Risk Management

NATO Stratcom: A risk model to counter hybrid threats

A pipeline in winter

  • Background: In light of the growing number of hybrid threats being faced by democratic states and institutions, StratCom, was investigating the nature of hybrid threats and their potential impact on states, the public, infrastructure, society and antagonists. Stratcom turned to 4C Strategies to develop a tool to categorise and evaluate such threats on a case by case basis.

  • Challenge: Understanding and tracking the impact of actions taken to reduce the risk of hybrid threats, including potential responses and subsequent outcomes.

  • Solution: A tailored risk management model, providing a structured way to define threats, stakeholders, narratives, and identify barriers, actions, reactions, and outcomes.

  • Benefits: With a more structured approach to mapping potential and real hybrid threats, barriers can be put in place to minimise impact as well as consequences at an early stage. A better understanding of the effects of hybrid threat responses also leads to more risk informed decision-making.

  • Customer: NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, StratCom, is a multi-nationally constituted and NATO-accredited international military organisation, which contributes to improved strategic communications capabilities within the Alliance and Allied nations.

Hybrid threats are on the increase

Hybrid threats include military and non-military activities and are designed to destabilise adversaries, with the intent of influencing and/or manipulating the political decision-making process.

NATO describes hybrid threats as the ‘type of threat that combines conventional, irregular and asymmetric activities in time and space’. They can range from spreading fake news and propaganda, to cyber-attacks, terrorism and military ‘shows of strength’. Although they have long been practiced by states and antagonists, the exponential growth in digitalisation has increased the need to safeguard individuals and societies from hybrid threats.

Identifying and validating the effectiveness of hybrid threat responses

As a NATO-accredited international military organisation – although not a part of the NATO Command Structure – StratCom wanted to increase its support for democratic states with a more conclusive way of identifying and validating the effectiveness of responses to hybrid threats, prior to taking any action. To do this, they enlisted 4C Strategies, who have extensive experience within risk management, countering disinformation, and minimising the risk of cyber-attacks, as well as planning and carrying out exercises within the military and non-military sectors.

“We combined our skill sets to create a risk management model that could be used to not only map hybrid risks and possible outcomes, but also incorporate the concept of barriers as risk mitigation measures for StratCom” says Jonatan Jürisoo, Partner and Senior Consultant at 4C Strategies. “The model was then stress-tested with typical hybrid risk scenarios.”

The hybrid threat model can be summarised as:

  • Identify potential hybrid threat

  • Identify target audiences

  • Develop strategic narrative

  • Establish the desired behaviour change of audience

  • Identify barriers to desired result

  • Assess the risks to the target audience from suggested barriers

With the model, StratCom was given a common, structured methodology for mapping both potential and real threats. This not only promotes a better understanding of hybrid threat actions among states but also supports a better dialogue between stakeholders when combined actions are the best course of action.

“We’re always looking to sharpen the tools available to counter hybrid threats. The work with 4C Strategies has developed our understanding of how to assess vulnerabilities and risks related to public opinion and political decision-making.”
Ben Heap, Senior Expert at the NATO StratCom COE about the model

A risk is never a single incident, but rather a series of events that occur, with multiple outcomes. With this model and Exonaut as a supporting tool, you can easily plan for differing events and outcomes,” continues Jürisoo. “Establishing risk mitigating barriers in a structured way to lessen both the probability and consequences of hybrid threats is something that is at the core of our company mission: to build a safer society.”

NATO partnership

4C’s partnership with NATO dates back to 2015, when the company began supporting the Allied Command Transformation (ACT) as software supplier for the Electronic Military Training and Exercise Programme (eMTEP). The Exonaut eMTEP solution was developed to enable NATO users to dynamically plan and schedule exercises and training activities in real-time through an online common interface. 4C consultants continue to work closely with NATO’s core user group to implement the eMTEP exercise management solution as needs evolve.

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