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Society and communities

Not just for the generals – Advising Nato on hybrid warfare

In 2013, Dr Andrew Mumford published Proxy Warfare. It was favourably reviewed - “an important contribution to our understanding of war” said Professor James Wirtz, the Dean of the US Naval Postgraduate School.

The book’s analysis of how states influence conflicts without placing their own forces on the ground also came to the attention of the Ministry of Defence think-tank, the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre.

It asked Dr Mumford to contribute a report on “ambiguous warfare” – how economic coercion, disinformation, use of proxies, terrorism and criminal activity blur the boundaries between civil disorder and military conflict - for the UK Government’s 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

"As new concepts of warfare are being played out, there is an integral role for academics in sharing responses and helping to formulate policy."
Dr Andrew Mumford

Fresh from his contribution to the review, Dr Mumford was asked to speak at the prestigious Future Forces Conference in the Netherlands, where he addressed the heads of 18 European militaries about the changing nature of warfare and the implications for Western military strategy. From there came an invitation to Bonn and Nato’s Inter-allied Confederation of Reserve Officers, where Dr Mumford found himself sitting next to Dr Juliette Bird, Nato’s head of counter-terrorism, and he was later hired by its Centre of Excellence for Defence Against Terrorism to write a report identifying threats from emergent forms of hybrid war.

“There’s a saying that war’s too important to be left to the generals,” said Dr Mumford.

“It’s also true to say that I’ve had the opportunity to disseminate my work among policymakers through happenstance, by making connections and the willingness to network with people you didn’t expect to meet.”

His definition of hybrid war has now been adopted by Nato’s Defence Against Terrorism Centre of Excellence:

“A multi-causal mode of conflict that takes place in multi-threat environments in which states and non-state actors interact [both covertly and overtly] using a mixture of regular and irregular war-fighting tactics for the purposes of extending influence, interest and, in some cases, territory.”

Advising on warfare

Hybrid warfare is recognised by Nato as a key emerging threat to Western security and Dr Mumford’s consultancy work has informed its policymakers of its history and how it has been waged by states, not least in the sponsorship of terrorist groups.

In March 2017, he visited the Centre of Excellence for Defence Against Terrorism’s HQ in Ankara to help officers factor in the threat of hybrid warfare to military exercises.

Two months later Dr Mumford also travelled to Riga, Latvia, to advise StratCom, the Nato Centre of Excellence for Strategic Communications, on a new system for capturing every aspect of hybrid warfare since the 1990s and how this data can be used to mitigate such threats.

StratCom’s director, Janis Sarts, said: “The body of work [Dr Mumford] has completed relating to hybrid threats, both for the UK Ministry of Defence and Nato’s Defence Against Terrorism Centre of Excellence, has already had a significant impact.”

Nato is now planning a centre of excellence in Helsinki dedicated to hybrid warfare. Dr Mumford says, in the age of the War on Terror, the cyber attack and the blurring of boundaries between state and non-state players, hybrid war presents unprecedented challenges to global security.“

As new concepts of warfare are being played out, there is an integral role for academics, in shaping responses and helping to formulate policy,” he added.

Little green men

The Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014 is a prime example of hybrid war: “Look at how those so-called ‘little green men’ were taking over key Ukrainian government buildings armed to the teeth with Russian army weaponry, wearing Russian army uniforms (minus the insignia), and President Putin is saying ‘no, they’re not my troops’. It was pretty implausible but he knew the West wouldn’t risk a war to push them out. That conundrum lies at the heart of hybrid warfare.”

Getting academics and policymakers round the table to discuss such challenges is the next step for Dr Mumford. A workshop at the University of Nottingham in June brought together practitioners from Nato and the British military with scholars.“

The landscape for conflict is shifting all the time, from marauding urban terror attacks like those seen in Paris, to the destabilising influence of bots pumping out fake news on Twitter,” he added. “War is no longer restricted to conventional weaponry, and technology is continuously evolving to present new threats to our security. How we respond without jeopardising our freedoms is a fundamental question.”

Andrew Mumford

Dr Andrew Mumford is an Associate Professor in Politics and International Relations and co-director of the University’s Centre for Conflict, Security and Terrorism.

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