Countering the Kremlim’s hybrid war: will EU walk the talk?

European Parliament wants stronger EU foreign, security and defence policy. This week, the European Parliament adopted an important resolution. It may sound wonky at first, but bear with us, it gets interesting very soon. The resolution is about the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy.

Stronger EU diplomatic response needed

Reviewing key EU foreign policy choices, the resolution lists major challenges that threaten the EU’s security: proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, conflicts in the Eastern and Southern neighbourhood, proxy wars, and hybrid and information warfare.

The European Parliament deplores Russia’s multiple violations of international law and its hybrid warfare (a combination of conventional, irregular and cyber warfare), hinting that, only once this aggression has ceased and agreements already committed to have been complied with, can doors for deeper EU-Russia ties be opened.

All these challenges should be met with a strong EU diplomatic response and swifter action in the face of developing crises, says the European Parliament. To this end, it also advocates speeding up Council decision-making on common foreign and security policy, by switching from unanimity to qualified majority voting.

Defending Democracy

While we are certainly not supporting a European ‘militarisation frenzy‘, here are the parts that are relevant to transatlantically Defending Democracy against the Kremlin’s hybrid war against the West (we will put the key lines in Italic):

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Strategic environment

Underlines that the rules-based international order and the values defended by Western democracies, and the peace, prosperity and freedoms which this post-World War II order guarantees and which correspond to the foundations on which the European Union is built, are facing an unprecedented number of conventional and hybrid challenges, as societal, economic, technological and geopolitical trends point to the growing vulnerability of the world’s population to shocks and stresses – such as interstate conflicts, natural disasters, extreme weather events, water crises, state collapse and cyber-attacks – that need a united and coordinated response; recalls that security is a key concern for European citizens; states that the Union’s external action is to be guided by the values and principles enshrined in Article 21 TEU;

Stresses that no single Member State can alone tackle any of the complex security challenges we are facing today, and in order for the EU to be able to respond to this internal and external challenges it needs to step up its efforts towards concrete strong cooperation in the context of CFSP/CSDP, be an effective global player, which implies speaking with one voice and acting together, and focus its resources on strategic priorities; takes the view that it is necessary to tackle the root causes of instability, which are poverty and raising inequality, bad governance, state collapse and climate change;

Stresses that to the east, Russia’s war against Ukraine is still ongoing, the Minsk agreements – without which there can be no solution to the conflict – have not been implemented and the illegal annexation and militarisation of Crimea, and the imposition of anti-access and area denial systems, continue; is deeply concerned that Russia’s excessive exercises and military activities without international observation, hybrid tactics, including cyber-terrorism, fake news and disinformation campaigns, economic and energy blackmail are destabilising the Eastern Partnership countries and the Western Balkans, as well as are being targeted at Western democracies and increasing tensions within them; is concerned that the security environment surrounding the EU will remain highly volatile for years to come; reiterates the strategic importance of the Western Balkans for the security and stability of the EU and the need to focus and strengthen the EU’s political engagement towards the region, including by strengthening the mandate of our Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions; is firmly convinced that in order to overcome the EU’s vulnerability there is a need for more integration as well as coordination;

Believes that, under the current EU enlargement policy, a credible accession process grounded on extensive and fair conditionality remains an important tool for promoting security by enhancing the resilience of countries in the south-eastern Europe;

Welcomes the renewed US commitment to European security; stresses that the EU stands firmly committed to the transatlantic community of common values and interests; is at the same time convinced that an accountable and self-confident CFSP is needed and that, in this context, the EU must become a self-assured foreign-policy actor;

Institutional Framework

Believes strongly that, whenever necessary, the EU should take decisive action to determine its future, as internal and external security are becoming increasingly intertwined, and as this has a direct impact on all European citizens; warns that the lack of a common approach could lead to uncoordinated and fragmented action, allows multiple duplications and inefficiency and, as a result, would make the Union and its Member States vulnerable; is therefore of the opinion that the EU should be able to act effectively along the entire spectrum of internal-external security instruments, up to the level of Article 42(7) TEU; stresses that the framing of a common Union defence policy referred to in Article 42(2) TEU has the objective of establishing a common defence and endowing the Union with strategic autonomy to enable it to promote peace and security in Europe and in the world; emphasises the practical and financial benefits of further integrating European defence capabilities;

