Resilient Civilians

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 Are civilian perspectives heard in war?

Institutional measures by national governments, EU and/or NATO can be important in times of crisis and conflict, but they still do little to engage with civilians themselves during times of crisis. Institutional measures may not adequately respond (including the choice to not respond) to the complex dynamics of civilians in their communities when crisis arises. ResilientCivilians contributes to a better understanding of the complex factors that lie between and affect relations between states, their security forces, and their populations.

Why and What?

The recent conflicts of the 21st century (Afghanistan, Iraq) reflected an increasing recognition of the role of civilian populations in conflict. Today in both hybrid and population-centric warfare cases, civilians are explicitly recognised as central actors – either as targets and/or as central to the fighting effort. More often than not however, civilians are included in the strategies of war, but are neither consulted nor necessarily understood as a complex, diverse, complicated array of people that compose this group “civilian”.

More work is needed on understanding the role of civilians in conflict. In 2000 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. It was a ground-breaking resolution in many ways. Not least remarkable was the recognition coming the most powerful international body dealing with international peace and security issues officially that non-state actors – women in particular (but extending to the experiences of civilians both female and male) – are significantly impacted by, and have impact upon, conflict.

Problematising “hard” and “soft” security distinctions

Militarised state security perspectives are referred to as “hard” security – engaging in the tough business of war. Civilian perspectives of security are often encapsulated within “human security” discourse, and not always considered relevant to the tougher concerns of hard security. With the increasing recognition of the relevance of civilian efforts and perspectives in conflict situations, this distinction becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.


Civilians and conflict

Civilians have always been a part of conflict. Civilians are more often than not caught in the middle and/or affected, and/or can affect the nature and direction of conflicts. There has been an increase in research and policy directed towards protecting civilians in conflict. Less effort, however, has been made to understand the different roles and levels of agency that civilians have had and continue to have in different conflict situations.

The ResilientCivilians project contributes to an increased understanding of the role of civilians in conflict, in particular “hybrid” threat and warfare scenarios, whereby multiple actors are involved (state and non-state), as well as multiple means employed (military and non-military) to destabilise a society. In these cases, civilians – regular people – are often targeted, manipulated, recruited, and affected by hybrid measures.

Increasing recognition of relevance of civilians in conflict environments

The ResilientCivilians project takes a closer look at the complexity of the civilian landscape in conflict. We will examine different possible scenarios of vulnerability and strengths in communities that could potentially find themselves (or already have) targeted or enveloped within hybrid warfare contexts. National and international institutions, including the EU and NATO, already recognise the civilian landscape but from a primarily “top-down” perspective, where these institutions assume the needs and behaviours of civilian populations and design a response plan accordingly (eg: baseline requirements to stabilise transport, energy, etc). Countries like Norway and Sweden are dusting off previous “Total Defence” concepts which rely upon varying levels of cooperation by civilians or between civilian and military.

Welcome to the ResilientCivilians project

Please explore the pages above to find out more about the ResilientCivilians project! ResilientCivilians is a project led by the UiT The Arctic University of Norway, and is partly funded by the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme, as well as by the partner institutions.

The website is still new and “developing”. But it will expand as the project does! Please feel free to contact the project leadership (under contacts) for any questions and comments.




Potential future conflicts in Europe will be dominated by a hybrid form of warfare that in addition to engaging traditional military objectives, will target populations with the aim of creating instability. Aggressors employing hybrid warfare tactics may be state- or non-state actors. Civilian loyalties, values, and politics are central to hybrid warfare, beleaguered by state or non-state actors attempting to exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, disrupt order, and create conflict.

Understanding the importance of identifying and understanding hybrid threats, and preempting hybrid warfare attacks, NATO and the EU have signed commitments to work together to counteract this category of attacks NATO EU Joint Declaration further revised in 2017. The NATO approach to hybrid warfare relies heavily on the notion of resilience. Key NATO documents in fact define security as ”resilience” and outline a strategy around seven ”baseline” requirements for maintaining a resilient civil-military campaign. These baseline requirements are critical to national and EU/NATO regional security. But they reveal a significant gap between institutional preparation and awareness of civilian agency, as the baseline requirements are based on a top-down, institutional approach, strengthening only institutional structures (EU, NATO, individual states).

