Small European States in the Hybrid Warfare Era: The Cases of Cyprus, Malta, and Estonia

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The increasing number and complexity of hybrid threat activities forces small states, especially those with limited access to material resources, to reassess their foreign and defence policies. While the variable of ‘smallness’ may be sufficient to justify their overall engagement in dealing with conventional security threats, in the hybrid arena this is not the case. Pressure is amplified in establishing or maintaining a status of a reliable mediator, partner, and strategic communicator vis-à-vis their multilateral relations with other states or organisations to which they belong. This paper focuses on how small European states, with specific reference to Cyprus, Malta, and Estonia, need to develop adjustable yet resilient policies in accommodating security needs vis-à-vis hybrid threats, that are not only pertinent to their security, but also to that of the EU bloc. As the line between war and peace becomes more blurred due to hybrid threats, the small states’ security shortcomings may also become a security problem for the EU bloc. We argue that the nature of hybrid threats is such that hybrid activities can be utilised to hurt bigger states in a bloc by exploiting the small states’ vulnerabilities. Both the defensive and foreign policy collaborations of small states with bigger states have been, and are constantly being, re-evaluated to tackle and prevent such problems. As such, two objectives are identified in this approach. The first is the small states’ quest to appear as reliable partners within the bloc. The second is to avoid being the weakest security link in the bloc’s defence against hybrid threats. This unfamiliar environment for small states prompts us to rethink security from their perspective against complex and hybrid threats, and in relation to their security role as members of large organisations such as the EU.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-34
JournalSmall States & Territories
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • National security
  • Cyprus
  • Malta
  • Estonia
  • Hybrid warfare
  • Small States
  • Foreign relations
  • conventional threats
  • hybridity
  • hybrid threats
  • defence
  • foreign policy
  • unconventional threats


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