezovets, Head of the Fund for National Strategies (Ukraine); and Alexander Motyl, Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University.

Ahead of the meeting, Ukraine circulated a concept note that provides background on the issue and lays out the main objectives for the discussion. The concept note states that over the course of this century the nature of warfare has changed significantly due to the increasing use of new technologies and strategies. Though there seems to be no universally accepted definition of “hybrid warfare”, the note describes it generally as “the employment of a combination of military, quasi-military and non-military instruments in a synchronised manner tailored to specific vulnerabilities of the target”. It cites cyber technologies, interference with political processes, and systematic dissemination of propaganda domestically and internationally, among the means to achieve political objectives.

Given that this will be the first time that Council members and the wider UN membership will specifically discuss hybrid warfare, participants will be interested to getting a better understanding of the topic from the briefers. In January 2016, the two NUPI researchers, Reichborn and Cullen, published a policy paper entitled “What is Hybrid Warfare?” that explores the theoretical aspects of this concept. In their paper they note that the term seems to have been used in military theory in the past, but that the concept of hybrid warfare was used more recently during and after the Russian annexation of Crimea. In their policy brief, Reichborn and Cullen provide a definition and a brief overview of the evolution of the use of hybrid warfare, first by non-state and then state actors. They point out that the term was first used “to describe the growing sophistication and complexity of non-state actors on the battlefield in places like Chechnya and Lebanon, and was later applied to Afghanistan and Iraq”. The policy paper emphasises the similarities between Russian actions in Ukraine and some of the methods used by the non-state actors in waging asymmetric warfare.

It is likely that the discussion will be dominated by recent examples of alleged hybrid warfare in the context of Ukraine. Berezovets, who wrote a book on annexation of Crimea and has covered the issue of hybrid warfare there, is expected to focus on the issue specifically in the context of Russia and Ukraine.

Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, some Council members, as well as Ukraine, have used the term “hybrid warfare” during Council meetings to describe alleged Russian actions in Crimea and in the eastern regions of the country. In his statement in the General Debate of the UN General Assembly in September 2016, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko drew attention to this issue as a threat to international peace and security. Poroshenko has argued that hybrid warfare methods are being used in other regions besides Ukraine and has called on the Security Council to address this issue. It is likely that Yelchenko will convey similar messages.

Some Council members might raise the alleged use of hybrid warfare in other frozen conflicts in Europe and beyond. During its time on the Council Ukraine has, on several occasions, brought attention to the use of hybrid warfare tactics in other situations, including the cases of breakaway provinces in Georgia and Moldova. Ukraine initiated a discussion in the Council on the situation in Georgia under “any other business” earlier this week as well as on one other occasion in 2016.

The main issue with the concept of “hybrid warfare” remains the lack of a universally accepted definition of the term. This is one of the reasons why there has been no formal discussion on this issue on the Council. In addition, some members are of the view that the Council is not the appropriate venue to address this issue. By organising the Arria-formula meeting, Ukraine is initiainge discussion on this issue. This is a particularly sensitive issue for at least two members of the Council who are alleged to have employed hybrid warfare tactics in achieving their objectives: Russia in the case of Ukraine and Georgia, and China in the South China Sea. Given that the Arria-formula format does not require all Council members to attend, it is possible that they may choose not to participate.


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