This Global Security Pulse examines trends within hybrid conflicts, understood as "conflicts between states, largely below the legal level of armed conflict, with integrated use of civilian and military means and actors, with the aim of achieving certain strategic objectives."[1] The trends are assessed through a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the intentions, capabilities and activities of state actors, as well as of the norms and rules relevant to hybrid conflict. Its principal conclusion is that the international security environment is increasingly subject to hybrid threats, often in a subtle and pervasive way that impedes fast detection, accountability and retaliation. Hybrid threats and hybrid conflict are typified by their complexity, ambiguity, multidimensional nature and gradual impact. These characteristics pose a challenge to effective response measures and therefore to the international order.

States have ample reason to be concerned about hybrid threats and hybrid conflict. Although at their core hybrid tactics are tactics old as time (military posturing, spreading propaganda and the use of economic measures are well established military strategies), the availability of a diverse and sophisticated set of (technological) tools enhances the impact, reach and congruence of hybrid threats. Paired with the reluctance of states to engage in conventional war due to nuclear, economic and political deterrence, this means that hybrid conflict constitutes an increasingly desirable strategy for states to achieve their political goals.[2]

This report consists of two sections. The first section analyzes a set of indicators used to measure hybrid conflict over a time period of ten years. A spectrum of hybrid activities is measured and categorized for the relevant domains – military, political, economic, information and cyber – to show developments over that period. The second section reflects upon the challenges hybrid threats present to the international order. This is done by analyzing the adherence to norms and rules in this evolving field. The overall conclusions are given in a final chapter.

International Order

Introduction: Neither war, nor peace

By nature, hybrid strategies seek to evade the thresholds and constructs set out by international law, thus posing a significant challenge to the international order. This section will explore how hybrid conflict interacts with, and exacerbates the flaws of, the international order.

The concepts that shape the current international order are not completely compatible with today’s reality of hybrid conflict. The shift from the interstate armed conflicts to hybrid conflict means that traditional legal rules (or at least the interpretation and application thereof) may be out of sync with reality. This disparity does not only cause dissonance in the processes of determining whether there is indeed a conflict at all, but also in the processes of undertaking collective (counter) action, resolving disputes and seeking appropriate (legal) remedies. As such, hybrid conflict – despite not being an entirely new phenomenon – has seriously impacted, and holds the potential to further affect, the conceptualization of conflicts as well as the development of legal norms.

The post 1945 paradigms of the right to wage war (jus ad bellum) and the abundance of codified and non-codified norms on the conduct of parties engaging in armed conflict (jus in bello), are not always directly applicable and do not yield the necessary remedies to hybrid conflict. Taking the above into consideration, it is crucial to remind ourselves of the importance of law vis á vis hybrid conflict. Law is an instrument of power and can be utilized as a weapon by law abiding and non-law-abiding actors alike.

States that engage in hybrid conflict use law as a tool to systemically exploit existing fault lines and gaps in the international legal order for strategic ends.[90] In this section we explore four norms that explore the ways in which hybrid activities in the international arena are insufficiently checked by international law (in its current interpretation and application) (Table 2). The first norm shows that states engaging in military conflict through proxy actors actively evade attribution under law. The subsequent three norms, which pertain to the political, economic and information domains respectively, highlight that non-kinetic hybrid tactics, such as political meddling, economic coercion and disinformation campaigns, are not comprehensively accounted for in international law. As hybrid conflict continues to blur lines between war and peace (on which international regulatory frameworks depend), our understanding of what actions are unacceptable becomes vague. This perversion creates dysfunctional responses and confusion among decision-makers and ordinary taxpayers alike.

Table 2
Hybrid conflict trend table on international order
Hybrid conflict trend table on international order

Norm of state accountability for their non-state actor partners

States increasingly use proxy actors to indirectly influence conflicts. This evolving trend has important implications for international norms on the use of force and state accountability for their non-state actor partners. There is a wide realm of situations in which state and non-state actors can, jointly or separately, bear responsibility for the commission of, or contribution to harmful outcomes, abuses and/or violations of (international) legal norms. The International Law Commission Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (2001) (hereinafter the ILC Articles), provides a legal framework for understanding state culpability for the actions of their dependent proxy organizations. Proxy actors lack the international legal personality necessary for accountability and are not legitimate players in the international arena.[91] It is, however, important to note that the ILC Articles stem from customary international law. It took nearly 45 years and more than thirty reports by the International Law Commission to come to an agreement despite the general (and arguably vague) nature of the ILC Articles.[92]

As per the legal nature of UN GA Resolutions, the ILC Articles are not legally binding.[93] According to Article 10 of the United Nations Charter, the United Nations General Assembly makes recommendations on matters within the nature of the UN and the scope of the UN Charter. This said, these recommendations contribute to the progressive development and codification of international law and some level of global custom may also be reflected through the voting patterns of the members of the United Nations within the General Assembly.

Article 8 of the ILC Articles states that “The conduct of a person or group of persons shall be considered an act of a State under international law if the person or group of persons is in fact acting on the instructions of, or under the direction or control of, that State in carrying out the conduct.”[94] From this rule follows the wider norm of state accountability for the wrongful actions of the proxies they control. This logic is linked to the traditional notion of states holding a monopoly on the legitimate use of force and thus, being accountable for their military actions (e.g. when violating international humanitarian law).[95]

The high threshold for establishing states’ ‘strict control’, ‘effective control’, or ‘overall control’ over proxy actors means that state responsibility has rarely been established.[96] The rarity of the international legal system holding states accountable for their non-state subordinates speaks to the erosion of this norm in practice. In cyberspace, the complexity of attributing attacks to perpetrators offers a further promise of anonymity to states that support or coordinate the attacks of non-state actors.[97]

Certainly, states will continue to operate through proxies and reap the political and legal advantages of detachment from culpability. However, though this trend has consequences for deterrence, a shift toward the normalization of proxy conflicts does not imply state impunity. Rather, offending states are subject to the target states’ right to self-defense, and thus proxy actors may trigger military and diplomatic repercussions outside the realm of international legal responsibility.[98] The inability of international law to effectively account for non-state actors thus leads to a situation whereby states must address and solve conflict though alternate, sometimes escalatory means. This dynamic leads to further instability in the international order.

