Modern Deterrence Project: The First Year

In the summer of 2018, RUSI's Modern Deterrence project did not exist. One year later, it is a key destination for thought leadership on deterrence against new and evolving threats.

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Introduction: Advancing Comprehensive Deterrence

“advancing comprehensive deterrence is a crucial and urgent task”

In the summer of 2018, RUSI’s Modern Deterrence project did not exist. One year later, it is a key destination for thought leadership on deterrence against new and evolving threats. 

RUSI’s Modern Deterrence was launched in September 2018, the first think tank initiative focused on whole-of-society defence and deterrence against hybrid aggression (often called, with some variation, hybrid warfare, threshold warfare or greyzone warfare). In creating the initiative, RUSI wanted to advance comprehensive deterrence as a focus for decision-makers in the armed forces, politics and government, and the private sector.

Indeed, advancing comprehensive deterrence is a crucial and urgent task. Liberal democracies – including those in NATO and the EU – have for some time been targeted by an increasing amount of non-military aggression. The most-discussed forms of such aggression are, of course, cyber attacks and disinformation. Few people need reminders of recent hacking attacks on utilities, telecom providers, the US Democratic National Committee, Maersk, and Britain’s National Health Service; or of disinformation campaigns – 'fake news' – about Western elections and certain candidates, spread with the intent of weakening the targeted country. As those events have shown, liberal democracies are not set up to defend themselves against such attacks, which target selected parts of civil society. Western societies are, in fact, dangerously exposed to non-military – often referred to non-kinetic – aggression, which makes building comprehensive deterrence so critical. No part of society can fully defend the country: only by building seamless defence that can counter the equally seamless aggression can countries deter adversaries from attacking them.

One year since the launch of RUSI’s Modern Deterrence project, we can look back at growing impact on the design of such emerging defence. Indeed, RUSI’s Modern Deterrence project – not least thanks to its participants – can pride itself on influencing thinking in governments and the private sector on the crucial issue of how to improve defence against comprehensive threats and, in some cases, aggression.

During this first year, we have focused primarily on deterrence by societal resilience, the key component missing in that seamless defence. In our events, we have – assisted by invited speakers and of course our invited event participants – discussed a wide range of ideas that have the potential to improve societal resilience, including:

  • Best practices from leading countries including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Singapore, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland.
  • Ways of bridging the divide between government/armed forces and civil society (private sector and the public) including:
    • National security courses for emerging leaders from government/politics, industry, civil society, armed forces.
    • Incentivising companies to play a stronger role in national security.
    • Total defence exercises.
    • National security school curricula.
  • Resilience training in local communities.
  • Logistics and total defence (including communications with the local population) during NATO’s Trident Juncture 18 exercise.
  • Training government officials in how to counter disinformation.
  • Securing supply chains; resilience against supply chain disruptions.
  • Countering malign influence: debunking and asymmetric second strikes.
  • Improving resilience of sectors critical to national security, including telecom and financial services.
  • Civilian-political military cooperation.
  • Policy.
    • Planning and exercises.
    • Crisis response.

These companies and government agencies have provided financial support to the Modern Deterrence project:

  • Clifford Chance.
  • Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
  • Willis Towers Watson.
  • Zurich Insurance Group.
  • Ministry of Defence of Latvia.
  • Ministry of Defence of Lithuania.
  • Frazer-Nash Consultancy.
  • Ministry of Defence of Estonia.
  • Outokumpu.
  • Embassy of Denmark in the United Kingdom.
  • Nammo.

We are very pleased to be working with them and immensely grateful for their support.


We have hosted two major conferences and monthly executive briefings. The first conferenceSecuring Societies, featured among its speakers: 

  • Lord (George) Robertson, former Secretary-General of NATO.

  • Baroness (Martha) Lane-Fox, co-founder of, Twitter board member.

  • Roeland Baan, CEOOutokumpu.

  • Eric Schuh, Global Head P&C Solutions, Swiss Re.

  • Janis Garisons, State Secretary, Latvian Ministry of Defence.

