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Evolving threats and changing warfare 

The changing character of ‘political warfare’ has prompted one of the most significant developments in UK military strategies seen in generations, writes Claire Sanders

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Traditional warfare is evolving, with a focus on geopolitical tactics and undermining strategies in the cyber, space and informational domains. Image: John Williams/123rf

The Integrated Operating Concept 2025, which forms part of the UK Government’s ongoing Integrated Review aimed at redefining the UK’s role on the global stage, outlines how the armed forces can be deployed in a rapidly evolving landscape. Threats range from disinformation spread by Russia surrounding the alleged Covid-19 vaccine trials on Ukrainian volunteers in the US, as reported by The Guardian, to using law as a weapon of war in so-called ‘lawfare’ as seen in China’s activities in relation to territorial disputes in the South China Sea. 

At an event hosted by the think-tank Policy Exchange, General Sir Nick Carter revealed how the scope of the Integrated Operating Concept 2025 is outward-looking, ambitious and wide-ranging. It involves several key ideas, including capacity building in countries that need support, building alliances and moving away from operating in siloes towards integrated domains. It also places emphasis on the need to modernise in order to keep in step with the information age, as well as recognising the increasing tendency for warfare to be a competition between: “Hiding and finding.”

Chairing the event, General Petraeus (USA Ret) said the new concept represented: “A significant development in UK military thought and a fundamental transformation in the employment of the military instruments.” The approach aims to integrate the armed forces with space, cyberspace and information domains alongside the traditional maritime, land and air sectors with the result being capabilities that amount to more than the sum of their individual parts.

The lines are being blurred by authoritarian rivals that, said General Sir Nick Carter: “See the strategic context as a continuous struggle in which non-military and military instruments are used unconstrained by any distinction between peace and war.”

The regimes view themselves as being engaged in political warfare, rather than the traditional kinetic version. General Sir Nick Carter went on to explain: “Their strategy of political warfare is designed to undermine cohesion, to erode economic, political and social resilience and to compete for strategic advantage in key regions of the world.”

Their goal is to win without actually going to war, to achieve success in their attacks that happen below the threshold and to break down willpower with acts that might prompt a combative response. The response, therefore, has to be dynamic, information-led, pre-emptive and selectively ambiguous, according to General Carter.

He stressed that the Integrated Operating Concept not only places a premium on operability – including a distinction between war-fighting and operations and recognising that modern deterrence needs a more competitive approach – but also on adaptability. “This in turn, emphasises the importance of our people, who have always been and will always be, our adaptive edge,” General Carter concluded.

Read the full report here. This report contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Resources: - The Integrated Operating Concept - accessible version 

BBC News - South China Sea dispute: Australia says Beijing's claims have no legal basis

The Telegraph - Army to have a 'more persistent presence' in Asia, Chief of the General Staff has said, ahead of government's Integrated Review

The Guardian - Russia is spreading lies about Covid vaccines, says UK military chief

The Policy Exchange - Future Defence: The Integrated Operating Concept 

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