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Thinking About Strategic Hybrid Threats-- In Theory and in Practice

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Journal Article

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The George Washington University Washington United States

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As the United States resets in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the face of growing uncertainty in the South China Sea, a good and important debate is occurring about how best to provide for our national security. Reasonable arguments can be made about the threats posed by potential peer competitors such as China, rogue nations such as North Korea, and prospective revisionist powers such as Russia. Arguments can be made about threats arising from political instability or intrastate conflicts, such as in Pakistan, Uganda, and Syria. Arguments can also be made about the threats posed by jihadi terror groups, organized crime syndicates, and drug trafficking organizations. The dangers highlighted by any one of these arguments are real and perhaps grave. They are not, however, novel. For each of these dangers, we have established procedures, tools, and resources for deterring, mitigating, and perhaps even resolving their associated risks. Yet there are threats for which we lack well-established security mechanisms. Chief among them are the hybrid threats woven from the hazards above to directly endanger the safety and security of our society and citizens at homeas well as our national interests abroad. What follows is an argument for casting greater focus on the dangers posed by hybrid threats at the strategic level.1 We use Iran and the availability of proxy capabilities to illustrate the mechanics of, and risk posed by, strategic hybrid threats. We also offer a general model for what is needed to detect and respond to hybrid threats. Still, increased attention is not enough. It is our intent that this argument serve as fuel for a richer discussion about the doctrine, strategies, material resources, and organizational behaviors the United States ought to develop to respond to strategic hybrid threats in both theory and practice.

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  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
  • Government and Political Science

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