As states continue to embrace hybridity and ambiguity in conflict as opposed to traditional warfare, the norm of state accountability is being eroded. The increasing activity of proxy actors in various conflicts demonstrates that Article 8 of the ILC Articles (and the norm of state responsibility that it reflects) is being continually violated by some states.

Norm of non-interference in other states’ election processes

External interference in states’ critical infrastructure and societal processes – such as elections - is growing. The cyber domain is of crucial importance here as it facilitates the acquisition of information via espionage campaigns, the targeting and/or disruption of critical infrastructure and as the dissemination of disinformation. To date, there is no commonly accepted or codified norms on the non-interference in other states’ election processes, neither in general nor in relation to cyber means.[99] However, vital principles of international law are more often applied to this question and a set of initiatives are indicative of norm development on the matter.

Next to the principles of state sovereignty and self-determination, the principle of non-intervention is one of the core purposes and principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations, under Art. 2(4) and Art. 2(7) of the present Charter. The premise of the principle is simple: sovereign states shall not interfere in each other’s internal affairs. It applies to matters of sovereignty, territorial integrity, internal governance and conduct of foreign affairs. Though not explicitly referring to elections, this principle is gradually extending to the protection of critical electoral infrastructure, given that this area forms part of states’ sovereignty, its political system, independence and stability – elements which are all covered under the principle of non-intervention.[100] From this logic follows the rule that states should not interfere with the internal affairs of another state, including publicizing the outcome of espionage campaigns to influence an election and targeting critical electoral infrastructure. It should be noted that the practice of states committing espionage for political purposes is a normal and well-established tool in international affairs. However, using the intelligence gathered to undermine and interfere with a foreign election is in violation of the spirit of the norm of non-intervention.

The development of a normative and regulatory framework to protect states’ sovereignty, its political system, independence and stability against foreign interference has been initiated. As an example, in October 2019 the European Parliament adopted a resolution on foreign electoral interference and disinformation in national and European democratic processes.[101] The resolution stresses that foreign electoral interference constitutes a major challenge to European democratic societies and institutions, and directly links this type of interference to “a broader strategy of hybrid warfare”.[102] In light of this interference, states and international organizations are increasingly framing electoral processes and electoral infrastructure as part of the critical infrastructure of a state.[103] The designation of electoral processes as critical infrastructure will enable responses to breaches of these processes to mirror those currently in place for breaches of the energy and transport sectors.

However, this (evolving) normative framework is already being eroded before it is even consolidated as part of customary international law.[104] Even though the principle of non-intervention is binding for all states, in the context of election processes the principle is being violated frequently. The most prominent example of this has been Russia’s interference campaigns in the 2016 US presidential elections via the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and subsequent leaking of sensitive documents.[105] In Ukraine in 2014, pro-Russian groups released hacked e-mails, tried altering vote tallies and delayed the presidential elections’ result.[106] While some protection measures can be implemented against this interference, it is unclear how states can respond to and retaliate against perpetrating states under international law, further complicating the implications of this growing trend to the international order.

External meddling in states’ elections shows that the principle of non-interference is under mounting pressure. The norm of non-interference as it pertains to election processes is a norm that was previously taken for granted by states. The rule of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states has recently been infringed upon to the degree that the rule can said to be broken, signifying that the norm is under significant threat. The increasingly overt violation of this norm poses a significant challenge to the electoral systems of states and infringes upon the very basic rule of the international order: sovereignty.

Norm of open, non-discriminatory trade between states

States are increasingly employing economically coercive measures to achieve their strategic goals through targeted influence, and the exploitation of vulnerabilities and interdependency relations.[107] The US-China trade war is the most prolific and recent example of this. This coercion occurs despite a well-developed international trade regime that prohibits the use of discriminatory trade practices under normal circumstances.

Of crucial importance to the international trade system is the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the less institutionalized precursor of the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The core purpose of the GATT is to contribute to the “substantial reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers and the elimination of preferences on a reciprocal and mutually advantageous basis”. The crowning achievement of the WTO is the dispute settlement mechanism. WTO members must use the dispute settlement mechanism for their complaints and states may not act unilaterally in response to actions they perceive to be a violation of WTO rules, as this risks instigating a spiral of protectionism.[108] Data on WTO disputes is merely indicative of the violation of WTO rules, it cannot be used to directly exemplify adherence (or non-adherence) to the global trade regime as many states refrain from bringing disputes to the WTO. Developing economies in particular (indeed, those that are most vulnerable to economic coercion) experience barriers to the settlement procedure such as a lack of expertise and financial capacity to enter into a lengthy and demanding disputes process. Additionally, as disputes typically take years to conclude, the economic harm felt by a state may be too difficult to endure for the entirety of the case and states may thus seek alternate means to address their complaints, though unilateral retaliation is in violation of WTO rules.[109] This said, the increase in requests for WTO dispute consultation is partially indicative of the implementation of tariffs as a political measure and reflects the increasing violation of the norm (Figure 10). The number of requests for consultations spiked in 2018, following the Trump administration’s levying tariffs throughout 2017. The violation of the principle of non-discrimination, perpetrated by the world’s two largest economies US and China, signifies a departure from the rules-based international trade system.

