Kyiv Security Forum


Changing the Security Paradigm in a Fragmented World: European Dimension

The European continent is hostage to a security paradox. It is both a place where new security paradigms are being tested by the postmodern European Union, and one where old quarrels are still being solved by old-fashioned military means. 

Seeing security in interdependence, the EU has spent much of the last 50 years building a system in which norms and institutions generate common values. These values being the prosperity and well-being of their people, the countries of the EU have gradually shifted their attention away from military muscle-flexing. Since battles against pandemics or environmental catastrophes cannot be won with large armies, Europeans no longer think of their security and defense in Westphalian terms. Instead, they have preferred to adopt a vision of human security that can be defended by building resilient societies rather than by accumulating military arsenals. Shrinking European defense budgets present a clear indicator of the predominance of this type of thinking. At the same time, recent fiscal austerity measures have further strained the Union’s ability to develop its defense capabilities. This may give an impetus to the idea of common defense and reinforce the EU’s postmodern world vision, but it hardly reflects a realistic assessment of its security environment.  

The globalized world is a more interconnected but also a more perilous place. The recognition of new asymmetric and transnational threats could have laid the foundation for greater cooperation between countries, but the global redistribution of power has created new hyper-competition. The EU’s own backyard is a Pandora’s Box that has been opened by the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Russia and Turkey have become strong and independent-minded players that the EU can no longer disregard if it wants to preserve peace on the European continent. If strong neighbors are a security challenge, the Union’s weak and badly governed neighbors prove that the contrary is also true. Corruption-ridden newly independent states, entrenched in post-Cold War disputes, are equally a source of instability.    

Global security dynamics 

The global security environment is a completely new unexplored land that European countries have yet to discover. The simultaneous rise of China and India, defying the rest of the world with fast-growing economies and booming populations, has already set the global power shift in motion. With the global centre of gravity moving steadily from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the European continent will - for the first time in 500 years – cede its central role in global affairs. 

In a world where European countries haven’t yet found their place nor defined their role, the new rules of the game may be expediently set by other players. Despite their familiar appearance, evoking memories of the old days of the Concert of Europe, these new rules are, in the end, Europe’s nightmare. European countries are neither psychologically nor practically prepared to play a game in which winners win and losers lose. 

Zero-sum thinking has already kicked off the competition, and the resource-hungry rising powers are driving it. To satisfy their billions of hungry mouths, they are ready to use any means necessary. If it means learning from the West how to use such tools as soft power, they will be exemplary students who may quickly outmatch their teachers. What used to be the Western monopoly on the power of attraction and persuasion has now given way to a fierce competition for soft power. 

In this hyper-competition for hard and, increasingly, soft power, European countries are unlikely to keep pace with the rising Rest. The EU’s reliance on American hard power may no longer be sustainable. Shifting its attention to the Pacific, the United States is reluctant to maintain the same level of engagement in Europe. Furthermore, soft power is no longer Europe’s exclusive advantage.    

On the other hand, the emergence of a new set of threats may undermine the relevance of both hard and soft power. Pandemics, natural disasters, terrorist and cyber attacks are immune to traditional power projection. This is the same reasoning we all use in our daily lives: if you want mushrooms, you can go to pick them up in a forest where you will need to carry a gun to protect yourself from wild beasts or other dangers. You can also go to a grocery store where you may run the risk of buying rotten mushrooms. But carrying a gun to protect yourself from poor quality would be grotesque.   

European countries are right to emphasize human security. This contributes to a better awareness of these new dangers, but also presses for action. Building resilient societies that are able to bounce back after an attack is a challenge in terms of both thinking and resources. Government stovepipes do not allow the overlap of functions necessitated by new threats. Making resilience work requires a new way of thinking that must translate into greater inter-agency cooperation and whole-of-government approach. 

