Hybrid Warfare, Pandemic Style

The choice of vaccines by countries has thus become the epitome of global geopolitics. And this is not an empty phrase. The US Department of Health and Human Services admitted that it used "diplomatic relations" in order to force Brazil, one of the worst-hit countries in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, to reject the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V. 

By Ikram Sehgal
(Photo, courtesy, Province of British Colombia photostream, CC license)
The Corona pandemic that the world is struggling with for the second year now has brought home to us some important lessons about ourselves. The first thing to realize might be that in a thoroughly interconnected world not only people, goods and ideas travel but so do viruses using people and goods to hitchhike around the world. In the beginning, many of us thought that this new challenge will change our world and our behavior for the better, make us more companionable, more conscious of health, environmental issues and allow us to understand that we are depending on each other for the better or the worse. But over a year later we have to realize that this is really a pipedream.

The pandemic has made countries scramble for a cover mainly each for themselves. Signs of selfishness and re-occurring nationalism that had been visible before corona strengthened instead of weakening. US President Trump had declared ‘America first’ and acted accordingly.

However, when the pandemic hit Trump and his administration, though they acted belatedly they made sure scientists and pharmaceutical companies of the US got together in the rush to develop a vaccine in the shortest possible time. This was quite an effort given the strong competition from and between companies like Pfizer and Merck in the market. Even though it is not fashionable to give any credit to Trump it was his administration that laid the foundation for an edge in the vaccine development by bringing multiple vaccines into the market and – even more important – quickly concluding the contracts that allowed the US government to snap up more vaccine supplies than any other country and possibly many times more than they will need for their own population.

The EU was unable to handle the UK Brexit demands and never once even asked itself if the Brits might have a point when they criticized the EU statutes and policies. When corona hit Europe it turned out that the EU was all but paralyzed, unable to act or even to be on the same page in most questions regarding how to handle the pandemic. Immersed in their little power plays and stuck in the bureaucracy they delayed concluding contracts to secure vaccines for the European population. This is the main reason why Europe is behind in its vaccination efforts and has to cope with a rising number of infections.

The second-largest investor into vaccine research after the US, Germany, for instance, got punished for waiting for the EU to order vaccines and is behind in its vaccination efforts mainly because of the absence of enough doses. Schools are closed because teachers are not inoculated, and so are the kindergartens. Many of the countries have suffered badly, mainly Italy and Spain.

Moreover, the worst thing that happened is the politicization of vaccines. A new cold war has been launched against an increasingly assertive and economically strong China and a Russia that -though economically weaker- is heavily relying on its modernized army and its strength in science and development. Both having been declared to be the pariahs of the world by the US and its allies, this new hybrid warfare is dividing the world with the availability of vaccines.

Despite the fact that the Russian vaccine Sputnik V was the first vaccine available in the international market WHO and EU dragged their feet in acknowledging that Sputnik is one of the potent vaccines with an efficiency of 92%. This is close to the Pfizer Biontech and much superior to AstraZeneca which seems to have serious side effects. However, these are still not fully explored. This has divided the world between the US-produced Pfizer and UK-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines, used in the US and wealthy European countries, while Chinese and Russian vaccines are used by developing and low-income countries in parts of Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America.

With many western countries haunted by a strong sentiment of vaccine nationalism and prefer to delay vaccination to wait for western produced vaccines to be delivered instead of ordering Russian or Chinese ones. Western media have joined and played their role in this as well; putting  the vaccines into two “camps.” Boasting their own vaccines, they are questioning the safety and efficacy of Chinese vaccines, they also label China and Russia as the pioneers of the global “vaccine diplomacy” campaign.

The choice of vaccines by countries has thus become the epitome of global geopolitics. And this is not an empty phrase. The US Department of Health and Human Services admitted that it used “diplomatic relations” in order to force Brazil, one of the worst-hit countries in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, to reject the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V.

And thus the pandemic has changed the world but in the opposite direction as it seems. Despite all so-called values, humanitarian aspects have been dropped in this emergency and people in our part of the world will learn once more that ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’.

Even with a strong media campaign against Russian and Chinese vaccines, many countries have adopted these out of the sheer necessity of survival. To quote my article “What is Hybrid Warfare” dated October 4, 2018, “Hybrid Warfare came to prominence in the 21st century, the “Age of Globalization” has opened up many new technical and communication options and shrunk distances. According to Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz “Every age has its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions, and its own peculiar preconceptions.”

This new form of warfare, avoiding a clear differentiation between war and peace, soldiers and civilians, is practiced by all sides of the different divides. The US definition characterizes Hybrid Warfare as “Synchronized use of multiple instruments of power tailored to specific vulnerabilities across the full spectrum of societal functions to achieve synergistic effects.” Russian scholar Korybko, on the other hand, says “Hybrid Wars can be defined as “externally provoked identity conflicts, which exploit historical, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and geographic differences within geostrategic transit states through the phased transition from Color Revolutions to Unconventional Wars in order to disrupt, control, or influence multipolar transnational connective infrastructure projects by means of Regime Tweaking, Regime Change, and/or Regime Reboot.” In this case vaccination against Covid-19, its variants and the hybrid warfare that it has initiated may cause new geopolitical alliances to emerge.

Hybrid warfare employs means other than conventional military troops, tactics and strategies, including the employment of irregular military and paramilitary forces like guerrillas, paramilitaries, etc. Islamic State, Hamas and Hizbullah use terrorist acts as a means. Use of non-violent means by civilian institutions includes psychological assaults using ethnic, religious or national vulnerabilities, provocateurs operating behind enemy lines, economic assaults through sanctions, boycotts and punitive tariffs so as to weaken the enemy economy, cyber assaults at elections and referendums, use of big data for manipulation of referendums like Brexit and the US elections and a vast selection of propaganda warfare via electronic and social media, TV channels and publications. Diplomacy is as much involved in this new type of warfare as is fake news. With religious elements militating against vaccinations of any kind, all sorts of reasons are being aired not to take the jab. 

The Russian military understanding of it as a Western ploy against the new Russia-China axis and use Hybrid Warfare to prevent implementation of the Eurasian concept and Russia‘s return as a global power. Sun Tzu more than two thousand years ago wrote “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster”

In that sense, the pandemic and the fight against it is going to re-enforce the new global power relations that have come up during the last twenty years. In anticipation of the 21stcentury we were thinking that this might be the century of peace and the end of so many wars, so far it has become the century of shifting centers of development from the former West (US and Europe) to Asia and even Eurasia – even if Europe prefers to ignore this for the time being. And this shifting of power relations is not going smoothly; old and new local conflicts are pushed into wars: Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Nagorno Karabakh and others. Vaccination has become something as a new tool of hybrid warfare in this. The process of change is enduring as the pandemic has shown and the new alliances will strengthen, but it certainly will take time.

The writer is a defense and security analyst.  



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