Figure 10
Number of Request of consultations per year, in the WTO. This serves as a reference for antagonism in the International trade system, but it does not correlate to economic coercion directly.
Number of Request of consultations per year, in the WTO. This serves as a reference for antagonism in the International trade system, but it does not correlate to economic coercion directly.

Source: WTO

The international trade system has experienced significant challenges over the past ten years and the norm of open, non-discriminatory trade has been negatively affected by the employment of economically coercive measures by states. This norm is intrinsically encoded into the rules established and maintained by the WTO, and therefore the violation of the rule of non-discrimination threatens the norm as whole. When states break (or threaten to break) the rules of the WTO, it undermines the notion that free trade is a given. The strain on the norm is further heightened by the overt nature of the US-China trade war. Recent actions by the US that effectively render the dispute settlement body of the WTO paralyzed signals contempt towards the value system of international trade. In sum, the rules of the WTO and the corresponding norm of open, non-discriminatory trade between states is under increasing pressure.

Norm of non-interference in other states’ societal discourse

Disinformation campaigns are a form of societal interference that seek to influence public opinion with false information. Similarly to the previously discussed ‘norm of non-interference in other states’ election processes’, the principle of non-intervention is the most appropriate lens to analyze how the growing trend of interference with foreign states’ societal discourse is challenging international norms.[110] The findings of the International Court of Justice in the Nicaragua Case of 1986 highlights how the principle of non-intervention extends from the political domain (discussed earlier in reference to political meddling) to the economic and civil domains. In this case, the Court re-affirmed that the principle forbids all States or groups of States to intervene directly or indirectly in the internal or external affairs of other States and that "a prohibited intervention must accordingly be one bearing on matters in which each State is permitted, by the principle of State sovereignty, to decide freely. One of these is the choice of a political, economic, social and cultural system…"[111] This ruling constitutes a common law rule on the matter of interference in the societal discourse of foreign states.

Disinformation campaigns create societal disarray by polarizing public discourse, deepening tensions in society, and misinforming the public on key facts pertaining to healthcare, the environment and security. A well-known subsequent effect of disinformation is the undermining of political processes. Recently, the international community has sought to actively discuss and respond to the enhanced scope, frequency and impact of disinformation that is enabled by cyber means. The Tallinn Manual stipulates that cyber operations that fall below the use of force threshold, but are executed with the intent of a regime change, constitute a prohibited intervention.[112] The Manual specifically references the following examples as cases in point: the cyber-enabled manipulation of public opinion with relation to elections, the alteration of online news services to the benefit of a particular political party, the spread of false news, and the sabotage of a political parties’ online services.

Control over the narrative is a formidable source of power for a state to draw on. Democratic regimes rely on constituents as a source of stability and thus, creating chaos in societal discourse through disinformation provides an inexpensive and effective means to undermine adversaries. The continued use of disinformation campaigns by some state actors for this purpose show a blatant disregard of the norm of non-interference as it pertains to the societal domain. Whilst the norm overall is still present, disinformation campaigns continue to expand their reach, frequency and level of sophistication, permeating foreign societal discourse. Despite the notion that targeted disinformation campaigns run counter to the spirit of the principle of non-interference, the pervasive influencing of foreign public discourse and election outcomes is set to continue and further evolve.


Over the past ten years, hybrid conflict has seriously impacted the international order and the norms and rules that encompass it. States are able to evade responsibility for the actions of their proxies, thus eroding the norm of state responsibility for wrongful actions. External meddling in states’ elections shows that the principle of non-interference is under mounting pressure, threatening electoral systems and challenging the basic ordering principle of sovereignty. The international trade system, based on the norms and rules that secure open, non-discriminatory trade, has been negatively affected by the employment of economically coercive measures by states. Furthermore, the continued use of disinformation campaigns by some state actors for the purposes of causing societal disarray or influencing democratic processes demonstrates a blatant disregard of the norm of non-interference as it pertains to the societal domain. A common threat permeates these challenges to the international order: cases of hybrid conflict fall short of the high threshold of force required for the direct applicability of international law. This is no mistake-hybrid tactics are designed to evade repercussions.

The disparity between (i) the threshold of transgression in international law and (ii) the hybrid forms of conflict that we are currently experiencing, causes difficulties in defining thresholds of conflict and war, and hinders the formulation of appropriate counter measures for decisionmakers. Despite the disparity however, existing international legal norms can be further adapted, interpreted and applied to cases of hybrid conflict. Though they are under pressure, the norms discussed in this section (state responsibility, non-intervention and non-discrimination) have strong foundations and most actors in the international arena have keen interest in the integrity of these norms in the face of challenges posed by hybrid conflict.


The analysis in this report paints a rather bleak view of the international security environment vis á vis hybrid conflict. Over the past ten years, hybrid tactics have thrived within the international security environment, and include the use of proxy actors in third party military conflicts, the deployment of military exercises near borders, the intrusion of aerial and maritime territory, the exertion of influence over foreign democratic processes, the use of economic coercion, the proliferation of disinformation campaigns and the execution of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure. Despite not being an entirely new means of mobilizing against adversaries, these methods of hybrid conflict have seriously impacted the international order. Subtle tactics that are executed under the threshold of force place pressure on the international order regulating peaceful relations between states. By blurring lines between war and peace, our understanding of how to respond to hybrid conflict, both through measures at the state level and though international legal means, is lacking.


