In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hybrid Warfare

  • Introduction
  • Origins
  • Hybrid Warfare through the Ages
  • Reinterpretation of Hybrid Warfare by NATO/EU, 2014–Present
  • Related Concepts
  • Political Warfare
  • Gray Zone
  • Lawfare

International Relations Hybrid Warfare
John G.L.J. Jacobs, Martijn W.M. Kitzen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0260


Hybrid warfare has been the bandwagon term to describe modern warfare in academic, policy, and journalist accounts. It describes a wide array of warfare techniques that do not correspond with earlier notions of warfare. Yet none of these are really to be called “new” and the military thought associated with them can be traced back as early as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Perhaps it was the shock of being faced with unfamiliar tactics, the breach of morality with hybrid tactics disregarding jus in bello principles, or the rigged black/white understanding of the dichotomy of war and peace—but whatever the reason, it has led to a plethora of terms and monikers to describe the phenomena now labeled hybrid warfare. The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), for example, in discussing the “gray zone,” points out that this topic has had many monikers within the US literature. To name a few: low-intensity conflict or low-intensity operations, small wars (this one did lead to an excellent online journal called Small Wars Journal, or SWJ), irregular warfare, asymmetric warfare, and military operations other than war (MOOTW). Hybrid warfare might indeed encompass a low-intensity operations type of conflict. All of these include elements of hybridity and hybrid warfare as this bibliography seeks to demonstrate. In particular, the authors seek to address the perception that hybrid warfare has mainly been conducted by the adversaries of the West. Western governments do use hybrid tactics and hybridity comes to the front in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. (For more on counterinsurgency see the Oxford Bibliographies in Military History article “Counterinsurgency in the Modern World”). For non-state actors hybrid warfare is mostly linked to the insurgencies, with recent insurgencies using elements of terrorism.


The term hybrid warfare, as currently used, was first introduced by US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Frank G. Hoffman in 2006, though Hoffman states he took the term from a thesis by Robert G Walker in which Walker describes low-intensity operations conducted by the US Marines. Mockaitis 1995 is the earliest modern source we could find using hybrid war. In 2006 Hoffman referred to the phenomena as “complex irregular warfare” (Hoffman 2006), building forward on work he conducted with US Marine Corps General James Mattis in 2005 in an opinion piece in United States Naval Institute Proceedings Magazine (Mattis and Hoffman 2005). In 2007 Hoffman gave the first definition of hybrid warfare in academic published work: “Hybrid wars incorporate a range of different modes of warfare, including conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, terrorist acts including indiscriminate violence and coercion, and criminal disorder” (Hoffman 2007, p. 14). This definition would be revised several times by Hoffman and others. Noteworthy in this discussion is Bjerregaard 2012, which contests the idea of hybrid warfare being a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). Rob de Wijk’s contribution in the Oxford Handbook of War captures the discussion to that point well, while predicting the debates linked to hybrid warfare that play today (De Wijk 2012). By 2015, an excellent overview of the discussion appeared in Tenenbaum 2015 (in French) and in Thornton 2015. The Hybrid Warfare discussion of the past two decades is captured in Johnson 2021, making this book chapter a good starting point for scholars new to the topic of hybrid warfare.

  • Bjerregaard, Thomas. “Hybrid Warfare: A Military Revolution or Revolution in Military Affairs?” MA thesis, US Army Command and General Staff College, 2012.

    Thesis that uses the definitions of Military Revolution (MR) and Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) provided by Williamson Murray and McGregor Knox in order to determine if hybrid warfare falls under Military Revolution or Revolution in Military Affairs. Bjerregaard concludes that hybrid warfare is neither Military Revolution nor Revolution in Military Affairs but something different.

  • De Wijk, Rob. “Hybrid Conflict and the Changing Nature of Actors.” In The Oxford Handbook of War. Edited by Julian Lindley-French and Yves Boyer, 358–372. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    A chapter in the Oxford Handbook of War that summarizes the debate up to 2012 and suggests multipolarity, climate change, and the structural weaknesses of coalition warfare as avenues to discuss in more detail.

  • Hoffman, Frank G. “Complex Irregular Warfare: The Next Revolution in Military Affairs.” Orbis 50.3 (2006): 395–411.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.orbis.2006.04.002

    Original introduction of the term hybrid warfare in its contemporary use while discussing complex irregular warfare. With this article Hoffman was one of the few to properly react to the English translation of Unrestricted Warfare (Qiao and Xiangsui 2007, cited under Hybrid Warfare). A recommended translation is the 2007 edition.

  • Hoffman, Frank G. Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars. Arlington, VA: Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, 2007.

    The first definition of hybrid warfare is given by Hoffman. The definition encompasses the key elements of hybrid warfare: conventional and non-conventional, blurring of domains, and one that involves elements previously allocated to the unlawful domain.

  • Johnson, Rob. “Hybrid Warfare and Counter-Coercion.” In The Conduct of War in the 21st Century: Kinetic, Connected and Synthetic. Edited by Rob Johnson, Martijn Kitzen, and Tim Sweijs, 45–57. London: Routledge, 2021.

    Short introduction chapter capturing twenty years of development in hybrid warfare (including five years avant la lettre). Johnson highlights the most important events and deduces their meaning and reflects on the military role in counter-coercion, counter-hybrid operations.

  • Mattis, James N., and Frank G. Hoffman. “Future Warfare: The Rise of Hybrid Wars.” United States Naval Institute Proceedings Magazine 131.11 (2005): 18–19.

    Article reflecting on the downfall of the fascination with technology (Revolutions in Military Affairs), while predicting future wars would involve more psychological or information operations aspects.

  • Mockaitis, Thomas R. “A Hybrid War: The Indonesian Confrontation.” In British Counterinsurgency in the Post-imperial Era. Edited by Thomas R. Mockaitis, 14–44. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995.

    Makes use of the term hybrid warfare in 1995 that is close to contemporary usage. Because hybrid warfare is used by weaker actors against stronger actors there is overlap in the usage of the term. However, the use of hybrid warfare in counterinsurgency is fundamentally different from Hoffman’s reintroduction of the term, making Mockaitis’s text an important piece of literature for understanding the history of hybrid warfare.

  • Tenenbaum, Elie. “Le piège de la guerre hybride.” Focus Stratégique 63 (October 2015).

    Article in French summarizing the debate between 2005 and 2015. Literature in this era focuses on the US and NATO understanding of hybrid warfare; Tenenbaum argues that it should also include the 20th century.

  • Thornton, Rod. “The Changing Nature of Modern Warfare.” RUSI Journal 160.4 (2015).

    DOI: 10.1080/03071847.2015.1079047

    RUSI journal article summarizing hybrid warfare and stressing how Western states struggle with the concept while rival Russia employed it efficiently in the war on Crimea.

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