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(Atlantic Treaty Association) Projecting Stability: Hybrid warfare and cooperation with the EU


Article published on the Atlantic Treaty Association Website

Dr Federico Yaniz explains how a coordinated approach between NATO and the European Union to countering hybrid warfare is being formulated, to the benefit of both organisations


On 4-5 September 2014, NATO Heads of State and Government met in Newport, Wales, only a few months after hybrid warfare tactics were used in the territory of Eastern Ukraine. In the Declaration published after that Summit meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the leaders of the Atlantic Alliance stated that: “We will ensure that NATO is able to effectively address the specific challenges posed by hybrid warfare threats…”

For many people, it was the first time they saw the adjective ‘hybrid’ alongside substantive warfare. Before and since the Summit, hybrid warfare has been defined in various terms, as there are many different ways that type of warfare can be used. In August 2015, the Defence and Security Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly defined hybrid warfare as “the use of asymmetrical tactics to probe for and exploit weaknesses via not military means (such as political, informational, and economic intimidation and manipulation) and are backed by the threat of conventional or unconventional military means. These tactics can be scaled and tailored fit for the particular situation”.

The ability of NATO members to respond to this type of warfare, consisting of regular, irregular and criminal elements that can operate in real and virtual spaces, is and will be essential to assure peace and stability across the Euro-Atlantic area. Hybrid warfare tactics are not totally new for NATO, as they were used by the Soviet Union to soften its opponents. However, since early 2014, hybrid warfare seems to have been used by Russia as an instrument to achieve specific objectives. In any case, the threat posed by hybrid tactics is as real today as it was then.



Hybrid warfare was again on the agenda of the Warsaw Summit in July 2016. The topic was given significant attention in the comprehensive Communiqué issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in that meeting. NATO leaders, through the longer-term Adaptation Measures of the Readiness Action Plan, agreed a strategy on NATO’s role in Countering Hybrid Warfare, which is being implemented in coordination with the European Union. Furthermore, in point 72 of the Communiqué, it is pointed out that the challenges posed by hybrid warfare are produced by “a broad, complex, and adaptive combination of conventional and non-conventional means, and overt and covert military, paramilitary, and civilian measures, are employed in a highly integrated design by state and non-state actors to achieve their objectives”.

Responding to this challenge, NATO allies have adopted a “strategy and actionable implementation plans on NATO’s role in countering hybrid warfare”. Although the primary responsibility to respond to hybrid threats rests with the targeted nation, the Alliance is prepared to assist allies at any stage of a hybrid campaign. NATO and member nations will be prepared to counter hybrid warfare as part of collective defence and, if needed, the NAC could decide to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

The European Union (EU) is also committed to countering hybrid warfare. On 3 March 2016, European Defence Agency (EDA) Chief Executive Jorge Domecq, speaking before the European Parliament’s Security and Defence Subcommittee, stressed the need for a more coordinated European approach to tackle hybrid threats. At a time when hybrid warfare tactics are increasingly employed by state and non-state actors in conflicts close to the EU’s southern and eastern borders, he said: “It is essential to focus on the ability and agility of Member States and the EU to anticipate and react in a swift and coordinated manner.”

The Conclusions on countering hybrid threats, published after the meeting of the Council of the EU on 19 April 2016, are very clear about the EU’s position in this respect. In fact, the increasing use of hybrid strategies and operations by state and non-state actors in the EU neighbourhood requires swift and appropriate action to prevent and counter hybrid threats to the Union and its Member States and partners. The Council underlined the need to mobilise EU instruments to this end, in line with the Conclusions of the European Council of June 2015 and the Council Conclusions on Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of May 2015.

Nevertheless, Member States have the primary responsibility for security and defence, including hybrid warfare. The aforementioned Council of 19 April 2016 welcomed the Joint Communication on countering hybrid threats and fostering resilience of the EU and its Member States, as well as partners and invited Member States, to consider establishing a European Centre of Excellence. The Council welcomed the intention of the High Representative to create an EU Hybrid Fusion Cell, highlighted the possible CSDP contributions to countering hybrid threats and the need for closer dialogue, cooperation and coordination with NATO. Finally, the Council invited the Commission and the High Representative to provide a report by July 2017 to assess progress.



During his presentation in March 2016 to the European Parliament’s Security and Defence Committee, Jorge Domecq expressed his view that enhanced cooperation in countering hybrid threats could take EU-NATO relations “to a new level”. In the current context of spreading hybrid warfare, to intensify cooperation with NATO “is not an option, but an absolute necessity”, said the EDA chief executive in the presence of NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning.

Mr Domecq finished his speech by saying: “Our collective reply to hybrid is a major opportunity… The comparative advantages of the EU and NATO should be used to the maximum extent. The deterrence effect of NATO and the complementarity of our EU tools and instruments are more than enough reason to enhance our cooperation.”

The Joint Declaration by the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission and the Secretary General of NATO, signed in Warsaw on 8 July 2016, marked the beginning of a new era in EU-NATO relations. The three signatories of the Declaration believed that the time had come to give new impetus and new substance to the NATO-EU strategic partnership.

In fulfilling the objectives of the Joint Declaration, there is an urgent need to boost the ability to counter hybrid threats, including by bolstering resilience; working together on analysis, prevention, early detection and intelligence-sharing between staffs; and cooperating on strategic communication and response. Furthermore, stepping up coordination on hybrid warfare exercises, by developing initially parallel and coordinated exercises for 2017 and 2019, will benefit both organisations.

One common set of proposals for the implementation of the Joint Declaration was endorsed in a parallel process by NATO, through the NAC, on 6 December 2016, and by the Council of the EU on the same day. These proposals include:

  • Encouraging participation by EU and NATO, as well as EU Members States, and NATO allies in the work of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, to be established in 2017;
  • Putting concrete measures in place to enhance sharing of time-critical information between the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell and the relevant NATO counterpart;
  • Intensifying cooperation between the EU and NATO staffs with regard to strategic communication, and encouraging cooperation between the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence and the EEAS Stratcom division.
  • Enhancing preparedness, inter alia, on crisis response by holding regular meetings at staff-to-staff level;
  • EU and NATO raising awareness of existing and planned resilience requirements for the benefit of EU Member States and NATO Allies.

NATO is committed to effective cooperation and coordination with the EU and other relevant partners in its efforts to counter hybrid threats.

Dr Federico Yaniz became a General in the Spanish Air Force in 1997 and appointed Chief of the Second Division of the Joint Staff. In June 2001, he joined the International Military Staff as Assistant Director for Cooperation and Regional Security, and was appointed Director of Aeronautics in 2006. General Yaniz holds a Doctorate in Economics and a Masters in Statistics. He is a lecturer, author of several books and has written more than 300 articles related to Strategy, Aeronautics, Economics and History. General Yaniz is a member of the Board of Directors of the Atlantic Council of Spain and Vice President of Eurodefense-Spain.

Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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