Translation of the Dutch definition taken from NCTV, “Chimaera: een duiding van ‘hybride dreigingen’”, 18 april 2019,
Michael J. Mazarr, “Struggle in the Gray Zone and World Order,” War on the Rocks, December 22, 2015, link.
Where possible, the years 2009-2019 were analyzed. However, due to incomplete data from 2019 (given that the Global Security Pulse was published in October) it was sometimes more fitting and accurate to analyze the years 2008-2018.
“Russian National Security Strategy, December 2015 – Full-Text Translation” (IEEE, 31 December 2015), link, para 21.
“China’s National Defense in the New Era” (The State Council Information Office of The People’s Republic of China, July 2019), link.
The State Council Information Office of The People’s Republic of China, ‘China’s National Defense in the New Era’ (Foreign Language Press, July 2019), 4; 32, link.
Dennis C. Blair, “Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” December 2, 2009; Daniel R. Coats, “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” January 29, 2019, p. 5.
“Weissbuch 2006 Zur Sicherheitspolitik Deutschlands Und Zur Zukunft Der Bundeswehr” (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, 2006), link; “Weissbuch 2016 Zur Sicherheitspolitik Deutschlands Und Zur Zukunft Der Bundeswehr” (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, 2016), link; “National Security: Strategy and Work Programme 2007-2008” (Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations., May 2007), link, p. 18; “Working Worldwide for the Security of the Netherlands: An Integrated International Security Strategy 2018-2022” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 20, 2018), link.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Working Worldwide for the Security of the Netherlands: An Integrated International Security Strategy 2018-2022’ (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 20 March 2018), 16; 20, link.
“National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015” (Cabinet Office, 2019), p. 17; “The National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom: Update 2009 – Security for the Next Generation,” 2009.
“Russia: National Security Strategy to 2020 - Center for Security Studies,” ETH Zurich, December 5, 2009, link; “Russian National Security Strategy, December 2015 – Full-Text Translation” (IEEE, 31 December 2015), link.
“China’s National Defense in the New Era” (The State Council Information Office of The People’s Republic of China, July 2019), link, p. 7
Daniel R. Coats, “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” January 29, 2019, p. 5 ff.
See Appendix A in Louk Faesen, Bianca Torossian, Elliot Mayhew, Carlo Zensus, “Conflict in Cyberspace: Parsing the threats and the state of international order in cyberspace” (September 2019).
“National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015” (Cabinet Office, 2019).
Sources used for China: The State Council Information Office of The People’s Republic of China, ‘China’s National Defense in the New Era’ (July 2019); The State Council Information Office of The People’s Republic of China, ‘China’s National Defence in 2008’ (The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, January 2009), link;
Sources for Russia: Dmitry Medvedev, ‘Russia’s National Security Strategy to 2020’, Pub. L. No. 357, Decree of the President of the Russian Federation (2009), link; Vladimir Putin, ‘The Russian Federation’s National Security Strategy, Presidential Edict 683’ (Russian Federation, December 2015), link;
Sources for the US; The White House, ‘National Security Strategy 2010’ (NSS Archive, 27 May 2010), link; The White House, ‘A New National Security Strategy for a New Era’ (The White House, 18 December 2017), link;
Sources used for France; Nicolas Sarkozy, The French White Paper on Defence and National Security, trans. ALTO, First (New York, United States of America: Odile Jacob, 2008), link; Republic of France, Defence and National Security: Strategic Review 2017 (Paris, France: La Délégation à l’information et à la communication de la défense, 2017), link;
Sources for the Netherlands; Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, ‘National Security: Strategy and Work Programme 2007-2008’ (The Kingdom of the Netherlands, May 2007), link; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘National Security Strategy 2018’;
Sources for the UK; Cabinet Office, Security for the Next Generation : The National Security Strategy of United Kingdom - Update 2009 (London, United Kindgom: The Stationery Office, 2009), link; Cabinet Office, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015: Third Annual Report (London, United Kindgom: Cabinet Office, 2019), link; Cyber Securit Strategy of the United Kingdom: Safety, Security and Resilience in Cyber Space (London, United Kindgom: The Stationery Office, 2009), link; ‘National Cyber Security Strategy 2016 to 2021’, Strategy (London, United Kindgom: Cabinet Office, 1 November 2016), link.
‘Chinese Public Diplomacy in Taiwan’, Hybrid Threats (Riga, Latvia: NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, 6 June 2019); Bettina Renz, ‘Russia and “Hybrid Warfare”’, Contemporary Politics 22, no. 3 (2 July 2016): 283–300, link.
Jean-Baptiste Jeangene VIlmer et al., ‘Information Manipulation: A Challenge for Our Democracies’ (Paris, France: Policy Planning Staff of the Ministry for Europe & Foreign Affairs and the Institute for Strategic Research at the MInistry for the Armed Forces, August 2018), link; Robert Mueller, ‘Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election’ (Washington D.C., USA: U.S. Department of Justice, March 2019), link.
Petter Mattis, ‘China’s “Three Warfares” in Perspective’, War on the Rocks (blog), 30 January 2018, link.; Adam Ni and Bates Gill, ‘The People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force: Update 2019’, China Brief 19, no. 10 (29 May 2019), link; Kevin Pollpeter, Michael Chase, and Eric Heginbotham, ‘The Creation of the PLA Strategic Support Force and Its Implications for Chinese Military Space Operations’, Research Reports (California, United States of America: RAND Corporation, 2017), link; Lyle Morris et al., ‘Gaining Competitive Advantage in the Gray Zone’, Research Reports (California, United States of America: RAND Corporation, 2019), link.
