The first episode of ‘Radio Resilience. Conversations about our ability to adapt to change‘ is about societal resilience to hybrid threats. For this exchange, held on 7 October 2022, we were joined by:

  • Aleksi Aho, European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats
  • Molly McKew, writer and lecturer on Russian influence and information warfare
  • Tom Morin-Robinson, NATO
  • Teemu Tammikko, European Commission
  • Alice Stollmeyer, Defend Democracy (moderator)

Alice:

Let’s dive into the in the topic for today which is resilience. Now, the reason why we came up with the idea of organising this ‘Radio Resilience’ series is that many people are concerned – and some feeling overwhelmed – by everything that seems to be happening at once. So first we had the pandemic, then Russia’s war on Ukraine. Then it turns out that Russia is also cutting off our energy and grain supplies, at least here in Europe. And meanwhile, online disinformation about all these and the climate crisis are getting worse. So what’s happening here? Are these multiple crises, or are we now in what some people call a ‘permacrisis’? Or is this just a series of neglected problems that can and should be tackled together? Or even another option is this… Are we now in a world of what security experts call hybrid threats? And if so, what exactly are these hybrid threats?

Aleksi:

As you mentioned, there are a number of crises in the world that actually have the potential to combine and reinforce each other. I would say not all of these ongoing crises can be regarded as hybrid threats – for example climate change – but I think they’re all closely linked to hybrid threats. Because hybrid threat actors usually leverage and instrumentalise these existing fault lines and societal debates and tensions. They are very proactive in this way, in finding and creating and using these opportunities. But first and foremost, I have to say that we are facing this kind of strategic competition nowadays, which is the starting point in the reasons behind this hybrid threat activity. So the strategic competition has emerged between the authoritarian and democratic states, and we are therefore talking about this man-made activity and events caused by directly by conscious decisions that aim to harm and undermine democratic societies. So it is systemic rivalry and authoritarian states are aiming to marginalise the Western liberal world, politically, culturally and economically. So yeah, not all of these constitute a hybrid threat but they’re closely linked.

Tom:

I really agree with Aleksi and a lot of that. And I like the idea you presented of ‘permacrisis’. It also reminds me quite a bit of a term that Adam Tooze, who’s an economic historian at Columbia, often uses which is ‘polycrisis’. And it’s kind of an elegant idea. It’s basically just that the whole of the crises that we’re facing today are worse than the sum of each part. It’s a bit grim, but I think it does describe the world we’re living in. Where we’re facing in part crises that are created by our own activities, our own lifestyles, things like the pandemic or climate change, and then separately, facing these things we call hybrid threats. And as Aleksi sort of pointed out, there is a bit of a distinction there. And part of that distinction is in considering the actors involved. I think hybrid threats require a certain amount of intentionality on the part of an adversarial entity.

I can speak to the definition that NATO has of hybrid threats. And that’s a type of threat that combines conventional, irregular and asymmetric activities in time and space. You can hear a bit of a bureaucratic definition there, something quite open ended. But a big part of the takeaway for these threats is a blurring of the lines of conflict. And traditional military planning has often revolved around distinctions between times of peace, times of crisis, and times of conflict. And now the tools that are sort of brought to bear on these hybrid threats blur those phases. You see cyber attacks that can hit nations below a threshold of a military attack, attribution becomes complicated. You see of course effects that hostile information and disinformation can have through social media. And that can pour out into real spheres, actors can basically drum up real life protests. And often these activities can be really destabilising without a soldier actually going and crossing a border. So a lot of that is aimed at complicating decision-making, complicating responses, blocking reactions. And of course, that’s something we saw used to great effect by the Russian Federation in 2014, when they annexed Crimea. And I think the point Aleksi has raised as well about strategic competition, allows these methods. We’re seeing these methods spread more widely by more actors across more fields.