  • Mads Ecklon, Head of Department, Danish Ministry of Defence, in charge of total defence (emergency management and Home Guard). 

  • Lord (James) Arbuthnot.

  • Indrek Sirp, Director of the National Security and Defence Coordination of the Estonian Government Office. 

  • Dr Mark Dickinson, President, Space Data Association.


Speakers at the second conference, Modern Deterrence: Defining Civilian, Political and Military Responsibilities, included: 

  • Ruth Smeeth MP, UK Parliament Defence Committee.

  • Kevin Brown, Managing Director, BT Security.

  • Axel Petri, Senior Vice President, Group Security Governance, Deutsche Telekom.

  • Erik Brandsma, CEO, Jämtkraft, former director-general, Swedish Energy Agency.

  • Angus Lapsley, Director-General, Strategy and International, UK Ministry of Defence.

  • Hans Jürg Käser, Director of the 2019 Security Network Exercise, Government of Switzerland.

  • Maj Gen Mats Engman (Swedish Armed Forces), Director Exercise Evaluation, Swedish Total Defence Exercise 2020.

  • Colonel Tan Boon Kiat Joseph, Director, Nexus (Total Defence), Singapore Ministry of Defence.

  • Kristina Syk, CEO, Straterno.

  • Colonel Paddy Ginn, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff – Standing Joint Commander (UK).

  • Robertas Sapronas, Policy Director, Lithuanian Ministry of Defence.

  • Janis Karlsbergs, Deputy State Secretary and Policy Director, Latvian Ministry of Defence.

  • Dave Atkinson, Founder and CEO, Senseon.

  • Andrew Hall MBE, Client Relationship Director, Willis Towers Watson.

  • Paul Williams, Senior Technical Advisor, Operational Risk and Resilience, Bank of England.


Our invitation-only executive briefings have featured as speakers: 

  • Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space.

  • Madeleine Moon MP, President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

  • Mikko Hyyponen, Chief Research Officer, F-Secure.

  • Alex van Someren, Managing Director, Amadeus Capital.

  • Giedrimas Jeglinskas, Vice Minister of Defence of Lithuania.

  • Fredrik Konnander, Head of Counter-Influence, Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency.

  • Lieutenant General (ret.) Arto Räty, Senior Vice President, Fortum.

  • Janis Sarts, Director of NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence.

  • Rear Admiral Sverre Engeness, Chief of Operations at the Norwegian Joint HQ.

The year ahead

While the focus during the first year has primarily been on identifying best practices and informing decision-makers about the need to update deterrence, Modern Deterrence’s second year will be dedicated to several specific research questions. They will include the crucial question of command and control (C2) within modern deterrence. The issue of civilian, political and military responsibilities in modern deterrence was addressed at the RUSI Modern Deterrence confrence; this research will build on the conference’s initial findings. 

C2, a pillar of military terminology, refers to the system according to which decisions are taken and actions executed. The armed forces, of course, would not be able to carry out their tasks without such clearly defined rules stipulating who decides in which situation, and who executes the decisions. To a lesser extent, civilian companies use C2 rules to carry out their duties, though the few would refer to it as such. 

Modern deterrence, and the role that the rest of society – the private sector and the public – can play in national security, raises the question of who should decide, when that should happen, and who should execute decisions and in which manner. Without a C2 system, even the best intentions will bring minimal results or, worse, make civilian contributions a burden for the government rather than an asset.  

Good illustrations for the need of C2 systems can be found in recent natural disasters. When Hurricane Sandy hit the north-eastern United States in October 2012, the region lacked a C2 system for volunteers. Only in late November did the federal government begin assessing training needs in the affected states, and even then only the training needs of government workers.1 As a result, though volunteers did their best to assist in their communities, Sandy’s damage was more severe than it would have been with a C2 system.  During Sweden’s devastating 2018 forest fires, local residents donated large quantities of necessary items to firefighters, who had been called in from across the European Union. However, because there was no functioning C2 system, residents had little idea of which items were needed and ended up donating items of no use to the firefighters – thus clogging already strained municipal capacities. 