Julian E. Barnes, ‘U.S. Cyberattack Hurt Iran’s Ability to Target Oil Tankers, Officials Say’, The New York Times, 28 August 2019, sec. U.S., link.
For this report, we focused on the following NATO member states: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Netherlands.
Sebastian Sprenger, ‘Germany Wants Its Own Version of DARPA, and within the Year’, Defense News, 18 July 2018, link; Jeangene VIlmer et al., ‘Information Manipulation’.
Michael J. Mazarr et al., ‘Understanding the Emerging Era of International Competition’, Research Report (Washington, D.C.: RAND Corporation, 2018).
Daniel L. Byman, ‘Why Engage in Proxy War? A State’s Perspective’, Brookings (blog), 21 May 2018, link.
Dario Leone, ‘Did Russia’s Deadly Su-57 Stealth Fighter Get Ready for “War” in Syria?’, Text, The National Interest, 31 August 2019, link.
Claire Graja, ‘SOF and the Future of Global Competition’ (Washington, D.C.: CNA, 2019), link.
See Dmitriy Frolovskiy, ‘What Putin Really Wants in Syria’, Foreign Policy (blog), accessed 3 November 2019, link. See also Yuras Karmanau, ‘Step inside Russia’s Only Navy Base Outside the Former Soviet Union’, Business Insider, accessed 3 November 2019, link.
In order to provide further context into the nature of proxy wars over time, HCSS utilized open source data to produce an overview of the number of actors involved in these conflicts over time. This data shows a significant over-time increase in the number of actors involved in proxy wars, indicating that these wars are playing an increasingly significant role in states’ efforts at engaging in international competition through hybrid means.
Hugo van Manen, Tim Sweijs, “Military Competition in Perspective: Trends in Major Powers’ Postures and Perceptions”, The Hague Center for Strategic Studies, 2019, link.
‘UCDP - Uppsala Conflict Data Program’, UCDP - Uppsala Conflict Data Program, accessed 12 September 2019, link.
Alexander Klimburg, “Cybercriminals as Extensions of State Power?,” ISPI, July 16, 2018, link.
Rob Taylor, “Iranian Group Blamed for Cyberattack on Australia’s Parliament,” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), February 21, 2019, link; Ken Dilanian, “Iran-Backed Hackers Hit Both U.K., Australian Parliaments, Says Report,” NBC News, February 28, 2019, link.
John Follain, Adela Lin, and Samson Ellis, “Chinese Cyber Spies Target Taiwan’s Leader Before Elections,” Bloomberg, September 20, 2018, link.
Hannah Murphy and Madhumita Murgia, “Chinese Hacker Group That Works for Both Beijing and Personal Gain Identified,” Financial Times, August 7, 2019, link.,” VIENNA DOCUMENT 2011”, 2011, available at: link [Accessed 16 Oct. 2019]
Ben Heap, “Hybrid Threats: A Strategic Communications Perspective.”, 2018, pp. 48-49. available at: link [Accessed 16 Oct. 2019].  
Though expert analysis shows that military exercises near borders have increased over the ten-year period, the quantitative data to reflect this increase is difficult to acquire due to the classified nature of the content and sizable disparities between the announced numbers of involved personnel and the actual number of personnel.
Military exercises near borders are nothing new. Analysis of the tenets of this trend from ten years ago show this. For example, in 2008 Brazil mobilized 3,500 soldiers along the Paraguayan border combined with 10,000 soldiers along the Argentine and Uruguayan border following a series of land disputes. The former’s President Fernando Lugo replied to the Brazilian’s actions with “not even one millimeter of the territorial sovereignty of the country can be bothered” or “the Paraguayan reaction will be swift”. Concerning the Middle East, Turkey were taking precaution against Kurdish militias whilst sending a message to Israel & the US by conducting an exercise with Syria in 2009. Regarding Georgia, a military exercise with the US was conducted in July 2008 with 1,500 servicemen, met with a counter military exercise by Russian forces a month later August in the Northern Caucasus involving 8,000 servicemen and 700 pieces of military hardware. Russia were particularly active in this period, with other provocative military exercises near the Polish border with Belarus, flying bombers along French and Spanish airspace in the Bay of Biscay and, lastly, performing exercises near the Kazakh border to warn off of any militias intervening within their gas fields venture in the area. In response to Russia’s activity, the US have been carrying out Joint Task Force (JTF) military exercises in their eastern division (JTFE) with Bulgarian and Romanian servicemen. Coordinated by the US European Command (EUCOM), a ‘mixed battalion-sized force of roughly 900 troops’ commenced their ‘first rotational deployments from June to October 2008’, as well as rebuilding schools and deploying F-15 jets. Finally, skirmishes between India on both the north-western Pakistani and north-eastern Chinese border present the historic border disputes between the nations which remain contentious.
BBC News. (2014). Nato: Russian troops are in Ukraine. [online] Available at: link [Accessed 16 Oct. 2019]; Notable exercises include; Vostok-2014 being the biggest military exercise by Russia since the end of the Cold War involving an estimated 155,000 personnel; a Russian exercise involving an estimated 100,000 troops in Russia’s western and central military districts in 2015, before the annexation of Crimea; Russia’s ‘snap exercises’ coinciding with Norway’s exercise Joint Viking in March 2015; and Vostok-2018 which the Russian MOD announced as having 297,000 total troops (including combat and support) during the preparatory and active phase from late June to 16 September 2018. Of this total number, an estimated 75,000-100,000 were combat troops. In the 2017 Zapad Exercise, the high estimate for estimated participating troops was used. Estimations are based off ’tooth-and-nail ratios’ from a US Study which has been collating data from the end of the First World War to the second Iraq War, which could vary considerably from the actual numbers due to the different contrasting US/Russian approaches to logistics and combat support. NATO Review, ”VOSTOK 2018: Ten years of Russian strategic exercises and warfare preparation.” [online] NATO Review. Available at: link [Accessed 16 Oct. 2019]. 
