Information War and Hybrid Threats: Finland Launches a New Center to Focus on the Challenge


2017-10-06 Information war and hybrid threats have been honed to a 21st century art form by the Russians under President Putin.

But these are really early days for shaping ways to deal with the IW/hybrid threat challenge and to deal more generally with the use of military power for limited political objectives, short of war.

Clearly, in Northern Europe, a broader zone of security is evolving from the Arctic through to the Baltics and includes the UK, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and various other NATO allies.

A key challenge will be to shape effective crisis management tools and approaches to deal with this targeted threat which is designed to obtain political and strategic objectives without the use of overwhelming military force.

The liberal democracies are shaping a new set of military capabilities and concepts of operations which can be used in such an effort; but the civil side of the effort needs to be developed and evolved in order to do so.

The broad fault line between the liberal democracies versus the illiberal powers is defining the nature of conflict in the decade ahead to go along with the continuing challenges associated with terrorist organizations like ISIS.

The Government of Finland has stood up a new Centre designed in part to shape better understanding which can in turn help the member states develop the tool sets for better crisis management.

This is how the Finnish government put it with regard to the new center in its press release dated October 1, 2017.

The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats has reached initial operational capability on 1 September 2017. The Act on the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats entered into force on 1 July 2017, following which Matti Saarelainen, Doctor of Social Science, was appointed Director of the Centre. The Centre has now acquired premises in Helsinki, established a secretariat consisting of seven experts and made the operational plans for this year.

“Hybrid threats have become a permanent part of the Finnish and European security environment, and the establishment of the Centre responds well to this current challenge. Since early July, rapid progress has been made to allow the Centre to begin its operations. The Steering Board will be briefed on the progress at its meeting next week,” says Jori Arvonen, Chair of the Steering Board of the Centre.

The Centre will launch its activities at a high-level seminar to be held in Helsinki on 6 September. The seminar will bring together representatives of the 12 participating countries, the EU and NATO. Approximately 100 participants will take part in the seminar. The Centre’s communication channel ( will also be opened at the seminar. Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini and Minister of the Interior Paula Risikko will speak at the seminar as representatives of the host country. The official inauguration of the Centre will be held on 2 October.

The Centre is faced with many expectations or images. For example, the Centre is not an ´operational centre for anti-hybrid warfare´ or a ´cyber bomb disposal unit´. Instead, its aim is to contribute to a better understanding of hybrid influencing by state and non-state actors and how to counter hybrid threats. The Centre has three key roles, according to the Director of the Centre.

Remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the official inauguration of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Finland

“First of all, the Centre is a centre of excellence which promotes the countering of hybrid threats at strategic level through research and training, for example. Secondly, the Centre aims to create multinational networks of experts in comprehensive security. These networks can, for instance, relate to situation awareness activities. Thirdly, the Centre serves as a platform for cooperation between the EU and NATO in evaluating societies’ vulnerabilities and enhancing resilience,” says Director Matti Saarelainen.

The EU and NATO take an active part in the Centre’s Steering Board meetings and other activities. As a signal of the EU and NATO’s commitment to cooperation, Julian King, EU Commissioner for the Security Union, and Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence and Security, will participate in the high-level seminar on 6 September.

Currently, the 12 participating countries to the Centre are Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. EU and NATO countries have the possibility of joining as participant countries.

The web site of the new center provides an overview on the organization and focus of attention.

Hybrid CoE is to serve as a hub of expertise supporting the Participants’ individual and collective efforts to enhance their civil-military capabilities, resilience, and preparedness to counter hybrid threats with a special focus on European security. It is intended that the Centre will offer this collective experience and expertise for the benefit of all Participants, as well as the EU and NATO. The Centre will follow a comprehensive, multinational, multidisciplinary and academic-based approach.

The aim of Hybrid CoE is to provide a single location dedicated to furthering a common understanding of hybrid threats at strategic level and promoting the development of comprehensive, whole-of-government response at national levels and of coordinated response at EU and NATO levels.

In addressing these questions, the functions of Hybrid CoE include the following:

  • to encourage strategic-level dialogue and consulting between and among Participants, the EU and NATO;
  • to conduct research and analysis into hybrid threats and methods to counter such threats;
  • to develop doctrine, conduct training and arrange exercises aimed at enhancing the Participants’ individual capabilities, as well as interoperability between and among Participants, the EU and NATO for countering hybrid threats;
  • to engage with and invite dialogue with governmental and non-governmental experts from a wide range of professional sectors and disciplines; and
  • to involve, or cooperate with, communities of interest (COI) focusing on specific activities that may constitute hybrid threats, on methodologies for understanding these activities, and on ways to adjust organisations to better address such threats effectively.