Teemu:

I think Aleksi and Tom already mentioned very much on the conceptual point of view what we are facing. I just wanted to underline that the interconnectedness of today’s world and the interdependencies of supply chains and all that, are creating these new vulnerabilities. A new kind of a grey zones, unregulated territory, which is kind of fruitful and revealing some spaces for malicious influencing, also to the adversaries that can use these hybrid tactics towards us. And that is why we are now facing this kind of conflicts and crises that have several types of impacts, also to us. It’s quite reflective that the President of the [European] Commission Von der Leyen just a year ago in her State of the Union speech was talking about the heightened competitiveness of today’s world and where there are some actors that stop at nothing to reach their goals. And this year, just a couple of weeks ago, she was already talking about hybrid warfare when referring to Russian activities on the energy sector. So the situation has changed quite dramatically in one year. But I think the way these kind of interdependencies are having this domino effect or cascading effect is really something that we haven’t experienced before. That the war in Ukraine has had also very strong impact on people’s life and rise of living costs, the energy prices, for the moment. That is exactly what Russia is aiming for with this type of activities, but maybe we can talk later more about that.

Molly:

Alice, if I could maybe just add one thing that I think supplements what our other speakers have said. What you were saying in your introductory question. I think this idea of: “Why, why now, why is this different? Why does it feel so different to us?” One thing that I always like to at least challenge people with, even if they don’t agree, is the idea that obviously there’s no common cause to all of the different pressures that you mentioned. There’s no common cause to climate change and Putin and Xi and everything else. But there is a common deficiency on our side. And I think that’s really a deficiency – or there has been, since if you’re looking at a start point of this more recent timeline around 2005, 2006, there’s been a real deficiency in leadership and certainty from democracies. And when our strategic uncertainty has been sort of stemming from a moral uncertainty of our cause, and what we’re doing, this in turn sort of becomes a both considerable and sort of twofold advantage for our adversaries. Which is: we don’t believe in ourselves and they make everyone else question us more as well.

So I think it’s this uncertainty that has sort of accelerated this crisis across the past 15 years of failing to learn from what’s right in front of us. You know, we didn’t learn from Georgia in 2008. We didn’t learn from Crimea 2014. And now we’re in this cycle again, where it seems like things are going a little better, but boy, did that take a long time to get there. And sort of a failure to confront the more immediate conflict-driven crises, and these longer term things at the same time. And then we get really bad at sequencing out all of these different things and prioritising immediate versus mid-term versus long-term interests. There’s been this cycle the past two decades of convincing ourselves that it is wise to question ourselves more than to take action. And I think we just need to admit that that has been costing more lives and widening security gaps across a whole variety of different domains. And as democracies, we need to step up and provide clear leadership for our people and for our alliances and for everybody else.

Alice:

Thanks so much, Molly. That’s a great bridge actually to my next question. What can democracies do to tackle these hybrid threats? And let’s break up this question in parts. What can the governments do, what can the private sector do, and what can we as citizens and civil society do? And I’ll let you decide who wants to come in first.

Molly:

Maybe as the non governmental speaker here, I will throw some throw some things out that they can pick apart.

On the government level – and certainly looking at this as the American in the group here – I think governments really need to better organise themselves and the resources they have. And when I speak about the West, I don’t include the Baltic states in the people who haven’t gotten this right. I think there’s a lot of examples there that we can draw from. Same with Finland and Sweden, and Ukraine of course. But I think governments need to better organise their own resources to identify hybrid threats against themselves and against their alliances and to counter those threats. Like how are we organising our resources to do those things. We all have the same challenges. It’s a blend of domestic and foreign authorities, which makes it messy for us to both collect intelligence, analyse that intelligence and decide what to do about it. In some aspects, I think we’ve gotten better, particularly if you’re looking strictly at sort of cyber. I think there’s been a lot of unsorting of the mess. But in general, it’s sort of a sticky area. But I think that sort of clear leadership from government in a variety of other areas, but in the same kind of hybrid mindset is important to provide analysis and good information to the public. And by that I also mean corporations, institutions, individuals, you know, societies.

And I think when the various governments across the West have done this, there has been a good response from private sector actors in particular about threats from Russia, threats from China, recruitment threats, infiltration threats, however you want to define those things. But I think there really needs to be this clear guidance, in some cases regulation, to the private sector, on the fact that there is right and wrong in the new economic landscape that we’re looking at. I don’t think any of us ever want to have another conversation about how a German company trained the Russian forces that were annexing Crimea again. Like we just need to be less dumb about how we’re letting our own expertise and resources and intellectual property be exploited by our adversaries, and there’s no way around it.

At the citizens level – again we have these great examples in the Baltic states and in the Nordic states, and then Ukraine in particular – but I think there needs to be this kind of layer of how we knit ourselves together with common beliefs and sort of cross-share tactics, often in places where our governments are failing to do so, for those of us who do not live in the Baltic states. But I think there’s a lot of lessons learned that are being shared amongst society that can be really strong when governments have been slow to act. So I’ll just leave it at that and let others comment.

