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PACE warns of the new threat of ‘hybrid war’, but reaffirms that existing laws continue to apply

PACE has warned of the new threat of “hybrid war” – in which adversaries combine traditional military action with other hostile acts in the information sphere, such as cyberattacks and disinformation – but pointed out that existing laws and legal norms continue to apply.

In a resolution based on a report by Boriss Cilevics (Latvia, SOC), the Assembly described how hybrid warfare deployed cyberattacks, mass disinformation including so-called “fake news” and interference in election processes, as well as the disruption of communications networks.

This kind of warfare could “destabilise and undermine entire societies and cause numerous casualties”, the Assembly warned.

Those waging it were ready to “exploit lacunas in the law and legal complexity, operate across legal boundaries and in under-regulated spaces, exploit legal thresholds and commit substantial violations of the law” while also generating “confusion and ambiguity to mask their actions”.

Provided no military action is involved, this new threat should be treated in line with existing domestic criminal law, as well as international norms, such as those on combating cybercrime, terrorism, hate speech or money laundering, the parliamentarians said.

States should refrain from resorting to hybrid war, step up co-operation to identify hybrid war adversaries and threats, and share good practice in reacting to it, PACE said, as well as raising public awareness of this threat.

The Assembly welcomed the EU and NATO’s efforts to co-operate on this issue, and called on Council of Europe member States in these organisations to “share their best practices” on countering hybrid war.