Security and Defence

Policy briefs

Realising the EU Hybrid Toolbox: opportunities and pitfalls

14 Dec 2022 - 15:31

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 the debate on defining hybrid threats, see Dick Zandee, Sico van der Meer and Adája Stoetman, Countering hybrid threats: steps for improving EU-NATO cooperation, Clingendael Report, October 2021, p. 2-5; Georgios Giannopoulos, Hanna Smith and Marianthi Theocharidou, The landscape of Hybrid Threats: A conceptual model, Publications Office of the European Union, February 2021. 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.United States Senate, Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security, Committee on Foreign Relations, 115th Congress, 2018, p. 116-118. 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.The methodology used for this policy brief consists of a combination of literature scanning and a limited number of interviews. The author would like to thank the interviewees for their valuable input that was given under the application of the Chatham House Rule.

Download the full policy brief on the EU Hybrid Toolbox.