Teemu:

Just from the EU point of view, I would say that there’s kind of four pillars of action that we have realised that we need to do in facing this. And the first one is the situational awareness that of course, you had to be aware of what’s happening and you had to be able to connect the dots. Who is behind actions and what kind of action, is there some bigger strategy behind all the smaller actions that are in the end, designed to be below the thresholds. So it’s quite hard to detect but we have put a lot of effort on better situational awareness.

The second point is the resilience, the topic of today, but we need to be better prepared to face this kind of influencing. And we need to be stronger and more responsive and better to also function when being influenced. And at the same time, we think that is kind of a ‘deterrence by denial’ that we believe that by being stronger, we kind of lower the expected gains of this type of malicious activities, so therefore it doesn’t pay off really to do this kind of influencing. So resilience is the second pillar.

And then the third one would be cooperation with like-minded countries and like-minded partners, organisations, because together we are stronger. And as Aleksi was already saying in his introductory remarks, this is about democracies versus autocracies. We have to be aware that the amount of democratic states is actually getting lower, and there’s less and less people living in democracies. So we really need to tackle this challenge together and put our efforts in a rules-based world order and to having this kind of a responsible state behaviour approach in whatever we do.

And then the fourth and last pillar is to develop responses to malicious activities. We need to be better able to respond, show where are the red lines and what are the consequences of malicious actions. This is something that we definitely need to develop as well.

Tom:

I’d be I’d be quite happy to jump in after that, if I may. I’m hearing a lot of overlap between what Molly and what Teemu have already said. I can add the NATO perspective to how we think about these threats and how we think about responding to them. You know, we have a three-fold strategy here, and that’s to prepare, to deter and to defend.

A big part of what goes into the preparation pillar, if you will, is fulfilling that need for intelligence that Molly was describing, and that situational awareness that Teemu was alluding to. So you know, NATO as a as an alliance of 30 members has a great role to play in coordinating and compiling intelligence from our different members, sharing that, creating a joint picture of situational awareness so that we’re all looking at the same picture of a threat or of an event. And within our intelligence division, we have a branch specifically dedicated to hybrid analysis. And so the whole point here is to help increase that situational awareness and also support our decision-makers, to allow them to continue to do their work and not to get stuck when some of these events occur.

Preparedness is also about sharing expertise and this sort of factors into the deterrence picture as well. That ‘deterrence by denial’ aspect, where, you know, NATO acts as a hub for expertise on civil preparedness, on readiness for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear issues. I mean, often we think of, of hybrid, you know, we think of disinformation we think of other things, but you know, I mean, elements of Skripal, for example, a couple of years ago in the UK, really demonstrate how many different tools can really come out and be used for hybrid purposes. Other things like cyber defence, energy security, counterterrorism, all this work, helps us be more prepared in the event of these kinds of activities.

And simply by being prepared, we deter better and we make a credible case for an adversary who might be thinking about undertaking one of these things, or some of these activities, to think twice. And that’s really that ‘deter by denial’ aspect. Some have sort of made the case that the relatively muted response of the Russian Federation to Finland and Sweden placing their applications to join NATO was partly because they were looking at two countries that had extremely resilient information environments. And maybe if they were looking at a different country that was more divided or where they felt like they could have a greater impact in the information space, they might have tried more to disrupt those applications and those processes.

And of course, there needs to be finally a readiness to defend. You know, in 2016, NATO laid out clearly in policy that hybrid activities could reach the threshold of an Article Five attack and that’s something that could engage a collective response on the part of the alliance. That also contributes to deterrence. But the readiness to react and to have proportional and effective response options is also really important. And you can think about the interaction with intelligence on that front too. The ways certain public disclosure of intelligence has been used this year around the current conflict is an example of trying new things to react and to address hybrid or not so hybrid methods on the part of adversaries.

Aleksi:

Yeah, a lot of good things and points have been said already. I’d like to maybe summarise so far and present some of the challenges we have in democracies when we’re talking about how to tackle the hybrid threats.

I think first is that it’s very difficult to argue with the threat when we are dealing with the potential. So hybrid threat activity is usually very creeping in nature. So that they can basically take decades that it can be seen as a potential, not a direct threat. A good example is [Russian gas pipelines] Nord Stream. The potential threats were known, but they were only potential and now we can we can see the results and it’s difficult to convince the public that there might be security [risks] developing.

