Countering Hybrid Threats: 10 Steps for a Resilient Europe


Recent revelations that Russian military intelligence operatives were involved in a series of explosions in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, combined with the subsequent expulsion of diplomatic staff and a campaign of denial and pressure from Moscow, underscore the severity of the challenge that hybrid threats pose to EU and NATO members and the limitations of the policy framework currently in place.

The information space, cyber domain and global economy are increasingly all contested territories where state and non-state actors conduct operations intended to manipulate, disrupt and coerce their opponents. From Covid-19 vaccines to historical controversies and infrastructure projects to cultural relations - hostile state actors can transform nearly anything into a tool of influence.

Despite considerable progress in recent years, current policy responses and measures are not yet up to the task of deterring and countering malign hybrid operations waged by increasingly bold and aggressive adversaries that use ever-wider sets of tools to undermine and weaken European democracies. This is a long-term challenge: while Russia may be the present concern, other countries, like China, have also increased their capacity to conduct such campaigns. Advances in techniques and technology, moreover, have put numerous instruments into the hands of smaller states and even non-state actors ranging from far-right movements to terrorists.

To turn the tide and address some of the gaps of current approaches, we, the signatories:

  • Endorse the list of principles - 10 Steps for a Resilient Europe
  • Call upon relevant national authorities, EU institutions and other relevant stakeholders to apply them consistently when drafting and implementing measures countering hybrid threats.

Please join us by endorsing the 10 Steps for a Resilient Europe below:

  • 10 Steps for a Resilient Europe

1. Know your weaknesses before your adversary does

○   Antagonistic states operate asymmetrically and opportunistically - it is consequently crucial to constantly explore our own potential gaps and vulnerabilities.

○   In addition to vulnerability mapping and the auditing of national processes and structures, wargame potential hybrid scenarios as seriously as military ones.

○    Base all mapping and simulation exercises on a whole-of-government and, if possible, whole-of-society approach. Hybrid operations target different sectors of society - needs assessment and wargaming should be equally wide and comprehensive, involving not only state actors but also the private sector and civil society.

2. Boost resilience

○   It is cheaper to invest in resilience - from public media literacy to secure national infrastructure - than to repair the damage done.

○   Resilience built up to protect against today’s threat actors will also help against those of tomorrow (whoever they may be).

○    The central coordination of efforts and cross-departmental cooperation is crucial to boosting resilience.

3. Remember that people always matter

○   Governance is the battlefield of hybrid war.

○   Influence and information operations thrive where people feel alienated, mistrustful or marginalised. Transparency, inclusion and outreach are not just essential ingredients for a working democracy - they also help secure the nation.

○   Antagonistic actors justify themselves by claiming they face Western aggression. Reaching out to their people to make it clear that our disputes are just with their leaders weakens this narrative and prepares the ground for better relations in the future.

4. Cooperate

○   There is no need to reinvent the wheel but rather to make full use of existing structures such as Hybrid CoE and dedicated NATO structures (Stratcom CoE, Cyber CoE).

○   European networks and initiatives, such as EU-HYBNET, which facilitate cooperation from the ground up are essential complements to top-down government measures.

○    Integrate cross-sectoral cooperation, public-private partnerships and innovative ways of involving citizens in resilience-building measures into any policy designs countering HT.

5. Coordinate and pool resources

○   Antagonistic states operate on a ‘whole of government level, using all instruments at their disposal including, among other items, state structures, businesses, NGOs and even criminals. The response must be similarly holistic across government and society.

○   Pool resources and coordinate responses at an international level: European, regional and bilateral.

○   Within alliances, a single weak link is a vulnerability for everyone: all members need to be supported, encouraged and required to take collective security seriously.

6. Treat non-military defence as being as important as military defence

○   Protecting the integrity of national institutions is as important as defending national borders: police and counter-intelligence capacities must be equal to the challenge.

○    Corruption undermines the legitimacy and encourages subversion: combating it is crucial to national security and working democracy.

○    Intelligence-gathering and analysis are also vital and require long term investment in both specific services and wider expert communities.

○    Protect non-state actors, such as journalists and NGOs that monitor and counter malign influence, from harassment and threats.

7. Tell your story before someone else does

○   Hybrid war is often about a struggle between competing narratives - the West should always remember that the truth is the best weapon of democracies.

○   Strategic communication that advances a clear, credible and coherent narrative is crucial though it should be modulated to resonate with particular audiences. This will require public-private partnerships and a willingness to reach out to communities that feel excluded.

