Conference ‘Legal Resilience in an Era of Hybrid Threats’ 8–10 April 2019

LACMO network member The Exeter Centre for International Law is delighted to invite you to a conference on “Legal Resilience in an Era of Hybrid Threats” on 8–10 April 2019 at the University of Exeter. The aim of the event is to explore the legal challenges presented by hybrid threats and to develop the notion of legal resilience as a framework for countering these challenges more effectively. The conference brings together representatives from academia, government and international organisations. The event is held in collaboration with the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and the Lieber Institute of the United States Military Academy.

For more information about the conference and to register, please visit the event website.

Hybrid threats and the law

Over the last decade, we have witnessed the emergence of a more antagonistic international system characterized by increased competition among major powers. By annexing Crimea, Russia has violated one of the most fundamental principles of international law. China is asserting its interests with greater confidence, as its claims to parts of the South China Sea demonstrate. Western powers too are prepared to disregard international law at times, as they did by striking Syrian regime targets in response to chemical attacks on civilians in April 2018.

With the advent of a more confrontational era, international law has emerged as a major battleground for legitimacy and strategic communication. Law, of course, is a social tool and always serves other ends. However, just as the ends are not all equal, there are degrees to the instrumentalization of law. Systematic non-compliance with the applicable rules and their cynical manipulation as an instrument of political narratives is deeply corrosive to a rules-based international order.

Lawyers have struggled to find the appropriate terminology and analytical perspective to address these challenges. NATO and the EU have embraced the notion of hybrid warfare to describe the threats their member States are facing. The concept also informs thinking at the national level. However, the notion of hybrid warfare, together with the rival concepts of gray zone conflict and lawfare, lack precision and are both under- and over-inclusive. Moreover, different institutions use these concepts in different ways. Whereas NATO tends to emphasize the military dimension of the security environment and focuses on hybrid warfare, the EU is concerned mostly with the non-military dimension and prefers to concentrate on hybrid threats. The Council of Europe, by contrast, approaches the subject primarily from a human rights perspective. The legal community is thus facing a situation where key organizations and political leaders have adopted a language that does not translate well into legal categories and vice versa.

The legal resilience perspective

The concept of legal resilience has the potential to overcome some of the institutional and terminological differences that have arisen in recent years. Resilience theory emerged in the 1970s in the field of ecology. Since then, it has spread to other disciplines, including the social sciences and, to a lesser extent, law.

In November 2017, the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats launched a network on legal resilience, bringing together subject matter experts and representatives from the Centre’s member States and participating institutions. The work carried out by the network suggests that the concept has significant potential. This is so because legal resilience emphasizes the resistance of legal systems to change and their capacity to adapt in response to disturbances. This shift in focus should enable stakeholders to concentrate on how the law copes with a range of challenges, whether they emanate from hybrid warfare, gray zone conflict or lawfare. The legal resilience perspective therefore should offer a common framework of analysis and a common set of objectives to guide efforts in safeguarding the rule-based international order.

Against this background, the conference aims to better understand the different elements and features of legal resilience; clarify the relationship between legal resilience, hybrid warfare, hybrid threats, gray zone conflict and lawfare; and explore the utility of legal resilience as an analytical and policy framework for countering the legal challenges arising in current international affairs. Further details were set out in the Call for Papers.

Background reading

For a more detailed overview of themes and questions addressed by the conference, feel free to take a look at “Legal Resilience in an Era of Gray Zone Conflicts and Hybrid Threats” by Aurel Sari (ECIL Working Paper 2019/1).