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THE HURT LOCKER: A New Kind of War Movie

The Review

Eric Randolph reviews Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, and notes a shift in film-making sensibilities from the war-as-heroics paradigm of earlier Hollywood, towards the everyman's war-as-hell model that has now lodged itself in Western cultural consciousness.


  • The Hurt Locker

    The Review

    Eric Randolph reviews Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, and notes a shift in film-making sensibilities from the war-as-heroics paradigm of earlier Hollywood, towards the everyman's war-as-hell model that has now lodged itself in Western cultural consciousness.


  • The Occidental Guerrilla

    Book Review

    Michael A. Innes reviews David Kilcullen's new book The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. A timely and astute synthesis of experience, research and analysis, the author pinpoints the political shear between minority existential threats to US interests and the majority of the world's locally invested guerrillas who just want to be left alone.


  • Architecture & Biopolitics


    Berlin-based writer Daniel Miller's October 2008 interview with Swedish philosopher and SITE Magazine Editor-In-Chief Sven-Olov Wallenstein, on his new book Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009).


  • Wired For War


    The second symposium in CTlab's 2009 series, focused on Peter Singer's new book, Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (Penguin Press: 2009), ran from 30 March to 2 April. Singer and half a dozen scholars from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Austria debated the use and ethics of robots in war.


  • DEFCON 17

    Current Intelligence

    Tim Stevens reports back from the DEFCON 17 conference in Las Vegas: are hackers thinking meat isn't just meat anymore?



Frank Hoffman on Hybrid Wars at King's College London

Frank Hoffman, 'The (re)Emergence of Hybrid Conflicts', Wednesday 21 January 2009, Insurgency Research Group, King's College London

[LONDON] - Barely 24 hours into the Second Coming, there was something wonderfully surreal about hearing some praise for Donald Rumsfeld. Early on in his talk at King’s College London Frank Hoffman was telling us: "One of the smartest things [Rumsfeld] did was that he shattered the paradigm, expanded our mental framework" about the type of adversary the West is facing and is likely to face in the future. What emerged were new categories of enemy: regular, irregular, catastrophic and disruptive. Hoffman’s aim is to try to bring this shattered paradigm back into a workable model to address what he calls "the $640 billion question": how does the US spend its enormous - but nonetheless finite - budget when the threats, the environment, and the aims are so irritatingly diverse?

Hoffman's answer, hybrid wars, is catching on among the powers that be. He tells us not to confuse them with "compound wars", which incorporated a variety of regular and irregular fronts in. Rather, hybrid wars are characterised by a convergence of fronts in  time and place: the physical and informational, state and non-state, combatants and civilians. This enemy is eminently adaptable, able to tailor itself to its opponent, find the chinks in its armour and pour through, able to do this because “they have one enemy – they prepare for just one opponent" - a luxury, Hoffman argues, that "we don't have." 

Central to Hoffman's thesis is that hybrid adversaries incorporate state-like, conventional capabilities. Amid the rush to re-focus attention on irregular warfare and COIN in the past few years, Hoffman is eager that the pendulum not swing too far. The important thing to note from the 2006 Lebanon War is not Hezbollah’s irregular capabilities, he says, but its offensive tactical manoeuvres, its ability to hold and control terrain. The hybrid enemy brings all aspects of modern warfare to the table, controlling imagery and information, launching guerrilla attacks and terrorist bombings, while also being able to muster a regular army for a knock-down fight.

We also see states starting to incorporate hybrid strategies, as exemplified by Russia’s summer 2008 jaunt into the Caucasus. Clearly, the Georgia war had conventional aspects, and analysts salivated over the return of tanks rumbling across borders in a way we thought lost to the annals of Cold War history. But obscured by the headline images were acts of “terrorism and assassination ... farms being razed ... electronics shops raided ... websites jammed” and, for reasons few can decipher, the removal of a lot of porcelain toilet seats . "It was, in many respects, a classic hybrid example," says Hoffman of the Russian strategy. "Especially in terms of information warfare. Only their images were allowed out. Their goal was to dominate the narrative."

Israel have been trying to do the same thing in recent weeks, having learned a lot since its 2006 scrap with Hoffman's prime hybrid example, Hezbollah. Israel demonstrated it had been grappling with these issues by preventing journalistic access, sticking to a coherent narrative, even employing an "army of bloggers." But Hamas and Hezbollah are very different foes, and Israel's latest experience has inadvertently taught us a valuable lesson. More important than the nature of hybrid tactics, I would argue, are the nature of hybrid aims.

For all the frustration it caused the IDF in 2006, Hezbollah was severely chastened by the experience: despite its anti-Israel yammering, what it really cared about is its position in Lebanon. The IDF's typical OTT kinetic campaign may have angered the world and done little to weaken Hezbollah's capabilities, but it also made many Lebanese voters angry with Hezbollah. Little surprise that, with elections due this June, Hezbollah kept its nose conspicuously out of the recent ruination of Gaza.

For Hamas, things are different. Hamas is an organisation for which resistance to Israel is more than just rhetoric, it’s a defining characteristic. Hoffman tells us Hamas wants "to be like Hezbollah", but it's "obviously" not "there yet".  But Hamas doesn't need conventional capabilities: its aims are best achieved simply by playing up its victimhood. Israel’s every success only underlines Hamas' unfair advantage. Israel’s appropriation of the media narrative, YouTube and the blogosphere only feeds the David and Goliath narrative that sustains Hamas in the long term.

More than that, it makes the world hungry for the untold story. And the world will find it - be it rockets hitting UN aid depots or white phosphorus scarring children - because there are always holes in the information network. Others have argued that the next battle will be over which faction gets to rebuild Gaza: Fatah or Hamas? But when you define yourself in terms of resistance, as Hamas does, then the reconstruction is a subordinate aim. As is already being acknowledged, Israel’s latest skirmish has ensured there'll be a resentful constituency in Palestine for years to come, flat-out rejecting Fatah’s conciliatory stance.

What emerges is that hybrid warfare is about technique. Hoffman questions how our resources will be allocated to prepare for the range of challenges the world is likely to face.What really matters is getting a clear view of our aims. Russia knew exactly what it wanted to achieve in South Ossetia; Hezbollah is focused on its electorate, seeking respect for its attacks on Israel and apologising when it goes too far; Hamas is content just to be stamped on. For the West, on the other hand, goals are fuzzy. In Iraq and Afghanistan, questions remain unanswered. Do we want to implement real democracy or pliant, pro-Western regimes? Can we countenance compromises with militants and former enemies? Are we willing to give Iran, Russia, China a real stake in their futures? It's vital for the US and the UK to adapt their military postures to the shifting terrains of the 21st century battlefield, but without a sober analysis of where we're prepared to make compromises, any sense of victory will remain disconcertingly elusive.

Reader Comments (2)

Well maybe. But not on purpose. No saving a turkey less a pardon. Did he get a pardon?

This b a pardon? ;)

Jan 26, 2009 at 2:09 | Unregistered CommenterM1

Hunh? You're referring to Rumsfeld, right?

Jan 26, 2009 at 8:43 | Registered CommenterMike Innes

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