The Steering Board (SB), consisting of representatives of the Participants, is the principal decision-making body in the Centre. Staff representatives from the EU and NATO are invited to attend the Steering Board meetings. 

The SB is to set the policies and approve the work programme, to approve the budget and the accounts, to approve the annual participation fees, to approve the admission of new Participants, to adopt internal regulations and to approve such guidance as may be necessary for the functioning of the Centre and its organs. 

The host country of the Secretariat is Finland. The Centre has a domestic legal personality and capacity to perform its functions in the Republic of Finland in accordance with national legislation that entered into force on 1 July 2017.

The secretariat in Helsinki, headed by the Director, will manage the Centre’s administration and common functions. It will coordinate the relevant activities of the communities of interest on (1) hybrid influencing, (2) terrorism and radicalism, and (3) vulnerabilities and resilience. The secretariat is also to prepare and organise the meetings of the Steering Board and cooperate and liaise with Participants, the EU and the NATO.

The initiative to establish Hybrid CoE originates from the Joint Communication by the European Commission and the High Representative to the European Parliament and the Council “Joint framework on countering hybrid threats – a European Union response”, decided in Brussels on 6 April 2016. The initiative was supported in the Common set of proposals for the implementation of the Joint EU/NATO Declaration, endorsed by the Council of the European Union and the North Atlantic Council on 6 December 2016.

The focus of the Centre is upon thinking through how best to counter hybrid threats.

We live in an era of hybrid influencing. There are state and non-state actors that are challenging countries and institutions they see as a threat, opponent or competitor to their interests and goals. The range of methods and activities is wide: influencing information; logistical weaknesses like energy supply pipelines; economic and trade-related blackmail; undermining international institutions by rendering rules ineffective; terrorism or increasing insecurity.

Hybrid threats are methods and activities that are targeted towards vulnerabilities of the opponent. Vulnerabilities can be created by historical memory, legislation, old practices, geostrategic factors, strong polarisation of society, technological disadvantages or ideological differences. If the interests and goals of the user of hybrid methods and activity are not achieved, the situation can escalate into hybrid warfare where the role of military and violence will increase significantly.

Hybrid tactics have been under discussion, in particular, since the conflict in Ukraine and the ISIL/Da’esh campaign in Iraq. Hybrid threats have a connection to both Eastern and Southern challenges. In order to meet the challenges, it is important to develop integrated national responses, including threat analysis, self-assessment of vulnerabilities and comprehensive security approach. An integrated international response – including EU and NATO efforts – is needed to support the assessment of threats and vulnerabilities as well as coordinated action.

And on October 2, 2017, NATO released the following article which highlighted the participation of the Sec Gen of NATO in the launching of the Centre.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, together with European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Ms Federica Mogherini, are in Helsinki, Finland today (2 October) to attend the inauguration of the Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats. They are attending as guests of Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä.

“The centre will make an important contribution to our security” the Secretary General said. It will help nations and international organizations like NATO and the EU to better understand modern, complex threats and to strengthen our societies against them.”

It is also interesting to note how the Norwegian government described the Centre and its importance in Norwegian government press release regarding their joining the Centre.

Norway signed an agreement today (2017-07-14) on participation in the newly established, Finnish-led European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.

Increasingly complex challenges and constellations of actors are affecting the security landscape. The use of hybrid strategies has become steadily more widespread. A number of countries are experiencing disinformation activities, propaganda campaigns linked to elections, and the hacking of critical infrastructure. The effects of these and other hybrid strategies are compounded by our societies’ increased dependence on cyberspace. 

In order to address these challenges, taking a coherent approach and cooperating closely at the national and international level are essential. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security have therefore together decided to intensify efforts in this area, and Norway’s participation in the new European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats is part of this. Norway will cooperate with allies and close partners at the Centre, with a view to gaining a better understanding of hybrid threats, and finding better ways of dealing with them. NATO and the EU have also established cooperation in this area.

The aims of the centre are to increase our understanding of hybrid threats, of vulnerabilities that can be exploited in hybrid operations, and of how the resilience of societies can be improved.

In short, the Finnish government is enhancing regional cooperation to deal with a core challenge from a real world power player willing to use military intervention as a normal tool of political power within the European continent.