Hybrid Threats and EURO-Atlantic Counterterrorism Cooperation

Article

NATO Allies on the both sides of the Atlantic have been witnessing various ongoing crises: from mass refugee influx to rising concerns over emboldening Russian maneuvers in Ukraine and Syria, and nowadays the strategic consequences of Brexit for Euro-Atlantic relations. Evidently, these interrelated challenges are of transnational and hybrid nature involving state and nonstate actors alike. These threats of hybrid nature posed by...

Introduction

NATO Allies on the both sides of the Atlantic have been witnessing various ongoing crises: from mass refugee influx to rising concerns over emboldening Russian maneuvers in Ukraine and Syria, and nowadays the strategic consequences of Brexit for Euro-Atlantic relations. Evidently, these interrelated challenges are of transnational and hybrid nature involving state and nonstate actors alike. These threats of hybrid nature posed by various combinations of state and non-state actors have mounted transnational challenges (e.g. terrorist infiltration, radicalization) on EU-member NATO allies’ borders such as Ukraine for Eastern Europe, and for non-EU Allies such as Turkey with its long border to Syria. Meanwhile, the last decade has witnessed terrorist attacks of unprecedented magnitude in the Allied heartlands of Paris, Ankara, Brussels, and Istanbul most recently.

The ongoing rise of hybrid threats on the Allies ranging from political instability in Eastern Europe and the Middle East to mass refugee influx and terrorism in the neighborhoods put forward the need to timely discuss key questions on the relationship of rising terrorism with the strategies of hybrid warfare, and the venues for effective Euro-Atlantic counter-terrorism cooperation as a method to counter hybrid threats. Above all, such cooperation is essential for the security of the states and their citizens in Europe and beyond. NATO and EU are the two core international organizations that are expected to assume leading roles in institutionalized international cooperation against hybrid threats. An organization that fails to contribute to the security of its members is bound to head the way of strategic irrelevance for its members, and thus seizes to be considered as a serious global actor!

In order to address the questions of what kind of international cooperation is necessary and how this can be achieved, this paper starts by delineating the concepts of ‘hybrid war’ and ‘hybrid threat’ with a reference to ongoing Euro-Atlantic challenges, and then the paper proceeds with the critical assessment of the existing counterterrorism efforts, and finally the paper ends with a comprehensive discussion of the policy implications of such cooperation for the Allies and their neighbors.


1. Hybrid Threat or Hybrid War?

As hybrid threats to international security have been evolving, so as their use in scholarly and policy debates have become a source of ongoing confusion. In many instances, it can be noticed that the concepts such as ‘hybrid threat’ and ‘hybrid war’ are used randomly, without even providing a working definition for a term. This has led to further confusion of the policymakers, instead of much needed conceptual clarification. For that reason, this section will define each concept, and then delineate their similarities and differences, and explain why the author has chosen to proceed with ‘hybrid threats’ throughout this research.

In addition to conceptual clarification, this section aims to put these terms in context. To this end, this paper refers to NATO and EU definitions from official reports as primary sources, which indicate a level consensus of the member states about their understanding of these key terms. As NATO and EU are the two core institutions to organize Euro-Atlantic cooperation against hybrid threats, their definitions present a meaningful starting point for this research. In a 2011 report, NATO describes hybrid threats as:

Hybrid threat is an umbrella term, encompassing a wide variety of existing adverse circumstances and actions, such as terrorism, migration, piracy, corruption, ethnic conflict etc. What is new, however, is the possibility of NATO facing the adaptive and systematic use of such means singularly and in combination by adversaries in pursuit of long-term political objectives, as opposed to their more random occurrence, driven by coincidental factors. [Emphasis Added] (Bachmann and Gunneriusson 2015)

This comprehensive definition of hybrid threats enables researchers to grasp the multi-faceted nature of the term. At the same time, this definition presents examples of hybrid threats such as terrorism and migration, which are considered in the analyses of this paper as well. That is why this paper uses the term “hybrid threat“ with the connotations and examples set out in the above NATO definition.

The same report underlines that “hybrid threats are not exclusively a tool of asymmetric or non-state actors, but can be applied by state and non-state actors alike. Their principal attraction from the point of view of a state actor is that they can be largely non-attributable, and therefore applied in situations where more overt action is ruled out for any number of reasons. [Emphasis Added] (Bachmann and Gunneriusson 2015)

This point in the report is of particular importance for this research, as it highlights the fact that hybrid does not necessarily mean non-state! In this regard, this ‘hybrid threat’ conceptualization also opens door for the consideration of ‘hybrid war’ in the formulation and development of hybrid threats. Accordingly,

Hybrid war encompasses a set of hostile actions whereby, instead of a classical large-scale military invasion, an attacking power seeks to undermineits opponent through a variety of acts including subversive intelligence operations, sabotage, hacking, and the empowering of proxy insurgent groups. It may also spread disinformation (in target and third countries), exert economic pressure and threaten energy supplies. [Emphasis Added] (Popoescu 2015)

In view of the above definition, hybrid war necessitates an orchestrating state actor, which can weave state capabilities such as military and intelligence operations in support of proxy insurgent groups. Most recent examples of such operations can be observed in Russian maneuvers in Ukraine and Syria, involving both conventional military assets such as fighter jets and air defenses along with local insurgent groups acting as proxy land-forces.

Albeit important, hybrid war is only part of the story when the Allies are faced with ever growing hybrid threats ranging from refugees to terrorism. NATO’s Bi-Strategic Command Capstone Concept describes these hybrid threats as “those posed by conventional and non-conventional means adaptively in pursuit of their objectives“. The same concept also includes, “low intensity asymmetric conflict scenarios, global terrorism, piracy, transnational organized crime, demographic challenges, resources security, which have also been identified by NATO as so called hybrid threats“. [Emphasis Added] (See: Hybrid Threats Description in 1500/CPPCAM/FCR/10-270038 and 5000 FXX/0100/TT-0651/SER: NU 0040 dated 25 August 2010). Similar to the earlier hybrid threat definition, this one also includes terrorism and demographic challenges, growing out of a combination of state and non-state actors via conventional and non-conventional means. This constitutes another reason of the author’s choice to employ the term ‘hybrid threat’ to capture the complexity of the threat environment NATO and EU need to operate.

It is taken from TASAM Publishing's book named "Change in State Nature: Boundaries of Security".
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