And also, how do we respond without actually undermining the democratic state system as this is one of the goals of the hybrid productivity: to make the systems [so that they] harm our own system.

And then also how to deal with multiple states and non-state actors with their own specificities, as all actors need their own responses. There is no one size fit all solutions for these hybrid threats. We need to also understand the adversaries and how they work.

To answer your question what can governments do, one important topic is the whole-of-governance approach. The government should facilitate these inter-agency and inter-ministerial approaches where the potential hybrid threats are handled. Also, the sharing and assessment of the information should take place in a timely way between the government structures. I think here, the intelligence community could maybe situate itself as an enabler of this kind of inter-agency cooperation, which could then strengthen the resilience. And the response mechanisms would be kind of fast and firm. And effectiveness of implementation of decisions is really important in this sense.

In the private sector, the public-private partnership is also a really essential element. This has not caught that much attention in recent years, but it has developed but still more is needed. Because, for example, when it comes to detection and attribution, the private sector plays here an essential role also in evidence collection, which then helps the implementation of decisions.

And also societal unity in the civic space, in civil society is important to increase. Increasing our resilience and participation of citizens in the democratic decision-making process is also important.

Alice:

Thanks so much, everyone. This is very insightful. It seems that there remains a lot to be improved, which is fine because you know, the world always changes and we always make progress, and that’s a good thing.

We already heard some countries mentioned, like the Baltics and the Nordics. So let’s discuss a bit more about that. Because many governments and experts agree that the best way to tackle hybrid threats is by a so-called whole-of-society response. And especially the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and the Nordic countries (like Finland, Norway and Sweden), have experience with this approach. How come? What’s so special about these countries and what do they have in common?

Molly:

I’ll just maybe throw it in a quarter here on the Baltic states and some of the similarities to some of the Nordic stuff. And I fully acknowledge here that my Nordic colleagues in the group will probably have more and different things to say. You know, there’s one thing that I think is important and overlooked when we’re talking about sort of contemporary threat assessments and what we’re doing about them, like: why is there this advantage? And that’s the importance of historical mindset.

Particularly in the Baltic states, the fundamental baseline of all of their defence concepts is: at the end of the day, you will be alone fighting against someone trying to occupy you, and you need to be ready for it. And this comes from historical experience, not only of Russia, not only of World War Two and Nazi occupation, but a much longer term history of Swedish occupation and Teutonic Knights and whatever else. But these are cultures and societies that had to exist through long periods of occupation by people trying to redefine who they were with language and culture and knowing how to survive that. If you do the indoctrination tour, as I call it, in Lithuania – where their best guides take you through the museum of occupation and give you a crash course on their recent history – it always ends with: “We have three Independence Days that we celebrate because of different periods of history where we have had to liberate ourselves and we don’t want to have to have a fourth one.”

And that mindset drives these different levels of preparation, all the way down to the super subnational, the idea that defence of your territory starts at the lowest possible level of national defence: of territorial defence. And that all feeds up to a national defence concept that is driven by a concept of resistance above all. And then that feeds into how they work in the [NATO] alliance and what they’re contributing and what skills they bring. And I think that that sort of common sense with the Nordic states of land and territorial defence is sort of the lowest level – and a critical part – of the national defence concept, is really where you see them sharing a lot of commonality.

And even before Sweden and Finland were applying to NATO there was already a lot of cooperation, a lot of shared sort of military operational or military exercises and lessons learned. And that’s why they’re communicating better with Ukraine in the current context. They really share this mindset of you need to have a fundamentally decentralised concept of national defence in case everything goes totally to crap.

So I think that on that level, I’ll leave that and let others talk. But I think that across all domains is where their defence concept starts. This idea that you need to be decentralised, aware, prepared, first and foremost, because national defence is about territorial defence. Which is something that the United States does not really think about ever, for example. So it’s just a totally different mindset that comes from their histories that I think is really fascinating, but we don’t really talk about it enough.

Alice:

Well thanks Molly, for talking about it with us today. Maybe our speakers from the Nordic countries would like to share what’s so special about their countries.

