Opinion: Will conscripts be trained for hybrid warfare?

Baziniai kariniai mokymai, Didžiojo Lietuvos etmono Jonušo Radvilos mokomojo pulko nuotr.

After more than a year of interaction with Ukrainian paramilitaries (army supporters, then volunteers and later conflict specialists and specialists in hybrid warfare) and academics, I’m not sure if Lithuanian conscripts will recognize the start of a hybrid conflict is, before the actual armed resistance, when the course of the war is in part settled. To instigate a hybrid war a hostile country can interfere in internal antagonisms, abuse social and economic development, inflate cases of injustice and discrimination and present various narrative alternatives.

At the start of a hybrid conflict, both protestors and their suppressors can seem equally in the right. President Yanukovych’s supporters thought it was right to ban the the Maidan; for the Ukrainian Crimean army, the Sevastopol pensioners were right, complaining constantly of measly pensions, as were the Russian-speakers, in panic because of a possible degradation of their language. Will conscripts be ready for a hybrid war in cities where, for a time in the initial phases of the conflict, it will be difficult to determine what is what? Might we be confusing peaceful civil protests with potential but still not actual “fifth columns”? And aren’t we seeing resistance activists as our patriots? It’s a challenge to build Another Army, and invest into its intellectual, civil, critical social and cultural integration.

A hybrid war is the growth and ripening in a peaceful civil society of seeds that are nurtured right up to open armed clashes. Conflicts begin by escalating social frictions that already exist and attempting to send them out of control, i.e., by provoking violent suppression of protest or escalating a protest with the help of provocateurs. Tactics like this were used in Donetsk and Luhansk where provocateurs – local or brought in – tore Ukrainian flags down from municipal buildings. A part of hybrid conflict is different social layers presenting extensive demands, internal and external propaganda, and using an arsenal of different types of direct action.

Tension rises to the point of open and radical conflict that occurs between classes (workers and property owners), religious and linguistic groups and racial, subcultural, memory and heritage groups. In order to incite initial legal protest, populist, anti-Semitic, sexual force, the bankruptcy of banks and large companies, currency fluctuations, mass struggle with oligarchs and corruption, ultra-rightwing and ultra-leftwing actions are used. In doing so, the political field is fired up, political arenas that are difficult to control (points of social explosion) are dislodged and in doing so the police, security workers, and finally conscripts are drawn into the conflict. Conscripts are easily reached and are effective campaign targets.

Nevertheless, broad protest actions are not enough to start a hybrid war. Since the time of Louis Blanque, that being 1871 and the time of the Paris Commune and later professional Leninist revolutionaries (critics called them blanquists), it was realised that professional leaders must lead the crowds. The protestors themselves are mostly unprepared for being bombers, saboteurs and warlike ruthless leaders of a rebellion. The latter are trained separately or brought in from other countries, for example Russian patriots in Serbia or Transnistria who had had war experience were invited to Crimea as were other Russian-speakers who had experience in riots, for example pro-Moscow Latvian activists.

The first stage is “semiotic” – new meanings are explored and established as are supported populist, alternative political groups and movements. New political forces and activists whip up party life, expose family ties, renew the power apparatus and by doing so become useful to society. Still, where the need goes the waters are muddied. Telling an honourable Maidan protestor from a provocateur and a subsequent political “mutant” (who wants to use the Maidan symbol) was and remains difficult. Future seeds of conflict are planted in freedom movements. That means that totalitarian inoculations flourish in lush democratic earth. Tolerance and diversity are things that the champions of democracy defend and must defend but are used to organise hybrid conflicts. For example, new political myths and geopolitical theories have destroyed the weak civil Ukrainian society and demoralized the conscript army. No doubt another kind of rhetoric, other myths and conflicts are being used against the Baltic States.

The other stage is direct actions. The principals of direct action were nurtured in trade unions and tested in struggles with the oligarchs and exploiters – peaceful protests, strikes, sabotage, blockades, incitement and cohesion. Without all of this contemporary Western society would be impossible. The Polish Solidarity movement also used principals of direct action and destroyed the Soviet system. Trade unions with their peaceful but tough class war helped found the prosperity and democracy of many the Northern countries, Spain, France and other countries. The same means, however, can be used to fulfil the aims of a hybrid conflict and only attentive conflict studies which hardly exist in Lithuania can identify black and white in acts of direct action. Who is going to identify them in an army whose conscripts will immediately be canvassed?  

Nobody is going to make sacrifices for something they don’t believe in and dream of. Not becoming part of the world masses means not reflecting the world view. Propaganda is an essential part of hybrid conflict and subsequent war fusion. In the case of hybridization it changes fundamentally. Firstly a single great and significant story is defended like Novorosiya for example or a Lithuania independent of the EU and NATO, separate from local stories. Hybrid conflict and warfare are assisted by local micro-propaganda which uses not only big stories but is supported by true and not true (false) local reports. Rumours of crucified children, frozen corpses falling from the sky carried by a Malaysians aircraft, NATO forces raping women in Donetsk and Polish and Lithuanian battalions … all of this is prescribed in support of a hybrid war. Opponent campaigners of these issues have constantly been phoning Ukrainian conscripts and volunteers and personally inciting them, talking to them, negotiating with them bribing and demoralizing them. What if in Lithuania we start an information army to fight macro and micro-propaganda? Is that then where we’ll call up the conscripts?

