Nov 10, 2021 - World

The hybrid future of conflict

Polish soliders at border
Polish security personnel guard a barbed wire fence at the Poland-Belarus border on Nov. 10. Photo: Leonid Shcheglov/BELTA/AFP/Belarus OUT

Two events over the past week — an attempted drone assassination and a partially engineered migrant crisis — show the changing nature of conflicts.

Why it matters: Outright wars between states remain extremely rare, but new technologies and strategies are enabling countries and groups to wage conflict by other, hybrid means.

Driving the news: On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi survived an assassination attempt after armed drones targeted his residence in Baghdad.

  • Reuters, citing Iraqi security officials, later reported the attack was carried out by at least one Iran-backed militia, though likely without the sanction of the Iranian government.
  • In Poland, hundreds of migrants tried to storm the border from Belarus in what a Polish security official said was a campaign engineered by the Belarusian government as a "hybrid attack" against Poland.

The big picture: Both events demonstrate the new tools available to wage asymmetric, often deniable conflicts without the use of a single soldier.

  • The U.S. began the global war on terror with a near monopoly over armed drones, but today more than 100 militaries have some level of armed or unarmed drone capability as the technology has become cheaper and more widespread.
  • Drones — which put no soldiers at risk and often bear no identification — are particularly worrying as weapons of targeted assassination, especially as they become more autonomous.
  • German spokesperson Steffen Seibert has said Belarus — which has come under sanctions from Poland and other EU members — "instrumentalizes refugees and migrants" in an effort to destabilize the EU.

Of note: Belarus insists the migrants are merely exercising their rights as refugees, though it's worth noting that hybrid war — a blend of conventional and political warfare — is specifically meant to operate in a gray zone of plausible deniability.

The bottom line: In the future, the fog of war will only get denser.

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