Aleksi:

As Molly already mentioned the historical context, at least in the Finnish system, is a really important factor which has made the system as it is now. So of course, the geography plays a role here and also the history living with the long border with Russia, and all the geopolitics it has brought with it. And also the sense of vulnerability in that sense, and other traditions in the national defence. So the Finnish model at least has been shaped by the past experiences and geography and traditions. It is said that it is comprehensive.

As I said before, there is no one size fits all solution. Not all countries can just copy that and say: “Okay, we are now resilient.” But in general, I think this ‘whole-of-society’ [approach] has been kind of a magic word during the last years. We have studied the topic and have introduced a method that will allow the whole-of-society to be modelled, and created a better understanding of the concept of whole-of-society in the context of hybrid threats. But frankly speaking, I think the whole-of-society word it is kind of a policy jargon here. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is a nice word and it is needed.

However, I think there are still some misperceptions around this topic. Especially the word coordination often comes up, which leads us to the question: who can coordinate the whole-of-society approach, or is it even possible? And my personal opinion here is that it’s not possible. But it doesn’t mean that we cannot build resilience comprehensively and in a whole-of-society manner. We can do that and we should do that, because the hybrid threat actors have a comprehensive approach when it comes to hybrid threats. Which means that we too should be comprehensive when we respond to these threats. Traditionally, resilience has been built in a kind of sectoral way. But on its own, the sectoral approach does not guarantee optimal resilience. Because there’s always cascading effects as well as the force-multiplier effects, which mean that the impact is greater than the sum of the activity. So developing a resilience against hybrid threats requires not only looking at resilience in each area, but how to build it systematically, considering also dependencies and interdependencies between the different parts of society.

I think one common denominator with all these countries I can come up with, is that they are to some extent quite small, homogeneous countries, which makes it of course maybe easier to kind of apply these kind of comprehensive approach to resilience building responding to hybrid threats. Maybe Teemu, as another Finnish speaker, can add something.

Teemu:

Thank you Aleksi for the ball. I will not perhaps promote the Finnish approach too much. I think what all these countries mentioned have in common, is that they are relatively small and relatively less bureaucratic. So the people in those countries, in addition to their background and history, they know each other and they know and they talk to each other. Even the Fins talk to each other 😉

But when now looking at the EU perspective, for example, I think the huge bureaucracy that we have, has been an obstacle in many ways compared to smaller countries. Because these policies have been developed in different sectors, in silos, as we say. And the problem has been that they may not have very advanced structure, for example, regarding resilience, but they are just dealing with the resilience of that one particular sector or domain as we call them. And therefore, if there has been some kind of influence in from malicious actors, they might notice that well guess when it comes to their field, yes they notice that now there’s something strange but they don’t necessarily connect the bigger strategy behind this kind of influencing. They don’t connect the dots and that has been the problem with not communicating enough, or not having this kind of added layer of coordination or the whole-of-society approach and all that.

And that is exactly what in the EU has been the main response after we woke up to this kind of a hybrid influencing, which was basically after the Crimean occupation in 2014. We have built these kinds of mechanisms to communicate with each of the different Directorates General in the [European] Commission side for example, to communicate with the [European] External Action Service, communicate with the [European] Council better, communicate with member states better. So this is what we have been doing and I dare to argue against what Aleksi said that coordination is possible. Of course it has its limits, but it is possible and I think it has brought us to better, at least be aware of what is happening there.

When it comes to the private sector and civilian society approach, I think the realisation that for example critical infrastructure protection and all that, the private sector plays a very big role in that. And therefore we need to include also the private sector. It’s not just about doing legislation, but we need to engage them to understand that what are the protocols to do when there’s a crisis, and who does what and where and how. We can exercise this in beforehand.

And when it comes to civil society: I think the disinformation aspect – or ‘foreign information manipulation and interference’ as we like to call it nowadays – civil society, the ordinary citizens, they are of course targets of this kind of [dis]information. And they, of course, the idea is to really to have an impact to create dis-accord, to undermine the establishment in the EU countries, and also try to divide the member states between each other. It’s all up to the people themselves to have proper media literacy, to understand that they’ve been influenced. This is what we try to promote. And there we need also the civil society actors, the NGOs and also the schools, education system, academia involved. That’s what we do also here, that we try to really use all the comprehensive methods and measures that we have at our hand to really tackle this very comprehensive phenomenon. Therefore, this whole-of-society approach is very necessary.

