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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Hybrid Warfare’

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Edited by Williamson Murray and Peter R. Mansoor
Cambridge University Press, $29.99, 336 pages

Hybrid warfare is a relatively new term. I think it was coined by Frank Hoffman when he was working at the Marine Corps Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities. Rather than use any set definition, I will lay out what hybrid warfare seems to mean to many of the essay authors in this important and often entertaining book. I think the editors are correct in their contention that hybrid war may be the face of the future.

Hybrid wars generally are defensive wars in which the defender uses a combination of conventional and unconventional tactics to attempt to defeat an invading or intervening foreign power. Consequently, they are not purely guerrilla wars, nor are they civil wars by definition, but they can take on that character if the foreign power favors a factional government or sets up one. Such was the case in Vietnam, as author Karl Lowe points out.

Virtually all of the case studies here involve protracted conflict, with the possible exception of the Franco-Prussian War, analyzed by Marcus Jones. Even in that case, the conflict was prolonged by a popular uprising once the existing government lost control of its own population. In a truer sense than the narrow definition used by the communists in the last century, hybrid conflicts tend to be authentic "people's wars." Of the nine case studies in the book, virtually all had some element of participation by a significant segment of the population.

Some definitions of hybrid warfare that I have seen focus on technology, stressing the combination of high-tech and low-tech weaponry that seems to characterize such conflicts. Most of the authors don't necessarily consider this to be a critical component, although in most cases, the defenders used some form of up-to-date weaponry when it could be captured, purchased or gained from a sympathetic third party. Such was certainly the case in the American Revolution, the Peninsular War and Vietnam.

Chances are this book eventually will be read by military and political planners among the nations that might well be contemplating the use of hybrid warfare against the United States. I'm particularly thinking about Iran. One cautionary note is that many of the governments employing such strategies lost a certain degree of control over their populations. The Spanish monarchy never fully regained control of its population, and the Franco-Prussian War totally discredited Napoleon III.

Some readers will question why Iraq and Afghanistan were not included, but I agree with the editors' decision to omit them. In both cases, the governments involved were unpopular enough with the majority of their population that the invaders were, at least initially, welcomed by the bulk of the population. Both conflicts eventually took on some characteristics of hybrid war, but neither ultimately fits the consensus definition of hybrid warfare reached by the authors and editors.

I find it curious, however, that the authors did not include the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War in the anthology. It fits the definition that seems to run through the book, and many military writers have used it as a harbinger of future hybrid conflicts. I even could suggest an author in Andrew Exum, who has made an exhaustive study of that conflict. The editors had their reasons, but I suspect I am not the only reader who will make this observation.

Mr. Murray and Mr. Mansoor are both excellent scholars and are well-qualified to edit such a volume. Mr. Murray is the dean of writers on the transformation of war, and Mr. Mansoor is an eminent soldier-scholar. Both are associated with the excellent history department at Ohio State University.

The book deserves the attention of the national security community because it provides a framework for thinking about the conflicts we may see in the future, and I think it will find its way onto the reading lists of the military service schools.

Gary Anderson, an adjunct professor at George Washington University, is serving as an adviser in Afghanistan.

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