Security and Defence

Reports and papers

Hybrid Conflict: The Roles of Russia, North Korea and China

16 May 2018 - 12:03
Bron: Wikimedia Commons

This report is the outcome of a project conducted by the Clingendael Institute as a member of the Dutch National Network of Safety and Security Analysts (ANV) on behalf of the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) of the Netherlands. The essays in this report were presented and discussed in a series of three seminars that took place at Clingendael, with each seminar focusing on the mentioned countries, respectively.

Hybrid conflict became a much discussed concept after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. While the phenomenon itself is nothing new, the re-emergence of significant great-power frictions combined with new technologies such as those that enable the cyber domain, have triggered fresh evaluations of hybrid conflict and its impact on national security. The project’s aim was to assess whether and how the concept of hybrid conflict plays a role in the foreign relations of Russia, North Korea and China, to explore what this implies for Dutch national security, and to increase awareness in the Netherlands of the latter.

There is no generally accepted definition for the term ‘hybrid conflict’. This project follows the definition of hybrid conflict that is used by the NCTV: it is understood as conflict between states, largely below the legal threshold of an open armed conflict, with the integrated use of means and actors, aimed at achieving certain strategic goals. This type of conflict is characterised by;

  1. The integrated deployment of multiple military and non-military means, such as diplomatic, economic and digital means, disinformation, influencing, military intimidation, etc., that belong to the toolbox of state instruments;
  2. Orchestration as part of a strategy/campaign;
  3. The intention of achieving certain strategic goals;
  4. Important features, namely deception, ambiguity and deniability, which accompany the actions (or could do so), making it difficult to attribute them and respond to them effectively.

The rationale to focus on these three countries in particular was that Russia, North Korea and China are believed (by Western observers) to engage in various forms of hybrid conflict in parts of their home regions. Moreover, these three countries have political systems that are based on values that contrast with those on which the Dutch political system is founded, and some of the presumed targets or counterparts of their efforts at hybrid conflict are either allies or allies-of-allies of the Netherlands.