Alice:

Thanks very much Teemu. As Defend Democracy we’re trying to do our best as a part of civil society. So now that we have looked into the Baltics and the Nordics, perhaps Tom you could tell us a bit more about something that NATO has been doing for quite a while, but it has increased its focus on it. Because to increase this resilience of countries, NATO has so-called ‘baseline requirements’. Now, what are they?

Tom:

Yeah, thank you, Alice. I was I was quite happy to let our Nordic colleagues field questions about their part of the world. But I might just add: the Swedish case is an interesting one, as well. In addition to some of the mindset aspects that Molly spoke to, I was meeting with a colleague from the Swedish Psychological Defence Agency who repeated to me a few times that a core part of Swedish doctrine is to never give up. So there’s an aspect there, but also institutionalising certain responsibilities in government, like having an agency like that, which I think is unusual in other countries.

But yeah, the baselines speak to the wider idea of resilience as something that enables society to resist and recover from major shocks. And resilience is something that NATO has thought about for a very long time. It’s certainly a buzzword today. But it does go right back to the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty. It’s referred to not by name, but by concept in the third article, which really points to the requirements that allies will separately and jointly develop their capacity to resist armed attack.

Now, it is something that’s grown in importance. As I was thinking about our call here today, I did some very rudimentary textual analysis of [NATO’s] 2010 strategic concept and [NATO’s] 2022 strategic concept. In the 2010 document, the word resilience comes up just once. It’s a meaty paragraph and it already speaks about communications, transit routes, trade, and energy dependency. But the 2022 strategic concept refers to resilience 13 times and then it refers to it across a whole range of issues. I think it speaks to how much this concept has been a useful lens of analysis across all kinds of issues.

Obviously, NATO thinks of this as, again, a way of preparing to effectively defend. There’s a few things that we can think about what’s needed on that front. And that brings us to a few baselines that are necessary to be able to do that well. We were speaking also about the role of the private sector earlier, and I think there’s a few numbers that give us a sense of the scale of that. If you’re going to undertake continental defence or defence of the European area, you’re going to need to do a few things you’re going to need to be able to move forces effectively within Europe. And you’re going to need to also reinforce Europe from North America. And then when you start thinking about some of the concrete things you need to do in a case like that, you realise that there’s only a few select ports in Europe where you can really, you know, bring a large amount of military equipment in. You realise certain facts, like 90% of military transport for a large operation is provided by civilian assets, things that are chartered or requisitioned from the commercial sector. When you start thinking about communications, and you realise that 70% of satellite communications that are used even for defence purposes, are provided by the commercial sector. And perhaps topical following what happened with the Nord Stream pipelines, you realise that 90% of our transatlantic internet traffic is carried by undersea fiber optic cables that are maintained by civilian infrastructure. So, there’s a lot to think about in terms of society at large when it comes to defence, it’s really not just a military question. So a lot of work has been done on this, particularly since 2016 at the Warsaw Summit, when allies agreed to a resilience commitment.

I’ll stop beating around the bush and get to the baselines. There are seven of them. First is assured continuity of government and critical government social services. This is the simple idea that if you’re going to be in a conflict or a state of defence, our militaries in democracies are still beholden to political leadership. And so the ability to make decisions needs to continue. I mean, you might think of a well known example of you know, the main elements of the US government going up into Air Force One or something during a crisis. A second point, very topical today, is resilient energy supplies: backup plans for power grids, internally but also across borders. Then you have to also be able to deal effectively with uncontrolled movements of people. You know, you see in Ukraine, the massive amounts of internally displaced people, but also movements of people across borders. That’s something that countries need to be ready to deal with, ready to coordinate. They also need to deconflict those movements with any movements of troops, or equipment that might be also taking advantage of civilian infrastructure, or simply large numbers of people moving in one or another direction. Food and water resources that goes without saying, as well the ability to manage mass casualties and disruptive health crises. What we saw during the pandemic in 2020, was evocative of how some of our health systems do not have that stretch capacity to deal with large numbers of people falling sick. And evidently, it’s difficult to think about but in the state of a conflict or war, not only will large numbers of people might well be falling sick, but you’ll have wounded in large numbers. And the ability to scale up, how you can deal with large numbers of injured people is going to be really, really important. Then you have resilient civil communications systems, you know, more and more we’re reliant on our cyber networks, we reliant on the internet, we’re reliant on things like 5G. We also need to be assured that these systems are robust and that they’re secure. So these elements are crucial as well. And then finally, transport systems. Again, if you’re going to undertake a military operation, then you need to ensure that the basic infrastructure of your roads and bridges are up to snuff. You know, can your bridge take the weight of a large battle tank for example? I mean, these are questions that must be resolved far before a conflict breaks out. So I think you see across those baselines, how many elements need to be taken into account. And also that deep interconnectedness between our government, our security apparatuses, and the private sector and the civilian infrastructure we have to work with.

