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Helsinki hybrid threat centre one step closer to reality

Representatives from NATO, the EU council on foreign relations and over a dozen supporting countries arrive in Finland on Tuesday to sign an agreement to establish a European Centre of Excellence to counter hybrid threats in Helsinki.

A map of real-time cyber attacks from the Norsen security company. Image: AOP

Leaders from over 20 EU and NATO countries arrive in Helsinki this week to sign agreements on founding a research centre in Helsinki specialising in hybrid threats. The Centre of Excellence will focus on development preparedness and response capability to ward off hybrid threats.

The centre will be located in Helsinki and will feature cooperation by the USA, EU members Germany, Spain, the UK, Sweden, Poland and the Baltic States.

Hybrid threats refer to interventions considered to be less disruptive than traditional warfare, and which target a country’s weaknesses and sow insecurity.

Centre stage

The topic has risen in prominence in recent years, following hacking attacks on Estonia in 2007 during a dispute with Russia over a war memorial. More recently, attempts by hackers to disrupt the American election--attributed by US intelligence to state-sponsored Russian groups--have moved cyberwarfare centre stage. More broadly, the term can include flows of migrants and attempts to influence the discourse in foreign states.

A European parliamentary research group briefing on the topic from last month says the term ‘hybrid threat’ is a metaphor that captures complexities and dilemmas related to a changing global environment.

"As such, it is a useful concept that embraces the interconnected nature of challenges (i.e. ethnic conflict, terrorism, migration, and weak institutions); the multiplicity of actors involved (i.e. regular and irregular forces, criminal groups); and the diversity of conventional and unconventional means used (i.e. military, diplomatic, technological)," the brief explains.

A joint EU and NATO effort

The EU and NATO are working together to improve situational awareness of hybrid threats by monitoring and assessing EU vulnerabilities, developing security risk assessment methodologies and promoting the formulation of risk-based policies.

Part of this effort includes the European Centre of Excellence hub slated for Helsinki, which will focus on designing strategies to counter hybrid threats, creating an EU hybrid fusion cell, raising public awareness about hybrid threats through strategic communication, and developing closer dialogue and cooperation with other stakeholders such as NATO, regional organisations and the private sector.

The annual budget of the proposed centre is an estimated two million euros. Participating countries will pay an annual member fee, but as the host country, Finland is expected to contribute the lion’s share of the budget.

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