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Hybrid Attacks Demand Comprehensive Defense

By Bastian Giegerich

What is new about hybrid warfare is its immediate relevance to Europe’s security. NATO and the EU are working on strategy papers, as according to Bastian Giegerich it is not only European security interests but the entire Euro-Atlantic security order that is under threat.

From the European perspective, Europe is currently experiencing hybrid attacks from two directions. The actors are pursuing very different courses of action, yet they share the same goals, such as to gain psychological and physical advantages. In this contest, hybrid warfare is not substantially different than other armed conflicts. Vladimir Putin’s world-power ambitions are just as irreconcilable with the regulatory framework and value structure of European security institutions as the contempt for humanity shown by the so-called Islamic State (IS).

It is currently an open question as to whether NATO is sufficiently robust to continue to guarantee security. Europe faces the great challenge of forming effective counter-strategies, and establishing them as quickly as possible. For example, strategic communication needs to be implemented as a means against disinformation. Another associated problem, according to Giegerich, will be that of deciding on national responsibilities and task-sharing between NATO, the EU and other organizations. Above all, at the same time, it is a matter of strengthening their much-vaunted resilience. To achieve this, he calls for e.g. the systematic identification of vulnerabilities to hybrid threats. To enable a rapid response, there needs to be a clear responsibility for defense. Giegerich believes that the available instruments at national and international level are insufficiently connected to permit early detection or produce a situation assessment. Through coordination of this kind, the faintest signals pointing to a hybrid attack could be picked up on.

With regard to conventional military deterrence, the permanent stationing of significant NATO forces is extremely important, especially for at-risk member states. But in addition, NATO member states should clearly demonstrate via military exercises that they are absolutely willing to defend themselves. For Giegerich, this too is a targeted form of communication which also brings immediate military benefits and contributes to deterrence.

One difficulty for Europe in effectively counteracting hybrid threats is that its response must be adequate to the nature of the conflict, but without making these characteristics a standard for its own action. This requires a strategy mix comprising numerous measures, Giegerich writes, such as the integration of diplomatic means, the media and intelligence services, economic measures, the police, judiciary and armed forces, as well as law and ethics. This is not a task purely for NATO, but instead is a challenge for society as a whole.

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