The theory of hybrid warfare and practice is significant for Lithuania not only in that it has to be defended against but also waged for the purpose of defense against the aggression of a more powerful country. The Ukrainians have constantly used elements of hybrid warfare in the occupied Donbass cities – urban partisans, saboteurs, cyberattacks, civil campaigning and propaganda, fake representation etc. At the same time they cause discontent, violence and protests in the occupied zones. Are Lithuanian gunners who are constantly preparing for a partisan war, reservists training in the basics of hybrid warfare which includes coordinating propaganda and sabotage? Constant making the civilian population aware of and teaching them about hybrid war and analysis of the basics of propaganda are a fundamental preparatory part of a hybrid war. It is supported by clear, defendable values and a naming of ideals and every-day practice in life linked to proof. If the ideals have broken loose from everyday routine, proving to a soldier that he does not have to follow other ideals and stories is difficult. Abstraction according to Hegel is dissolution and a change by another assumption.

A classic example is how Israeli volunteers perceive their ideals wen defending their territory. They and the Jews living in that territory clearly and constantly make known their ideals and aims which they link with their behaviour and that ensures their ideological rigor. Other ideologies do not match professed, abstract or untruthful ideals that are deemed secondary. Untruthful ideology is considered abstract or foreign and something that nobody lives and doesn’t practice. And it’s not something that is “scientific” and proved. An idea is true only when it is lived. Nevertheless this issue is still a problem of interpretation, primarily an historic one. The confusing and multi-layered history of Lithuania, like Ukraine or other Central European countries is filled not only with current but also extremely contradictory past stories that change constantly, adjusting to today’s imagination.

Philosopher Theodor Adorno was thinking about populist monsters of imagination and the resurrection of its army in the 1960s, when he spoke of the “false reality” phenomenon which overshadows critical enlightenment and starts to lead for scientific purposes. “False reality” is created by the people themselves who seek with those ideals which they confess yet which oppress, separate and hinder them from working with the nationalities and religions around them. The peculiarity of false reality lies in the fact that it is a theory that is never abstract and easily negated. It is practiced a way of life with social and material ties. Criticism of the false reality is notably more complicated and takes up much time.

The false realties form closed religious and political regimes and totalitarian societies. The constant presence of conflict, repression and war characterizes the state of false reality. Today, Ukrainian analysts wonder how long is it going to take to change the Donbass region’s “reality” which they consider false. Its representatives try to convince the conscripts of hostile countries not to let them intervene, be peaceful although they themselves cannot be peaceful – there are no clear economic, legal or cultural conditions.

However you imagine a sensible and critical political elite that endeavors to lead an army of conscripts, world routine is half full of living illusions – religious, historic and ideological and they themselves form their own commands. The dialectic says that no denial is ever final.

Denial is the constant action of removal from the main arena of thought. To finally deny imperial or Soviet myths, monarchist or authoritarian visions is impossible. You can only deny them, i.e. remove and displace them. As soon as action ceases all the lower demons rise up – fantasies of nobility and serfdom, Stalinist myths but with them new and popular chimeras are coined – authoritarian democracies, hard-handed diversity. Tolerance and different cults mollify the powers of denial, that’s why anything can be resurrected – slavery or serfdom, tyranny or dictatorship, pagan cults and Christian heresies.  

Ideological deserters are another kind of hybrid war fusion. Ideological desertion is based on a soldier’s inability to deny what he remembers as being possible, attractive, what his forefathers dreamed of or what is being offered to him again. Conscripts who have come from a completely consumer society do not have the ability – which is otherwise weak – to deny. A weak ability to deny, refuse and reject governs chronic betrayal. The Donbass conflict is characterised by endless bilateral betrayals, defections and reluctances although each of the sides talk of their campaign successes only. Learning to carry out orders does not increase ability to deny hostile campaigning and ideas.

Actions are termed hybrid warfare when at one time in a specific place protests, provocation, sabotage, cyberattacks, surveillance and terrorist, information and classical offensive and defensive military elements feature. Separate partisan, terrorist or information war actions or when they occur one after the other are never considered to be hybrid warfare. It’s just that most of them are applied together and create a synthesis, a psychological, social, administrative and political effect. Organised groups of urban partisans “leisure partisans” who other than distributing leaflets and campaigning seek to cut off the supply of conscripts, destroy military resources and weapons bases. Yet they are also well integrated into civilian life of the conflict.

Special “hybrid soldiers” are trained for [starting] hybrid conflicts and wars. They are integrated into the local civilian environment often before the conflict (sleeping hybrid reservists). These are people who already know all about fusion war, direct civil action, sabotage and intelligence. In preparation for conflicts like this modern techniques of military information, mass and political psychology and for human and social group control are used and which are closely linked to well-tested template from use in other zones of hybrid warfare.

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