Hybrid Tactics and NATO’s Resilience: Safeguarding Alliance Security

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NATO partners face threats and challenges from both state and non-state players who use hybrid moves to target political institutions, affect public opinion and damage the security of NATO citizens. Hybrid methods of warfare – such as propaganda, fraud, sabotage and other non-military tactics – have long been employed to destabilise adversaries. What is new about episodes seen in recent years is their speed, scale and intensity, enabled by rapid technological change and international interconnectivity. NATO has a strategy for its position in countering hybrid warfare and stands prepared to defend the Alliance and all Partners against any threat, whether traditional or hybrid.

Hybrid threats incorporate military and non-military as well as hidden and overt means, including disinformation, cyber-attacks, economic force, deployment of intermittent armed groups and use of regular forces. Hybrid methods are employed to blur the lines between war and peace and endeavour to sow doubt in the minds of target populations. They seek to destabilise and damage societies. The speed, scale and passion of hybrid threats have grown in recent years. Being prepared to contain, counter and respond to hybrid attacks, whether by state or non-state actors, is a leading priority for NATO.

For example, the Russian Federation operates sophisticated hybrid strategies, including political interference, hostile cyber activities, economic pressure and intimidation, subversion, attack and annexation. Coercive military stance and rhetoric are also employed as part of the Russian Federation’s hybrid strategies to seek its political goals and damage the rules-based international order.  

Since 2015, NATO has held a strategy for its position in countering hybrid warfare. NATO states that it ensures that the Alliance and Allies are adequately prepared to counter hybrid attacks whatever form they may assume. It will deter hybrid aggression on the Alliance and, if necessary, will support the Allies concerned.

NATO constantly gathers, shares and assesses information to catch and attribute any ongoing hybrid activity. The Joint Intelligence and Security Division at NATO Headquarters enhances the Alliance’s understanding and investigation of hybrid threats. The hybrid analysis branch supplies decision-makers with enhanced awareness of possible hybrid threats. The Alliance advocates Allies’ efforts to identify national exposures and strengthen their resilience if asked. NATO also serves as a nucleus for expertise, providing help to Allies in areas such as civil preparedness and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) happening response; critical infrastructure security; strategic communications; safety of civilians; cyber defence; energy protection; and counter-terrorism.

Training, exercises and education also recreate a significant function in preparing to counter hybrid threats. This includes exerting decision–making processes and combined military and non-military reactions in cooperation with other actors.

To prevent hybrid threats, NATO is determined to act promptly, whenever and wherever necessary. It persists in increasing the readiness and preparedness of its strengths and has maintained its decision-making process and its management structure as a function of its deterrence and defence posture. This transmits a strong signal that the Alliance is enhancing both its political and military responsiveness and its capability to deploy proper forces to the right place at the right time. 

Furthermore, NATO has developed its toolbox to oppose hybrid threats. Allies have developed extensive preventive and response options. These options integrate civil and military instruments, which can be tailored for reacting to specific circumstances. If deterrence should fail, NATO stands prepared to defend any Ally against any danger. To this end, NATO forces have to be capable of reacting quickly and elegantly, whenever and wherever needed.

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