Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Addressing Hybrid Threats

Gregory F. Treverton, Andrew Thvedt, Alicia R. Chen, Kathy Lee, and Madeline McCue

Title: Addressing Hybrid Threats

Authors: Gregory F. Treverton, Andrew Thvedt, Alicia R. Chen, Kathy Lee, and Madeline McCue

© Swedish Defence University and the authors, 2018

No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission. Swedish material law is applied to this book.

Printed by: Arkitektkopia AB, Bromma 2018

ISBN 978-91-86137-73-1

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Please note that most of the text in this book by US based authors has been written in accordance to American English spelling and grammar rules with exceptions being where organizations use British English and direct quotes are given.


Hybrid threats have become the 21st security challenge for Western countries. They reflect significant change in the nature of international security. Change tends to increase feelings of insecurity and, historically, frictions in society, all the more so because hybrid threats are complex and ambiguous. Some people look to the past for answers, while others have forgotten the past. There are those who argue more vigorously for adapting to change, and there are those who try to defend the status quo. In some cases facts turn into views, opinions and perspectives – or worse, vice versa. This means that the picture of the security environment is not simply black or white. It is complex, multi-layered and multi-dimensional. Thus, analysis of what has changed, how it is changed and what does it mean for democratic states is at the core of understanding the nature of the current security environment in Europe.

Six major changes are driving hybrid threats to the fore. The first is the changing nature of world order. The post-Cold War era has come to an end. Relational power – that is the power to change others’ beliefs, attitudes, preferences, opinions, expectations, emotions and/ or predispositions to act – is today more important than material power. Relations in international politics are being renegotiated since great and middle powers, in particular, seek to increase their status and extract benefits.

Second, the world sees a new type of network-based action, the dark side of globalization. The internal and external dimensions of security are interconnected more strongly than they have been in recent decades This favors weaker state and non-state actors, for the networks amplify the influencing attempts and give the weaker actors tools of power. The role of the nation-state is called into question, as are alliances with norms and rules that limit responses to asymmetric antagonistic actions.

Third, fast developing technologies, a literal revolution, give rise to new domains like cyber space where national and international rules of the game have yet to be created. Space is no longer a frontier, but an operating realm, which also presents a challenge to traditional security thinking. In general, new technology provides new tools for influencing.

In particular, the changing domain of information space, and the media landscape, is the fourth major change affecting today’s security environment. Digitalization and social media as new opinion builders have changed the speed with which information travels, the way information is produced and the way people are connected across national borders. This change has brought forward the need to understand different political and strategic cultures because information produced in one country can be interpreted in other, very different ways elsewhere. Likewise, the gatekeepers of information are changing. The Internet has become a new battlefield where rules are still being formulated. Fake news, content confusion and opinion-based “facts” agitate the public domain. Trust, one of the fundamental pillars of functioning societies, is eroding.

The fifth change is the changing nature of conflict and war. In today’s wars, soldiers should not die and civilian casualties should be avoided. This has led to the debate about the blurred lines between war and peace. This situation presents challenges for traditional military forces as well as for traditional internal law enforcement. It also drive hybrid threats, which seek to stay below open conflict. They are contests between societies, not armies.

Finally, there is generational change. We have left behind the Cold War and even the post-Cold War era. The Cold War had two very distinct features, which underpinned a clear world order: superpower relations – and the ideological struggle between communism and capitalism – dominated, while the fear of nuclear war guided many security policy decisions. During the post-Cold War era, globalization, emphasizing ideas of integration and interdependence, became the fashionable way of describing the world. Today’s new generation is a digital generation informed by two contradictory trends – cosmopolitanism and neo-nationalism. Historical memory also changes along with generations, which leaves space for the political manipulation of historical events.

This report, Addressing Hybrid Threats, put together by Gregory F. Treverton and his team gives us a rich understanding of what we mean when we talk about hybrid threats – what kind of threats we are facing and what tools are being used against the democratic states. We would like to thank especially Dr. Treverton for agreeing to take on this task and provide his in-depth knowledge and experience, which will be valuable in the future work of the CATS and Hybrid CoE.

Lars Nicander


The Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies


Matti Saarelainen


The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats – Hybrid CoE



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