In deterrence, C2 in all parts of society thus matter greatly. Today, hostile actors know that, because Western countries lack a national security C2 system outside their governments and armed forces, even a relatively limited attack can create chaos. Nation-wide C2 is thus a practical need and should be a pillar of modern deterrence. Modern Deterrence’s research will focus on how a C2 system should be set up and will address such practical questions as how civilian C2 should connect with the armed forces and the wider government. 

A further focus area will be business operations. Globalisation is based on the idea that international commerce benefits most, if not all countries, and that it is in every country’s interest to participate fairly. The currently growing modes of aggression against liberal democracies can, in fact, be summarised as weaponisation of globalisation. That weaponisation of globalisation is true for communications and news media, for cyber attacks, and not least for business operations. So far, however, hostile business practices have received far less attention than, say, cyber attacks. The Chinese telecoms giant Huawei is under scrutiny in numerous Western countries where it operates, suspected of using its operations to benefit the Chinese government, but strategic investments should likewise be examined: investments in critical national infrastructre and, particularly, acquisitions of cutting-edge technology companies. During its second year, Modern Deterrence will examine national security vulnerabilities posed by such business practices, and how liberal democracies – both their governments and private sectors – can work together to ensure that vital technology and knowledge are not rendered unavailable to their countries. We will examine which instruments are best suited to prevent loss of key technology and innovation. 

Further areas of research are likely include: 

  • The combination of defence and offence in deterrence: to what extent can liberal democracies depend on societal resilience to deter aggression, and how much demonstrated punishment capability is needed to maximise deterrence? 
  • Personnel supply in comprehensive deterrence. Staffing is an ongoing challenge for Western armed forces. In non-military defence and deterrence the government - and companies in strategic sectors - will need extra manpower for crisis response. How should that manpower be resourced, funded and organised?  
  • Entertainment. Today, news media and entertainment are a security vulnerability. They have no obligation to serve national security and are often conduits of disinformation. Can news media and entertainment be an asset to national security, without freedom of expression being infringed, and if so, how? 
What others say
Hélène Galy, Willis Research Network Director, Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson’s initiative to partner with RUSI’s Modern Deterrence project is a great example of how to improve our understanding of risk, help shape opportunities and consolidate our leading advisory position. By engaging with RUSI to understand the risk landscape and global volatility, leveraging the rest of our Willis Research Network, and combining this with our internal expertise, top class data and analytics, we are able to provide bespoke geopolitical risk mitigation and growth strategies for our clients. 


Giedrimas Jeglinskas, Vice Minister of Defence, Republic of Lithuania

Organisations and nation-states increasingly face fluid and complex threats. In such times of great uncertainty, RUSI’s Modern Deterrence project serves as a platform of sharing and collaboration. As a member of the projectthe Lithuanian Ministry of Defence has benefited from the network by enhancing the senior staff and decision-maker know-how in the cross-disciplinary field of deterrence and by sharing important lessons learned with partner institutions. 

Madeleine Moon MP, Member of the UK Parliament Defence Select Committee; President, NATO Parliamentary Assembly

The work of our security and armed forces is often invisible mostly, because we take our defence and security for granted. That is how it should be. Invisibility becomes dangerous when society fails to recognise the constant nature of the threat we face and the attacks experienced daily. New technology has brought new ways of attacking our way of life, bringing the threat via our mobile phones. A threat so strong that it is possible to undermine a democracy through the ballot box rather than on the battle field. We urgently need to prepare our public to recognise the threats we face and to increase recognition and resilience, which is why RUSI's Modern Deterrence project is vital. 

H.E. Baiba Braže, Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia to the United Kingdom

Like other Western democracies, Latvia faces a complex set of threats to its security. The national defence system and its conventional forces alone are not able to address all dimensions of hybrid threats. Therefore, Latvia has developed a comprehensive state defence concept, where government and non-government actors are prepared to manage crises, ensure resilience against external impact, resist and recover from major shocks and challenges. RUSI’s Modern Deterrence project provides an opportunity to learn, discuss and compare innovative ideas and approaches to various defence and security dimensions among likeminded nations. 


