Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2009

Hybrid Threats: Reconceptualizing the Evolving Character of Modern Conflict

Frank G. Hoffman

April 2009

Academy of Political Science


America’s ongoing battles in Afghanistan and Iraq have highlighted limitations in our understanding of the complexity of modern warfare. Furthermore, our cultural prism has retarded the institutionalization of capabilities needed to prevail in stabilization and counter-insurgency missions. An ongoing debate about future threats is often framed as a dichotomous choice between counterinsurgency and conventional war. This oversimplifies defense planning and resource allocation decisions. Instead of fundamentally different approaches, we should expect competitors who will employ all forms of war, perhaps simultaneously. Such multimodal threats are often called hybrid threats. Hybrid adversaries employ combinations of capabilities to gain an asymmetric advantage.