This research project, named ResilientCivilians, addresses this gap in knowledge with a new approach to civil-military interaction. Civil-military interaction refers to the range and nature of contact, coordination, and/or cooperation between national (local) and international (foreign) civilian (ranging from government officials to NGOs both humanitarian and development, to local populations) and military actors in crisis situation. This umbrella concept includes many different concepts, doctrines and relationships, from “Comprehensive Approach” and “counterinsurgency” (COIN) to “Civil-Military Cooperation” (NATO CIMIC) or “Civil-Military Coordination” (CMCoord -UN) and communications between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and military actors, from military commanders talking with local and regional governors, to female soldiers connecting with female civilians. These concepts have developed significantly with the turn towards “population-centric” operations, since the 1990s, whereby the role of civilians in conflict has been acknowledged as crucial to the success or failure of an operation. The proposed methodology involves the design of an analytical tool based on a combined multi-actor security and civil-military interaction matrix – the Civil-military Multi-actor Security & Resilience (CMSR) model. It prioritizes the role of civilians, and civilian agency, in crisis and conflict scenarios.

This study will extend the CMSR theoretical approach to studies of population centric and civil military operations, such as the Balkans and Afghanistan. The collection and analysis of lessons from these operational spaces will be reinforced by new data and qualitative research applied to hybrid warfare situations in the European space. Case studies within EU (and Ukraine) will examine the roles of multiple identities (cultures, gender, race, etc.) as well as touch on the role of media and socio-technical networks, which play significant roles in the potential for hybrid threats. At the same time, we will critically revisit and analyse the assumptions embedded within terms such as “hybrid” and “civil-military”, and how these characterize civilians, aggressors, political opponents, etc to move towards more continually more effective/reflective terminology. Cross case comparisons and inter-sectorial cooperation will lead to policy recommendations. The research will increase our knowledge of the role of civilians in crisis and conflict scenarios in Europe; we will simultaneously use this knowledge to develop civil-military tools and skills for institutional actors within NATO and the EU to help reduce the potential harm caused by hybrid threats and/or inadequate or misplaced institutional measures.

The ResilientCivilians project makes important contributions to research and policy, providing insights into the role of civilians in complex population centric/hybrid scenarios for EU and NATO operations. It will help strengthen trust between civilian actors and institutions and NATO/EU resilience baseline requirements.


The deliverables of the ResilientCivilians project will include:

1. Policy recommendations, including periodic policy briefs, fact sheets and executive summaries.
2. Online training material that can be integrated into current training (courses, strategy sessions, etc.).
3. Handbook of best practices that serves as a reference guide for NATO/EU practitioners – Hard copies would be available in all NATO/EU libraries and electronic versions would be available on the NATO and EU relevant websites, including the CIMIC Centre of Excellence and the new Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Warfare Threats, and distributed internally.
4. Publications in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal respected by both academics and EU/NATO practitioners (e.g. International Security)- minimum 2 peer reviewed articles
5. High-profile conference participation at ISA annual meetings from 2019 to 2021 (including full panel proposal to be sponsored by the International Security Studies Section of ISA).


Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv (Principal investigator)
Dir. Matti Saarelainen
Dr. Jane Freedman
Col (ret) Christopher Holshek
Dr. Sten Rynning
Dr. Cedric de Coning
Dr. Sebastiaan Rietjens
Dr. Sergii Glebov

Financial/grant information:

The ResilientCivilians project consists of 8 partners, one of whom is both a partner and an end-user (the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats – Hybrid CoE, in Finland). The project team will produce scholarly works mapping lessons learned, as well as recommendations regarding potential conflict drivers and hybrid warfare scenarios, as well as provide training packages for the Hybrid CoE and the NATO accredited Civil Military Cooperation Centre of Excellence (CCoE – our second end-user). The four partners located at universities will include masters, PhD and Post-doctoral students. Three partners are specialists at research institutes and will contribute to specific parts of the project, either in model development (NUPI), and training (Netherlands Defence Academy and Alliance for Peacebuilding). The partner at Hybrid CoE plays a significant role being a direct and contributing member to the project (facilitating training and workshops during the project) as well as being an end-user, along with the CCoE which also focuses on training and education for civil-military operations. The project is led by professor Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv at the Dept. of Sociology, Political Science, and Community Planning, with UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

This research was sponsored in part by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme under grant SPS G5442, as well as supported by all the participating institutions.