From the start of this pandemic, it has been likened to a war – especially to our generation’s equivalent experience of a world war.
Although this war seems to primarily affect civilians, as of today (January 3, 2021), the US has experienced more than 350,000 deaths due to COVID-19; this is more than the approximately 53,000 U.S. combat deaths in World War I, and it seems likely that within months casualties will eclipse US WWII combat death totals of 416,600.
Of course, a comparison with the global influenza epidemic of 1918 may be more apt in this case. The influenza infected almost 25% of the planet. It killed nearly 45,000 American soldiers – almost equivalent to the overlapping US combat deaths in World War I – and caused 675,000 deaths among American civilians.
It seems reasonable to state at this point in history, that the current pandemic is taking on some features which give it some feature similarity to prior world wars and pandemics from the perspective of the public experience.
With that said, we are objectively in a pandemic – but are we objectively in a war?
Another non-controversial perspective on COVID-19 today, is of course that disinformation is running rampant online about it.
As I began to observe in March – and in a view which seems increasingly echoed the official Western diplomatic and national security organizations – there is an apparent collusion between authoritarian regimes with strong cyber warfare capabilities and the emergence of disinformation narratives about the coronavirus which are advancing apparent geopolitical agendas, using hybrid warfare tactics.
The official state narratives seem careful to point out that these countries are simply taking advantage of the coronavirus situation to advance their objectives. They are not suggesting that the virus was intentionally released as a weapon.
However, I do think the descriptions of Chinese, Iranian, and Russian gains riding with the tailwinds of the virus in these arguments does fit my idea of COVID-19 being on its face a “hybrid biothreat”.
While still enjoying tinfoil hat levels of respect in the professional research community, the idea of the virus as a bioweapon has been very clearly introduced as Russian disinformation from early in the pandemic.
For example, it has been argued variously by notorious Russian disinformation cut-outs as a Chinese-made virus (to Americans), and apparently as an American-made virus (to the Chinese).
It seems apparent and non-controversial that Russian media from early in this crisis was stoking the competition between America and China, even openly calling the virus in a disinformative sense as a “classic example of hybrid warfare”.
In addition to observations of Russian hybrid warfare / grey-zone / irregular warfare tactics and disinformation which have been seen around coronavirus (some more examples), there seems also a systematic interrelation with economic warfare.
For example, a prominent storyline which relates the coronavirus to hybrid warfare has emerged in the writings of Pepe Escobar for the news outlet Asia Times, and specifically portrays it as a Chinese:US competition. (Escobar is associated also with the Russian disinformation outlet Global Research.)
Escobar argues here that Putin jump accelerated the Chinese economic recovery after the pandemic began by flooding the Chinese market with cheap oil. The storyline portrays Russia as a friend to the Chinese who is helping them against Western hybrid warfare pressure as part of a strategic partnership.
Notably, this view may be seen as contrary to Western views as portrayed in pro-Western outlets as Washington Times, where it was conversely argued that Russia and Putin were the losers in an oil price war with Saudi Arabia.
Escobar argues that “Russia, in a Sun Tzu move on Riyadh whose end result was a much cheaper barrel of oil, helped for all practical purposes to kick-start the inevitable recovery of the Chinese economy. This is how a strategic partnership works…” … “The chessboard is changing at breakneck speed. Once Beijing identified coronavirus as a bio-weapon attack the “people’s war” was launched with the full force of the state.”
A further synergy apparently observed in the American experience of the pandemic has been the intentional deepening of social divisions and unrest by authoritarian states, especially in the aspect of race relations. The effects of this campaign seem to have been amplified by anger over coronavirus. Black people have been particularly hit hard in urban areas by the virus; and there seems to be a clear trend in white nationalism for example in reaction to pandemic restrictions on individual liberty. These aspects of American society have proved ripe for exploitation during the virus.
In addition to being the subject of hacking campaigns, Western-developed vaccines have been undermined by disinformation by Russia especially. This is apparently to greatly diminish trust in the West, in a way which corresponds to the overarching aspects of hybrid warfare, disinformation, and economic warfare observed above. The risks to Western power seems greatest in Africa (2) and Central/South America.
Notably one of the most significant and systematic hacks in US history has happened, and was developing for much of the time Americans and the rest of the developed world have been working from home. This has been largely attributed to Russia by Western security experts and has persisted since the start of the pandemic until very recently.
Correlation is not Causation, but is there a Systematic Relationship with Hybrid Warfare?
A quick and dirty analysis using death statistics from the website Statista (note I took the data on December 1, 2020) demonstrates a potentially moderate and 99%+ significant correlation of 0.478262794 at p < .01 to the death rates by country from COVID-19 and involvement in a US-led military alliance.
|Country||Deaths per million (total)||Rank (death rate)||Is in US alliance or petitioning involvement (1=yes , 0=no)|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||812.18||138||1|
|West Bank and Gaza||156.23||87||0|
|Trinidad and Tobago||86.02||75||1|
|United Arab Emirates||58.54||66||0|
|Central African Republic||13.28||35||0|
|Papua New Guinea||0.8||4||0|
|Correlation of deaths per million (rank) to US Alliance membership|
|The P-Value is < .00001. The result is significant at p < .01.|
The argument that the death rates from COVID-19 may target the US military hegemony seems supported by the data, at least superficially.
It should be noted that under-reporting in places like China is currently a rallying cry. So it is also possible that some of this correlation is due to under-reporting. (But I think it would be foolish to say it is definitively due to that, based on other evidence.)
It should be noted that there are potentially genetic explanations for these mortality rates as well. Western Europe for example is known to have large segments of Neanderthal DNA in the population and such DNA has been associated with worse COVID-19 complications. To suggest the virus has been worse in these areas due to genetics may be a partial explanation. But observations that it has been disproportionately worse where there is a US military alliance could also be a consequence of its chosen genetic fitment by an advanced biological weapons program.
The great abundance of observed intentional actions by Russia in particular to benefit and advance a geopolitical agenda based on COVID-19 may be another explanation for why there has been a disproportionate toll in countries associated with US alliances. It may be a logical consequence of an intentional hybrid war, where COVID-19 is a hybrid biothreat (bioweapon or not).
However, if as the facts may suggest – based on the hybrid warfare, disinformation, and economic features – that this campaign is intentional and strategic, the idea that the virus was selected and deployed intentionally by Russia (or China) should not be ruled out by rational thinking people.
The combination of all the elements described above might start to paint a picture of something what “total hybrid war” might look like. In fact, it may be more parsimonious to say we are in a “real” war than a metaphorical one.
In this case, it might appear to be something like a strategic change agency which is accelerating the development of the kind of multipolar, post-US hegemonic world which Russia (and figures like Aleksandr Dugin) have been long advocating.
I personally feel that many aspects of the facts on the ground seem to support my long-term observations of Russian attempts to stoke some kind of US-Chinese competition, since at least September 11, 2001.
It would seem that China is likely taking Russia up on some of its propositions based on their new usages of disinformation and increasing demonstrations of strategic partnership.
At this point, it would probably be foolish to think that Russia and China (and Iran) are not colluding on a deeper level in the military sense based on observations of this crisis. However, if there is any wedge to be exploited, I still think it is Russia. Russia has maligned China, the United States, and (I think) Muslims too in this process, perhaps unforgivably.
This trace ‘forensic evidence’ of competition seems to be framed more in the benefit of Russia’s modus operandi and interest than anyone else’s, and sooner or later hopefully rational minds prevail. China’s costs of pursuing a relationship with Russia will clearly be greater than the value it would derive from a strong security relationship with the United States.