On 11 April nine* member countries of the European Union and NATO endorsed the creation of a new European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats. Based in Helsinki, Finland, this structure will aim not only to study such threats, but also “to help foster the resilience of societies,” the Finnish government said in an official statement. Once operational, it will join the 23 centres of excellence already operating in Europe, Turkey and the United States.
Countering hybrid threats is a priority for Europe and NATO, “as they blur the line between war and peace – combining military aggression with political, diplomatic, economic, cyber and disinformation measures”, the Alliance said in a statement. A catch-all and evasive term, the concept of “hybrid threat” refers, in the official sense adopted by the European Union, to a “mixture of coercive and subversive activity, conventional and unconventional methods (i.e. diplomatic, military, economic, technological), which can be used in a coordinated manner by state or non-state actors to achieve specific objectives while remaining below the threshold of formally declared warfare.”
In addition to engaging in strategic level dialogue, research, training and consultations, the Centre, which has been headed by Finnish senior official Matti Saarelainen since its inception, “will also conduct practical training exercises aiming to improve readiness to counter hybrid threats,” according to the Finnish government. The launch of the first research projects, one of which will focus on hybrid threats as a global phenomenon, is planned for autumn 2017.
It should be noted that these centres of excellence are not the responsibility of the Alliance, but are international military bodies whose funding and personnel are provided by one or more partner countries. Each centre is specialised in a specific functional area, for which it plays the role of expert and transmitter of knowledge. The one just launched in Helsinki, for example, will be financed in equal parts by Finland and the contributing countries for a total of €1.5m.
Despite holding a prominent role on the European defence scene, France hosts only one such structure: the Analysis and Simulation Centre for the Preparation of Airborne Operations (CASPOA), which was inaugurated in 2008 in Lyon.
* Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States.