Chris Cullis, Business Manager, Frazer-Nash Consultancy

Frazer-Nash has been supporting RUSI's Modern Deterrence project almost since its inception. Events during this time have included an extremely discursive and thought-provoking symposium at RUSI on 29 May. The event drew on a wide spread of international expertise, experience and fresh thinking at the strategic and operational levels. Presentation and energetic discussion examined concept to delivery and validation of effective and meaningful deterrence against an array of potential adversaries ranging from state actors to terrorist groups to malicious individuals. Frazer-Nash chaired the last of the three panels, covering crisis response.

The subject of this programme is of huge national importance and Frazer-Nash is delighted to be supporting it. Working with RUSI, we have benefited from an opportunity to think a complex subject through in depth with like-minded exponents from the UK and the international community, and have been exposed to a wide variety of different approaches in the process.

Lord Harris of Haringey, Member, UK Parliament Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy

It is a truism that we are better at planning for those threats with which we are familiar. However, as hybrid attacks and conflicts, whether declared or not, become more common, we need to change our approach. I spend a lot of my time considering vulnerabilities of national infrastructure and what can be done to mitigate the risks and the consequences of such events. Societal resilience - a key theme of RUSI’s Modern Deterrence work - should be a key component of preparedness and that is why RUSI’s contributions and thinking are so valuable.

The Rt Hon the Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom

The UK’s defence posture rests on the concept of deterrence. It is much better to prevent an attack than to have to defend against one. But from the time of our deployment of nuclear weapons we have relaxed into the notion that nobody would be likely to attack us because they would be deterred by the devastating might of our Trident submarines. And that notion, along with a prolonged period of peace, has encouraged us over the decades to reduce our spending on defence. It has lulled us into a sense of security which is misplaced. It is time for us to examine the truth behind the notion of deterrence.

RUSI is the ideal crucible for the new thinking that is required. And Elisabeth Braw, in the fascinating “Modern Deterrence” project, is harnessing practitioners from across the world and across sectors of society to delve into the questions we must ask.

New technology is combining with old methods to create new challenges. The manipulation of truth, the need to bring the people with their governments at a time of increasing distrust of politicians, the vulnerability of critical national infrastructures now in the hands of businesses rather than governments, the increasing cost of defence set against the decreasing cost of attack, all of these and more are being forensically examined by a series of discussions which are important - even overdue.

An essential part of the programme is the concept of Total Defence. Lithuania and Latvia are helping, along with industry, to fund the series of discussions. Nordic and Scandinavian countries understandably feel themselves to be more in the front line of modern confrontations than does the

United Kingdom. And they have developed enviable examples of educating, training and exercising their leaders in crisis management.

Lt Gen (ret) Arto Räty of Finland set out a compelling case for a National Defence Force which Finland has been running since 1961. If we were to create a similar course in the UK we would bring together government, the military and industry in a way which would begin to heal the fractures all too visible in our society today. In Sweden the Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) has an even more ambitious task, and is creating a level of awareness of vulnerabilities (and what to do about them) throughout the population.

We in the UK would be wrong to feel that the front line is elsewhere. Cyber attacks can target our electricity system, our communications, our finances, our hospitals, even our pacemakers. The front line is therefore here. And those cyber attacks can be launched, unattributably, from anywhere in the world. We should not make the mistake of waiting for one of these attacks to create a catastrophe – we should build up our defences, responses and recovery plans before the catastrophe happens.

The world has become increasingly connected and is now utterly dependent on technology. But the failure of any one of our systems would create knock-on consequences which would be hard to predict. What is clear is that such a failure would affect not just the military but the whole of our society, including the businesses for which we work and which provide the day to day services on which we rely.

That is why Elisabeth Braw has been right to bring industry into the Modern Deterrence programme. Willis Towers Watson and Frazer-Nash Consultancy have recognised the importance to their clients of being part of the discussion. It is also good to see the high level of Parliamentary interest in the programme. The Defence Select Committee has been well represented (with Madeleine Moon, the President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and Ruth Smeeth contributing keynote speeches). I have a sense that these ideas are beginning to gain traction, even if painfully slowly.

