A New Form of “Hybrid Warfare”? On social media many Europeans have been claiming online that Erdogan is conducting a ‘hybrid war’ against European Union. What is the EU’s response to hybrid threats?
The Schengen Area
The Schengen Area covers 4 million km² of Europe and is fringed by the three usual border types – land, sea and air. Each of the three border types is clustered in a different part of the passport-free travel area. As a result, the EU is facing three relatively distinct clusters of hybrid threats, each associated with one of the three border types, the specific flows encountered at that type of border, and a geographically-proximate sponsor state or terrorist group. At the EU borders there is an acute influx of ‘mixed’ migration: irregular migrants, terrorists, foreign agents.
Hybrid threat – Definition
Hybrid threats – unconventional threats that fall under the threshold of military force – have become an ubiquitous feature of today’s security environment. Although the EU is much better placed to detect and combat hybrid threats today than was the case five years ago, this new form of asymmetric conflict remains a major challenge.
Hybrid warfare is a military strategy which employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyberwarfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy, lawfare and foreign electoral intervention.
The EU takes hybrid threats seriously and has designed an array of policies to counter them. Its main focus is the ongoing crises beyond its borders, throughout its eastern and southern neighbourhoods. In Ukraine and elsewhere, the EU is trying to counter hostile Russian actions.
But its countermeasures are focused inwards too as its own member states come under attack. These measures are helping more generally to ‘future-proof’ the EU itself, to shore up its own internal structures and networks in the face of a rapidly shifting international landscape.
The EU’s own sprawling and hybrid threat nature makes it an indispensable actor for countering hybrid threats. NATO has grudgingly come to respect the EU as an essential partner in this field and, if the EU can only bring together its capabilities, it could give heft to those current buzz terms – transatlantic security and strategic autonomy.
The Union’s hybrid threat character also leaves it uniquely vulnerable. Hybrid threats demand a cautious balancing act between fundamental rights and security, an open market and a secure economy. And they demand speed and decisiveness. Timing and early response are key, and it is incumbent on the EU institutions and member states to move rapidly. For the EU that means learning to put its money where its mouth is, and calling out a hybrid attack as a hybrid attack.
Borders are rendered vulnerable because of increased migration to Europe and by the ‘weaponisation’ of cross-border flows. Critical infrastructure is targeted as a means of upsetting the civilian population with energy shortages, digital and financial disruption, and delays to transport and healthcare. Disinformation poisons democratic processes and institutions, as well as trust in the media and government.