On the other hand, governments are often simply not in charge of the critical infrastructures that are most vulnerable in the face of new dangers – despite their ultimate responsibility for providing security. For example, as much as 75 per cent of critical infrastructures in the United States are owned by private companies. In most countries, electricity grids and communication networks are run by private companies and not governments. Thus, protecting vital national infrastructures will make public-private partnerships indispensable. However, while security is a raison d’être for states, private companies are driven by profits. The convergence of interests may ensue only if governments manage to build a strong business case for private companies to invest in infrastructure protection. Its foundation is a simple cost-benefit calculation. For instance, the disruption of transport and communication may halt the delivery of supplies, against which companies may not be insured. Just think of huge losses caused by an eruption of the Icelandic volcano earlier this year. 

The ash cloud paralyzed Europe but also demonstrated how unforeseeable our future could be. It may also have contributed to a better understanding of resilience. Resilience is not the ability to prevent any attack or disaster: preventing the unthinkable is simply impossible. Being resilient means withstanding a crisis by maintaining the minimum level of operation and by quickly restoring it to normal. In the United States, the change of attitude has apparently already taken place. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush promised not to let it happen again. In contrast, the Obama administration maintains that if a terrorist attack were to occur, American people must be able to absorb it. Such an assertion may be unpopular, but it nonetheless deserves the credit of breaking unrealistic expectations.    

In modern societies, individuals used to rely on the state for their security. New security challenges are likely to shake up the status quo. The Australian government, for example, has already moved in that direction by encouraging people to stock up on food for emergency situations. Surprisingly, bad governance may better prepare people for emergencies because they are less prone to count on the government for their safety.    

The concept of human security draws attention to individual security. Bouncing back requires individuals to accept a greater share of responsibility. Traditional state power is toothless when it comes to new dangers. Nevertheless, if the world falls into hyper-competition, Europe’s novel security thinking may become futile. 

Regional security dilemmas 

The European continent is not trouble-free. New threats haven’t simply replaced the old ones. Further ignoring the acrimonious feelings of the EU’s neighbors is not only impossible, but dangerous. Russia is determined to assert its regional role, and Turkey no longer sees its alignment with the West as an essential characteristic of its foreign policy. The European security system has reached a tipping point beyond which none of the existing organizations – NATO, OSCE, CSTO – will remain relevant.   

In recognition of the growing need to rethink the European security architecture, NATO worked towards the November summit in Lisbon by developing a new strategic concept. The OSCE, in an attempt to overhaul its regional standing, hosted discussions on Medvedev’s proposal under the so-called Corfu Process.  Its first summit in 11 years also took place in Astana in December this year.      

Despite all the diplomatic back-and-forth on the continent, European security couldn’t look more fragmented. Since war between members of the Euro-Atlantic community is unlikely, Russia is deeply suspicious of NATO’s future role. Moscow is wary of NATO’s evoking Article 5 to counter energy, cyber security or any other new threats. It also fears that NATO will act unilaterally in out-of-area operations when the United Nations Security Council is paralyzed. 

Conversely, the West is tempted to use the window of opportunity opened by Medvedev’s proposal to launch discussions on the European security architecture. But reservations persist. The war in August 2008 demonstrated that Russia has not yet renounced the use of force. And many are worried that Russia wants to maintain a sphere of privileged interests by seeking a veto power that would be conferred by its proposed European Security Treaty.    

Thus, rebuilding trust must be a priority. NATO could benefit from formal cooperation with the CSTO in conducting its operations in Afghanistan. For Russia, this would signal recognition of its regional role. Moving forward on missile defense cooperation could also help repair relations. If the idea of common missile defense succeeds, it may lay a solid foundation for genuine cooperation.

Turkey is another disenchanted regional player. As it is queuing up for European membership with no clear prospects, it feels no remorse for developing a tous azimuts foreign policy. The current rapprochement between Russia and Turkey reflects tactical convergence toward divergent long-term goals. Despite growing bilateral ties in the form of trade, a visa-free regime and energy deals, the two countries are mistrustful partners. They are partners in keeping the West out of their common backyard, rather than long-term allies. When the United States started showing interest in the Black Sea region soon after the 9/11 attacks, many opposed the emergence of what they called a Russia-Turkey condominium. However, as soon as Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, announced in January 2007 that the United States would not seek a larger role in the Black Sea region, fear of this condominium vanished. Hence, the current tandem of Russia and Turkey may be bad news for the European Union. The two countries may be teaming up in an attempt to seize the momentum of the European Union’s disarray to develop their own regional policies in the common neighborhood. 

