Hybrid Threats Research Group (HTRG)

Dr Mikael Weissmann, Dr Niklas Nilsson

Steering group:
Dr Mikael Weissmann, Dr Niklas Nilsson, Mr Björn Palmertz, Dr Johan Engvall

The international security environment has, in recent years, evolved into a volatile and increasingly grey area of war and peace. Security challenges arising from hybrid warfare and asymmetric threats are today high on security agendas across the globe. However, despite the attention, and a growing body of studies on specific issues, there is an imminent need for research bringing attention to how these challenges can be addressed. The Hybrid Threats Research Group (HTRG) supports the development of a much needed, comprehensive approach to hybrid threats and hybrid warfare.

The HTRG aims to facilitate a creative environment uniting the knowledge of practitioners and scholars at the Swedish Defence University and beyond. The group provides a framework for research activities, workshops and seminars, and contribute to research training and professional development for students in both civilian and military programmes. Also, the group seeks to develop a network of leading experts and institutions interested in the area.

Members of the group give lectures on topics related to hybrid threats and hybrid warfare for civil as well as military audiences. We also contribute to teaching at the Swedish Defence University, targeting both officer cadets and the Higher Command and Staff Program.

The group has organised three conferences on Hybrid Threats and Warfare:
Hybrid Threats and Asymmetric Warfare: What To Do?” in Stockholm, Sweden (October 2017)
“Hybrid Warfare” in Warsaw, Poland (November 2019, together with the Polish War Study University)
“Cases of Russian Warfare and Influence” in Stockholm, Sweden (November 2022)

Currently, we are working mainly on two themes:

Theme 1: Security and Asymmetric Conflict in the Grey Zone
This area has been one of the focus of the group since 2017. The background is the observation that despite the attention, and a growing body of studies on specific issues, there is an imminent need for research bringing attention to how these challenges can be addressed in order to develop a comprehensive approach towards identifying, analysing and countering Hybrid Threats and Hybrid Warfare (HT&HW). The group supports the development of such an approach by bringing together practitioners and scholarly perspectives on HT&HW, by covering the threats themselves as well as the tools and means to counter them together with a number of real-world case studies.

By uniting the knowledge of both practitioners and scholars, we identify the existing tools for countering HT&HW, as well as experiences from a wide set of empirical contexts. Mirroring this, this project is a cross-sector collaboration between the Department of Military Studies and the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies (CATS) at the Swedish Defence University. The former represents an academic environment where research and teaching are intertwined in a range of subjects including War Studies, Military Technology and Military History. The latter is a national centre within the Swedish Defence University tasked with developing and disseminating knowledge about asymmetric threats within the context of societal security and resilience.

We have here organised two conferences and produced an edited volume titled “Hybrid Warfare: Security and Asymmetric Conflict in International Relations” with I.B. Tauris (2021). This volume focuses on the challenge posed by HT&HW to Western democracies, and their ability to address it. Western democracies are not only the type of states most frequently targeted by hybrid measures but also the most vulnerable. We have also published a conference report, an analytical framework for understanding HT&HW as well as on the Georgia case study.

Theme 2: Russian Warfare and Influence
This theme is to be initiated in 2021. The theme focus on states in the intersection between the East and West. We will here take a holistic approach to how Russian hybrid warfare in the broad sense takes place in its immediate area, i.e. against post-Soviet states and other states at the intersection of East and West. The idea is to look at these fringe states, at what is actually happening on the ground and what this means in practice and theoretically/conceptually. In the general discussion, references to what Russia is actually doing in all these states/territories are often anecdotal or focus only on a warfare dimension or a country.

The project addresses small states at the intersection of East and West to examine not only what Russia is doing to them, but also how they are dealing with it. This aims to give a more nuanced picture of different contexts and approaches, vulnerabilities, etc., which is significant as much of what is written focuses only on Russia and therefore gives an overly schematic picture of what Russia does.
Within this theme, we aim to develop international collaboration with institutions and experts in the region in focus as well as with leading international environments working on Russian Warfare and Influence. We will pursue a range of activities, including guest visits, workshops, lectures, practitioner-academic interactions, and publications. Emphasis will also be put on ensuring a direct link to, and engagement in, the teaching of relevant military and civilian courses.

We are currently working on an edited volume on Russian Hybrid Warfare and Influence: Small States in the intersection between the East and West (Bloomsbury Academic, editors: Niklas Nilsson & Mikael Weissmann). The anthology takes a holistic approach to how Russia carries out hybrid warfare, defined in a broad sense, against countries in its immediate surroundings, i.e. against states at the intersection between the East and West.

The volume addresses the vulnerabilities of these countries to Russian influence and hybrid means, as well as their responses to this security predicament. The intention is to provide a more nuanced understanding of vulnerabilities to hybrid warfare and approaches to countering it in different contexts. This is an important contribution since much of what is written on this topic focuses only on Russia and treats countries subjected to Russian hybrid measures as passive victims, thus providing an overly schematic picture of Russian behaviour. The book instead treats these states as actors in their own right, assessing their potential to address and counter the specific security problems arising from their geographic and political position.

Land Warfare | Urban Warfare | Hybrid Threats & Warfare | Intelligence Analysis | Russian Warfare & Influence | China | East Asia