NATO’s response to hybrid threats
Hybrid methods of warfare, such as propaganda, deception, sabotage and other non-military tactics have long been used to destabilise adversaries. What is new about attacks seen in recent years is their speed, scale and intensity, facilitated by rapid technological change and global interconnectivity. NATO has a strategy on its role in countering hybrid warfare and stands ready to defend the Alliance and all Allies against any threat, whether conventional or hybrid.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the inauguration of the European Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Countering Hybrid Threats (Finland, 2 October 2017)
- The primary responsibility to respond to hybrid threats or attacks rests with the targeted nation.
- NATO is prepared to assist any Ally against hybrid threats as part of collective defence. The Alliance has developed a strategy on its role in countering hybrid warfare to help address these threats.
- In July 2018, NATO leaders agreed to set up counter-hybrid support teams, which provide tailored targeted assistance to Allies upon their request, in preparing against and responding to hybrid activities.
- NATO is strengthening its coordination with partners, including the European Union, in efforts to counter hybrid threats.
- NATO’s Joint Intelligence and Security Division has a hybrid analysis branch that helps improve situational awareness.
- The Alliance actively counters propaganda – not with more propaganda, but with facts – online, on air and in print.
Hybrid threats combine military and non-military as well as covert and overt means, including disinformation, cyber attacks, economic pressure, deployment of irregular armed groups and use of regular forces. Hybrid methods are used to blur the lines between war and peace, and attempt to sow doubt in the minds of target populations. They aim to destabilise and undermine societies.
The speed, scale and intensity of hybrid threats have increased in recent years. Being prepared to prevent, counter and respond to hybrid attacks, whether by state or non-state actors, is a top priority for NATO.
Since 2015, NATO has had a strategy on its role in countering hybrid warfare. NATO will ensure that the Alliance and Allies are sufficiently prepared to counter hybrid attacks in whatever form they may materialise. It will deter hybrid attacks on the Alliance and, if necessary, will defend Allies concerned.
To be prepared, NATO continuously gathers, shares and assesses information in order to detect and attribute any ongoing hybrid activity. The Joint Intelligence and Security Division at NATO Headquarters improves the Alliance’s understanding and analysis of hybrid threats. The hybrid analysis branch provides decision-makers with improved awareness on possible hybrid threats.
The Alliance supports Allies’ efforts to identify national vulnerabilities and strengthen their own resilience, if requested. NATO also serves as a hub for expertise, providing support to Allies in areas such as civil preparedness and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) incident response; critical infrastructure protection; strategic communications; protection of civilians; cyber defence; energy security; and counter-terrorism.
Training, exercises and education also play a significant role in preparing to counter hybrid threats. This includes exercising of decision–making processes and joint military and non-military responses in cooperation with other actors.
To deter hybrid threats, NATO is resolved to act promptly, whenever and wherever necessary. It continues to increase the readiness and preparedness of its forces, and has strengthened its decision-making process and its command structure as part of its deterrence and defence posture. This sends a strong signal that the Alliance is improving both its political and military responsiveness and its ability to deploy appropriate forces to the right place at the right time.
If deterrence should fail, NATO stands ready to defend any Ally against any threat. To this end, NATO forces have to be able to react in a quick and agile way, whenever and wherever needed.
NATO can’t counter hybrid threats alone. Cooperation with partners is essential. The Alliance continues to strengthen its cooperation and coordination with such partners as Finland, Sweden, Ukraine and the European Union (EU) to counter hybrid threats and enhance resilience. As part of their increasingly closer cooperation, NATO and the EU have stepped up their cooperation on dealing with hybrid threats, with a special focus on countering cyber attacks. NATO is also engaging with partners in the Asia-Pacific region to exchange experience on national approaches to countering hybrid threats, such as increased incidence of disinformation and cyber attacks. This has been particularly valuable in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, Centres of Excellence work alongside and contribute knowledge and expertise to the Alliance. They are international research centres that are nationally or multi-nationally funded and staffed.
The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats located in Helsinki, Finland serves as a hub of expertise, assisting participating countries in improving their civil-military capabilities, resilience and preparedness to counter hybrid threats. It was inaugurated in October 2017 by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, together with European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini. The Centre is an initiative of the Government of Finland, supported by 27 other nations, as well as NATO and the EU.
Other Centres of Excellence contribute to NATO’s efforts to counter hybrid threats, including the Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Riga, Latvia; the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia; and the Energy Security Centre of Excellence in Vilnius, Lithuania.