By Mohammad Mazhari

World heading towards hybrid warfare: Pakistani expert

May 29, 2021 - 15:40

TEHRAN – A Pakistani researcher in Arms Control & Disarmament Centre (ACDC) believes that the world is heading towards hybrid warfare, which will push West Asian countries to design their cybersecurity policies.

"I believe that the world is experiencing the rise of hybrid warfare where the classical warfare model is complemented by non-kinetic tactics," Aamna Rafiq tells the Tehran Times.

 "In the contemporary strategic landscape, states and non-state actors prefer synergized and tailored use of their military, economic, political, civilian, and informational power to target the specific vulnerabilities of their adversaries."

Today, cyber wars are no longer hypothetical. Every event that was imagined in stories about cyberwar has now actually occurred. 

Cyberwar has left the pages of overblown science fiction open and the tabletops of Pentagon war games have become a reality. 

More than ever before, it's becoming clear that the threat of hacking goes beyond nuisance vandalism, criminal profiteering, and even espionage to include the sort of physical-world disruption that was once possible to accomplish only with military attacks and terroristic sabotage.

 "Cyberwarfare, espionage, disinformation, psychological warfare, religious warfare, separatist movements, regime change, resource warfare, lawfare, trade wars, terrorism, coercive diplomacy, and economic sanctions are few examples of these non-kinetic tactics," Rafiq argues.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you evaluate the recent cyberwars in West Asia? What does distinguish the region in this regard?

A: The Middle East (West Asia) is a classic case of cyber realism where every cyberattack is a calculated strategic move with far-reaching geopolitical and security implications. In the Middle East (West Asia), cyberspace is just another domain where states have brought their pre-existing conflicts, territorial disputes, power struggles, blame casting, strategic interests and security dilemmas. What makes cyber warfare in the Middle East (West Asia) more dangerous and distinct from the rest of the world is the sophistication and exclusivity of cyberattacks. The complexity, exclusivity, and long endurance of a sophisticated cyber-attack require specialized hackers, advanced technology, and intelligence about the specific strategic target.  

Q: What can Iran and other regional countries learn from previous cyber-attacks to contain future threats?

A: They can design their cybersecurity policies, draft new cyber strategies and doctrines, restructure existing institutional framework, establish new specialized institutions and cyber commands, conduct cyber exercises with friendly countries, improve cyber hygiene, build bilateral or regional alliances and focus on creating cyber awareness. However, there is a need to acknowledge the fact that strengthening cyber defense is not enough. According to offense-defense theory, a war can only be avoided if the defense gets an advantage over the offense. Unfortunately, the speed and unique nature of cyberspace favor offense most of the time, if not always.

Q: Why have Western powers focused on Iran's peaceful nuclear program while Israel has a big arsenal of nuclear arms?

A: This is the most significant yet complicated aspect of the nuclear politics of the Middle East (West Asia).  The potential factor could be Israel's role in protecting their geostrategic interest in the Middle East (West Asia).

Q: Do you think that the world is heading towards soft wars (like cyber-attacks, disinformation, etc.) by quitting the classic warfare model? So, which tools and techniques are useful in new forms of wars?

A: I believe that the world is experiencing the rise of hybrid warfare where the classical warfare model is complemented by non-kinetic tactics. In the contemporary strategic landscape, states and non-state actors prefer synergized and tailored use of their military, economic, political, civilian, and informational power to target the specific vulnerabilities of their adversaries. Cyberwarfare, espionage, disinformation, psychological warfare, religious warfare, separatist movements, regime change, resource warfare, lawfare, trade wars, terrorism, coercive diplomacy, and economic sanctions are few examples of these non-kinetic tactics.

Q:  Is there any program or initiative to establish a regional system of cooperation and cyber defense between countries like Iran, China, and Pakistan?

A: Currently, there is no regional cyber defense program or initiative among China, Iran, and Pakistan. However, China is enhancing its bilateral cooperation in the cyber domain with Pakistan and Iran under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the recently signed China-Iran Strategic Cooperation Pact, respectively.
 

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