Legal Resilience in an Era of Hybrid Threats2018-10-02T10:39:59+00:00

Legal Resilience in an Era of Hybrid Threats

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.

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.

Address by President Putin, 14 March 2014

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.


We are delighted to invite proposals for papers, to be submitted by 30 November 2018. Proposals addressing the following questions and themes are particularly welcome:

  • What is legal resilience? What is its potential as an analytical concept and as a policy framework? What are its potential shortcomings? What are the key elements of legal resilience and what does it mean for a legal system to be resilient? How do we measure legal resilience?
  • How can the international legal system be rendered more resilient in the light of contemporary threats and challenges to the rule of law? What role can legal resilience play in strengthening a rules-based international order?
  • What legal challenges do gray zone conflict, hybrid threats and hybrid warfare present to individual States, international organizations and the international legal system, and how should we categorize these challenges? What contemporary or historical incidents and case-studies best illustrate the legal dynamics involved? What specific challenges do influence operations and other indirect forms of intervention or aggression present?
  • Are there alternative perspectives that better explain the instrumentalization of law in international relations? What is the explanatory potential of lawfare in this context? How does it relate to the legal dynamics of gray zone conflict, hybrid threats and hybrid warfare?
  • How should States and international organizations respond to the legal challenges presented by gray zone conflict, hybrid threats, hybrid warfare and lawfare? What is counter-lawfare and what legal and ethical questions does it raise? How could the concept of legal resilience be operationalized in this context?

For further information on the submission and selection process, please see the full Call for Papers.

Confirmed Speakers

The Conference Host

Exeter Centre for International Law

The Exeter Centre for International Law was established in 2014 to provide a focal point for the study of international law at the University of Exeter. The Centre builds on a distinguished tradition of international legal scholarship at Exeter Law School, stretching back to the 1960s. The purpose of the Centre is to provide an intellectual environment to promote the study and development of international law, to stimulate debate and collaboration in response to the most pressing challenges facing the international legal order and to support teaching and training in the field of international law.

The Centre is home to a vibrant community of resident scholars, affiliated members and external visitors working in the field of international law. Our research interests and activities span a wide range of subjects and branches of law. We have particular expertise in the field of international human rights law, the law of armed conflict and international refugee law. We maintain strong links with practitioners outside academia and pride ourselves on our contribution to the wider legal and policy community.

Find out more.

Conference Partners

European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats

The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE) serves as a hub of expertise supporting the participating countries’ individual and col­lective efforts to enhance their civil-military capabilities, resilience, and preparedness to counter hybrid threats with a special focus on European security. The Centre offers this collective experience and expertise for the benefit of all participating countries, as well as the EU and NATO. The Centre follows a comprehensive, multinational, multidisciplinary and academic-based approach.

Find out more.

Geneva Centre for Security Policy

The Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) is an international foundation that enables dialogue, provides policy analysis and offers executive education for experts and practitioners in the field of international security. The GCSP Security and Law Programme focuses on the intersection of international law and security affairs. It identifies emerging issues in the security realm, clarifies their legal framework and bridges the gap between research and practice.

Find out more.

Lieber Institute for Law and Land Warfare

The mission of the Lieber Institute is to foster a deeper understanding of the complex and evolving relationship between law and land warfare in order to educate and empower current and future combat leaders. It does so through global academic engagement and advanced interdisciplinary research. As such, it lies at the crossroads of scholarship and practice by bringing together scholars, military officers, government legal advisers, and members of civil society from around the world to collaboratively examine the role and application of the law of armed conflict in current and future armed conflicts, as well as that of other regimes of international law in situations threatening international peace and security.

Find out more.

The Conference Venue

The University of Exeter

The University of Exeter combines world class research with excellent student satisfaction at its campuses in Exeter and Cornwall. It is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive universities. Formed in 1955, the University has 22,085 students from more than 130 different countries. Its success is built on a strong partnership with its students and a clear focus on high performance. Recent breakthroughs to come out of Exeter’s research include the identification and treatment of new forms of diabetes and the creation of the world’s most transparent, lightweight and flexible conductor of electricity.

Exeter was named The Times and The Sunday Times Sports University of the Year 2015-16. The University was also voted the Sunday Times University of the Year 2012/13. It is ranked amongst the UK’s top universities in the Higher Education league tables produced by the Times and the Sunday Times. It is also ranked amongst the world’s top 200 universities in the QS and Times Higher Education rankings.

The Streatham Campus, the University’s largest site in Exeter, is built around a country estate overlooking the city and is readily acknowledged as one of the most beautiful in the country.

Exeter and the South West

The city of Exeter is located in the county of Devon in the South West of England. With a history of over 2,000 years, the city boasts a wide variety of attractions. These include Exeter Cathedral, a magnificent example of Gothic architecture, and the Historic Quayside, which combines a mix of contemporary and traditional design.

Just off the High Street and its many shops you will find the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, which was awarded the title of Museum of the Year in 2012. Dotted between these attractions are countless cafes and tea shops in charming historic buildings, bistros with great views and independent restaurants serving top quality Devon produce. For further information about Exeter, visit Heart of Devon.

Travel directions to Exeter


Further administrative details and information about the registration process will be available shortly.

Participants opting for the conference accommodation are staying at Holland Hall, Clydesdale Road, Exeter, EX4 4SA (number 62 on the campus map). The conference takes place in the Henderson Lecture Theatre of the XFI Building, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4ST (building 30 on the campus map).

Travel to the campus is an individual responsibility. Foreign visitors to the UK may have to apply for a visa at the appropriate Embassy or Consulate of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Participants are responsible for the timely application for their visa.

Legal Resilience in an Era of Hybrid Threats Web 2
A conference exploring the legal challenges presented by hybrid threats hosted by the Exeter Centre for International Law on 8-10 April 2019.
Exeter Centre for International Law, European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, Dr Aurel Sari, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Exeter
Legal Resilience
University of Exeter, XFI Building, Rennes Drive, ExeterEX4 4ST, United Kingdom
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