The multiplication of regional policies in the common neighborhood of Europe’s major powers – Russia, Turkey and the European Union – risks perpetuating the grey zones of instability. It will allow regional countries to gravitate indefinitely between different power poles without ever embracing a policy.  
Ukraine is a country that swings from instability to disarray because its leadership unscrupulously chooses à la carte from competing offers. The country’s geopolitical situation – bordering two major powers – makes balancing intuitive. However, when the balancing act is not underpinned by an overarching strategic vision of the national interest, the country becomes vulnerable to manipulation.  
Ukraine’s democratic showing is disappointing. Its October elections were like a card game in which the dealer got twice as many cards as his opponent. The game itself was fairly played, but it is not difficult to guess who had the wining hand. This situation illustrates how normal it still is in Ukraine to play with the rules rather than by the rules. Ukraine’s mimicking of democratic practices gives its people a misleading impression of democracy, causing political disorder and economic collapse. The example of neighboring Russia, with its relative economic prosperity and stability, is a trap that Moscow is always ready to exploit. Hence, Ukraine’s failure to deliver on democratic reforms will inevitably draw it back into the Russian orbit. Moreover, democratic disillusionment may draw a real dividing line on the European continent, separating those who equate democracy with good governance from those who blame it for disorder.     
Reforms have stalled, and corruption is flourishing in Ukraine. This does not make the country attractive to foreign investors, but it does not deter those who just have not seen better. Russian businessmen take advantage of Ukraine’s bribery-ridden system to get hold of the country’s economic assets. Letting them do so will mean letting Ukraine fall further into Russia’s embrace.  

With respect to security, Ukraine does not enjoy a multitude of options. It is surrounded by Russian military forces on all sides: the Russian border is to the east, Russian troops are still stationed in Transnistria, and Sevastopol is still home to the Russian Black Sea fleet. By taking NATO accession off the table, the current Ukrainian leadership has deprived itself of its last bargaining chip in the eyes of Russia. A bizarre maneuver, considering how little practical effect this decision had on the actual scope of Ukraine-NATO cooperation. Particularly so, as Ukrainian budgetary constraints make cooperation with NATO critical for maintaining the country’s current level of capabilities.

Ukraine has not been granted easy solutions. Making its national project work requires juggling complex geopolitical realities while keeping an eye on internal divides. To succeed, the Ukrainian leadership must put forward a strategy that translates a long-term vision of their country’s cultural, political and security identities.  

Ukraine’s success or failure will determine the future of the whole region. Countries like Georgia and Moldova look to Ukraine to predict their own fates. The two countries have been making progress in building democratic societies and in advancing reforms. Both have Russian troops stationed in their breakaway regions. Tbilisi and Chisinau are right to discard hard power options when it comes to restoring their territorial integrity. Instead, democracy, good governance and economic prosperity are the right ingredients for building soft power that their countries’ lost sons will not be able to resist. Georgia and Moldova may well be leaders in democratic reform in the region, but they will not succeed if Ukraine is lagging behind. They need Ukraine to balance against Russia. Both countries need a strong, independent and democratic Ukraine to make sure that trade flows, that borders are secure, and that spoilers are kept at bay. 

For centuries, the European continent was plagued with rivalries and devastated by wars. The EU has learned a history lesson that has allowed it to enjoy a fairly long and practically undisturbed moment of peace. However, if it wants to prevent history from repeating itself, it must ensure that its neighbors do not repeat its own historical mistakes. If the European continent emerges as a single and unanimous power pole, then others in the world may also be compelled to listen.