Thematic Seminar on “How to implement strategic issues in the intelligence work?”

On 31st of May and 1st of June 2023, the Belgian Security (VSSE) and CUTA, with the support of the Royal Military Academy and the Institute Egmont, organised a Thematic Seminar on “How to implement strategic issues in the intelligence work?” which attracted a very large affluence, gathering 80 participants from 23 countries and international organisations. This event was inaugurated on Tuesday 30th by a welcome dinner under the auspices of the Deputy Administrator General of the VSSE, Mr Pascal PETRY, and the commanding officer of the Royal Military Academy, Admiral Yves DUPONT.

M. François FISCHER, Director of the ICE Permanent Secretariat, welcomed the participants and reminded them how important strategic culture is, giving as an example that, if Ukraine wins its war against Russia, it will be because it changed its paradigm and distanced itself from the soviet culture.

The Director of international relations at VSSE gave some introductory observations on strategy: strategy and objectives work together, but objectives should be defined before the strategy can be developed. Defining a strategy follows therefore a top-down-logic, to which the military in general and military services in particular are more used, compared with other services, where events (such as terror attacks) often let no or few time for a strategic approach.

Prof. Dr. Sven BISCOP from the Egmont Institute gave his vision on the question “What is strategy?” The purpose of strategy is to define the conditions that have to be fulfilled to continue one’s way of life, while the “grand strategy” defines the national security of a country, which will mobilise all its resources to defend it. “Grand strategies” are not secret, nor do they evolve quickly, but in case of a (rare) systemic shock.

Colonel Eric KALAJZIC from the Belgian Royal Higher Institute for Defence gave an insight on “what is strategic intelligence and its purpose”. He defined strategic intelligence as the information needed to formulate policy and plans at international and national levels, which distinguishes itself therefore from operational or tactical intelligence. Strategic intelligence needs national or international guidance, whereas the operational level of intelligence analyses this guidance, and the tactical one involves concrete planning.

The Romanian representative focused on “the use of indicators in anticipatory analytical processes”. The strategic foresight, as the ability to anticipate what will happen in the future, is no easy task for human beings, who are susceptible to cognitive biases: imagining the future is not instinctive and they tend to find the future in the past, or expect their counterpart to react like them. Foresight needs adapted instruments (not only classified information is relevant, but also open-source information, since it relates to the analysed topic) and manage expectations: errors are also opportunities to learn, improve, and adapt.

Two high level practitioners, the strategic advisor of the Dutch GISS and the Head of the Strategic foresight in the ACOS Strat of the Belgian Ministry of Defence, presented then “effective methods to identify strategic challenges”:

  • Our Dutch colleague detailed an efficient method regarding scenario building. It is used to eliminate cognitive, cultural or institutional biases, blind spots, and tunnel vision through a number of systematic steps of tasks. This method is not focusing on the predictability but on the conceivability of future developments.
  • Our Belgian colleague detailed the interest of Strategic Foresight Analysis (SFA), which examines the interactions between drivers of change and gives a broad, but useful, look at the future in social, technical, environmental, economic, and political domains.

The a.i. Director of the Belgian Coordination Unit for threat Analysis (CUTA), welcomed the participants for the second day of the seminar. He reminded them of the importance to prioritise when anticipating threats and preventing crises, as well as to establish a well-functioning cooperation with the partners. He insisted on the need to dispose of a robust system of intelligence sharing and the need to invest in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and data analysis to deliver exploitable output to decision makers.

Two speakers from the British Cabinet Office explained the “policy-operations link: translating strategic challenges into intelligence action”. After a presentation of the intelligence policy in general and the role played by the Cabinet Office in particular, they detailed the cross-governmental and cross-community approach adopted, from the group dedicated to national security to the operational contributions ensuing.

Dr. Christiane HÖHN, Principal adviser to the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator (EU CTC) intervened on “how to have a global approach?”. She addressed the ways to define strategic objectives in CT, insisting on the essential role of Security and intelligence inputs, and the need for them to be transformed into action and tools, and how operators can impact strategic choices.

The Strategy Advisor from the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke about the “Practical achievements – the Belgian national security strategy”. Listing first the six vital interests of the Kingdom of Belgium, he reminded that the national security is an umbrella document not going into granularity (CT or Defence strategies being sub-strategies). Every six months, all personnel are reviewed to assess the realisation of these priorities.

Mr. Wiktor STANIECKI, Deputy Head of the Security & Defence Policy Division of the European External Action Service (EEAS) presented “the EU Strategic Compass”. It contains a public threat assessment, taking stock of the main conclusions of SIAC’s EU Threat Analysis, concrete proposals with specific target dates, and prescribes a regular review process at Council and European Council level.

Mr Cesar BALGUERIAS, Policy Advisor to the Director of EU INTCEN, presented the position of the Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity (SIAC) in the EU security strategy. SIAC provided the EU institutions with a threat analysis in 2020, which was reviewed in 2022, integrating strategic threat analyses from national services in a multilateral context.

The Director of the intelligence production unit in NATO JISD presented the “NATO strategic concept”, a 360-degree approach including a strong collaboration both among the Allies and with NATO partners. She addressed collaborative projects with NATO partners on hybrid threats, cyber, space, manipulation of democracies, and use of technology against our armed forces.


Due to the high interest in the subject, the informal atmosphere, and its diversified setup, bringing together intelligence practitioners, academics, think tankers, and decision-makers (recipients of strategic intelligence or people involved in the prioritisation), the Thematic Seminar was both intensive and intense.

During this seminar, participants were given the opportunity to ask questions and address issues related to their daily work, as well as problematics most important to them, making it particularly interactive.

This first ever ICE seminar in Brussels shows also all the interest of such events, giving the opportunity to make selected EU outreach actions and to flag the high degree of cooperation within our European intelligence and security community.