Book Review No. 18 – Martyn of Cusumano and Corbe, eds., A Civil-Military Response to Hybrid Threats

Eugenio Cusumano and Marian Corbe, eds., A Civil-Military Response to Hybrid Threats (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).

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This collection of essays provides military and civilian readership with a broad-ranging overview of the role played by civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) in addressing hybrid threats. It will likely garner additional attention simply for including “hybrid warfare” in the title. This form of conflict is not particularly new, having been seen as far back as the Peloponnesians, and appearing in some form within most conflicts from the Romans in Germania, the Spanish Peninsular War, through to Indochina/Vietnam.

As a military theory, it received new consideration as the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine, which seemed to presage Russia’s aggressive behaviour in Ukraine. The notice drawn by hybrid conflict was soon reinforced by information wars in the Baltics, as well as U.S. Presidential election tampering (although not addressed in this book), bringing it to the attention of a more wide-ranging audience. Hybrid conflict is characterized by intermingling conventional and irregular warfare with cyber warfare, criminal activity, ethnic targeting, and covert influencing operations such as propaganda and deceptive media. Collectively, using such means to target military objectives, as well as civil society and its governance, diminishes the utility of fighter-bombers and mechanized brigades, hence the linkage with CIMIC.

Within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), CIMIC is defined as “the coordination and cooperation, in support of a mission, between the military and civil actors, including the national population and authorities, as well as international, national, governmental, and non-governmental organizations and agencies.” The ad hoc approaches to CIMIC, seen throughout the 1990s’ Balkan missions, gave way to a more formalized approach in 1999. Since then, it has been given almost uniformly over to the Reserve side of the CAF, most recently within the newly-formed Canadian Combat Support Brigade. This organization is spread over five provinces and contains such strange bedfellows as artillery, electronic warfare, and engineers. While Canada receives no specific mention within the book, our military does actively support the NATO CIMIC function.

The breadth and growing proximity of such hybrid attacks has propelled CIMIC from its previous niche within military stability operations, where it tended to play a limited liaison role, often unenviably addressing problems caused by other deployed troops (p. xiii). The increasingly bold moves by Russia has sparked growing questions of potential countermeasures, which has led inexorably to a rise in CIMIC as a potentially useful player given that both hybrid conflict and CIMIC have strong population-centric emphases.

This is a well-structured book. Given the variety of means and targets of hybrid warfare, this work turns to a diverse group of military and civilian authors in explaining the relevance of CIMIC via three segments: underlying concepts, key players, and case studies. The editors provide the key concepts within the introduction, which is a valued feature for busy readers or someone looking for a quick overview. The book also includes a list of acronyms, figures, and tables; the four pages of acronyms, when used in concert with the index, proves especially useful for those outside of the CIMIC field who would be otherwise baffled at, for example, the difference between Civil-military cooperation and Civil-military interaction.

Amongst its initial conceptual chapters, I found the essay on “Hybrid Warfare as Lawfare” to be particularly interesting.  As noted, while hybrid conflicts are not particularly new, its current manifestations necessitate a rethinking of some legal concepts, which may not fit neatly into our comfortable jus ad bellum (right to wage war) / jus in bello (conduct within war) categories.  This chapter provides an informative consideration of the Russian “big lie” within Ukraine, affirming Moscow’s engagement including its air defence missile troops destroying Malaysian flight MH17, while “pretending to be the peacemaker” (p. 69).

The book’s middle segment, on actors, provides insight into the key NATO and European Union CIMIC players.  Unfortunately, the NATO Centres of Excellence (COE) chapter, in particular, lapses occasionally into blatant self-promotion, being the most unapologetic in campaigning for more attention.  It bemoans that “the end of major operations in Afghanistan and NATO’s growing focus on deterrence and territorial defence, however, have shifted attention away from civil-military cooperation. In some NATO members, civil-military cooperation is on the brink of extinction” (p. 7). Given the reality of budgetary and personnel restraints, in concert with hostile Russian waywardness, perhaps some re-focus is inevitable. While playing up the specific utility of the Civil-military Cooperation Centre of Excellence (CCOE), it seriously downplays the previous chapters on the complexity of the threat, which would argue for increased input from the remaining COEs.

This portion is further diminished by bemoaning hierarchical structures and the disruptions of personnel being posted in and out of the organization – a situation pretty much every developed military organization recognizes as a reality. Perhaps troubling is that one survey cited proudly asserts that “the main benefit of any COE is that we are not in the NATO command structure” (p. 91). This leaves an implied denunciation of NATO’s organizational framework, which the leadership should find troubling.

I found the most personally rewarding chapters to be the case studies, the final portion of the book. For Canadian readers, our troops’ deployments make four of the five analyses resonate directly: Mali; Afghanistan and Lebanon; Ukraine; and the Baltic region.  The Ukraine study is particularly strong and receives additional kudos for its focus on cyber threats, which is a timely issue of growing concern. The remaining case study on East Asia may prove useful, given the Royal Canadian Navy’s regional activities and the announced tasking of CAF personnel to Korea, although lessons will have to be inferred given the chapter’s primary focus upon China’s continued expansion into the South China Sea.

The chapter on the United Nations’ operation in Mali may prove sadly prescient for Canadians as it considers the nexus between UN operations and intelligence, which is arguably the weakest link in their peacekeeping track record. Although the chapter is couched in CIMIC terminology, the Mali mission remains one with essentially no peace to keep, in a landscape confused by overlapping and conflicting civilian, military, and NGO actors … before even considering enemy combatants. All of these players are operating in a theatre in which the author generously describes both the fledgling democracy and the host-nation’s military capabilities as “fragile” – a point that was reaffirmed during Mali’s end-July Presidential election that was marred by rocket and mortar attacks and the burning of polling stations (pp. 191-193).

Overall, the book is recommended for its utility in providing topical explanations of, as well as insights into NATO thinking on, the nexus of two themes: hybrid threats, with its potential to be viewed occasionally through some Hollywood action-movie lens, and Civil-military cooperation, which often remains treated as a checklist afterthought to campaign planning (“Oh, we need a CIMIC Annex here.”) Both aspects, CIMIC and hybrid complexity, will be present within international and transnational conflict for the foreseeable future; this book provides a useful, wide-ranging introduction.

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Williamson Murray and Peter Mansoor, eds., Hybrid Warfare: Fighting Complex Opponents from the Ancient World to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Neil O’Reilly, CF CIMIC Operations 1990-2010: An Annotated Bibliography (Ottawa: DRDC CORA, 2010), iii.

Steven Fouchard, “New Canadian Combat Support Brigade is ‘champion of Army enablers’,” Maple Leaf,

Public Safety Canada acknowledged the cyber threat in its June 2018 National Cyber Security Strategy: Canada’s Vision for Security and Prosperity in the Digital Age,

See, for example, David Carment and Martin Rudner, eds., Peacekeeping Intelligence: New Players, Extended Boundaries (New York: Routledge, 2006).


Bob Martyn, PhD, is affiliated with the Centre for International and Defence Policy, as well as the Cultural Studies’ Interdisciplinary Graduate Program, both located at Queen’s University. He has taught within history and politics programmes at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, as well as lecturing periodically at the Canadian Forces College. His previous military career provided ribbons for deployments to Cyprus, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan; with his varied Canadian and international parachute and dive badges, his Mess Kit looked awesome.

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