Alice:

Thank you, Tom. That was a whole series of baseline requirements that the NATO and its allies, member states are working on. It seems like a lot of work and we already heard that it’s important that all the sectors work together: the government, the private sector, and the civic sector. And there’s a lot to be still improved. But it’s good to know that our governments are working on this and that we are working to increase cooperation and to become more resilient. Especially in times like this, it’s good to know that we’re not alone and that there’s people who are working on this. So that’s reassuring, even though of course, it’s not perfect and probably never finished.

Maybe we can address one more question or topic. Is there perhaps something that you would like to bring up any of the speakers? Personally, what I would be interested in… Perhaps this is what we could talk about, to wrap up today. So all of these different challenges, be it energy or cyber attacks or the war on Ukraine, or the pandemic… Kind of on top of that, is the information war. Like, the Kremlin is even lying about these threats and the things that Russia is doing to Ukraine and its interference with the West. There will be a separate episode of Radio Resilience on information war, but perhaps we can have a look at how these challenges and the lies about the challenges are interlinked. Perhaps Molly would like to start?

Molly:

Yeah, sure. You know, it’s actually been such a joy for once to be on the freakin’ internet in the context of the Ukraine war. Because the Ukrainians are so vocal and all of forces they’ve mobilised around their online messaging are so vocal and forceful and pushing back the Russian soft narrative crap that everyone has become super accustomed to just thinking, “oh, yeah, maybe those guys have a point.” I mean, the popularity of trashing the idea of hybrid threats, of poking fun at whatever you want to call the Gerasimov concept, “It doesn’t exist, it’s not real.” Like, this was a normal baseline before the Ukraine war. And I think a lot of that has sort of diminished as we focused on the fact that Russia is a real significant threat in a whole variety of different domains, including invading neighbours and trying to destroy their countries, cultures and societies. So I think it’s these moments of clarity that are really good, and focus information spaces in concrete ways.

But I think that we’re in this really strange space right now – those of us probably here in this [conversation] and focused on these concepts – where the information war we’re winning is the one against ourselves. For once. Which is: our governments are focused, there is support going to Ukraine, policymakers feel pressure from their populations and society to support Ukraine, to send weapons and other supplies, to support their economic recovery, to do all of these other things. So for once there is this clarity in our echo chamber pushing everything, dragging everything in sort of a Ukrainian-led way in the right direction.

But that is a very narrow definition of success in the information war. Right? There’s been so much talk about we’re winning the information war. We’re really not. I mean, if you look at the rest of the world we’re not winning the information war. The Russian narratives are still dominant in a lot of Africa, in the Arab world, in Latin America. You see these very strange things right now with Lavrov and all of their various embassy accounts like leaning into these crazy leftist sounding neo-imperialist, neo-colonial trends in ways that the rest of us are sort of like, “What are you talking about?” But these are resonating with different audiences around the world. And you hear it at the UN. You hear it in other places where everybody is sort of looking and saying: we have our own problems, can we talk about something other than this Ukraine – Russia thing? And Russia has done a good job of trying to make the Suez Crisis, the energy crisis, all of the, you know, subsidiary crises stemming out of their war in Ukraine, Ukraine’s fault.

And the fact that that messaging is resonating with so much of the world, I think really speaks to a division of information domain. How we define success or not success in the information domain, and how we really need to be more aggressive overall about our concept of narrative, of long term narrative building structures. And how that feeds into diplomacy, outreach, all the other things where I think we’re just maybe a little bit behind. When we’re talking about a struggle between democracies and autocratic systems, it really needs to be a holistic concept. And we’re not there yet.

Alice:

Thanks Molly. Yeah, I think there’s indeed a lot of work to do. Perhaps one of the other speakers would like to comment on this topic?

