Refugee Crisis - Norwegian soldiers and refugees, Messina, Sicily, Italy, by VOA Nicolas Pinault (2015)

Weaponized Migration is the New Battlespace

The modern battlespace is in flux as innovations in technology and strategy erode the conventional categories of warfare. Recent developments in Finland have prompted a shift in military thinking aimed at dealing with hybrid warfare, a multi-layered approach to offence focusing on non-lethal and often non-military interventions.

We have already heard much talk about weaponized narrative and seen the results of cyber warfare from the Ukraine to the US Elections, allegedly. We can now add to the hybrid warfare arsenal a new strategy concept, the weaponization of mass migration, or, to coin a phrase, sociological warfare. Simply shifting a large mass of people into the enemy’s territory produces chaos, conflict and economic erosion without the aggressor having to fire a single shot, or even appearing to have done anything.

The Finnish were not slow to recognise this, as Bloomberg reports:

A year ago, at the height of winter, officials in Helsinki were baffled to find scores of Asian and Middle Eastern asylum seekers suddenly crossing the sleepy Russian-Finnish border in Lapland, an Arctic region where reindeer outnumber people.

Finnish authorities were immediately suspicious and ignored EU directives to sign an immigration deal with Russia.

Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinisto was quoted as saying, “Warfare today is manifold,” ahead of an announcement that Finland would be setting up a specialist hybrid warfare unit in Helsinki.

With a budget of only €2m, the unit would act as a consultancy for EU and NATO allies. Project manager Matti Saarelainen said that “Often, states cannot be sure if they are under a hybrid attack,” giving the unit the prime focus to “help member countries better understand hybrid threats and better prepare for them.”

About 2,000 migrants crossed the Russo-Finnish border, but authorities feared that up to a million could follow. In 2015, about 5,000 migrants crossed the Russo-Norwegian border. These are small numbers in comparison to the huge waves of immigrants that have flooded the rest of Europe, already estimated at 1.3 million in 2015.

Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and commander of US European Command, suggested to the US Senate Armed Services Committee in 2016 that “Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration from Syria in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.” Russia denied this, but the New York Times reported that:

The one group that needs no convincing about Russia’s manipulation of the migrant issue is the migrants themselves.

The current situation in Germany is a case in point. Earlier this month, Dr Benjamin Weinthal writing for the Jewish Policy Center quoted an unnamed senior security official as saying that:

The great influx of people from all parts of the world will lead to instability in our country. We are producing extremists through immigration. Mainstream civil society is radicalizing, because the majority don’t want migration and they are being forced [to accept it] by the political elite.

As earlier as 2011, Kelly M. Greenhill recognised this strategic development and described it in Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion, and Foreign Policy (Cornell University Press, 2011). She showed how it functioned as “coercion by punishment” in two ways: as a straightforward threat to overpower a target country’s capacity to accommodate a mass population inflow; or as political blackmailing exploiting existing legal and moral commitments to those seeking asylum.

Finland plans to have its hybrid warfare initiative operational by the end of the year. Meanwhile, speaking on Wednesday, 18 January, the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, warned Europe to expect a new wave of migrants in the Spring.