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  • Geopolitics.Λsia

Gray Zone's Hybridized Power

Executive Summary: The article discusses the concept of "Hybrid warfare" or the "Gerasimov Doctrine", developed by Russian General Valery Gerasimov, which asserts the growing importance of non-military means in achieving political and strategic goals. It is argued that the concept of "Hybrid warfare" has been demonstrated in the conflicts with Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine since 2014 and Russia's intervention in the Syrian civil war also served as a testing ground for the concept, with a significant amount of disinformation employed. The article also discusses the evolution of warfare through 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th/5th Generation Warfare and the emergence of new concepts of warfare. The article also mention the concept of reflexive control, developed by Soviet military strategist Aleksandr Leonidovich Rumyantsev during the Cold War, which is a method of influencing the decision-making process of an opponent in order to achieve a desired outcome. The article suggests developing civilian "information resilience" to counter disinformation and conspiracy theories and Russian (unintended) reflexive control in the gray zone area in Southeast Asia.

Two weeks ago, General Valery Gerasimov was appointed as the commander of the joint group of forces in the special military operation zone, tasked with overseeing the overall commander of the war against Ukraine. Gerasimov is well-known for his concept of "Hybrid warfare," also known as the Gerasimov Doctrine. This doctrine redefines the modern concept of interstate conflict and places warfare on equal footing with political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military activities. The doctrine gained notoriety following its publication in February 2013 and the subsequent actions of Russia in relation to Ukraine, which fully align with its theses.

Gerasimov Doctrine

The Gerasimov Doctrine, which asserts the growing importance of non-military means in achieving political and strategic goals, was first introduced in a speech by Gerasimov before the Russian Academy of Military Sciences. It was later published in 2013 in The Military-Industrial Courier, a Russian army journal, under the title "The Value of Science in Anticipation." (see a translation in English). In the article, Gerasimov argued that countries in North Africa and the Middle East, such as those affected by the "Arab Spring" uprisings, can be intervened upon by foreign forces and plunged into chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war through the use of non-military means. He posits that these means, including informational conflict and special-operations forces, have surpassed the effectiveness of traditional military force. The open use of military force is only employed at a later stage, primarily for achieving final success in the conflict. The doctrine is similar to the ideas of Soviet military theoretician Georgy Isserson, who in his book "New Forms Of Combat" predicted that "War in general is not declared. It simply begins with already developed military forces. Mobilization and concentration is not part of the period after the onset of the state of war as was the case in 1914 but rather, unnoticed, proceeds long before that."

Gerasimov's interpretation on Hybrid Warfare: Source

The term "Hybrid warfare" has become well-known in the Western world as a new Russian military doctrine, as demonstrated in the conflicts with Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine since 2014. Russia's intervention in the Syrian civil war also served as a testing ground for the concept, with a significant amount of disinformation employed, particularly regarding the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime and the White Helmets organization. However, it has been argued that the concept of "gibridnaya voyna" (hybrid warfare) in Russia does not exist at all.

It is argued that Gerasimov was influenced by Frank G. Hoffman's writings on hybrid warfare, which were first presented in his 2006 paper "Hybrid War or a New Way of Warfare?" and later in his 2007 essay "Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars" published by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities. Hoffman argues that the nature of warfare is changing and the traditional distinctions between war and peace, as well as between military and non-military actions, are becoming increasingly blurred. He also posits that the concept of hybrid warfare is not a new one, but rather a re-emergence of ancient and medieval forms of war and a way to describe the combination of multiple forms of warfare that have been used by many countries throughout history. He first presented the concept as an observation of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing War on Terror, where the US and its allies were facing a new type of enemy that used a combination of conventional and unconventional tactics. The concept emphasizes the importance of understanding the interplay between various forms of military and non-military actions in order to effectively defend against and defeat adversaries. The theory of hybrid warfare presented by Hoffman incorporates a range of different modes of warfare, including conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, terrorist acts, and criminal disorder. However, it has been criticized for its conceptual weaknesses which serve as an impediment to clear and productive strategy making. Gerasimov's understanding of the concept of hybrid warfare, particularly in relation to the "color revolution" in Maidan, Ukraine, is believed to have been shaped by Hoffman's ideas.

The term "hybrid warfare" first appeared in Russian discourse only after 2014 as a direct response of the Russian academic community to the politicization of the concept in the West, where it was portrayed as something that "Russia allegedly wages in Ukraine." However, the concept builds on existing theories in Russia such as subversion-war, net-centric war, and information war. While Hoffman's hybrid warfare and the "Russian hybrid warfare" developed by NATO present different, though conceptually interconnected views on contemporary conflicts, the idea of "gibridnaya voyna" represents something entirely different. Its purpose is to "achieve political goals with minimal military influence on the enemy... by undermining its military and economic potential by information and psychological pressure, the active support of the internal opposition, partisan, and subversive methods."

Gibridnaya Voyna (гибридная война)

An interesting development has emerged in the evolution of the concept of hybrid warfare. Initially, the US observed the changing nature of warfare, as Hoffman did in Lebanon and the Middle East. The Russians subsequently observed Hoffman's concept and named it "gibridnaya voyna", believing that the West had employed it to destabilize Russia's area of influence, particularly in Ukraine. In response, Russia sought to assimilate this concept by matching it with its own doctrine of subversion-war, net-centric war, and information war, and countering in Ukraine. The West and NATO, in turn, have observed more assertive Russian military operations that combine various non-militaristic and militaristic approaches, such as the use of "little green men" in Crimea, and have referred to it as "Russian hybrid warfare." Adding to the complexity is the Chinese concept of "unrestricted warfare," which was proposed in 1999 by two Chinese military officers, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, in their book "Unrestricted Warfare." This concept posits that traditional warfare, defined by military-to-military engagements between states, is no longer the only or most important form of conflict. Instead, the authors argue that future wars will be fought using a wide range of means, including economic, political, social, and technological tools, in order to achieve strategic objectives. The Chinese concept of unrestricted warfare is a comprehensive strategy that seeks to exploit a target country's vulnerabilities in all areas, including military, economic, political, and social, in order to weaken its power and achieve victory without direct military confrontation. The authors argue that in the 21st century, the battlefield is everywhere, the enemy is everyone, and the traditional concept of war must be expanded to include non-military means of achieving victory. They also argue that the use of non-traditional means is not just a supplement to traditional military means, but a new way of warfare that is more effective and efficient.

Generational Typology of War and Conflict: Source

As technology and society continue to evolve, it is normal for military doctrine to adapt and exploit the latest innovations and ideas, whether it be 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th Generation Warfare. 1st Generation Warfare (GW) refers to traditional forms of warfare that have been practiced throughout history, characterized by large-scale engagements between armies and the use of traditional weapons such as swords, bows, and muskets. The emphasis is on attrition warfare and the destruction of the enemy's forces. 2nd GW emphasizes the use of technology to enhance the capabilities of military forces, including the development of new weapons such as tanks, aircraft, and submarines, as well as the use of radio communications and other technologies to improve command and control. The emphasis is on maneuver warfare and the use of speed and surprise to outmaneuver the enemy. 3rd GW, also known as "maneuver warfare," emphasizes the use of combined arms, including tanks, artillery, and airpower, to achieve strategic objectives. This type of warfare was developed during World War II, characterized by the use of mechanized forces, airpower, and coordinated attacks on the enemy's rear areas, such as the German “Lightning War” strategy or “Blitzkrieg.” 4th GW is characterized by the use of non-traditional means to achieve strategic objectives, including the use of irregular forces, such as guerrillas and terrorists, as well as cyber warfare, information operations, and economic warfare. Some may distinguish further between 4th and 5th GW. The emphasis is on the use of decentralized and non-linear tactics to achieve victory and the blurring of the lines between war and peace, and between military and non-military actions.

With the emergence of a postmodern information landscape and information geopolitics, it is expected that new concepts of warfare, whether 4th/5th GW in the West or other terms used in Russian concepts such as "Full-Spectrum Conflict," "Non-Linear Warfare," and "New Generation Warfare," will continue to emerge. As technology and society continue to evolve, it is important for military doctrine to adapt and exploit these new innovations and ideas in order to remain effective in the battlefield. This may include incorporating new technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation, and unmanned systems, as well as new forms of warfare such as cyber warfare, information operations and space warfare. Furthermore, it also important to understand the changing nature of the battlefield and the changing nature of the enemy, as the lines between war and peace, and between military and non-military actions continue to blur.


In the realm of geopolitics, several theories exist that attempt to explain the behavior of states and the international system. Sir Halford John Mackinder's Heartland theory emphasizes the importance of control over the central landmass of Eurasia, or the "Heartland," in determining global power. In contrast, Nicholas John Spykman's Rimland theory emphasizes the importance of control over the coastal regions, or the "Rimland," in determining global power. George Friedman, formerly with RAND and Stratfor, and now Geopolitical Futures, has enhanced this classic dialectic by infusing it with each country's "geopolitical implications" and projecting their "hard power" accordingly. John Joseph Mearsheimer's offensive realism emphasizes "regional hegemony" and the suppression of other regional candidates through collaboration with regional actors. In contrast, neoliberalism emphasizes "global institutions" for "global governance," such as the UN, and the importance of economic power over hard power. Finally, the constructivist school posits that the discourse of institutions is the outcome of "constructed ideas" through human interactions.

With all of these knowledge, and the emerging of military doctrine, it is possible to develop a "metageopolitics" framework, which views the world as it is, independently of respective ideologies and desires. The concept of metageopolitics aims to eliminate the flaws and weaknesses of existing theories and blend all schools of thought into a universal analytical framework. It is based on Alvin Toffler's "powershift" concept, which is based on The Three Sacred Treasures of Japan: valor (hard power), wisdom (noopolitik), and benevolence (economic power). These powers can shift and transform into different forms, with different powers dominating in different domains - for example, hard power in multipolarity and economic power in unipolarity. The metageopolitical framework allows for different schools of thought to be incorporated, such as mainstream economics in the realm of economic/financial sphere, but also allows for the transformation into an offensive form, such as "economic statecraft" using economic power as a weapon. The underlying foundation of this framework is built on the dynamic statecraft of nation-states, and aims to create a geopolitical framework that can be applied to all situations. It is a comprehensive approach that takes into account all aspects of power, including military, economic, political and social factors, in order to understand the complex nature of international relations and the behavior of states in the global arena.

Metageopolitics can help us understand the broader context of political developments. For example, metageopolitics can help explain why Russia may not use its strategic nuclear weapons in war, despite the increasing risk of tactical nuclear weapons. Metageopolitics tells us that the global balance of power is based on the principle of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) if global superpowers engage in nuclear warfare. Russia, with its experience during the Cold War, understands the US's strategy of "tit for tat."

As described by American political scientist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan, Robert Axelrod, the "tit-for-tat" strategy, where a player cooperates in the first round and then copies the opponent's action in the next round, is an equilibrium strategy in the iterated prisoner's dilemma game. This means that it is a strategy that leads to a stable outcome in which both players benefit. Russia has the Dead Hand project that can launch missile warheads automatically even if the command center is destroyed. However, Russia is uncertain about the US's Strategic Defense Initiative and its anti-ballistic missile program which can intercept many, if not all, of Russia's missiles. This, combined with the US's second strike capability, gives the US an advantage over Russia.

Vladimir Putin, who served as President of Russia from 2000-2008 and again from 2012-2024, had first-hand experience during the end of the Cold War in 1991 as a KGB officer stationed in Dresden, East Germany. He witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. This experience undoubtedly shaped his worldview and understanding of international politics, and it likely played a role in shaping his approach to politics and foreign policy during his tenure as President.

With a clear vision, Putin carefully planned to revive Russia from the ashes of the Soviet Union collapse by utilizing an energy-based economic strategy in Russia's neighboring countries, which he deemed as the greatest tragedy of the Cold War. In 1997, Putin wrote a dissertation for his candidate of sciences degree in economics, titled "The Strategic Planning of Regional Resources Under the Formation of Market Relations." The dissertation dealt with the economic development of natural resources in Russia's regions, and was written while he was working at the St. Petersburg Mayor's office. In it, Putin argued that the state should have a leading role in the management and distribution of natural resources to ensure the development of the regions and the country as a whole. He also emphasized the importance of creating a favorable investment climate to attract foreign investment. The dissertation was defended in 1997 and Putin was awarded the degree of Candidate of Economic Sciences.

Furthermore, Russia faces a crucial problem in that it shares a border with China. Unlike Russia, China is a rising superpower in terms of economic power, population size, and military strength. Russia's population is in decline, which will affect its future economic and military power, despite still possessing huge arms and weapon assets from the Cold War. The rational choice for Putin and Russia is to use this temporary advantage to secure its strategic position amidst the rising power of China. Russia cannot be relegated to a second-grade power and be a "normal" component in the EU, like other small and middle European countries. Therefore, from the lens of metageopolitics, Russia's future greatest threat comes not from the US or EU, but from China, considering the historical friction between Russia and China (or even with Japan, both of which are Asian superpowers). Russia must leverage its overwhelming power to solidify its position in Europe before China evolves into a dominant force, lest it find itself sandwiched between two rivals, akin to Germany's situation between France and Russia.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has spurred two distinct narratives. The first, held by the United States and European countries, view Russia as a disruptive force bent on undermining the liberal, rule-based global order. They argue that Russia's expansionist ambitions in Eastern Europe are driven by a desire to maintain its former status as a superpower, be it as the Soviet Union or the Tsarist Russian Empire. This narrative has led to increased pressure on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to deploy Leopard tanks to Ukraine. The second narrative, popular within Russia, posits that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a plot orchestrated by the United States (an assertion that is partially supported by Zbigniew Brzezinski's Operation Cyclone). They see the so-called "color revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia, as well as the Arab Spring in the Middle East, as part of a larger scheme to encircle and weaken Russia.

Reflexive Control

Russia's exploitation of "Reflexive Control," a legacy from the Cold War era, to destabilize the global order created by the US and its allies is genuine. Reflexive control is a low cost and asymmetric method of influencing the decision-making process of an opponent in order to achieve a desired outcome. Developed by Soviet military strategist Aleksandr Leonidovich Rumyantsev during the Cold War, it is based on the idea that by providing an opponent with a certain set of information, it is possible to guide their thoughts and actions in a way that is favorable to one's own interests.

The concept of reflexive control can be applied in a variety of contexts, including military, political, and economic. In military contexts, it can be used to deceive an opponent about one's own capabilities or intentions in order to gain an advantage. In political contexts, it can be used to influence public opinion or the behavior of political leaders. In the economic context, it can be used to influence market conditions or the behavior of economic actors.

Russian Reflexive Control

It's worth noting that reflexive control is a controversial concept and some experts argue that its effectiveness is uncertain, and that the concept may be overstated. The use of reflexive control can also raise ethical and legal questions as it can be seen as a form of manipulation or deception. This can be seen in Russia's operation to disrupt the US election with its military intelligence hackers known as Fancy Bear or APT28, who broke into the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign to publicly leak their secrets. However, it's important to note that Russia's operation was handled under the concept of gray zone, which refers to actions that fall between peace and war, and are not clearly defined as either.

The spillover of reflexive control is inevitable in third-party territories like Southeast Asia, where Russia may not consider it a significant area of concern. Some conspiracy theorists have adopted the concept from conspiracy theory-affiliated websites such as the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) led by Michel Chossudovsky or New Eastern Outlook (NEO), an internet journal published by the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Information Resilience

As a civilian and independent think tank, we suggest developing civilian "information resilience" to counter these conspiracy theories and Russian (unintended) reflexive control in the gray zone area. Information resilience is emphasizing the ability to withstand and recover from disinformation and conspiracy theories attacks by building capacity and capability to resist, detect, and mitigate the effects of disinformation.

In Southeast Asia, the concept of information resilience can be applied in a number of ways. One approach could be to build capacity and capability to resist, detect, and mitigate the effects of disinformation and conspiracy theories. This could include training programs for journalists and media professionals, as well as developing fact-checking and verification tools for the public.

Another approach could be to promote media literacy and critical thinking skills among the general population, so that individuals are better equipped to identify and dismiss disinformation and conspiracy theories. This could include public awareness campaigns and education programs in schools and universities.

In addition, governments and organizations in Southeast Asia can also work to strengthen their cyber hygiene and information security practices, in order to protect against disinformation and propaganda campaigns that are spread through the internet and social media. This could include implementing stricter regulations and guidelines for online content, as well as increasing investments in cybersecurity technology and personnel.

It is important to note that the concept of "information resilience" is not just about countering disinformation and conspiracy theories, but also about building a resilient and informed society that is able to resist these influences and make informed decisions. This requires a multi-faceted approach that involves not just governments and organizations, but also individuals, media, and civil society working together to promote a culture of critical thinking and information integrity. As such metageopolitics can help not only to strengthening information resilience, but also to help combat disinformation and conspiracy theories.


Metageopolitics can be a valuable tool in not only strengthening information resilience, but also in combating disinformation and conspiracy theories. By providing a holistic understanding of global power dynamics, metageopolitics can enable a more accurate assessment of recent geopolitical developments, bringing us closer to reality.

As metageopolitics predicts, the war in Ukraine is likely to be an attritional warfare. Despite Ukraine securing advanced weapons from the US and EU, Russia will have more resources at its disposal. Similarly to the Cold War era, the calculation of the attrition exhaustion ratio between the West and the Soviet Union was a key factor in assessing the military balance of power. This ratio was used to determine the relative military capabilities of the two sides and to predict the potential outcome of a war. The West, consisting of the United States and its NATO allies, had a much larger population and economy than the Soviet Union, and was thus able to sustain higher levels of casualties and equipment losses. However, with the evolution of the recent military doctrine focusing on asymmetric warfare and different interpretations of geopolitical lenses, both sides seem to see the world in their favor and are willing to engage in a prolonged war with no short-term resolution in sight. This risks expanding the conflict to include the Three Seas Initiative, and miscalculations are not exclusive to Russia alone.

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