Hybrid War! Russian Bots! Foo

(Background to Bloody Liberties #1)

In Bloody Liberties our aim, at least in part, was to play with the idea of ‘hybrid war’, or ‘hybrid threats’ as the American military has it. What would happen to Britain if some mysterious enemy engaged in some kind of hard-to-understand, undeclared ‘war’ or campaign of destabilization against it, for reasons that were also unclear? What might it look like? How might it play itself out? What might its aims be?

If the government was compromised, the media could not be trusted, the population came under more strict control and nobody seemed to know what was going on, how would Harry Hawkins and his people go about figuring things out, forming-up some sort of resistance, and striving to bring the situation under control?

In this short series of posts we’ll offer a few insights into our thinking, and focus on some of the most significant elements of the hybrid war idea as they relate to our book. First up, we should try and set out a definition.

The best place to start is with the Russian intervention in Ukraine in 2014, which sparked a lot of debate about the use and effectiveness of hybrid warfare, a type of warfare widely understood to blend conventional/unconventional, regular/irregular, and information and cyber warfare.

NATO analysts, though, have been very skeptical about the use of the concept, arguing that all the talk about hybrid war – an elusive and catch-all term at the best of times - as a new, 21st century form of activity misses a basic point: that warfare has always been a complex set of interconnected threats and forceful means waged to further political motives.

Adversaries, past and present, have developed creative uses of the “full-spectrum” of warfare, including the use of regular and irregular tactics across all its dimensions. In practice, some strategists have argued, any threat can be considered ‘hybrid’ as long as it is not limited to a single form and dimension of warfare. When any threat or use of force is defined as hybrid, the term loses its value and causes confusion instead of clarifying the “reality” of modern warfare.

So we might say that so-called ‘hybrid warfare’ combines a lot of classical old-school elements with some distinctively 21st technological aspects to look something like this:

In Bloody Liberties almost all of the above might be considered to play some sort of role, with the exception of ‘regular military forces’ (and even they may be playing a role in the ‘Scottish’ section of the book). The above combination of elements has been in play, the experts say, in Russia’s activity in Ukraine, and the same experts seem to acknowledge that the Russians are the global leaders when it comes to all this stuff.

Think about it: in the last few years ‘The Russians’, and in particular their famous ‘Bots’ have been credited with everything from swaying the US Presidential election in 2016 to getting into the heads of the British public and persuading 17.4 million of them to vote for Brexit. There is nothing, it seems, that these miraculous things cannot do, when combined with ‘fake news’ and disinformation campaigns.

This proposition seems to us to be pretty ludicrous, and in any case mostly politically motivated rather than descriptive. But one thing is clear: the Russians are the bad guys. Again. In an increasingly murky, hard-to-understand and unstable world, in which it’s difficult to figure out exactly who is doing what and why, it’s useful to have an easy scapegoat to hang everything on – and as we’ll discuss in a forthcoming post, the Russians have always made excellent bad guys. Ask Hollywood. Or, if it comes to that, the authors of Blood on the Streets and Bloody Liberties.

This is not to say, of course, that Russia doesn’t do whatever it can to project various kinds of power to further its goals, and that they have been known to be the (very bad) guys. But blaming all of the confusion and manipulation currently running through the world on them alone is absurd, as this interesting piece argues makes clear:https://www.spiked-online.com/2018/12/27/russia-mania-takes-over-the-world/

Unless it actually is all down to the Russians, of course. Who can know? How can we find out? How can we be sure, amidst all this confusion, if something is part of a ‘hybrid threat’ or not?

Here’s a little example: at the 2016 UEFA football championship in France the off-pitch media highlight was the fighting between English and Russian fans in Marseille. On the surface it looked like the same-old-same-old: England fans running riot and being generally unpleasant.

But on closer inspection (and we do inspect these things closely here at London Large – see below) a different pattern was apparent. A relatively small group of Russian fans – who looked suspiciously like they could have been well-conditioned special forces type guys (they’re on the left in the picture below, chasing the England fans out of their allocated part of the stadium) - appear to have run thousands of England fans ragged.

The short version of this sorry tale is that the fit, well-organized Russian got the better of their opponents over the course of a long sunny day, as the usual assortment of very drunk, and often very fat, English beer monsters were happy to sing songs and hurl abuse but were not quite up to scratch when it came to the hand-to-hand combat.

Twenty years ago this would have been just another a punch-up at a football match (though in those days the English boys knew better how to look after themselves). But now, in the age of hybrid- and information-warfare, some thought it may have been something else:

The Russian hooligans involved have strenuously denied in interviews the claims about government involvement or this being a symbolic ‘force projection’ operation sanctioned by Putin for global propaganda purposes. At the end of the day we’ll probably never know…but it’s a win for Putin whichever way you look at it:

Anyway, we hope this brief excursion into football (or soccer) subculture provides a little additional context for the opening chapters of Bloody Liberties. Further insights into this kind of thing - though in a much less digestible form – can be found here, in Garry’s first book (warning: you’ll need a dictionary of sociology by your side, probably). Note: ‘Millwall’ is the name of the football club supported by England’s most notorious hooligans.

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