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New unrest and instability on Europe’s periphery by Ambassador Jiří Šedivý, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to NATO

The year 2014 may well be seen by future historians as the most important (re)defining moment for European security since the end of the cold war. The strategic landscape of Europe’s neighbourhood seems to be radically different today from the situation only a year ago. Two moments – or strategic surprises perhaps – have dominated the past twelve months. Just several hundred kilometres to the east of the EU’s and NATO’s borders Russia has launched a hybrid campaign against its neighbour. Moscow’s revisionism is challenging the very principles of the post-cold war European security architecture, such as the commitment to refrain from the threat or use of force and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states and for their inherent right to choose their institutional future to ensure their security and prosperity. In the south, from the Middle East to North Africa (MENA), the accelerated rise of militant extremist groups is destabilising the region with detrimental consequences for the security of the whole Euro-Atlantic area. We have even seen an unprecedented transformation of a terrorist movement into a quasi-state, threatening to bring jihad to Europe.

No de-escalation in Ukraine


As to the crisis in and around Ukraine, after a calmer “Christmas break”, there came a new escalation of fighting. During that pause Russia has supplied hundreds of pieces of advanced equipment, including rocket systems, heavy artillery, tanks, armoured vehicles and electronic warfare systems to the separatists and helped to consolidate their C2. Moscow – in utter disregard of the Minsk agreements – is close to achieving her main objective: to limit Ukraine’s sovereignty through establishing a frozen conflict in its eastern regions. The country is at the same time getting to the verge of economic collapse. Kyiv’s European aspirations are now drastically complicated. The so-called Minsk 2.0 agreement of 12 February offers, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it, a “glimmer of hope” for an end to conflict in eastern Ukraine. Yet the Ukrainian side signed the comprehensive ceasefire agreement from a position of sheer weakness in view of the separatists’ recent military achievements. Thus for example the deal’s provisions for constitutional reform to give eastern Ukraine more self-governance would in fact limit the country’s political sovereignty, effectively giving to Moscow leverage to interfere in Ukrainian internal affairs; the illegally annexed Crimea is not mentioned at all. President Putin’s speech at the Valdai International Discussion Club in October 2014 spelled out the essence of his anti-Western sentiments whilst amounting almost to a new political doctrin for Russia. This, combined with such concrete military steps as large-scale exercises with aggressive scenarios (including a nuclear attack against NATO Allies), huge investments in strategic capabilities, a growing number of provocative flight activities including by strategic bombers) and an upgrading of nuclear forces, indicates that Moscow has opted in favour of digging the country down into deeper isolation and more force posturing in the long term. NATO and the EU have demonstrated remarkable unity and a natural complementarity in this crisis so far. We must continue to stand together within both organisations in order to counter any Russian efforts to divide us. At the same time we have not panicked; Russia is not assessed as a direct military threat and the basic planning assumption of the 2010 Strategic Concept – that the “Alliance does not consider any country to be its adversary” (para 16.) – remains unchanged.


Three major threats to European security


The challenge in the MENA region is completely different from the one in the east. While Russia is a relatively strong nuclear nation state whose grave dissatisfaction with its geopolitical status fuels its revisionist policy, the problem in the south is more complex. It is framed by long-term social and political grievances of the local populations stemming from the oppressive, inefficient and corrupt regimes that often degenerate or collapse outright into failed states. This breeds ethnic tensions, sectarian violence and civil wars. This situation poses three major threats to European security: first, foreign fighters originally from Europe, battle-hardened, religiously radicalised and ready to come back in order to wage jihad against us. The killings in Paris fulfilled this worst-case scenario. I am afraid we will be seeing more of these kinds of attacks. Second, the existence of a large area near European borders serving as a breeding ground for regional instability, terrorism and organised crime. Third, even larger numbers of displaced people seeking refuge in Europe.


How to combat Islamic State

The main reason for the initial “lightning” success of so-called Islamic State (IS) lies in the preceding almost ten years of ethnically and religiously exclusive rule by the Nouri al-Maliki regime which alienated a large part of the Sunni and Kurdish populations from the Iraqi state. Hence the very first pre-condition for defeating the Islamic radicals would be to establish support and loyalty to the Iraqi state across all the country’s religious and ethnic groups. A comprehensive approach involving military andnon-military tools is therefore needed. The US-led coalition of some 50 nations follows five lines of action: first, supporting forces fighting against the radicals (air campaign, planning, logistics, training, equipment). Second, cutting off the flow of foreign fighters (justice and law domain in the home states, intelligence concerning recruitment and radicalisation, interrupting lines of transport to the theatre, border security, returnee checks). Third, eliminating financial sources (denying oil exports, disrupting money generation, laundering and transfers). Fourth, humanitarian assistance to the local population, internally displaced persons and refugees. Fifth, de-legitimising the IS ideology in the public and social media space. Neither the EU nor NATO is directly involved in the military fight against the Islamist militants. Yet the role of both in the wider sense – supporting regional stability, humanitarian assistance and post-conflict reconstruction – is indispensable. But unless there is persistent and systematic resistance against the radical and militant Islamists by the majority of moderate Muslims within their own communities – both in the region and in Europe – the problem cannot be rooted out. Long-term support for moderat regional partners such as Jordan is another crucial task.


We must continue to communicate with Russia

It is most unfortunate that in times marked by serious challenges to the basic principles of our civilisation, deep friction between Russia and the West is preventing any meaningful cooperation. Despite this and in view of our common challenges we must keep the lines of communication open, thus encouraging Russia to come to terms with its legal obligations. Without that we cannot consider any return to normality and to cooperation. Both challenges in Europe’s neighbourhood are urgent and pressing; yet their character differs fundamentally – as do the ways and means of coping with them. The West must be able to deal with both theatres in parallel, approaching them in a balanced manner. In so doing the diverse priorities of individual nations, usually defined by their proximity to the respective problems and historical experience, must be taken into account. That is why western unity and solidarity are indispensable. Both EU and NATO states seem to understand this. The Wales Summit and the EU Council have given the right political guidance and signalled the strong spiritual cohesion of the West. It is this cohesion that provides the most efficient assurance and constitutes a solid basis for decisive actions, through which the real difference on the ground can be achieved.

Jiří Šedivý, The European Security and Defense, 1/2015, page 11-12