Civilian Operator 101: Hybrid Warfare Historical Study


Russia’s actions in the Ukraine has brought new attention to the concept of “hybrid warfare”. The uptick of interest has been spurred by the waging of hostilities on multiple levels and specifically the seeming novelty of using irregular, political, and information operations in conjunction with more traditional coercion. Such tactics are meant to identify, exacerbate, and create divisions in societies that can then be exploited by an adversary seeking to advance an objective or at least constrain a state’s ability to act decisively.

While much of the scholarly discussion – when it is not focused on whether hybrid warfare is an actual development or simply a bundling of old ideas – has dealt with the implications for Eastern Europe, it is important to note that the United States has been targeted by foreign governments using aspects of “hybrid warfare” since the beginning of the Cold War and in some cases even prior to the commencement of that era. Not only the Soviet Union (by which Russia’s actions seem to remain so heavily influenced) but China and smaller states such as Cuba directed efforts at creating unfounded dissension and even violence within the United States.

Given the likelihood that foreign efforts to disrupt U.S. political discourse – in furtherance of stymying decisiveness about decisions regarding developments beyond its borders – will continue, it is worth examining the paradigms that a foreign government endeavoring to manipulate U.S. policy might attempt to create. First, a foreign power may seek to nullify voices which it perceives to be hostile to its interests and may use means as drastic as murder to do so. Reducing the impact of U.S. constituencies undercuts policymakers’ by giving them a seemingly diminished mandate to justify difficult decisions. While working to nullify certain voices, foreign governments attempt to unleash others that seek to undercut the legitimacy of the U.S. government. Of interest to foreign governments seeking to chip away at the U.S. government’s ability to act are voices which contribute to three broad categories of activity: lawlessness (i.e. those individuals and organizations that are an active affront to authorities); militant and extremist movements (e.g. Cuban collusion with leftist radicals during the 1960s and 1970s); fomenting distrust of the U.S. government (e.g. Soviet encouragement of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy); and portraying the U.S. government as indifferent and weak when it comes to the needs of its population – a theme usually accompanied by the token gesture of a foreign government, such as Venezuela in its subsidized heating oil program.

Read the Remainder at Small Wars Journal