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The EU prepares to combat a permanent hybrid threat

“You cannot deal with a cyber attack with a classic military war. We have to be able to face a hybrid threat with hybrid instruments ”, claimed just three weeks ago the high representative for EU foreign policy, Josep Borrell, during the Paris Forum for Peace. His words confirm that the European Union is aware that combating this threat has become one of the “most complex” challenges facing governments and institutions because the means used are constantly evolving and anything goes to encourage conflict and create problems, as Poland, Latvia or Lithuania have verified in their own meat with the attempt of Belarusian regime of Alexandr Lukashenko to destabilize the club using as a weapon one of the policies that most divide the Twenty-seven: immigration and asylum.

Borrell now proposes to use the call ‘Strategic compass’, the European security and defense plan that the EU hopes to approve in March 2022 and which contemplates the creation of a 5,000-soldier military force capable of being rapidly deployed, to create a “toolbox” that identifies all the instruments that the EU has in its hands to combat and respond to hybrid attacks -whether they are isolated or part of a strategy- in a coordinated, coherent and effective way in all possible political planes. “This means giving assistance, providing capabilities, issuing joint statements or adopting restrictive measures when necessary,” they explain from the team of the head of European diplomacy.

Counter tampering

The intention of Brussels is that the new “hybrid” battery integrate all kinds of legislation or proposals in development useful to combat this phenomenon. From the cybersecurity strategy to the European democracy plan, with the aim of countering manipulation and foreign interference in the most effective way possible, reinforcing the security of digital networks and the resilience of critical infrastructures -from physical to digital- and detect possible attacks well in advance. In addition, among the novelties, explain community spokespersons, they point, for example, to “the creation of rapid hybrid response teams of the EU ”, which allow Member States to draw on a wide range of expertise in specific situations to support national authorities.

“The European Union has many instruments and elements that go in the right direction but it is necessary to continue updating the old ones and developing new ones” to fill “the existing gaps” and “maintain coherence at national and European level,” he says. Rasmus Hindrén, director of international relations of the European Center of Excellence against Hybrid Threats, an independent international body based in Helsinki, in which some thirty countries from the EU, the United Kingdom and the United States participate, and created as a result of increasing instability and changes in global security in the wake of the Russian invasion of Crimea .

Although it recognizes that it is not easy or always useful to identify a specific list of threats, due to the broad spectrum of threats, their evolution or the motivation behind the attacks -mainly state or non-state actors from Russia or China-, warns that emerging technological trends will increase the catalog of risks and points to the danger -also benefits- of the artificial intelligence. “The more connected, particularly to the digital environment, the more attacks and vulnerabilities. And the critical technology is artificial intelligence because it will create new opportunities in areas such as cyberspace, “he explains.

In the opinion of this expert, who prefers to avoid the warlike use of hybrid warfare, the ‘Strategic Compass’ is the element that can help increase the consistency in the European response, both in decision-making, crucial in an area in which responsibility lies with the member states, and in the range of possible deterrence and resilience measures. “It is a problem that will not disappear and it is likely that hybrid threats will be with us in the future, so it will be necessary to act more broadly and consistently,” he predicts.

A priority since 2016

The first time the European Union had a framework against hybrid threats was in 2016, two years after the invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, and it did so with 22 actions and four objectives in mind: increasing awareness through the exchange of information, strengthening resilience in critical sectors for the EU, more prevention and a boost to cooperation with other international actors such as the NATO, which also has its own strategy in the face of practices that have exploded in recent years.

The chemical attack on the former Russian spy, Sergey Skripal and his daughter in the south of England, renewed the urgency and the Twenty-seven adopted in July last year a security strategy that focuses on raising awareness and sharing information at the European level with key security agencies such as Europol, Frontex o Enisa. The intention now is to take a step further before an increasingly disputed strategic scenario, with demonstrations of military force and constant destabilizing attacks. “The days when peace and war were two clearly differentiated states are long gone. We are facing and will increasingly face hybrid situations that require a wide range of defensive means ”, claims Borrell.

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