It is hard for governments to look beyond the immediate problems we face; that is all the more true at the moment when our political discourse is all about Brexit, so that disagreements about that important issue make it difficult to listen on any other issue. And it is particularly hard for any of us to imagine, still less to take seriously, events which have never happened in the past.

But the pace of change in technology makes it imperative for all of us to do just that. We are creating a world of threats and opportunities about which we must talk. This discussion must involve more than the military and more than the government: it must harness the thoughts and ingenuity of the whole of society, which must be involved in planning and exercising the solutions. Other countries have started down this path, and we can learn from them. I congratulate RUSI and Elisabeth Braw on leading the debate

Thought leadership

Elisabeth Braw has written regular op-eds for the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Times (of London). They include: 

Business Must Prepare for Aggression by States (Financial Times, 10 August 2019).

Young People Should Do National Cyberservice (The Times, 5 August 2019).

Is Hacking an Act of War? (Wall Street Journal, 21 August 2019).

Can Courts Clear the Fog of War?   (Foreign Policy, 30 April 2019).

The Manufacturer’s Dilemma  (Foreign Policy, 27 April 2019).

What ‘The Godfather’ Can Teach Us About Fighting Cyber Attacks (Financial Times, 23 April 2019). 

If You Bowl Alone, You Can’t Fight Together (Foreign Policy, 12 April 2019).

How the British Hit Back Against Russian Agitprop: The Kremlin Loves Using Disinformation to Sow Chaos  (Wall Street Journal, 11 March 2019).

Hybride Kriegsführung: Eine Schlüsselrolle für Deutschland (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28 February 2019).

Companies Must Become Active Participants in National Cyber Security (Financial Times, 4 February 2019).

Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Military-Industrial Complex (Wall Street Journal, 2 January 2019).

The GPS Wars Are Here (Foreign Policy, 17 December 2018).

Military Autonomy is Unworkable (Wall Street Journal, 18 November 2018).

We All have a Part to Play in Modern Defence (The Times, 2 October 2018).

She has also written academic articles for NATO S&T (the North Atlantic Science and Technology Organization), CHACR (the Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research, a think tank within the British Army) and RUSI. The op-edsare designed to invigorate the national security debate outside the defence and think tank sector. The level of engagement generated by the op-eds suggests that the intellectual outreach has been enormously fruitful. 

In further activities, Elizabeth Braw has frequently spoken at conferences and other public events including: 

  • Evidence to the UK Parliament Defence Committee.
  • GSM Association (mobile global network operators’ association) 360 conference, The Hague.
  • Chatham House 2019 Security and Defence conference, London.
  • Cabinet Office, London.
  • UK Government deterrence team meeting, London.
  • European Commission, lunchtime lecture, Brussels. 
  • NATO conference on joint civil preparedness and resilience, Brussels.
  • NATO Allied Command Transformation resilience conference, Norfolk (VA). 
  • NATO Parliamentary Assembly spring meeting, Bratislava.
  • Folk och Försvar defence and security conference, Sweden. 
  • Munich Security Conference.
  • ABCD conference, Tallinn.
  • Dubai World Trade Centre GITEX Technology Week (upcoming).


RUSI’s Modern Deterrence regularly engages with a range of institutions and individual leaders. They include: 

  • NATO.
  • The European Commission. 
  • National governments (departments and agencies in, among others: the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Netherlands Denmark, Singapore, New Zealand).
  • Fortune 500 companies.
  • Parliamentarians, including NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
  • Armed forces leaders.

Furthermore, we have published commentaries by, among others: 

  • Madeleine Moon MP, UK Parliament Defence Committee; President, NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
  • Lord (Toby) Harris, House of Lords.
  • Ojars Kalnins, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Latvian Parliament.
  • Ruth Smeeth MP, UK Parliament Defence Committee.
  • Fredrik Löjdquist, Ambassador and Special Envoy for Countering Hybrid Threats, Foreign Ministry of Sweden.
  • Hans Jürg Käser, Director of Switzerland’s 2019 Security Network (total defence) Exercise.


Modern Deterrence’s First Year