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‘Hybrid war’ may be complex, but it does not operate in a legal vacuum

The Committee on Legal Affairs noted with concern that nowadays states are more and more often confronted with the phenomenon of “hybrid war”, which poses a new type of threat based on a combination of military and non-military means such as cyber attacks, mass disinformation campaigns, including ‘fake news’ - in particular, via social media - disruption of communications and other networks and many others. And, to date, there is no universally agreed definition of ‘hybrid war’ and there is no ‘law of hybrid war’.

Unanimously adopting a draft resolution based on a report prepared by Boris Cilevičs (Latvia, SOC), the committee stressed that despite the complexity of “hybrid war”, hybrid adversaries “do not operate in a legal vacuum” and that relevant domestic and international law norms, including international human rights law, “apply to their actions”.

The committee called on member states to refrain from the use of “hybrid war” means in international relations and fully respect the provisions of international law, in accordance with their object and purpose, by not abusively exploiting perceived loopholes or ambiguities. Governments should step up international co-operation in order to identify hybrid war adversaries and all types of hybrid war threats, as well as to establish an applicable legal framework.

In a draft recommendation also unanimously adopted today, the parliamentarians said the Committee of Ministers should conduct a study on hybrid war threats, with a special focus on non-military means, in order to identify legal gaps and develop appropriate legal standards, including considering a new Council of Europe convention on this topic. The executive body of the ‘47’ should examine state practice in countering hybrid war threats, with a view to identifying legal standards and good practice and ensuring compliance of this practice with the safeguards provided for by the European Convention on Human Rights.