Underlines that the EU needs to apply the entire tool-box of available policy instruments – from soft to hard power and from short-term measures to long-term policies in the area of classical foreign policy, encompassing not only bilateral and multilateral efforts in diplomacy, development cooperation, civilian and economic instruments, emergency support, crisis prevention and post-conflict strategies, but also peacekeeping and peace-enforcing, also in line with the civilian and military means described in Article 43(1) TEU – in order to cope with the rising challenges; believes that the CSDP should be built on the principle that European security cannot be guaranteed by relying merely on military assets; considers that EU foreign actions should include an assessment of their impact on EU´s people-centred strategic interests of enhancing human security and human rights, strengthening international law and promoting sustainable peace; underlines the need for the EEAS to step up its capacities to better anticipate crises and counter security challenges at the point of their inception; stresses the need for a more coherent and better coordinated interaction between military, civilian, development and humanitarian actors;

Permanent Structured Cooperation

Considers that a common cyber defence policy should be one of the first building blocks of the European Defence Union; encourages the VP/HR to develop proposals for establishing, within the framework of PESCO, an EU cyber defence unit;

CSDP missions and operations

Urges the EEAS and the Council to step up their ongoing efforts to improve cyber security, in particular for CSDP missions, inter alia by taking measures at EU and Member State levels to mitigate threats to the CSDP, for instance by building up resilience through education, training and exercises, and by streamlining the EU cyber defence education and training landscape;

Believes that the EU and its Member States face an unprecedented threat in the form of state-sponsored cyber attacks as well as cyber crime and terrorism; believes that the nature of cyber attacks makes them a threat that needs an EU-level response; encourages the Member States to provide mutual assistance in the event of a cyber attack against any one of them;

EU-NATO cooperation

Believes that, in the current context, the strategic partnership between the EU and NATO is fundamental to addressing the security challenges facing the Union and its neighbourhood; considers that the EU-NATO Joint Declaration and the subsequent implementation actions have the potential to move cooperation and complementarity to a higher level and to mark a new and substantive phase of the strategic partnership; welcomes the common set of 42 proposals, of which as many as 10 seek to increase resilience against hybrid threats, aimed at strengthening both cooperation and coordination between the two organisations; notes that this work will be taken forward in the spirit of full openness and transparency, in full respect of the decision-making autonomy and procedures of both organisations, and will be based on the principles of inclusiveness and reciprocity without prejudice to the specific character of the security and defence policy of any Member State; praises the cooperation being undertaken in combating cyber threats, developing strategic communications and coordinating maritime activities and joint exercises, and points to the excellent cooperation and complementarity of the EU’s Operation Sophia and NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian; welcomes as well the publication in June 2017 of the two organisations’ first joint implementation report and the progress made in implementing the common set of proposals, and calls for continued progress; stresses the EU’s full commitment to the transatlantic community of common values and interests;

Notes that a stronger EU and a stronger NATO are mutually reinforcing; considers that Member States need to increase their efforts to act both within an EDU and as autonomous regional security providers, and in a complementary role within NATO, where appropriate; notes that, as set out in EUGS, the EU must contribute to: (a) responding to external conflicts and crises; (b) building the capabilities of partners; and (c) protecting the Union and its citizens; welcomes the set of initiatives that are underway to implement EUGS in the field of security and defence, to develop stronger relations between the EU and NATO, and to enable EU Member States to engage in defence research and develop defence capabilities together; is of the opinion that the security and protection of Europe will increasingly depend on both organisations acting within their remits; calls for efforts to improve cooperation in countering hybrid threats, including through the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, and in the exchange of information and intelligence;

Stresses the importance of cooperation and integration in cyber security, not only between Member States, key partners and NATO, but also between different actors within society;

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Defending Democracy

While the above seems to indicate the European Parliament’s growing awareness of the scale and urgency of the threat of the Kremlin’s hybrid war, let’s first see what happens next. Even now that the resolution is adopted, it will have a long procedural way to go. Key question to keep in mind along the way: despite all the big words, which part of the EU’s security and defence budget will go to digital (e.g. countering disinformation and cyber attacks) as apposed to more conventional defence spending? Stay tuned…