In one of the first stops on a major visit with European allies, Secretary of Defense James Mattis praised U.S.-Finnish ties and Finland’s president for spearheading a response to Russian “hybrid warfare.”
“With this center, Finland has created an institution fit for our time, and I thank you, Mr. President, for your foresight.” Mattis said during a joint press conference. Finland has led the effort to create the European Center of Excellence for Counter Hybrid Threats, a thinly veiled reference to Russia’s recent foreign policy adventurism in Europe that has many smaller European countries, and historic enemies like Finland, thinking critically about the potential for a Russian attack.
Mattis used the opportunity for a sort of U.S. diplomatic show of force as he prepares to meet with the Northern Group, an organization of 12 northern European nations, saying “by tightening such cooperation here in the north, we see the deterrent capability of democracies strengthened,” and that “In today’s conversations, we reaffirm that relations between Finland and the United States have never been stronger.”
While not technically a function of NATO, the Hybrid Threat Center was wholeheartedly endorsed by the alliance. When the center was officially established earlier this year, it described its mission: “NATO’s counter-hybrid strategy includes strengthened coordination with the European Union, and also involves our new Intelligence Division, more training and exercises, and our work to actively counter propaganda with facts.”
As the public becomes more aware of the deep and widespread Russian efforts to spread misinformation and instill unrest in democracy, not just in the United States but across Europe as well, national security apparatuses are responding in kind.
“Hybrid Warfare” is a fairly new term, used as a sort of catch-all to explain Russian tactics and techniques in the 21st century, and although it sounds modern and scary, it really is just the next iteration of doctrine Russia and the former Soviet Union have used for decades. Russian Hybrid Warfare incorporates the full spectrum of information and deception operations, and includes the use of conventional military power as seen on full display in Ukraine. Part of this doctrine includes the use of “reflexive control,” which Jack Murphy has written about extensively here.
In a blog post on the Hybrid Threat Center’s website, it describes the hybrid threat.
Hybrid threats refers to the methods and tools used by individual state or non-state actors to enhance their own interests, strategies and goals. The range of methods and activities is wide: influencing information and propaganda, logistical weaknesses like energy supply pipelines, economic and trade related blackmail, undermining international institutions by rendering rules ineffective, terrorism, increasing insecurity (border incidents like airspace violations without admission, talking about legitimate interests, immigration questions) etc. Those using hybrid methods and activities are usually in some ways weak actors/states or actors avoiding openly declared war. Without a hybrid activity, they could not push their agenda forward.”
They also say that “Hybrid activities are becoming a frequent feature of the European security environment,” and include both state actors and non-state actors like the Islamic State.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.