Effective countering of hybrid threats requires both EU-NATO cooperation and investment of effort in the Western Balkans
The Ministry of Defence and the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats from Helsinki organized a conference titled Hybrid Threats: Perception vs Reality at Grand Hotel Union in Ljubljana as part of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
As the keynote speaker, Uroš Lampret, State Secretary at the Ministry of Defence,, highlighted the growing trend of hybrid threats, EU and NATO cooperation, and the Western Balkans: "This cooperation is key to ensuring the resilience of the European Union and its surroundings and to comprehensively countering hybrid threats. Both areas are priorities for the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU."
Content-wise, the conference was divided into three sections. In the first section, the participants discussed the European Union’s and NATO’s endeavours. One result of the cooperation between the two organisations and at the same time the connecting link between them is the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, which includes the participation of as many as thirty EU member states and NATO allies. The EU and NATO already work together in the areas of situational awareness, capability building, strategic communications, crisis response and resilience building. However, according to participants, successfully countering hybrid threats requires this cooperation to be upgraded. The areas highlighted as where improvements would be most needed included strategic communications, information sharing, resilience and exercises. Strategic coordination between the organisations is also important, especially in the light of the forthcoming EU Strategic Compass and the renewed NATO Strategic Concept. While a strict division of tasks between the two organisations would not bring the desired cohesive effect; it would, however, be useful to have some form of common framework that would provide a common situational picture.
EU partners from the Western Balkans then presented their experiences in countering hybrid threats. Considering its proximity, history of cooperation and potential for Euro-Atlantic integration, the Western Balkans represents a region of particular strategic importance to both the EU and NATO. This also makes it more interesting for the activities of hybrid actors. Disinformation and foreign investment in particular are a pressing problem, and often prove to be a means of political blackmail. The partners are already implementing certain solutions on their own; however, given the growing hybrid influence, the EU and NATO should step up their efforts and clearly demonstrate their strategic interest. After all, support for the Western Balkan partner countries in building their own resilience contributes to the resilience of the EU.
The last part of the conference was dedicated to a discussion of the EU instruments and mechanisms that can help member states and partners to combat hybrid threats and in their European enlargement perspective. The EU already has certain instruments available, including a questionnaire on hybrid threats for partners. Effective support includes understanding the needs of partner countries, also in their Euro-Atlantic integration. As the conference participants pointed out, each partner from the Western Balkans is unique and faces specific challenges, which requires a tailor-made approach.
Within the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU and as part of the “hybrid threats” cluster, the Ministry of Defence organized the 8th formal meeting of the national points of contact of the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell as early as yesterday. It presented the situation regarding hybrid threats in the Western Balkans and the analysis of hybrid trends. The purpose of the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell is to raise awareness of hybrid threats, to highlight the importance of situational awareness, which is a major input for decision-makers (both national and EU), to effectively counter hybrid threats, and to share EU member states' best practice, lessons learned and networking of national points of contact from the capitals.