‘Exercise Trident Juncture’ involved 50,000 personnel along with 250 aircraft, 65 vessels and 10,000 vehicles.
Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. “Tsentre 2019 manoeuvres kick off in Armed Forces if Russian Federation”, 16th September 2019, access: link.
Defence Blog. “U.S. Army to hold largest military exercise in Europe since Cold War”, 8th October 2019, access: link.
Robert Sutter, and Chin-Hao Huang, ”XI JINPING, LI KEQIANG ADVANCE CHINA’S INFLUENCE, COUNTER US PUSHBACK”, Pacific Forum, 2019, Available at: link [Accessed 14 Oct. 2019]. 
Jesse Johnson. “China announces fresh military exercises in South China Sea as U.S. Carrier enter waterway”, Japan Times, 9th August 2019, access: link.
Jon Lake, ‘Russian Activity Remains High on NATO’s Eastern Border’, Aviation International News, 29 November 2018, link.
Johanna Loock, ‘China Shifts Maritime Pressure To Japan And East China Sea With Record Intrusions This Year’, Maritime Security Review, 9 December 2019, link.
It must be noted here that this constitutes only a proxy measurement, and not a full register of intrusions.
Linda Kinstler, “Russian Jets Are Flying Under the Radar and Endangering Civilian Airplanes.” The New Republic, January 12, 2015. link.
“RAF Typhoons Intercept Russian Fighters in Estonia,” GOV.UK, May 31, 2019, link.
This is evidenced by military exercises like the Vostok 2010, 2014 and 2018 exercises in the Arctic. “China and Russia in the Western Pacific: Implications for Japan and the United States,” The National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) (blog), April 18, 2019, link.
“China and Russia in the Western Pacific: Implications for Japan and the United States,” The National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) (blog), April 18, 2019, link;“Annual Report to Congress - Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019” (Office of the Secretary of Defense, May 2, 2019), link.
“Trends in Chinese Government and Other Vessels in the Waters Surrounding the Senkaku Islands, and Japan’s Response,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, October 4, 2019, link.
Yoko Wakatsuki and Junko Ogura, “Japan: China ‘escalating’ Tensions over Disputed Islands,” CNN, May 19, 2017, link.
NBR ibid.; Office of the Secretary of Defense ibid.
Lee YingHui, “South China Sea in 2019: Calm or Turbulence?” (S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), December 2018), link.
Samantha Bradshaw and Philip Howard, ‘The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory Of Organised Social Media Manipulation’, Working Paper, Working Paper (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford Internet INstitute, 2019), link; Britt Paris and Joan Donovan, ‘Deepfakes and Cheap Fakes’ (United States of America: Data & Society, 18 October 2019), link.
Bruce Jones and Torrey Taussig, ‘Democracy & Disorder: The Struggle for Influence in the New Geopolitics’, Democracy & Disorder: The Struggle for Influence in the New Geopolitics (Washington D.C., USA: Brookings, February 2019), link.
Jones and Taussig.
Danuta Gibas-Krzak, ‘The Political , Economic and Cultural Influences of Neo-Ottomanism in Post-Yugoslavian Countries. An Analysis Illustratred with Selected Examples’, POLSKA AKADEMIA UMIEJĘTNOŚCI 26 (2017), link; Arlinda Rrustemi et al., ‘Geopolitical Influences of External Powers in the Western Balkans’, HCSS Security (The Hague, Netherlands: The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, 30 September 2019), link; Paul Stronski and Annie Himes, ‘Russia’s Game in the Balkans’ (Washington, USA: Carniege Endowment for International peace, January 2019), link.
Naja Bentzen, ‘Foreign Influence Operations in the EU’, Members’ Research Service (Brussels, Belgium: European Parliamentary Research Service, July 2018), link; Jeangene VIlmer et al., ‘Information Manipulation’; ‘Hybrid Threats: A Strategic Communications Perspective’ (Riga, Latvia: NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, 2019), link.
Nataliia Slobodian, ‘Political Technologies of Russian Energy Diplomacy’, Nowa Polityka Wschodnia 16, no. 1 (March 2018): 49–65; ‘Cyber Attacks Controlled by Intelligence Services’ (Bundesamt fur verfassungsschutz, May 2018), link; Bentzen, ‘Foreign Influence Operations in the EU’; Canada Security Intelligence Service, ‘Who Said What?: The Security Challenges of Modern Disinformation’, World Watch: Expert Note (Canada: Canada Security Intelligence Service, February 2018), link.
Bentzen, ‘Foreign Influence Operations in the EU’; Philippe Le Corre, ‘China’s Rise as a Geoeconomic Influencer: Four European Case Studies’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2018, link.
Dov H. Levin, ‘Partisan Electoral Interventions by the Great Powers: Introducing the PEIG Dataset’, Conflict Management and Peace Science 36, no. 1 (1 January 2019): 88–106, link.
Peter Beinart, ‘The U.S. Needs to Face Up to Its Long History of Election Meddling’, The Atlantic, 22 July 2018, link; Yochi Dreazen, ‘Gates: U.S. Tried to Oust Karzai in “Failed Putsch”’, Foreign Policy, 9 January 2014, link.
Marco Aurelio Ruediger et al., ‘Robôs, redes sociais e política no Brasil: casos de interferências ilegítimas no debate público por automação de perfis’, Report (FGV DAPP, August 2018), link.
Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz, ‘Munich Security Report 2019. The Great Puzzle: Who Will Pick Up the Pieces?’, Annual Report, Munich Security Conference (Munich, Germany: Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz, February 2019), link.
