Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 May 2019

Iran stress-testing West in ‘tolerance-warfare’

A world-leading geopolitical survey named Iran as one of the “challengers of the order”

The US announced charges this month against seven Russian intelligence officers for hacking. EPA
The US announced charges this month against seven Russian intelligence officers for hacking. EPA

Iran, Russia and China among others are testing states’ tolerances for different forms of aggression, from proxy wars to cyber-attacks, a world-leading geopolitical survey published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) on Friday found.

“Tolerance warfare is the effort to push back lines of resistance, probe weaknesses, assert rights unilaterally, break rules, establish new facts on the ground, strip others of initiative and gain systematic advantage over hesitant opponents,” John Chipman, IISS Director-General, said.

“It particularly exploits weaknesses in Western democracies whose instincts for statecraft have been tempered by geopolitical failure abroad and constraints imposed by domestic opinion on hard-power international deployment.”

Mr Chipman predicted that in the future Western societies will need to give as much attention to tolerance warfare as they did to unwinding terrorist networks over the last decade. “It is becoming a favoured strategy for those countries that cannot easily challenge their biggest rivals symmetrically,” he said.

The IISS’ 2018 Strategic Report launched Friday found Iran to be one of the “challengers to the order”. Russia and China also fall into this category together with the US under the Trump administration, which IISS say may be “the biggest threat of all to the existing order.”

An increasing number of competitors are emerging from the shadow of capitalism as a result of the information and communications technologies revolution. While the US plunges in a state of “denial and anger” over its lost supremacy, these actors are increasingly engaging in “grey zone” operations – or those acts of aggression that “fall between the traditional war and peace duality,” as per the US Special Forces Command definition.

This includes launching cyber-attacks to influence elections and foster domestic discord, spreading misinformation, probing for vulnerabilities in Western power grids through cyber intrusions, the targeted killing of spies and seeking to destabilise countries through covert and criminal tools, including attempted coups such as the one staged by Russia in Montenegro in 2016.

In the Middle East, the withdrawal of the US from the nuclear deal and the failure on the part of the international community to salvage it may lead to a North Korea-style acceleration of the nuclear and ballistic missile program with an eye to building significant hedging-capabilities or even a deliverable bomb – provided the US does not intervene militarily before that goal is achieved.

Iran has become progressively eastward-facing when it comes to sustaining its economy and it is unlikely to uphold the JCPOA merely to maintain the moral high ground without economic and geopolitical gains, the report found.

Moscow and Beijing could therefore use the US abandonment of the JCPOA as an opportunity to step up their roles as great powers in the Middle East.

The US, Russia and China are currently the main actors pursuing technological warfare innovation, including hypersonic weapons able to travel above 6,125 kilometres per hour.

This, the report predicted, will “challenge current conceptions of what conflict is, with a further blurring of the line between peace and war and kinetic and non-kinetic action.”

This increases the need for nation states seeking to protect themselves from attacks to increase the speed at which military systems can be procured and adapted.

But “successfully achieving this is not a given,” the report warned.

Updated: November 16, 2018 06:59 PM