Terrorism, green men, cyber attacks and hybrid warfare – how will they change the security situation?
Teija Tiilikainen, Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Teija Tiilikainen, Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

When the Cold War passed into history a quarter of a century ago, Europeans were lulled into believing that military threats had disappeared. However, the opposite happened: The Yugoslavia wars of dissolution brought conflict close to the heart of Europe, and Transnistria became a frozen conflict, similar to Georgia and the Eastern Caucasus. By the time Crimea was occupied, followed by the Ukrainian war, it had become clear that Europe would not be spared the horrors of conflict.

At the same time, alongside traditional threats, a number of new operators and operational methods destabilised the security situation.

"The most dramatic change compared to previous decades lies in the expansion of the range of threats. Simultaneously, the traditional threat scenario, conflict, has again become possible. While terrorism is not a new threat, terrorists have become more sophisticated and are capable of putting modern technology to efficient use," says Teija Tiilikainen, Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

"In addition to the above, there are threats with a broad impact, such as pandemics, natural catastrophes and those targeting information systems."

Dangerous deceases will spread within the global community more rapidly than before, despite the best efforts of medical researchers. Cyber threats can spread across the information network at light speed, with anti-malware software always one step behind. Natural catastrophes have a global reach, increasingly involving people across countries, as news of the havoc wreaked reaches people in real time during our social media age.

New means and channels

From a handful of hot-headed bomb-throwers representing political extremism, terrorism has evolved into precisely organised expert organisations that follow a coherent plan and have significant resources and special competencies.

"Today, communication, recruitment, information distribution, networking, infiltration and the organisational management of modern terrorism occur in information networks at global level. Terrorists previously tended to operate at local level and had the opportunities and resources needed to carry out operations that were spectacular but clearly more limited than is possible for modern terrorists," Tiilikainen says.

Hybrid warfare combines traditional threat scenarios with new ones and makes effective use of modern technology. In Finland, we woke up to this when Russian troops infiltrated Crimea and Ukraine and Russia launched a massive propaganda campaign in Finland.

"Propaganda, the use of economic influence, varying degrees of pressure exerted by states and the use of paramilitary troops have always been a feature of conflicts. Smear campaigns, disinformation and smoke screens are traditional tactics."

Modern methods and the avenues used by them to reach into people’s everyday lives are new aspects of hybrid warfare. Below-the-line comment chains in online tabloids demonstrate how fast and efficient influence can be wielded through propaganda led from abroad. Such disinformation may be spread by people known as trolls, who post huge volumes of distorted or biased information in online discussions.

"The term "post-truth age" recently appeared in discussions, referring to effective attempts to influence public knowledge and people’s understanding of the world. States with substantial resources are seeking to influence entire societies," Tiilikainen says.

East and West – in equal measure

Although we Finns may be myopic, only seeing the threats emanating from Russia, all of the major powers are equally active in their attempts to have greater influence.

"While Ukraine is a textbook example of the way in which governments now act, both East and West attempt to shape opinion – by disseminating information – in equal measure. China is a good example of a country that keeps a low profile with regard to its activities of this type. For decades, China has been building a network of Confucius Institutes around the world, including one at the University of Helsinki. They teach Chinese values and try to increase understanding of Chinese actions," Tiilikainen comments.

None of the great powers has set its sights on Finland, nor are any particular threats, such as terrorism, directed at the country. Tiilikainen says that Finland’s security can be strengthened by realism among its political leaders, combined with a credible national defence built on a solid foundation.

"On the other hand, our planet is constantly shrinking, which means that we cannot rule out threat scenarios of any kind. We are part of the West and the European Union, and this alone may place us under indirect threats of various kinds," Tiilikainen says.