Conflicts between states have taken on new forms and hybrid operations play an increasingly important role in this volatile environment. Belligerent powers introduce a new model of conflict fought by proxy, across domains, and below the conventional war threshold to advance their foreign policy goals while limiting decisive responsiveness of their victim.
Given these hybrid threats, how should Western states respond? Are there any tools available Western states have that can draw red lines into blurred lines of hybrid conflict?
About this Paper
China has long maintained that it has sole exclusive control over the contested areas of the South China Sea. In recent years, this rhetoric has been backed up by concrete actions. However, China’s actions are challenging established international norms – specifically ones of international passage and freedom of navigation. Norms are not static, they can change with time. How can Western partners prevent this norm from changing? What actions can they take?
This case study analyses such actions. American freedom of navigation operations, as well as legal challenges and diplomatic engagement, all signal that many states prefer to maintain the existing norm of freedom of navigation in these areas. Yet, this case study finds that the Chinese pursuit of norm revision may be slow but more effective down the line as it spills over to other emerging powers.
About the Paper Series
This paper is part of a series that argues that the West does have one powerful tool that can help shape hybrid threat actors. That tool is international norms. Norms set international expectations of acceptable state behavior – yardsticks which the international community can leverage when calling out unscrupulous states.
But norms do not develop out of nothing. This report applies the norm lifecycle theory, which analyzes norm development from emergence to cascade and internalization, to five case studies to to better understand the real-life strategies, tools of influence, dilemmas, and trade-offs that empower state-led norm processes. The report not only considers how norms develop, but also what role they play within the counter-hybrid posture of a state, and how they, in conjunction with countermeasures, shape adversarial hybrid behavior.
This report also explores four other case studies on Russian, Chinese, and ISIS hybrid conflict actions. The case studies are published individually as a paper series and compiled in a full report with complete overview of the theoretical underpinnings of norm development and the key insights that emerge from the analysis, as well as the concluding remarks and policy recommendations. The policy recommendations explore ways for the Netherlands and its partners to help promote and enforce norms of restraint beyond classic like-minded groups of states while being cognizant of unintended consequences.
Please find an overview of the other case studies below.
- Case Study 1: Protecting Electoral Infrastructure from Russian Cyber Operations Download Case Study | Download Factsheet
- Case Study 2: Responding to Russian Disinformation in Peacetime Download Case Study | Download Factsheet
- Case Study 3: Countering ISIS propaganda in Conflict Theatres Download Case Study | Download Factsheet
- Case Study 4: Responding to Chinese Economic Espionage Download Case Study | Download Factsheet