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Thread: We live in an era of implausible deniability and ambiguous warfare

  1. #1
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Mar 2006

    Default We live in an era of implausible deniability and ambiguous warfare

    International Affairs is the Chatham House journal and they have made available for free this article 'Grey is the new black: covert action and implausible deniability' by Professor Richard Aldrich and Dr Rory Cormac, both British academic intelligence historians.

    On a very quick read the focus is Anglo-American, although the USSR / Russia gets a mention and I have not looked at the ninety-six references.

    If anyone is in Oxford on May 14th Dr Cormac is speaking at a public event (PM for details).

    The Abstract, from where the title comes says:
    For hundreds of years, states have sought to intervene in the affairs of others in a surreptitious manner. Since the professionalization of intelligence services in the aftermath of the Second World War, this behaviour has become known as covert action, which—for generations of scholars—has been defined as plausibly deniable intervention in the affairs of others; the sponsor's hand is neither apparent nor acknowledged. We challenge this orthodoxy. By turning the spotlight away from covert action and onto plausible deniability itself, we argue that even in its supposed heyday, the concept was deeply problematic. Changes in technology and the media, combined with the rise of special forces and private military companies, give it even less credibility today. We live in an era of implausible deniability and ambiguous warfare. Paradoxically, this does not spell the end of covert action. Instead, leaders are embracing implausible deniability and the ambiguity it creates. We advance a new conception of covert action, historically grounded but fit for the twenty-first century: unacknowledged interference in the affairs of others.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 05-04-2018 at 05:18 PM.

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    Oct 2005



    Thanks for sharing the study/article. Overall a good article, but I think the author is a little base. First, the growth of U.S. Special Operations doesn't automatically correlate to a growth in covert operations. The majority of USSOF when deployed are openly declared, yet they seek to keep a low profile. Second, hybrid warfare isn't a new term to describe covert action. It is a term to describe the blending of conventional and irregular warfare and the various forms it takes. Covert action may or may not be an aspect of hybrid warfare. The term describes a historic norm, so its only utility in my view is as a tool to pry open the eyes of officers whose views on warfare have been overly limited by narrowly focused studies on 19th Century warfare strategists like Jomini and Clausewitz. At the end of the day war continues to be just war, it may be waged at various levels of intensity and via various means and ways that extend well beyond the use the conventional forces and the increasingly elusive idea of a meeting engagement where a decisive battle achieves our political ends.

    The author may be right that gray is the new black, and that covert action may even have less utility in the future. An alternative future is that covert action will increasingly become the norm (whether is gray or black) due to the influence globalization and growing economic interdependence (thus the desire to manage escalation). Globalization equates to growing global mobility of people, goods, information, and globalisms (identify groups based on ideology). State actors will increasingly be able to influence and leverage these identity groups around the globe via information operations (bots, etc.), while maintaining a hidden hand. You can call it indirect covert action through a combination of witting and unwitting proxies, but again this is an old practice, only the means to do so are new or evolving.

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