Ukrainian elder statesman: How Russian hybrid war is changing the world order (Foreign Policy, Thomas E. Ricks. March 21, 2017)
Here’s an excerpt from the above article, an interview between Adrian Bonenberger and Volodymyr Horbulin, “one of Ukraine’s most accomplished elder statesmen.” He has some very interesting insights on hybrid warfare. This term, to the best of my understanding, describes the use of social and other online media to spread propaganda aimed at destabilizing a country, with the ultimate aim of compromising the country’s independence. The propaganda, often in the form of tantalizing fake news, is engineered toward manipulating public opinion in such a way that the country becomes more and more vulnerable to outside interference.
Hybrid warfare often relies on economic actions as well — in the case of Ukraine, for just one example, Horbulin cites the Russian gas cutoffs to Ukraine beginning in January 2006. Eventually, it may extend onward, as in Ukraine’s case, into later moves that also compromise a nation’s territorial integrity (i.e. military actions by a combination of externally-influenced paramilitary groups and invading foreign military forces, disguised or not).
The following excerpt illustrates some of Horbulin’s thinking on how to inoculate citizens against the manipulations of opinion and belief that are becoming more and more prevalent in the media sphere:
VOLODYMYR HORBULIN: One of the main characteristic features of modern hybrid war is its destructive impact in the field of information. Access to information is almost unlimited now. But one must know how to use this information. That is why we should describe education not only as knowledge, but more in terms of understanding, the ability to develop critical thinking in citizens; education should be measured by in one’s critical approach to information flow, the ability to analyze and draw conclusions, an ability to form accurate opinions based on reality. In this case, an educated person won’t become a victim of information and psychological manipulation, especially via social networks.
Education must involve the formulation of critical opinion, critical perception, not simply provide knowledge. Knowledge becomes out of date faster than it appears. Therefore, in the first place education has to develop the skills to acquire and synthesize knowledge. It is good that there are plenty of such opportunities today.
Speaking of social networks, we really can say that we are talking about certain forms of “weaponization” here. I would even say that not only social media, but all kinds of social communication and all civil society institutions have been subjected to such a “weaponization” procedure. Hybrid conflict almost completely blurs the conventional boundary between “combatants” and “not combatants,” between “weapons” and “not weapons.”
We have to understand that today the world is infected with a kind of memo-virus to some extent – people want to consume more and more information, while they have less and less time to process and evaluate it. Hence the increased opportunities for manipulation. In this sense, social networks are probably the best tool by which to quickly spread information of dubious quality within broad masses. And we’re not even talking about “rumors” — the traditional tool of information manipulation used by security services — these alternative facts or “fake news” are both a much easier and simultaneously much more powerful tool to use. Its influence on public opinion is increasing, and therefore public opinion, I agree with you, becomes a form of weapon. But this weapon is targeted primarily at the democratic governments that depend on this opinion, and which take it into account.