President Niinistö Compares Hybrid Threats To an Old Story About a Man With a Sandbag

President Sauli Niinistö, Secretary-General of Nato Jens Stoltenberg, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogerini and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä arriving at the inauguration of The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki, Finland on October 2, 2017. Picture: Matti Porre/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Countering hybrid threats is a priority for NATO. And for Finland, too,  especially now after the official inauguration of the Hybrid Centre of Excellence took place on Monday evening in Helsinki’s Sörnäinen district. Hybrid threat is a nasty bugger. According to one definition, it blurs the line between war and peace by combining military aggression with political, diplomatic, economic, cyber and disinformation measures.

Fake news is one of the methods recognized as a hybrid threat. Propaganda in discussion forums is another. Interfering with the other country’s elections is the third one. Denying that such threats don’t exist is . . . ok, as old as the Spanish map.

President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä had invited Federica Mogherini, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, and Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, to join the inauguration of the center.

Stoltenberg praised the place but admired the relations between Finland and Russia. “The center will make an important contribution to our security,” he said. According to Stoltenberg, the center will help nations and international organizations like NATO and the EU to better understand modern, complex threats and to strengthen our societies against them.

He had a big sack on the rack . . .

The long borderline between Russia and Finland makes, according to Stoltenberg, Finland an especial companion for NATO. “The borderline is longer than with all NATO member states combined. Finland has a special role in the relationship with Russia,” Stoltenberg said.

President Niinistö compared hybrid threats to an old story about a man with a sandbag.

An ordinary looking man riding a bicycle came to a border crossing. He had a big sack on the rack. Naturally, the customs officer asked him what it contained.  “Oh, it’s just sand. I need it on the other side of the border,” he said.

The sack was examined and it was indeed full of sand. The next day and the days following the same happened. Once the sack was sent to a laboratory, and the answer was the same: ordinary sand!

Little by little, the cycling sandman became a curiosity rather than a danger. But one junior customs officer remained restless, he had to know more. So, the next time the cycling sandman appeared, he asked the man: “Please, tell me the secret of your sand. I promise to keep it in secrecy.” “Sand?”, the man replied, “it is just sand. I smuggle bicycles!”

According to Niinistö, the story reveals the basic dilemma we face with hybrid threats. “The threats exploit our lack of understanding, preparation and foresight. Often, we may see what the adversary is doing, but we fail to understand what it actually means. And when we finally grasp the situation, they have most probably already made a good collection of bicycles on the other side of the border.”

Niinistö said that the Centre of Excellence highlights three central factors in Finnish security policy.

Firstly, it shows that Finland is a producer and not a consumer of security. Secondly, we take a comprehensive approach to security. “This is a must for a small a nation but it also reflects the changing nature of threats we face.”

And last but not least it “highlights our determination to produce security in close co-operation with our partners.”

Sources: NATO, The Government, The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

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