Inaugural Conference with Experts from Russia

The Informational Dimension of Hybrid Warfare:

Eastern and Western Perspectives on Conflicts in the 21st Century

11-12 January 2017

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Russian experts in information warfare have joined colleagues from across Europe and the United States to discuss the issue at a conference hosted by King’s College London as global tensions increase.

The inaugural event, organised by the King’s Centre for Strategic Communications (KCSC) on 11th and 12th January 2017, considered the use of cyber-attacks, propaganda and subversion at a time of political hostility between Russia and the West.

“KCSC is the first centre in the world dedicated to the study of strategic communications and its role in modern conflict,” said Dr Neville Bolt, the centre’s Director. “But we also recognise the importance of understanding and building bridges, when others may prefer hostility. That’s why we took the bold decision to invite academics from Russia to discuss some of these difficult issues with us.”

Discussions were at times heated, with representatives present from various universities as well as NATO, the Ministry of Defence and the US Naval War College but there was a shared desire to better understand each other’s perspectives.

Professor Georgy Filimonov, Head of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Predictions at RUDN University in Moscow agreed: “There is still no standardised understanding of the term ‘hybrid warfare’, even in Russia. What is it? We are here to try to harmonise our approaches, aiming at the amelioration of the global political climate.”

Listen to the full conference on the KCL War Studies Soundcloud.

Those attending “The Informational Dimension of Hybrid Warfare: Eastern and Western Perspectives on Conflicts in the 21st Century” discussed the strategic importance of words, messages and information but also the danger of constantly repeating such terms as ‘hybrid warfare’.

“If we have an intention to avoid war, the first thing we have to do is avoid the semantics of war,” warned Dr Ofer Fridman Visiting Research Fellow at KCSC. “This can have very serious consequences which can influence behavior, and in the end so convince ourselves that we are in war, that we might actually start one.”

There was extensive discussion of the shared threat posed by so-called Islamic State. Dr Akhmet Yarlykapov from the Russian Academy of Sciences described how IS militants were rapidly winning support in the North Caucasus region of Southern Russia.

“There is a really big number of Muslim youths ready to join ISIS who think that it is the caliphate,” he explained. “They’re talking about corruption at home, lack of social mobility and they think Sharia law and an Islamic political system is the solution.”

Speakers warned that the insurgency has been very successful in getting its message across, while opponents have struggled to respond effectively. They also considered how information is perceived in an era of so-called ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ conditions.

“Russia’s military experience shaped its modern understanding of ‘hybrid warfare’ which is quite precise and very different from the Western understanding. But despite the differences we have had some agreement and that’s good,” concluded Vitaliy Kabernik, Senior Expert at MGIMO, Russia’s leading diplomatic school.

Highlights from the participants: