Sliding out of control? Consequences of changes in warfare by major military powers from the “Global North” for the containment of warfare

Hamburg, 11.-12. Mai 2017
Projektleiter: Prof. Dr. Michael Brzoska und Herrn Dr. Hans-Georg Ehrhart, Institut für Friedensforschung und Sicherheitspolitik an der Universität Hamburg
Fördersumme: 13 Tsd. Euro


International Workshop

Practices, concepts and technologies employed in warfare by major military powers from the “Global North” are constantly challenging existing frameworks to contain warfare. Currently, some forms of warfare are receiving particular attention, under such headings as “hybrid warfare” or “proxy warfare”. At the same time, there is much discussion about the consequences of the (potential) introduction of new types of technology into military use, such as armed drones, autonomous weapon systems and cyber warfare systems. A good number of observers see these trends in warfare as increasing the likelihood of military interventions by major military powers, as well as the escalation dynamics of warfare, while others emphasize the possibilities for greater selectiveness of the use of force become available for armed forces of major military powers. In any case, existing instruments for the containment of warfare, as well as the prevention of war, seem to be challenged by current trends. Examples include arms control measures, the rules of humanitarian law and the moral restrictions on the use of force. Seen together, current trends in warfare seem to erode the boundaries between war and peace as well as the military and the civilian. They seem to be driven by a desire to continue to be able to exert power in an environment marked by various moral, political, economic and legal restraints on the use of military force, as well as the technological means becoming available for such purposes.

The goal of the planned international workshop is to attempt to put recent and anticipated future changes into a common perspective. The workshop will bring together experts who have looked at three elements of these changes (recent warfare, doctrinal developments and use of technologies for military purposes) in order to shed light on the evolving characteristics, drivers and paradoxes of these processes. The first objective of the workshop is to discuss, on the basis of specialists’ presentations, commonalities and differences which result from these different perspectives. The second objective is to conceptualize the empirical observation. Particular attention will be given to the questions of the drivers of such development, particular technological but also social trends. A common set of questions will be presented to all participants in the first three panels empirically describing developments including the questions of driving factors and presumed consequences. Finally, conclusions should be drawn on how these changes affect current instruments of prevention of war and containment of warfare. Rather than discussing detailed proposals for particular elements of warfare, the idea for this workshop is to consider more fundamental challenges resulting from recent changes. Two are proposed for more intense discussion: the mentioned expansion of the boundaries of military warfare into what was formerly often considered to be civilian territory, as well as the parallel, opportunistic, use of military and civilian instruments (“post-modern warfare”).

We expect, in addition to clarification of some of the recent developments in warfare by major military powers from the “Global North”, a better understanding of the underlying challenges for the adaption of current and development of new instruments and institutions aiming at the prevention of war and the containment of warfare. This should improve the intellectual foundations for discussing additional or alternative ways to regulate and limit the use of military violence by major military powers of the “Global North”. Publication of papers from the workshop is planned. Furthermore, the authors aim to lay the groundwork for future collaboration among participants to continue joint activities on this topic.


Research Questions

The primary research objective of this international conference is to consider the consequences of recent and expected future changes in warfare by major powers of the Global North for the prevention of war and containment of warfare. This leads to a number of questions:

·         What significant changes can be noted (in recent warfare/doctrines/operations/technologies)?

·         Which factors, including social, political and financial are driving and inhibiting such changes?

·         What are the consequences of such changes for the future of war and warfare? In which way are success and failures of interventions important?

·         Is the concept of “postmodern” warfare helpful and, if yes, how can it be improved?

·         What are the consequences of these changes for instruments of prevention of war and containment of warfare (moral, legal, political)?

·         How are the boundaries between military and civilian as well as war and peace affected by such changes?


The logic of the panels is also shown in the table:






Driven by what factors?

Consequences for future war?

Consequences for instruments and institutions of containment?


Recent wars

3 presentations of three cases addressing four questions (Mali, Ukraine, Syria)


Changes in doctrines/Operations

3 presentations of three different doctrines addressing four questions (US irregular warfare, RF “hybrid” warfare, French COIN)


Dynamic technologies

3 presentations of three technologies addressing four questions (Cyber, drones/LAWS, RMA)


Concluding session

Changing boundaries between war/peace; military/civilian

Future of war and warfare

Legal consequences of changes


The following case studies are planned for Panel 1 (Recent Wars and Ways of Warfare):

·         Mali: France’s military intervention in Mali in 2013 had interesting new features (Ehrhart 2015). Officially, it was an anti-terrorism-operation while, in fact, it can also be seen as a counterinsurgency operation. It worked with local proxies and international partners, combined direct engagement with, for instance, special forces and indirect approaches e.g. via security sector reform in a comprehensive approach (Lassere/Oberlé 2013).

·         Ukraine: Russia’s war in Ukraine has received much attention, not least because it has been described by Western governments and experts as a new form of “hybrid” warfare (Adomeit 2014). It used covert operations with special forces and a combination of direct and indirect approaches, as well as conventional and unconventional methods (NATO 2014).

·         Syria: External intervention in the civil war in Syria seems to be the latest testbed for innovations in warfare. While overtly restricted to aerial bombing, major military powers, including the US, France and Russia, are already, or are considering, conducting more complex military operations. For instance, the US engagement in the war in Syria has started, along with diplomatic and indirect military activities, supporting proxies on the ground, training rebels and delivering weapons to a direct bombing campaign, adding overt propaganda and secret drone campaigns and sending special forces into Syria (Zenko 2015).

The following case studies are planned for Panel 2 (Recent Changes in Doctrines):

·         US: What is the US way of dealing at the doctrinal level with irregular warfare against state and non-state actors? The US is selected as the most powerful state, often leading innovations in military doctrines. This was clearly the case in the 2000s, driven by US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

·         Russia: How is Russian military doctrine development advancing in view of perceived threats? At least among Western observers, Russian “hybrid” warfare in Ukraine was seen as a surprising new development. Some elements could be explained as expression of earlier traditions in warfare, however, Russian military doctrines have been undergoing major changes for some time.

·         France: France is supposed to stand here as an example of a middle military power, albeit with a high level of ambition. It will be analyzed particularly with respect to special features of the French counterinsurgency doctrine

The following case studies are planned for Panel 3 (Dynamic Technologies):

·         Cyber: The offensive use of the cyberspace is often seen as a driver of changes in warfare by major military powers. However, there are also important questions about the importance of the offensive use of cyber technology in future warfare.

·         Drones/LAWS: Which role do drones and LAWS play in the future way of waging war?

·         Revolution in Military Affairs: How does RMA evolve and influence the future way of waging war?

The following issues are to be discussed in Panel 4 (Future of War and Peace)

  • Changing boundaries between war and peace: Is there an expansion of grey areas between war and peace, the military and the civilian? In what respects? What are the consequences and is their need to (re-establish) boundaries?
  • Future of war and warfare: What are main trends in operational, doctrinal and technological developments? How important are they for future initiation of war and conduct of warfare? Is the concept of “postmodern” warfare helpful? Do negative experiences caused by counterproductive strategic behavior and damaging unintended consequences in recent interventions play a role?“.
  • Legal consequences: Which elements of the legal regimes to prevent war and contain warfare, in particular in humanitarian and arms control law, are under challenge from recent changes in warfare by major military powers from the “Global North”? What adaptations and what legal innovations would be useful?



11 May, 2017
13.00- 14.00


Welcome and Introduction


14.00-16.00 Recent warfare


Hans Georg Ehrhart (IFSH): Mali

Pavel Felgenhauer (Moscow): Ukraine

Walter Feichtinger (Landesverteidigungsakademie Österreich): Syria

Comment: Dr. Johann Schmid (IFSH/German Bundeswehr)

Chair: Felix Wassermann (Humboldt University Berlin)


16.00-16.30 Coffee Break


16.30-18.30 Changes in doctrines


David Ucko (National Defense University, Washington): U.S. way of irregular warfare

Bob Seely (King’s College): Russia’s hybrid warfare

Elie Tenenbaum (IFRI): French counterinsurgency

Comment: Annette Idler (University of Oxford) tbc

Chair: Gabi Schlag (Hemut Schmidt University)

18.30 19.30 Reception (all participants and about 15 additional invitees from Hamburg)


20.00- 22.00 Dinner (for active participants only)


12 May, 2017

09.00-11.00 Dynamic technologies

Mika Kerttunen: Cyberwarfare (Cyber Policy Institute, Tartu)

Niklas Schörnig (PRIF): Drone warfare

Comment: Frank Sauer (University of the Bundeswehr)

Chair: Elke Krahmann (University of Witten-Herdecke)


11.00-11.30 Coffee Break


11.30 -13.30 Perspectives

Hakan Gunneriusson (Swedish Defence University: Changing boundaries between war and peace

Robert Johnson (University of Oxford): Future of war and warfare

Anne Dienelt (University of Hamburg): Legal consequences

Comment: Michael Brzoska (IFSH)

Chair: Bernhard Koch (IThF)

13.30 - Lunch                                                                                                                                      


End of the conference




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