Countering hybrid threats
Steps for improving EU-NATO cooperation
In recent years the word ‘hybrid’ has dominated the debates on security and defence. Much has been written about hybrid peace, hybrid conflict and hybrid warfare. Cyber-attacks, disinformation and election interference: these are just three often cited examples of hybrid threats. Western countries are struggling with the question of how to respond to these threats, in particular as military responses alone are insufficient and inappropriate to deal with such challenges. A whole-of-government or even a whole-of-society approach is required, as hybrid threats are targeted at wider governmental infrastructure, at privately-owned entities and at citizens at large or at specific organisations.
Countering hybrid threats has also become a priority on the EU and NATO agendas as both organisations and their member states are confronted with ‘sub-threshold’ or ‘grey zone’ challenges. In 2016, when both organisations agreed on a list of topics for EU-NATO cooperation, countering hybrid threats was selected as one of the important fields of action. Correspondingly, in 2016 and 2017 the EU and NATO drafted at least 22 concrete proposals for enhancing cooperation in the area of countering hybrid threats. Since then, both organisations have issued six progress reports with an overall positive assessment of their cooperation, but it remains unclear what has actually been achieved. This begs the question which concrete results have the EU and NATO produced? This report will analyse the progress made so far and will provide – based on the analysis – ideas and suggestions for further improving EU-NATO cooperation in the area of countering hybrid threats.
Hybrid is one of the new buzzwords, but the question remains what constitutes ‘hybrid threats’. Chapter 2 provides an overview of some of the definitions used. In the subsequent chapter 3 the authors assess the results of EU-NATO cooperation in the field of countering hybrid threats, drawing from that analysis the reasons for ‘what works’ and ‘what does not work’ (or ‘does not work to the full extent’). Based on the outcome of what has been achieved, the fourth chapter points to the potential for ‘what could be further achieved’. Taking into account the (political) limitations of EU-NATO cooperation, this chapter also looks at the potential for alternative cooperation formats. The fifth and final chapter draws conclusions and provides recommendations for action to improve EU-NATO cooperation in countering hybrid threats.
The underlying methodology of this report consists of the combination of analysing the relevant literature and other written, publicly available sources, and conducting interviews with EU and NATO officials. Interviews were conducted in the time period June-August 2021, under the application of the Chatham House Rule.
Dick Zandee, Head of the Security Unit and Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute
Sico van der Meer, Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute
Adája Stoetman, Junior Researcher at the Security Unit of the Clingendael Institute