Title

Hybrid interference as a wedge strategy: a theory of external interference in liberal democracy

Author Information

Mikael Wigell

Date of Publication

2019 12:00 AM

Security Theme

Political Stability

Keywords

Disinformation, geoeconomics, hybrid war, political instability

Description

‘Hybridity’ is in vogue these days. Yet, the utility of the hybrid label is often contested in security studies. A problem relates to how the concept of hybrid warfare has been extended to cases that have little in common with the cases from which the concept was originally derived. This article suggests making a conceptual distinction between hybrid warfare and hybrid interference. The article is devoted to developing this latter, new strategic concept. In essence, hybrid interference is conceptualized as a ‘wedge strategy’, namely a policy of dividing a target country or coalition, thereby weakening its counterbalancing potential. By drawing particularly on recent practices by China and Russia, the article shows how hybrid interference uses a panoply of state-controlled, non-kinetic means, which are more or less concealed in order to provide the divider with plausible deniability and to control targeted actors without elevating their threat perceptions. Three main bundles of means are central to hybrid interference: 1) clandestine diplomacy; 2) geoeconomics; and 3) disinformation. The article shows how western democracies are vulnerable to hybrid interference. Hybrid interference makes use of the liberal values that characterize western democracy, exploiting them as opportunities to drive wedges through democratic societies and undermine governability. The article argues that this sort of external interference has been overlooked in the debate on democratic deconsolidation, that it is becoming more common, and discusses some counter-measures to defend against it.

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Jan 1st, 12:00 AM

Hybrid interference as a wedge strategy: a theory of external interference in liberal democracy

‘Hybridity’ is in vogue these days. Yet, the utility of the hybrid label is often contested in security studies. A problem relates to how the concept of hybrid warfare has been extended to cases that have little in common with the cases from which the concept was originally derived. This article suggests making a conceptual distinction between hybrid warfare and hybrid interference. The article is devoted to developing this latter, new strategic concept. In essence, hybrid interference is conceptualized as a ‘wedge strategy’, namely a policy of dividing a target country or coalition, thereby weakening its counterbalancing potential. By drawing particularly on recent practices by China and Russia, the article shows how hybrid interference uses a panoply of state-controlled, non-kinetic means, which are more or less concealed in order to provide the divider with plausible deniability and to control targeted actors without elevating their threat perceptions. Three main bundles of means are central to hybrid interference: 1) clandestine diplomacy; 2) geoeconomics; and 3) disinformation. The article shows how western democracies are vulnerable to hybrid interference. Hybrid interference makes use of the liberal values that characterize western democracy, exploiting them as opportunities to drive wedges through democratic societies and undermine governability. The article argues that this sort of external interference has been overlooked in the debate on democratic deconsolidation, that it is becoming more common, and discusses some counter-measures to defend against it.