So I have completed reading a book by Williamson Murray, “Hybrid Warfare : Fighting complex opponents from the ancient world to the present.” Overall, it is an very interesting book, covering from the Roman conquest of the Germanic lands to Vietnam War. At the heart of it, it proposes that the term hybrid war, which seems to be the new term describing the counter-insurgency type of warfare, is not really a new concept. It dates back as far as the 5th century BC and even Napoleon’s army had difficulty going against this type of enemy.
In concluding, Murray states several principles in engaging any form of hybrid warfare. Firstly, while technology and resource superiority can be, it may not be the deciding factor in hybrid warfare. Technology is a tool. Like any tool, it must be used in its correct context for the right purposes. In engaging an enemy in direct confrontation, a technologically superior force may strike a decisive blow to the other force and thus force his opponent to give in to his demands. However, against a force that hide among the civilians, technology still needs intelligence to work. Even the technologically and doctrinally superior Roman army finds it vexing when the Germanic tribes melt into the forest, forcing the Roman army to leave its supporting fortress and fight them in their land.
Secondly, nevertheless, in engaging hybrid warfare, the conventional army still plays a crucial role as it prevents the superior force from taking out the inferior force piecemeal. In the American Revolution, it is the presence of a Continental army that prevents the British from rooting out the rebels and their supporters town by town. The Continental army, though small at first, forces the British to concentrate their force sufficiently in order to counter act them and thus unable to spread their influence throughout the colonies. Of course, there are numerous factors which swung the war.
Thirdly, a deep understanding of the opponent’s framework, culture and their preferred mode of conflict is crucial to any decisive victory. There are numerous causes to why the American’s lose the Vietnam War and one crucial factor is this, that, at least initially, the Americans simply did not understand how the North Vietnamese Army fight. The Americans can take out their bases, the bridges and their factories, but these still would not stop the North Vietnamese from moving using tunnels, people and animals. Their factories were never their central key installations, as they depend on agricultural industries. Similarly, on a larger scale, the military commander needs to understand the strategic framework of both his own policymakers as well as the opponents’ in order to achieve political victory or settlement. As I have talked about the linkages between the strategic, the operational and tactical level of warfare, the linkages are crucial in achieving synergy. My thoughts on the operational art of war here.
Lastly, as Murray puts it, war, hybrid or otherwise, should always be regarded as the last resort as its gains rarely compensates for the loss in lives and treasures. I agree with him, for war is indeed a topic of national importance. As Sun Zi said, “The conduct of war is a matter of vital importance to the nation.” (孙子曰：兵者，国之大事） Fighting a hybrid war further compounds the matter as the costs goes beyond the military. Thus, only fight hybrid wars if fundamental interests of the state is at stake.
What does these all mean? In any declaration of war, victory can never simply mean the takeover of certain estates or territory. Just as Napoleon and Hilter learned, Russia’s strategic depth allows it to simply pull back, denying its opponents the crucial victory while letting the Motherland whittler them to frost. Colin Gray talks about the decisive victory here but I shall not go into this yet.
It does mean that a deep understanding of the other side is crucial in understanding the method required to achieve any strategic outcome. It may not and hopefully not resort to warfare. However, when it comes down to warfare, the military commander must not and cannot hesitate to strike at the heart of the enemy. Hybrid war breeds when one side, though militarily weaker, does not give up and thus seeks to continue the struggle by means other than a direct confrontation. A commander who hesitates in striking out at their centre at the onset and compelling the other side to capitulate will only prolong the conflict and prevent it from reaching a conclusive end