On the 4th of April 2018, the sixth “NATO-EU Roundtable” took place at Tallinn University. The conference was organised by the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Organisation in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and NATO Headquarters. The conference focused on the NATO-EU political and military cooperation, particularly in the domain of countering hybrid threats, cyber defence and strategic communication.
The welcoming remarks were presented by Mr. Hannes Hanso, Chairman of the National Defence Committee of Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament). He stressed that NATO-EU cooperation is not optional anymore, but obligatory, as both organisations add value to defence and to one another. He also noted that it is important move accordingly to the threats as the current time simply requires that. Hanso also brought up military mobility as one important challenge that organisations are currently facing. The conference started with an overview of NATO-EU relations by Eric Povel, the Programme Officer in the Public Diplomacy Division of NATO HQ, and Paavo Palk, Deputy Head of the European Commission Representation in Tallinn. Povel noted how the relationship between the two organisations has been in place for a long time. He stressed that the main challenges are diplomatic hurdles where the states that are NATO members but not EU members must be involved in as much as possible, both in confrontations and discussions. He stated that synchronisation between the two is highly important. Palk noted that the EU has to keep stressing that a stronger EU role in the world would only complement NATO. This is because there are clear threats that have moved into areas where the EU has more competences.
The topic of the first discussion was “NATO-EU Cooperation in Countering Hybrid Threats — From Past Origins to Future Prospects”, moderated by Sven Sakkov, Director of International Centre for Defence and Security. Juha Mustonen, Director of International Relations at the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, discussed how the definition of a hybrid threat is both a memorable word and a name for a change. He stressed how hybrid warfare is now used to influence decision-making with an aim to gain strategic goals. He also noted that the nature of a hybrid threat exploits the threshold of attribution and the threshold of military response by blurring the border between war and peace.
Ieva Bērzina, a Senior Researcher in the Center for Defence Research at the National Defence Academy of Latvia, led the discussion from the Russian perspective. She noted that the main focus for Latvia is the non-military dimension as the main problems related to this are Latvia’s ethnic structure, the presence of Russian influence in the internal media, the energy dependency on Russia, and cyber-attacks.
Hindrek Lootus, Member of the Board of Cyber Defence Unit of the Estonian Defence League, discussed the Defence League – a voluntary paramilitary organisation which has the responsibilities of internal defence, military defence, as well as to support the national defence in different roles. He also brought up Propastop – a blog developed to monitor, detect, and correct fake news.
Ulrik Trolle Smed, Policy Analyst from the European Political Strategy Centre focused on the EU’s response to countering hybrid threats. He talked about how the Enhanced Forward Presence that NATO is delivering in the Baltic States is the bedrock of countering hybrid affairs. He explained how hybrid affairs are at the core of NATO-EU cooperation and its future, and how there is still a lot of work to do for both the EU and NATO, both collectively and separately. He also stressed that the EU and NATO need to think and develop various approaches in regards to hybrid threats – both the wartime and peacetime approach.
The last speaker of the panel was Miko Haljas, Head of Security Policy and Transatlantic Relations Office of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To him, hybrid is the perfect embodiment and illustration of a post-modern angst that we have of the world. He explained the two measures that can be taken to counter hybrid threats – take ambiguity out of the situation and make sure there is solidarity between the allies. He emphasised that the tools needed in the hybrid sphere are further NATO-EU cooperation, parallel coordinated exercises continuation, increasing public awareness, and information sharing.
The second panel focused on NATO-EU cyber defence cooperation and was moderated by Heli Tiirmaa-Klaar, Head of Cyber Policy Coordination of the Security Policy Directorate at European External Action Service. The first speaker – Vivian Loonela, a member of Cabinet of Andrus Ansip, Vice President of the European Commission – discussed how cyber threats are very asymmetric. She explained the main areas that are important in cyber defence – the exchange of information, technological progress and effective processes, strategic autonomy, and cyber hygiene. The latter was especially emphasised as around 95% of cyber attacks could be avoided if only cyber hygiene was more in place.
The next speaker was Lt Col Franz Lantenhammer, Deputy Director / Chief of Staff from the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Estonia. He talked about the asymmetric nature of cyber attacks and the high costs associated with them. He also described the characteristics of the cyber domain – it is constantly changing, it should be accessible to everyone who needs it, and it should not have any data leakage or vulnerabilities. He explained the Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) mission which is to support members as well as the international community with their expertise in cyber defence.
CDR Wolfgang Röhrig, a Former Programme Manager of Cyber Defence in EDA, stressed the importance of the military capabilities as one of the key linking elements between NATO and the EU. He explained how they have a single set of military forces that should be able to operate either under NATO command, or under EU command. He mentioned that as the cyber domain changes rapidly, it is important to identify the capabilities in order to have common standards. As such, NATO-EU dialogue is important to allow member states to link into such a network.
The last speaker of the panel was Piret Pernik, Research Fellow at the International Centre for Defence and Security. She focused on political realities and the possible solutions of NATO and the EU in the field of cyber defence. She noted that the practical obstacle is the difference in the nature between NATO and the EU, the level of resilience, and lack of trust from the part of the member states to ask assistance from the EU. Pernik noted that the possible solutions could be information sharing, coordinated response, joint cyber defence exercises, the need for the EU to have a cyber defence pledge, and to integrate cyber aspects.
The final panel “NATO-EU Cooperation in Strategic Communication and Defence Against Information Operations” was moderated by Vlad Alex Vernygora – Project Director of NATO SPS Programme and lecturer in International Relations at Tallinn University of Technology.
The first speaker of the panel was Erkki Bahovski, Editor-in-Chief of Diplomaatia, International Centre for Defence and Security. As a former journalist, he stated that the EU must define what journalism is today. He explained that finding such definition is difficult as everyone can be a journalist in nowadays information era. Bahovski noted that when in the past traditional journalism had certain rules that had to be followed, then today the emergence of social media has caused journalism to operate in a different and unexpected manner. He also criticised the EU StratCom, stating that not only is it unable to define what journalism is, but also indecisive about the unit responsible for fighting disinformation. He concluded that the EU is reluctant to give additional resources into fighting disinformation.
Siim Kumpas, Strategic Communication Adviser of the Government Office of Estonia, talked about the threat of disinformation on the integrity of democratic elections. He stressed that because elections are an integral part of the democratic process where the availability of accurate information is crucial, disinformation campaigns can be of serious threat for the election outcomes as they can disturb information or cause hacking of voting machines. He also stated that the role of the government is complicated in regards to disinformation as, for example, legislation can backfire easily.
The next speaker Col Peeter Tali, Deputy Director of NATO StratCom Centre of Excellence stressed that journalism is a crucial and strong pillar for democracy as it is a form of freedom of speech. Tali also discussed the main aims of StratCom which were to provide real contribution to the improvement of NATO allies’ StratCom capabilities; assisting doctrine development through research analysis, education and training support; and cooperating and collaborating with data companies, academics, NGOs, etc.
The last speaker of the panel was Urve Eslas, Adjunct Fellow of the Center for European Policy Analysis. She stressed that the West is not doing enough in regards to disinformation, arguing that words often do not meet actions. She argued that the main problem with disinformation is that it is asymmetric – when spreading disinformation is cheap and fast, taking defensive or counter steps is time consuming and expensive. She also mentioned that help from civil societies and organisations is very important when countering disinformation.
The conference was organised in cooperation with Friedrich Ebert Foundation, NATO Headquarters, Ministry of Defence, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.