In recent years European and other nations have been increasingly targeted by different manipulation or coercion tactics that remain under the threshold of violence, and are commonly referred to as hybrid threats. For instance, in 2016 the elections in the United States were manipulated by a foreign state actor through targeted propaganda and the leaking of hacked material that compromised one of the presidential candidates. In the same year the British referendum on remaining in the European Union was also targeted by sophisticated propaganda efforts.
The need to counter these threats and deal with them comprehensively has therefore been acknowledged in the EU Strategic Compass. It provides for the development of a toolbox to put at the disposal of member states a wide range of measures to respond to hybrid campaigns, should they choose to invoke the assistance of the EU. This EU Hybrid Toolbox (EUHT) intends to gather all civilian and military instruments that can be employed to counter hybrid campaigns. Operationalisation was intended by the end of 2022 but this no longer seems attainable.
However, the conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated the importance of having a coordinated reaction capability to counter hybrid campaigns and is likely to provide the momentum to bring the development of the EUHT to fruition. This policy brief examines the most recent progress on operationalising the EUHT. First, the rationale for the EUHT is explained. Next, the state of play in the operationalization process is analysed. The subsequent section focusses on the difficulties stemming from differences of opinion between the member states, followed by an assessment of the issues surrounding decision-making. After suggestions for increasing the effectiveness of the EUHT are given, the policy brief ends with conclusions and a listing of opportunities and pitfalls.
Kenneth Lasoen is Research Fellow at the Security Unit of the Clingendael Institute and lectures Intelligence and Security at the University of Antwerp. He specialises in national security and intelligence, counterintelligence and counterterrorism.PB_EU_Hybrid_Toolbox