Today’s hybrid warfare encompasses the concept of combat in multiple domains. Some call this non-military warfare. The cyber aspect is one of them and can lead to the neutralization or degradation of many technical means of the enemy or opposing forces. As early as 1998, the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization jammed electronic equipment in Serbia before intervening there and did the same in 2003 in Iraq.
Today, when the term cyberwarfare is used, it refers to peacetime aggressive maneuvers in cyberspace. These actions remain limited because, at the moment, the cyber weapon is too little controllable to allow massive maneuvers such as destroying the six information systems that make modern societies function: military, health, banking, transportation, supply, and energy. Such an action causes a society to collapse without having fired a shot, like power blackouts, for example.
However, there are very effective limited cyber weapons. The Stuxnet virus, launched in 2010 by the Americans and Israelis against Iranian nuclear centers, destroyed tens of thousands of computers.
Another type of aggressive action is to hack into Pentagon systems to steal information. This can be done by ordinary people, small groups or states. The most evolved countries take this kind of attack very seriously. Brazil’s Defense White Paper (2010) indicates that efforts on cybersecurity should be led by the Brazilian Army; other countries, such as France, have set a priority since 2008 in contributing financial resources to the segment.
In 2019, Israel was the first country to respond to a cyber attack with a military force. Following a cyber offensive by Hamas, the Israelis launched an airstrike on a building in the Gaza Strip, where the terror group’s attacks were coming from.
Fragmented battlefield scenarios also record the access of new weapons to small groups of fighters with the ability to interfere in traditionally balanced scenarios.
Thanks to the Internet, a dynamic of widespread diffusion of military employment techniques has developed. For decades, it was possible to keep secret knowledge of how to produce a nuclear artifact or even some improvised explosive. Drones, initially less threatening, spread more rapidly, not least because a model airplane industry already existed.
The illegal use of drones
It is possible that some contention between Hezbollah and Israel will soon occur in Middle Eastern airspace between armed drones. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that organized crime factions are already using simple drones bought on the market to infiltrate cell phones in Brazilian prisons. The new technologies are also lighter and more accessible.
The asymmetry of modern conflict presents itself in many ways. To manufacture a helicopter, it takes perhaps hundreds of people, mathematicians, engineers, security officers, and there is a whole industry behind it. Irregular forces usually don’t need sophisticated weapons like an Astros multiple rocket launcher system, a fighter like the Gripen, or a nuclear submarine. However, they do need portable rifles and missiles; and precisely, these devices proliferate on the surface of the planet.
Although concern against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents does not always occupy the news headlines, this is not to say that it is an obsolete strand. Epidemics, such as the Coronavirus, show the need to have permanently trained military and professionals, even in times of peace, and show a brief rehearsal of some hypotheses that are not discarded.
It is worth remembering that a mentally disturbed person, an extremist terrorist faction, or an unscrupulous leader who is cornered, can use one of these vectors in an inconsequential way.
War of narratives
There is also another dimension to the fighting: the war of narratives, which takes place in the field of psychological operations, where the perception that will be predominant in people’s hearts and minds is disputed. In a democracy, this is of capital importance, because it directly interferes in the polls.
Propaganda has always been a fundamental element in warfare. No wonder that factions such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces Colombian-People’s Army (FARC-EP), the National Liberation Army (ELN), Daesh, Aqmi (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) or Aqpa (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) invest in professionals, with an extraordinary technical mastery in Information Technology and advertising. It has been a long time since these irregular forces understood that it is not enough to send SMS or e-mails full of errors. They produce technically remarkable videos and messages, with quality similar to that of a streaming channel.
Despite all these developments, conventional weapons such as fighter planes, combat cars and frigates, common in classic wars, still have their place today. In this scenario, circumstances have only forced countries’ war industry to make this equipment more flexible so that it can be adapted more easily to the different formats of conflicts that have arisen.
With regard to nuclear artifacts, the military powers are faced with a paradox: These weapons have very little chance of being used, but it is their very existence that guarantees the strange balance that the countries that possess them will not be forced to use them. In other words: these countries are committing part of their budgets to respond to assumptions that are not current. But if they don’t do this, perhaps the assumption will become real. Abandoning this option is a difficult decision. Moreover, it is worth remembering that a fundamental characteristic of military technologies is that they take a long time to produce. No country builds an airplane, fighter car or missile in two weeks. It takes technological competence, planning, industrial logistics and other requirements well in advance.
In the case of nuclear technology, many countries are unlikely to abandon the sector for strategic and technical reasons. Abandoning the production of certain segments of industry and scientific research would mean quickly losing or falling behind in relation to a particular piece of knowledge. To recover the technological vanguard would take years or decades.
As far as space is concerned, we can say that the trend is for it to become increasingly relevant. In 2019, the United States created the Space Command, characterizing an overt militarization of space. “Many things will happen in space, because space is the world’s newest warfare domain,” declared former U.S. President Donald Trump during the signing of the act creating the new command.
For his part, in the same year, Emmanuel Macron, president of France, also announced the creation of a French Space Force. These actions were accompanied by protests from China and Russia, in which it was even stated that the international consensus on the peaceful use of space was being violated.
The truth is that a large part of the information systems of today’s societies depend on orbiting satellite chains, which makes this issue a priority; particularly after the Chinese entered the space race a few decades ago. In the event of a war between states, space systems would certainly be one of the main objectives.
Wars of the Near Future
Statistics have presented new risk factors for the next fifteen to twenty years. Europeans are already calling the migrations a human bomb, after the waves of refugees intensified starting in 2015. Recent figures made available by the United Nations indicate that the world has about 250 million international migrants, that is, people living in countries other than the ones they were born in. Of this total, more than 68 million are in a situation of forced displacement. Brazil and Colombia are taking the brunt of millions of refugees from Venezuela’s dictatorial regime, which has driven the population of Venezuela into a miserable situation.
Boa Vista, capital of the state of Roraima, was saved from collapse because of Operation Welcome, in which the Brazilian Ministry of Defense created a large logistical structure to manage the crisis in receiving the refugees and the internalization of families in the aftermath.
The changes resulting from the environmental impact of human action, such as urbanization, are also additional destabilizing factors. One can envision future food wars and water wars, for example. It is not yet known how the Earth’s 10 billion predicted inhabitants will be fed in 2050.
The appropriation of areas rich in natural resources is likely to be a major issue in the coming decades; likewise energy and food resources. The competition for cutting-edge knowledge is likely to be increasingly fierce because if access to technology is a power factor, there is no reason why it should not be the source of future conflicts.
It is necessary that statesmen are well advised in the prospection of scenarios so that they can always guarantee the minimum capabilities of countries to respond to the various challenges that present themselves. In turn, it is also essential that the current structures and institutions increasingly seek to be versatile and have the ability to be employed in various contexts at minimal cost.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government, Diálogo magazine, or its members. This Academia article was machine-translated.