Book Review: Europe’s Hybrid Threats

There is always a problem reviewing an edited volume of essays. The variability of the contributions obviates anything other than a brief eclectic view of the content. Overall this short volume picks out the key issues related to the impact of hybrid threats currently facing Europe.

Giray Sadik’s editorial introduction clarifies the intent to present a coherent view of the growing literature on ‘hybrid threats’, in relation to the European Union and the wider European ‘neighbourhood’, and produces a clear definition; sensibly separating the concept from the too restrictive ‘hybrid war’.

Two of the five substantive essays examine, from different aspects, the migration crisis affecting the EU. Another deals with the Ukrainian impact on the eastern border of the EU and another with the middle-eastern neighbourhood issues, particularly as these issues are now affecting the question of Turkey’s relationship with the EU. The security and defence issues of Brexit are covered in an essay which should remind British readers that there are other than economic issues related to Brexit!

9781443881791The Ukrainian impact essay, by Freire, is valuable to the extent to which it deals with continuing difficulties in Ukraine and the serious problems which this is causing for EU-Russia relations. However, in explaining the Ukrainian situation Freire adopts the current Western consensus view of the reasons for the conflicts. It is a mistake to ignore the counter-productive role of the US in supporting and funding some unsavoury political groups in Kiev and the clumsy, early EU trade deal initiative, which forced, as Freire agrees, a binary choice on the Ukrainian government.

Freire argues, correctly in my view, that what the EU should do is to take a strategic approach and to forecast the impact of policy initiatives, hence attempting to prevent problems arising in the contiguous area inhabited by the EU and by Russia, and the neighbouring countries, including Ukraine. Maybe the advent of Brexit will lead to a less US-biased approach to EU relations with Russia. This is not to suggest that Russia’ current foreign policy does not pose some hybrid threats, but in facing these threats we need to be intelligent (and sometimes more emollient) in how we deal with them.

The two essays on the migrant crisis adopt differing perspectives on the crisis, The first, by Tunkel, is principally concerned to delineate the policy towards the migrant crisis as a core element of the JHA (Justice and Home Affairs) policy, arguing that this internal EU policy morphs into also being, necessarily, an external security policy. The reasoning behind this proposition is that by attempting, but failing, to develop a comprehensive approach to dealing with the social economic, and political pressures arising from substantial inward migration flows, the EU has “contradicted the very norms and values that symbolise the European order and the identity of the EU, including respect for human rights and democracy”. It is important that this lacuna in EU policy is filled.

The second essay, by Cristini and Lanza, offers a sociological remedy to the apparent alienation which has been created by the substantial inward migration, linked to Islamic populations, and to the separate rise of Islamic fundamentalism, albeit involving only a minority of Muslims. The suggestion is that  the “necessary resilience to oppose (perhaps management would be a preferable term) the threats of the migrant crisis and terrorism” requires the adoption of the ‘mimetic’ approach of Rene Girard.  This would involve rejecting the mimetic contagion of identity politics. The authors suggest that this will require “a humanist vision of the human being within the respective cultures of Europe and of Islam”. Whether this ‘counsel of perfection’ can be achieved  in the current febrile political and social context within Europe is perhaps doubtful. Nonetheless, in the longer-term, such a radical philosophical approach to promoting the need for the two broadly defined communities to learn about and to learn from each other is surely part of the answer.

The essay on Turkey’s relations with the EU is a useful reminder of the long history of the idea of Turkey at some historical moment becoming a full member of the EU. As indicated in the essay, by Usuloy, the two aspects of motivation from Turkey’s perspective have been ‘westernization’ and ‘development’. At this conjunctural moment the existential context of Turkey as a middle-eastern country, as Ulusoy suggests, indicates “a new situation rather than a setback” in terms of progress. In order to move forward it requires a rethinking of the situation by both parties. I would argue, not only as Ulusoy indicates in relation to the migration impacts of the Syrian civil war, but more fundamentally. Moreover, whether or not Turkey becomes a full member of the EU in the short-to-medium term, the necessity of developing a close economic, social, and political relationship between Turkey and the EU, as a means of countering hybrid threats to the EU, is obvious.

From my viewpoint as someone who views Brexit as an unmitigated disaster from a socio-economic view is a reminder that it is also a disaster from a geo-political standpoint. This is the theme, though restricted to defence and security issues, of the essay by Coban. On the one hand, though the pro-US, pro-NATO foreign policy of the UK has established a close relationship between the EU and NATO in these areas of policy, it has inhibited the development of a stronger common EU strategy from emerging. Again, as with Turkey, there is a clear imperative for active cooperation between the UK and the EU to defend both against existing and future hybrid threats.

In examining the issues involved from the perspective of the generation of hybrid threats the approach of all of the essays taken together throws important dimensions of the issues into a relief which can inform policy-makers. The very existence of threats suggests the necessity for preparation and for advanced strategic analysis. The essays should provide an agenda both for academic research and for policy-makers to request advice as to how best to meet the multi-dimensioned hybrid threats, not only to Europe’s security, but also to a deeper analysis of its internal and external social, economic, and political development.

Finally, Sadik’s conclusion is that the hybrid threats are likely to remain and, indeed, to increase; requiring international cooperation within and beyond the EU, and with research “moving beyond post-hoc analysis and start building avenues for strategic learning”. I could not agree more.

Dr Michael Lloyd

Senior Research Fellow, Global Policy Institute


Review originally posted on the Global Policy Institute website, 24.05.2017


To find out more about Europe’s Hybrid Threats and to purchase a copy at a discounted rate of £29.99 (valid until the end of June), click here.

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