○   KPIs for success based on clear and achievable goals must be premised not on activity and output but rather their measured impact on public attitudes.

8. Demonstrate real solidarity

○   Few nations on their own can practise effective deterrence the way that Europe together can. Leveraging this advantage depends on moving beyond mere rhetorical support for one other.

○   Solidarity must be proactive: countries facing hostile attacks should know that their friends and allies will offer meaningful assistance when they call out and respond to them. There needs to be a menu of forms of solidarity ready for such situations - a quick response is a more effective one.

○   Supporting an ally today may deter an attack on you tomorrow - transparent and open communication of solidarity action on behalf of allied nations can be a powerful deterrent against future attacks.

9. Expose and attribute

○   Open and clear exposure of actors involved in various forms of hybrid operations acts both as a powerful deterrent and a basis for mobilising public vigilance.

○   Effective intelligence-sharing and strategic communications within and between countries are necessary.

○   Integrate strategic communications into any counter-intelligence operations with sufficient resources and proper planning of outputs.

○    Even countries that may appear immune to shaming generally care about their reputations and resent losing control of the information agenda.

○    Investigate strategic corruption schemes and the financial aspects of malign influence operations and expose concerned actors.

10. Be imaginative

○   Use ‘tiger teams’ and similar sources of unconventional thinking to identify potential vulnerabilities before an adversary does: remember that every time a weakness is addressed, adversaries will simply look for new ones.

○   Explore new ways of imposing costs and sanctions on attackers that will maximise their impact: deterrence is strongest when adversaries both are certain that there will be a cost to any actions and are unable to know precisely what that may be.

List of initial signatories* (open to new signatories):

Teija Tiilikainen, Director of Hybrid CoE (Finland)

Gen. Peter Pavel, Former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee and Former Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Army (Czech Republic)

Mark Galeotti, Senior Associate Fellow at RUSI, Honorary Professor, University College London (United Kingdom)

Nicolas Tenzer, Chairman, CERAP (Centre for Study and Research on Political Decision) Guest Professor, Sciences-Po Paris (France)

Daniel Milo, Senior Adviser at GLOBSEC Democracy and Resilience Center (Slovakia)

Janis Sarts, Director, NATO Stratcom CoE (Latvia)

Vladimír  Bilčík, Member of European Parliament (Slovakia)

Tomáš  Valášek, Member of Parliament, (Slovakia)

Edward  Lucas, Senior Vice-president, CEPA (United Kingdom)

Fredrik  Löjdquist, Director, Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS), at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (Sweden)

Peter Kreko, Director, Political Capital Institute (Hungary)

Keir Giles, Senior Consulting Fellow, Chatham House (United Kingdom)

András  Racz, Senior research fellow, German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP, Germany)

Jakub  Janda, Director, European Values Center for Security Policy (Czech Republic)

Peter Pomerantsev, Senior Fellow Johns Hopkins University (United Kingdom)

Jakub Kalensky, Research fellow, DFR Lab (Czech Republic)

Roland Freudenstein, Deputy Director, Head of Research chez Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies (Germany)

 Nathalie  Tocci, Director at IAI - Istituto Affari Internazionali; Honorary Professor, University of Tübingen (Italy)

James  Nixey, Director, Russia-Eurasia and Europe Programmes, Chatham House (United Kingdom)

Jonathan   Eyal, Associate director, Strategic Research Partnership, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (United Kingdom)

Sergio   Germani, Instituto Gino Germani, (Italy)

Nico Popescu, Director, Wider Europe Program, European Council on Foreign Relations -ECFR (Moldova)

André Gattolin, Senator (France)

Galia  Ackerman,  writer, journalist, editor-in-chief Desk Russie (France)

Françoise  Thom,  historian (France)

Wojciech Przybylski, President Res Publica Nowa (Poland)

Linas Kojala, Director Eastern Europe Studies Centre, Vilnius (Lithuania)

Denis MacShane, Former Minister of Europe (United Kingdom)

Rebecca Harms, Former MEP (Germany)

Andreas Umland, Research Fellow, Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS), at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (Germany)

Marcel Van Herpen, Director, Cicero Foundation, Maastricht (The Netherlands)

Anton Shekhovtsov, Chairman, Centre for Democratic Integrity, Vienna (Austria)

James Rogers, Director of Research, Council on Geostrategy (UK)

Alyn Smith, Scottish National Party Foreign Affairs Spokesperson (UK)

*Signatories endorse these principles in their personal capacity. The views expressed by signatories are their own and do not imply an endorsement by the entity they represent or are affiliated with.