A challenge inherent to classifying and measuring economic coercion, is that unlike other types of influencing, this type of coercion easily masks itself behind measures of protectionism. See for example, Dong-Hun Kim, ‘Coercive Assets? Foreign Direct Investment and the Use of Economic Sanctions’, International Interactions 39, no. 1 (1 January 2013): 99–117, link; Nicholas Lambert, ‘Brits-Krieg: The Strategy of Economic Warfare’, in Understanding Cyber Conflict: Fourteen Analogies (Washington D.C., USA: Georgetown University Press, 2017), 123–47, link.
Jacob Pramuk, ‘Why Trump Is Attacking Turkey with Sanctions and Tariffs’, CNBC, 10 August 2018, sec. Politics, link; Carlotta Gall, ‘Turkey Frees Pastor Andrew Brunson, Easing Tensions With U.S.’, The New York Times, 12 October 2018, sec. World, link.
Arshad Mohammed, ‘SWIFT Says Suspending Some Iranian Banks’ Access to Messaging System’, Reuters, 5 November 2018, World News edition, link.
Jean Pisani-Ferry et al., ‘Redefining Europe’s Economic Sovereignty’, Strategic Sovereignty (Brussels, Belgium: European Council for Foreign Relations, June 2019), 4–6, link.
David Styan, ‘China’s Maritime Silk Road and Small States: Lessons from the Case of Djibouti’, Journal of Contemporary China 0, no. 0 (10 July 2019): 1–16, link; Jonathan Hillman, ‘Game of Loands: How China Bought Hambantota’, Policy Brief, CSIS Briefs (Washington D.C., USA: Center for Strategic & International Studies, March 2018), link.
Maria Abi-Habib, ‘How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port’, The New York Times, 25 June 2018, sec. World, link.
Styan, ‘China’s Maritime Silk Road and Small States’; Ben Blanchard, ‘China Formally Opens First Overseas Military Base in Djibouti’, Reuters, 1 August 2017, link.
Sanja Kljajic, ‘Sandzak: The Balkans Region Where Turkey Is the Big Brother’, Deutsche Welle, 21 October 2016, link.
European Commision and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, ‘EU-China - A Strategic Outlook’, Joint Communication, Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the European Council, and the Council (Strasbourg: European Commission, 12 March 2019), link.
Manning, Martin J. "Disinformation." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence and Security, edited by K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, vol. 1, Gale, 2004, pp. 331-335. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
Alina Polyakova and Daniel Fried, ‘Democratic Defense Against Disinformation 2.0’ (Washington D.C., USA: Atlantic Council, June 2019), link.
Canada Security Intelligence Service, ‘Who Said What?: The Security Challenges of Modern Disinformation’; Polyakova and Fried, ‘Democratic Defense Against Disinformation 2.0’; Daniel R. Coats, ‘Statement for the Record’, Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community (Washington, D.C.: Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 2019), link; Iona Allan et al., Fake News: A Roadmap (Riga, Latvia: King’s Centre for Strategic Communications, 2018), link.
Jeangene VIlmer et al., ‘Information Manipulation’.
Ruben Arcos, ‘Post-Event Analysis of the Hybrid Threat Security Environment: Assessment of Influence Communication Operations’, Strategic Analysis (Helsinki, Finland: Hybrid CoE, October 2018), 4–5, link.
‘Hybrid Threats: A Strategic Communications Perspective’; Owen Pinnell, ‘The Online War between Qatar and Saudi Arabia’, BBC News, 3 June 2018, sec. BBC Trending, link; Canada Security Intelligence Service, ‘Who Said What?: The Security Challenges of Modern Disinformation’; Paris and Donovan, ‘Deepfakes and Cheap Fakes’; Bradshaw and Howard, ‘Cyber Troop 2019’.
Petter Mattis, ‘China’s “Three Warfares” in Perspective’, War on the Rocks (blog), 30 January 2018, link; Bradshaw and Howard, ‘Cyber Troop 2019’; Michael J. Mazarr et al., ‘Hostile Social Manipulation: Present Realities and Emerging Trends’, Research Report, Research Reports (California, United States of America: RAND Corporation, 2019), link; ‘Chinese Public Diplomacy in Taiwan’; Coats, ‘Statement for the Record’; Ying Zhu, Dos Millones de Ojos (UNAM, 2013).
Paris and Donovan, ‘Deepfakes and Cheap Fakes’; Jakob Willemo, ‘Trends and Developments in the Malicious Use of Social Media’ (Riga, Latvia: NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, August 2019), link.
Rajiv Shah, ‘Protecting Critical National Infrastructure in an Era of IT and OT Convergence’, Policy Brief (Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2 June 2019), link.
“Significant Cyber Incidents,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), accessed November 1, 2019, link.
Note the low presence of attacks against China or Russia, which could point to a lack of reporting from these states regarding cyberattacks. This logic may follow an internal power dynamic of not admitting internal weakness in the cyber domain or be reflective of a representation bias (e.g. underrepresenting retaliation attacks by India that have not been reported by Pakistan).
Further complemented by Niklas Nilsson, ‘Russian Hybrid Tactics in Georgia’, Silk Road Paper (Washington D.C., USA: Central Asia-Caucasus Initiative Silk Road Studies Program, January 2018), link; and Renz, ‘Russia and “Hybrid Warfare”’.
Aurel Sari, ‘Legal Aspects of Hybrid Warfare’, Lawfare, 2 October 2015, link.
Two important legal dimensions need to be considered vis a vis state accountability for acts committed by non-state actors: regulation and accountability. The notion of regulation applies where one or more actors agree on standards limiting and/or regulating their actions and give rise of responsibility for certain actions, thereby preventing harmful outcomes. On another hand, accountability applies where non-state actors are subject to regulation and compliance vis a vis said set standards. As such, non-state actors would (hypothetically) be required to abide to their (international legal) obligations and would have to answer in line of those obligations. Therefore, such non-state actors would be considered legitimate players in the international arena. Additionally, this would result in obligations for the international community, and thereby widen the possibilities for holding non-state actors accountable for violations of international legal norms, for example, in cases of transnational corporate entities committing human rights violations within their supply chain, which currently do not constitute international human rights violations due to the lack of international legal personality warranted to such corporate entities within international human rights law.