Teemu:

May I continue from here? I fully agree with what Molly said. I think there is this battle of narratives between democracies and autocracies, indeed going on. And beyond not doing well in this regard, I think in a democratic Western world we kind of forgot to actually be active on this narrative, both internally but also externally. And that’s why we are now starting this race a little bit behind. But yeah, I think this is something where we need to really be more active. We need to be promoting the values that we have, democratic values, most of all. This is something that for example, in the EU, the European Democracy Action Plan started to focus on. It’s focusing on free and fair elections, protection of media freedoms, for example, and raising costs for disinformation. And as the President of the [European] Commission just a couple of weeks ago said, there will be this ‘Defence of Democracies’ package coming next year. And that will have some new legal initiatives on on political lobbying, for example, and something more into that direction. It’s not yet exactly clear what kind of content it will have, but most likely legal initiatives on that, and also a review of European Democracy Action Plan. So we are doing something on that but of course, as I said, we need to do much more. We really need to be defending democracy in a strong way.

Tom:

I wouldn’t mind continuing from there. I think one thing we’ve seen in terms of the unity of our response and the weak effects that Russian information activities have had – at least in the West – over this conflict, is partly because this is not a terribly hybrid war. I mean, Russia has really stepped out of the shadows on this. And it’s difficult to really to craft a different narrative when the evidence is so blatant. And of course, the reaction we’ve seen is one of a really overplayed hand on the part of the Kremlin. You see a more unified West, you see a reinforced NATO deterrence posture, and you’re seeing a continuity and an increasing scale of support to Ukraine. Of course, by virtue of their own will and the capabilities that they have and that they’re being supported with, they’ve been recently quite successful.

Now of course, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have lots of work to do. As both Molly and Teemu have alluded to, and both of you mentioned the importance of being proactive with our own narrative and certainly when that comes to disinformation, this really is a crucial element, right? I mean, if you if you start trying to swat down every single piece of misinformation you’re bound to fail. And it’s part of the strategy. There’s a by now pretty classic report by the RAND Corporation where the metaphor used is a ‘firehose of falsehoods’. So you’re playing right into that strategy if you’re going swatting down individual pieces of misinformation.

But I think on the topic of resilience, I might just close by saying we’ve got work to do when it comes to societal resilience. And we spoke a little bit to the role of the individual, but not only across disinformation, but across all kinds of areas of resilience individual citizens, often are our first responders. In times of crisis, you see individual people out there saving lives before our own institutions can get there. And not only that, even the success of our own governments or public policies are really quite dependent on our public seeing them as efficacious and legitimate. The pandemic is a clear example of that. And if we don’t work towards creating trust in our public institutions and in our programs, if we don’t treat that trust as a finite resource, and our credibility is something that can be lost and must be treasured, then we’re bound to fail. So I think there’s a lot of work to be done. And I think we need to engage widely. We need to be proactive with our story. But we also need to seek out ways to help tell that story, and I think Alice, the platform you’ve developed here and the one we’re on today is a great way to do that.

Alice:

Thanks so much, Tom. And thank you to the other speakers. Aleksi, would you like to give a final thought on this topic or something else to wrap up?

Aleksi:

Maybe not about the disinfo topic. But in general I would say that only by understanding that the aim of the hybrid activity is to undermine democracy by eroding trust, actual progress can be made. Because what distinguishes traditional resilience from resilience against hybrid threats, is that while the traditional resilience emphasises technical capabilities and recovery etcetera, the resilience against hybrid threats also safeguards the democratic processes. And the safeguarding of democratic processes has become evermore important. And, as Teemu pointed out at the beginning, is that the past two decades have witnessed a slow erosion of some of the key foundations of democracies, which then can slowly lead to autocratisation effects. So we really need to pay attention to this. At the end of the day, resilience against hybrid threats is maintaining democracy.

Alice:

Thank you, that sounds like a great way to conclude this exchange. That we as citizens have a role to play, that we can be active citizens, that we can work together, and that it’s really, really important that as part of our defence against hybrid threats we also defend our democracies. That’s what our organisation Defend Democracy is all about.

So let me thank you so much for your time. Thank you to all our listeners for joining us. I’ll make sure that next time we’ll have no technical hiccups. The next episode will likely be in about two weeks. You can check out our website, we will publish the recording of today’s Space and also a transcript. So you can always read back what we discussed if you need a bit of inspiration and hope and moral support, and you know, when there’s like a moment when you feel you can use some extra resilience.


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