Countering Hybrid Threats: The Untapped Potential of EU-NATO Cooperation

Written by | Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

Just as hybrid threats exploit the synergy of diverse actors and activities, so should our hybrid defences. Since 2016, NATO and the European Union have identified countering hybrid threats as a priority for cooperation. The new European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid COE) in the Finnish capital Helsinki plays a unique role in facilitating this cooperation, notably in supporting EU and NATO staffs working on hybrid threats.


Both EU and NATO staffs have participated in the Centre’s activities, including workshops, seminars and exercises aimed at enhancing the understanding of hybrid threats. And representatives of both organisations are also present at the Centre’s Steering Board meetings. In March, the Centre hosted a retreat which aimed to specify possible concrete actions in all key areas of interaction and formulate recommendations for further enhancing EU-NATO cooperation. Discussions focused on improving early warning and situational awareness, strategic communication and messaging, crisis response, resilience, cyber defence and energy security. Such retreats may become an annual event.


In April, the Hybrid COE convened a regional seminar to exchange best practices in countering hybrid threats among Nordic and Baltic nations, in cooperation with NATO’s Special Operations Forces Headquarters. One conclusion was the need to develop whole-of-government and whole-of-society responses to counter hybrid threats. Regional cooperation serves this endeavour and the Centre and NATO will work together on similar seminars in other regions. In May, within the scope of assessing the implications of hybrid threats on capability development, the Centre facilitated a scenario-based workshop on “Harbour Protection under Hybrid Threat Conditions”, organised by the EU and attended by both EU and NATO staff. This workshop was the outcome of a hybrid threats tabletop exercise conducted in 2016.


All participating countries contribute significantly to the efforts of the Centre. Four countries have taken lead roles in the Centre’s Communities of Interest, and six of them also support the Centre by seconding staff to the Secretariat in Helsinki. One concrete example of national contribution is the Comprehensive Security Training Event, organised by the Centre in cooperation with Finnish Defense Forces. This one-week event is targeted at NATO member states and selected partner countries to support them in developing comprehensive approaches or fusion doctrines to counter hybrid threats. The Finnish comprehensive security model is at the core, but it will be discussed in the context of other national and institutional experiences in comprehensive security.


Although much has been achieved, there is still so much to do. We should be able to move on from describing the threats to countering them. In the field of training and exercising, there is a demand for tabletop exercises and scenario-based discussions that can be played jointly or as individual national exercises. Participating states should trust and support each other in identifying national vulnerabilities and build resilience jointly. The Romanian and Finnish EU Presidencies in 2019 will provide further opportunities to promote cooperation on countering hybrid threats. The common understanding of hybrid threats is by necessity a living thing that requires constant attention, research and dissemination. And, as long as there are member states of NATO or the European Union that have not yet joined the Centre, there is room to grow.


‚Cooperating to Counter Hybrid Threats‘ – Analysis by Axel Hagelstam and Kirsti Narinen – NATO Review.

(The Analysis can be downloaded here)

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