The Articles were firstly adopted without a vote, by acclamation by the 6th Committee (Legal) of the United Nations General Assembly, and then adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as United Nations General Assembly Resolution 56/83.
The sources of international law are codified in the Statute of the International Court of Justice, in Art. 38 (1): a) international conventions, i.e. treaty law, b) international custom, i.e. customary international law, c) general principles of law and d) judicial decisions and teachings of highly qualified publicists, as subsidiary means for the determination of the rules of law. The law-making power of the United Nations General Assembly is contested, and the opinions in international legal circles on the matter are divided.
Though these articles have not been enshrined into a binding treaty under International Law, they constitute part of the wider binding framework of customary international law given that the International Court of Justice has referred to them in its jurisdiction and states have widely accepted the norms that these acts represent. “Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts” (International Law Commission, 2001), link.
Beyond the applicability of the ILC Articles for ex post violations of international law, there are several other considerations to be made. The notion of individual (criminal) responsibility, which gives rise to two or more levels of attribution: attribution to the state, attribution to the non-state actor (giving that it was warranted legal personality) and individual responsibility and lastly, the nature of the responsibility which is attributed for the wrongful act (penal, civil, delicta, criminal).
Elena-Laura Álvarez Ortega, “The Attribution of International Responsibility to a State for Conduct of Private Individuals within the Territory of Another State,” InDret 1 (2015), link, pp. 7-36; for a detailed description of the tenets of ‘strict control’ and ‘effective control’ see pages 7-12 of the publication.
Michael N. Schmitt and Liis Vihul, “Proxy Wars in Cyber Space: The Evolving International Law of Attribution,” SSRN Scholarly Paper (Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, May 31, 2014), link, p. 55.
Michael N. Schmitt and Liis Vihul, ‘Proxy Wars in Cyber Space: The Evolving International Law of Attribution’, Fletcher Security Review 1, no. 2 (2014): 55–73.
William Mattessich, “Digital Destruction: Applying the Principle of Non-Intervention to Distributed Denial of Service Attacks Manifesting No Physical Damage,” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 54, no. 3 (2016), link.
Nicholas Tsagourias, “Electoral Cyber Interference, Self-Determination and the Principle of Non-Intervention in Cyberspace,” EJIL: Talk! - Blog of the European Journal of International Law, August 26, 2019, link.
European Parliament, ‘Foreign Electoral Interference and Disinformation in National and European Democratic Processes’, Pub. L. No. P9_TA-PROV(2019)0031 (2019), link.
European Parliament, pt. 2.
Brian Humphreys, ‘The Designation of Election Systems as Critical Infrastructure’, In Focus (Washington D.C., USA: Congressional Research Service, 18 September 2019), 1, link.
Mattessich ibid.
Evan Perez and Theodore Schleifer, “US Accuses Russia of Trying to Interfere with 2016 Election,” CNN, October 18, 2016, link; Spencer Ackerman and Sam Thielman, “US Officially Accuses Russia of Hacking DNC and Interfering with Election,” The Guardian, October 8, 2016, sec. Technology, link.
“Ukraine Election Narrowly Avoided ‘wanton Destruction’ from Hackers,” Christian Science Monitor, June 17, 2014, link.
Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz, ‘Munich Security Report 2019’.
Frieden, Jeffry;, and Joel Trachtman. n.d. “U.S. Trade Policy: Going It Alone vs. Abiding by the WTO.” Harvard University and The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Accessed November 21, 2019. link.
WTO. “Dispute Settlement System Training Module: Developing Countries in WTO Dispute Settlement.” World Trade Organization. Accessed December 9, 2019. link.
The accountability of states to these international norms is hindered by the fact that disinformation campaigns can and do occur outside the context of armed conflict. For instance, International law seeks to address the use of propaganda and disinformation through various instruments including Article 20(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits any propaganda for war, and the Law of Armed Conflict, which prohibits acts of perfidy. Furthermore, The principle of distinction stipulates that civilians and combatants should be distinguished, with the former granted protection under international law. Given that the threats section of this report recounts disinformation campaigns that targeted public societal discourse and democratic processes, the principle of distinction is arguably not adhered to. However, both of these norms pertain to international law during wartime, and by nature hybrid tactics are designed to operate below the threshold of war.
ICJ, Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America). Judgment of 27 June 1986, I.C.J. Reports 1986, p. 108 (emphasis added)
Schmitt, Michael N (Gen. ed.) (2013). “Rule 10—Prohibition of Threat or Use of Force”, Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare. New York, United States of America: Cambridge University Press.