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Hybrid threats, an increasingly powerful weapon

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  • CIDOB presents its latest report in which it breaks down this type of attack and offers solutions to avoid or counteract them

  • Hybrid tactics aren’t new, but the internet has magnified their power

The current war Ukraine combines the elements of classic armed conflicts with the so-called hybrid threatswhich are the set of tactics used by states, private entities and criminal groups to destabilize a country through disinformationthe instrumentalization of migrations or attacks against critical infrastructure.

These are increasingly powerful instruments, since “everything is susceptible to becoming a weapon to weaken the enemy”, explained this Tuesday the researcher of the Barcelona Center for International Affairs (CIDOB) Moussa Bourebka during the presentation of the latest report of this think tank, ‘Hybrid threats, vulnerable order’.

But these tactics are not new. “From the time of Napoleon, all wars combine both elements. There is nothing new about the new forms of conflict, but the fact that they are nothing new does not mean that it is irrelevant to talk about it, but perhaps it indicates that we do not have the analytical frameworks to understand what is happening”, he added. Bourebka.

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Currently, the differential element is Internet, “a fundamental front for destabilization”, explained Carme Colomina, another of the authors. It is a space in which “exponentially amplified sociocultural divisions existing, vulnerabilities and it uses certain groups supposedly inclined to trust certain narratives that end up contributing, sometimes inadvertently, to spread these manipulations“.

The conflict in the Slavic country is being a evidence base for this type of attack, which is surrounded by great uncertainty because it is difficult to trace its origin and many times “they do not have a clear objective” because “often they only seek victory, as in traditional wars”, stressed Pol Bargués, co-author of the document. “Ukraine is the conflict in which all these realities converge: the classic war with the great trends of global digitization, such as the technoauthoritarianism of Russia and China”, highlighted Colomina.

Russia’s failure with the migration weapon

An example of a hybrid threat is blackmail with the gas that Russia is imposing on the countries that are helping Ukraine or have condemned the Russian invasion. Instead, Moscow has failed in its possible strategy of using the migration of Ukrainians as a weapon. “The migratory exodus from Ukraine did not trigger a crisis in the EU,” said Blanca Garcés. For this researcher, the measured and supportive management of the Twenty-seven during this conflict has prevented it from becoming a drama, as has happened in other migratory crises. The key is her, she has added, in “not overreacting, reversing the externalization policies of immigration, addressing the causes and not giving up the foundations of the EU”.

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The objective of this report, according to the director of CIDOB, Pol Morillas, is to address a fundamental issue that has a great impact on the “international order” and “the challenge it poses for international security”. And it also provides some solutions, like regulate the activity of large technology companies (such as the recent approval of the EU digital services law) and get the strategic autonomy to try to minimize this type of attack. Although, Morillas has warned, many of these solutions “will always lag behind the progress of threats.”

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