by Mackenzie Weinger in World Politics Review, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018
These Finnish efforts have even had some success. “The Finns know that they’re reasonably good at this,” says Jed Willard, director of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Center for Global Engagement [sic] at Harvard University. “Because they have a long border and long history with Russia, they know instinctively how to deal with any sort of interference coming from the east. Because of that confidence, they were on board with tackling this problem pretty quickly.”
During a visit to Helsinki last November, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis offered an enthusiastic endorsement of the Hybrid CoE, saying it would be highly valuable as the U.S. and its allies work together to understand a new world in which hybrid threats are proliferating. “Here in this Helsinki center, the shared concerns of our transatlantic democracies can be researched and addressed in a collaborative manner, each of us learning from the other and building resistance to those with malign intent toward our democracies,” he said. “With this center, Finland has created an institution fit for our time.”
While many Western governments only recently woke up to the threat posed by Russia’s newer hybrid warfare tools, Finland has spent years trying to render them ineffective.
On the other side of the two countries’ shared 833-mile border, Russian operatives also seemed to recognize the center’s potential—and immediately tried to disrupt it. Even before the Hybrid CoE officially began its work, it had a target on its back. A website with a Russian “.ru” domain was quickly created for “The Helsinki Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats,” an obvious imitation of the Hybrid CoE. When the Hybrid CoE debuted its logo—a simple arrangement of nine blue and red dots—this Russian website posted a similar one featuring a Finnish coat of arms. The contents of the imposter website included a pamphlet titled, “EU’s Infowar on Russia: Putting in Place a Totalitarian Media Regime and Speech Control.”
The Hybrid CoE’s leadership was unfazed by the knock-off. To the contrary, says Juha Mustonen, the center’s director of international relations, “That was somehow poetic justification for the center’s existence, that as soon as it was established there was a fake one.”