The need for civil protection in modern warfare

The need for civil protection in modern warfare

Hybrid warfare is a combination of conventional military weapons with additional warfare. War was traditionally conducted by regular and special forces, sometimes supported by irregular forces. But the targeting of civilians by bombing, missiles and drones are parts of modern warfare, as is the use of civil or armed unrest in foreign territories, intelligence and subversive activities, cyber-attacks, and economic and diplomatic war - especially propaganda and disinformation - writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

Hybrid warfare is not new. It was used by all sides during the Cold War (1948-1991), however today the non-conventional tools are prevailing.

Civil unrest can be interpreted or justified by either side taking their own one-sided view. This appears to be the case in Ukraine and resulted in Crimea’s annexation by Russia.

The question now is how would Nato respond to civil unrest initiated by Russia in Russian-speaking minorities in its Baltic member states. The unrest could be reinforced by infiltrating Russian volunteers. This would be an attack, but would Nato’s Article 5 apply - requiring other Nato members to defend the attacked country?

Cyberwar is a new and extremely effective tool. The more developed a country becomes the more vulnerable it is to cyber-attack. All major powers, such as America’s Stuxnet computer worm attack on Iran's nuclear programmes discovered in 2010, or Russia’s attacks on the Baltics and Georgia, exploit cyber technology. But these are not seen as acts of war in public perception.

Propaganda and disinformation is a very old tool. The Soviet Union used disinformation to target Western opinion formers, especially the young. One objective was to seed dissent between the US and its European allies. The tactic was successful in building criticism of the US among the so-called intelligentsia.

Today, Russia is using propaganda and disinformation again. RT, the state-funded television station, and its national news agency Ria Novosti, are very professional. The content of their information is generally accurate but the context and comment - ‘the spin’ – can be misleading. This, unfortunately, is a tactic Western political parties and governments are using, too. This spin or window-dressing undermines trust.

Civil protection has also changed. Wars of the 17th and 18th centuries tried to avoid harming the civil population. Warfare that targets civil society restarted in the 20th century. Civil protection, providing shelters, food storage, water supply, medical emergency services and emergency evacuation plans should be paramount but it is grossly neglected in many countries.

We also have to prepare for cyber warfare to avoid making ourselves vulnerable, and it is essential to provide people with credible information. Any kind of biased information whether motivated by ideology or party politics undermines trust and opens the door to propaganda and disinformation.

Functioning civil protection is an effective tool against blackmail and helps to increase strength and confidence even if it is costly and cumbersome.

It is less likely that Russia will attack Western Europe with conventional forces if tensions escalate between Nato countries and Russia as it would fear retaliation. War would probably be contained on Nato’s eastern border. But it could launch hybrid war such as cyber-attacks or raise fears by undermining the North Atlantic alliance through propaganda. It could also try to create civil and social unrest.

This scenario demonstrates that Europe must prepare its civil defences. Cyber security is essential. So too are emergency plans for food, water, and energy in case infrastructure and logistics are damaged by cyber-attacks.

The public has to be made aware, openly and convincingly, of the potential and actual threats, and what options remain to respond.

Related reports:

West’s sanctions on Russia or arming Ukraine

The return of the Cold War

Ukraine and Russia sliding down road to destruction

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