This report outlines discussions held on 9 February 2023 on the changing state threats landscape.
In line with the UK’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (IR), RUSI has set up a Taskforce on State Threats, to support the UK and its partners‘ ability to detect, understand, attribute and act in response to such threats. As part of this work, the RUSI team is conducting two expert workshops on different aspects of state threats. The following meeting note provides an overview of the key themes discussed in the first workshop, held online on 9 February 2023, which focused on: state threat actors, vectors and targets of attack; vulnerabilities; and strengths and weaknesses in UK capabilities.
The meeting was structured around an opening plenary discussion, with an initial presentation that outlined the evolving UK government approach to state threats. The presentation noted that the UK government has identified state threats as overt or covert actions orchestrated by a foreign government which fall short of war, and which contain three elements: a state actor; a vector of attack (that is, a method of attack); and a targeted asset. Using this methodology, the UK government has identified five categories of threat: physical threats to (a) people and (b) assets; information acquisition; interference with democracy; and attempts to shape the international order. It has further identified 15 vectors of attack, distributed across the categories. The presentation highlighted some of the weaknesses of the current approach, the most significant of which was a lack of prioritisation, and noted potential ‘lenses’ that might be applied to help with this. These lenses comprised prioritising those threats that were: the focus of the most hostile/capable state actors; directed at the most significant UK vulnerabilities; affected the most significant UK assets; or where the UK currently had more limited capacity to respond.
This presentation was used to frame discussion in the initial plenary session, and in two consecutive breakout sessions, which looked first at the source of threats, vectors and targets of attack, and then at UK vulnerabilities, as well as strengths and weaknesses. The meeting was concluded with a further plenary to sum up key findings. This note does not report what was said in each individual session, but gathers together participants’ insights by theme. Names and affiliations of participants are not included.