Hybrid Warfare:Lessons for Europe (Part I)

Posted on Posted in Analyses, Intelligence and Security, Strategy & Defence

By Evangelos Grapsas, Senior Researcher KEDISA


Hybrid Warfare refers to an operation that has covered tracks so that it cannot be characterized as an ‘operation’ at all. The concept, of course, dates back to ancient times and is nothing fresh. As the NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg mentioned, one of the first who married war with non-military instruments were the Ancient Greeks (1). Following the siege of Troy, they planned to use other methods than just military instruments. So, they decided to build a giant wooden horse as a gift to the defenders of Troy and left the scene of the battle (2). In the night, soldiers came out of this horse and after killing the patrols, opened the city gates for the main army. A wooden horse proved more effective than the 10-year siege by that time. A modern instance of coupling war tactics with non-military instruments and measures of deception can be found in the Russian annexation of Crimea.

The famous Chinese influential figure, Sun Tzu grasped the meaning of war in a single phrase; ‘all war is based on deception’ (3). Actually, two unpredicted warfare methods were used in this involvement that eventually led to the annexation of the Crimea peninsula and the further destabilization of the Eastern region of Ukraine (4). Hybrid warfare on the one side and the Maskirovka technique on the other, are nothing fresh. The intricacy for the West is to face these challenges of deception (5)f. The rapid technological and military progress has expanded the range under which Maskirovka techniques can apply and the attachment of media and information campaigns has further enhanced the belligerent’s potential (4). The political camouflage that Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed proved to be rather sophisticated.

The recent engagement of hybrid warfare practices can be structured around multiple layers upon which the EU states and NATO must carefully enhance their capabilities. Especially, it is vital that intelligence sharing becomes one of the top priorities in order to manage similar challenges in the future.  In addition, there is a need for a more comprehensive strategic communication that will further enhance the capabilities of the Western actors towards hybrid threats. Moreover, the role of cyber defense has to be added in the strategic planning of decision makers in the European Institutions and in NATO reviews in order to prevent infiltrators who could exploit information (6). Another point that has to be highlighted is the central function of the media, such as television channels and radio stations that have launched information campaigns based on propaganda during instances of hybrid warfare, in specific propaganda operations against Ukraine by several Russia-backed channels without provoking though since not all information is based on propaganda in Russian channels (7). Moving on to energy, the energy imports, and especially that of natural gas pose a challenge that has to be addressed through the creation of new supply routes.



  1. Stoltenberg, Jens. Opening of the NATO Transformation Seminar. [interv.] Moderator. [ed.] NATO. [trans.] NATO. [compl.] NATO. s.l. : NATO, March 25, 2015.
  2. Homer. The Trojan Horse at the Close of the “Iliad”. [trans.] George Fredric Franko. No. 2. Ancient Greece : The Classical Journal, 750 B.C. pp. 121-123.
  3. Tzu, Sun. The Art of War . [trans.] Lionel Giles. 500 BC.
  4. Ash, Lucy. How Russia outfoxes its enemies. [Online] 1 29, 2015. [Cited: 11 10, 2016.]
  5. Lasconjarias, Andreas Jacobs & Guillaume. NATO’s Hybrid Flanks: Handling Uncoventional Warfare in the SOuth and the East. NATO Defense College, NATO. Rome : Research Division NATO Defense COllege, 2015. Research Paper.
  7. Rapporteur, Witold WASZCZYKOWSKI. THE BATTLE FOR THE HEARTS AND MINDS: COUNTERING PROPAGANDA ATTACKS AGAINST THE EURO-ATLANTIC COMMUNITY. NATO Parliamentary Assembly, NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Brussels : NATO Parliamentary Assembly, 2015.