NATO is hoping to complete the strategy in time for a July summit of alliance leaders in Warsaw. In a new effort at cooperation, officials have been working with the European Union, which is putting together its own plans. As part of the effort to develop the strategy, when alliance defense ministers gather in Belgium on Wednesday, they will review possible hybrid scenarios the alliance could face, Censor.NET reports citing The Wall Street Journal.
"Hybrid warfare is a combination of many different kinds of activities," said Czech Army Gen. Petr Pavel, the head of NATO's military committee. "The primary purpose is to create an influence that is strong enough, but below the threshold of [collective defense provision] Article 5, so they achieve the goals without provoking the enemy or opponent to initiate a defense response." Officials said hybrid threats could take many forms including support for dissident political movements, propaganda broadcasts aimed at ethnic minorities, or moves to curtail energy supplies.
Alliance officials believe any sort of overt invasion of Poland or the Baltic states by Russia is highly unlikely, but using more subtle means to weaken an allied government is a real threat.
A new hybrid warfare playbook would attempt to lay out the kind of assistance the alliance would provide should a member state come under outside pressure from Russia or another country. Such support could include sending cyber experts to help respond to computer hacking attacks, communication specialists to counter propaganda or even the deployment of NATO's rapid reaction spearhead force.
NATO's most powerful deterrent is likely to be the use of its new rapid reaction force. The force isn't intended to engage in combat, but would show the alliance's support for a threatened member and hopefully persuade Moscow to lower the pressure.
Adam Thomson, the U.K. ambassador to NATO, said since hybrid threats are designed to avoid provoking a response or slowing that response, showing the ability to make swift decisions is key.
NATO has taken steps to give Gen. Breedlove the authority to prepare the force to be deployed. But those reinforcements cannot move until the alliance's political leaders give permission for the force to move. Even after determining a hybrid attack is occurring, deciding to move the spearhead force wouldn't be easy, officials said. In many situations, allies could worry such a move would risk the alliance being seen as the aggressor.
While the Eastern European allies most worried about hybrid warfare are focused on the threat from Moscow, NATO officials said the new strategy would be applicable both to aggressive nations and to groups like Islamic State, which have demonstrated the ability to combine propaganda, terror attacks and conventional military force to take territory and intimidate populations. Russian officials say that NATO is too quick to see the hand of Moscow in legitimate political uprisings. They also argue NATO risks destabilizing Europe if it lowers the threshold of the alliance's collective defense to include responding to so-called hybrid threats.
On Friday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met with defense ministers from EU members to discuss the continuing work between the two organizations on hybrid threats. Mr. Stoltenberg said he sees "increased interest for cooperation between the European Union and NATO." The EU is working on developing a hotline with NATO to exchange information in the wake of a threat, an EU official said. "We are not talking about joint efforts," an EU official said in an email. "The objective is to establish close links that enable the two organizations to work together to prevent or respond to hybrid threats swiftly." Some degree of communication is critical because the EU has many diplomatic and economic tools, like providing assistance if energy supplies are cut or imposing sanctions, that NATO lacks, officials said.