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"Hybrid" threats reconfirm the OSCE's comprehensive concept of security

Statement by Ambassador-at-Large Andrej Benedejčič, Special Envoy of the Foreign Minister, on "'Hybrid' threats – Resilience and awareness in a contemporary threat environment", at the 9th IWG Structured Dialogue meeting in Capitals Format, Vienna, 19 September 2019

Mr. Chairperson,

Thank you for organizing this meeting, which is both timely and topical. Thank you also for the guiding questions for this particular session.  It seems that the word "hybrid" shares the fate of another word, which was made famous more than half a century ago by the then US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when he said that "you know it when you see it".  Personally, I think that the best definition to date has been given by the former NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow who described the term as "combining military intimidation, disguised intervention, the covert supply of weapons and weapon systems, economic blackmail, diplomatic duplicity and media manipulation, with outright disinformation".  The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, on the other hand, sees it more specifically as "an action conducted by state or non-state actors, whose goal is to undermine or harm the target by influencing its decision-making at the local, regional, state or institutional level". 

Despite lack of a common definition, I think we can agree that "hybrid" is perceived as a threat, sometimes even as a real and present danger.  It is for this reason that in Slovenia we are in the process of reorganizing our nation-wide system to face this challenge.  Even though we have not experienced a full-scale "hybrid" attack, we have detected elements of malicious influence activity in the sphere of culture and media, as well as disinformation attempts, mainly in relation to the migration issue.  We have also experienced a cyber operation aimed at crypto-curreny theft, with indication of a possible link to a state actor. 

At the present, a comprehensive national system to confront "hybrid" threats is not fully in place yet in Slovenia.  This means that the National Crisis Management Centre at our Defense Ministry continues to serve as the main responder.  It is assisted in this role by the national Security and Intelligence Agency and the Military Intelligence, with detected incidents communicated to the National Security Council.  All-departmental review of vulnerabilities is on-going and awareness raising campaign across the civil service is in progress.  The EU directive on network and information security is being implemented, with critical infrastructure already identified, while a similar identification of essential services is also underway.  Draft of the new National Security Strategy, which also includes a "hybrid" dimension, is currently under discussion in the Parliament.  This July, Slovenia joined the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki as its 23rd member.  We are also in the process of joining the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn.  Both developments are already intensifying cooperation regarding "hybrid" threats between our Foreign Ministry and our Defense Ministry. 

As for disinformation, the lead department on this issue is the Government Communication Office, which also serves as the national contact point within the EU rapid reaction system on disinformation (RAS).  In addition, an interagency group of civil servants meets on a monthly basis and has recently produced a list of suggested measures to tackle disinformation.  These include improving media literacy, both of government employees and the general public, as well as continued financing of the national fact-checker and possible amendments of the relevant legislation.  Moreover, a manual is currently being prepared, on the basis of a British counter-disinformation toolkit. Government Communication Office and the Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for ensuring plurality of the Slovenian media landscape, are also engaged in dialogue with the relevant NGOs.  Further technical possibilities for tackling disinformation are being explored with the Artificial Intelligence Department of the national Jožef Stefan Research Institute. 

Finally, let me return to the issue of the term "hybrid".  In our view, a possible unifying definition could include the following understanding about this shorthand description.  It refers to an integrated and synchronized use of one or more conventional and non-conventional means.  It combines elements of deception and ambiguity, with the aim of avoiding attribution.  It is part of a wider strategic approach.  And, it targets specific strategic infrastructure, including democratic institutions and their vulnerabilities. 

Let me therefore conclude by saying that, in our view, the OSCE has great potential regarding "hybrid" threats, because of its holistic approach to security.  Given that democratic institutions are one of the main targets of "hybrid" activity, OSCE's role in supporting rule of law, democracy, human rights and the conduct of free and fair elections is in and of itself already of key importance in building resilience against such threats.  Additional role of Representative on Freedom of the Media and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in this connection should be further explored.  The OSCE has also great potential on the issue of "hybrid" in terms of confidence- and security-building measures.  This is something that was suggested already last April, at the Forum for Security Co-operation, during a Security Dialogue on the future of CSBMs in Europe.  In fact, one of the panellists called on the OSCE participating States to start thinking about "cyberization" of the Vienna Document.  In this sense "hybrid" threats represent not only a challenge, but also an opportunity.  And by that I mean a chance of allowing us to reconfirm the validity and timelessness of the OSCE concept of comprehensive, cooperative and indivisible security.  I therefore commend you, Mr. Chairperson, for organizing this discussion and look forward to its outcome.

Thank you.