Publicat în 25 septembrie 2013, 20:08 / 220 elite & idei

Liviu Mureșan – First NATO / EU – SCO Think-Tank Meeting. New Security Challenges – perspectives from the West and from the East

Liviu Mureșan – First NATO / EU – SCO Think-Tank Meeting. New Security Challenges – perspectives from the West and from the East

First NATO / EU – SCO Think-Tank Meeting

New Security Challenges – perspectives from the West and from the East

The global community finds itself forced to operate and seek a semblance of normality in the most complex security environment since the end of the Cold War. Situations arise overnight and evolve rapidly and unpredictably, with consequence felt across the world. Because of growing economic and political interdependencies, any seemingly minor, local crisis may have a “domino effect”, triggering a cascading failure of markets, security arrangements and institutional structures. The rise of risk perception as a key factor for market valuations and projections of security outcomes narrows the strategic options of countries and organizations alike. The governance capacity of security actors is stretched to the limit, as the new taxonomy of threats at local, regional and global levels finds them lacking the adequate conceptual and operational instruments to cope with the resulting challenges. This has been evident in the lack of exit strategies in far-away conflicts and the difficulties in coordinating multilateral actions and backing them with the necessary political and financial resources.

At the same time, the increasing complexity of today’s world reveals the limited ability of the existing collective mechanisms and international institutions to produce adequate responses to the new threats. The fragility of the international system is compounded by the rise of non-state actors with capabilities that may rival those of many states. These actors exert their influence in direct and indirect ways in a vibrant and diverse ecosystem, while their contributions to security outcomes become more significant, for better or for worse. From corporations to civil society to terrorist and criminal organizations to single issue groups, non-state actors have rearranged the security landscape making it almost unrecognizable from the familiar picture of just a few short years ago.


Think tanks are also a category of non-state actors performing useful cognitive functions for decision makers and the public at large, while maintaining the intellectual flexibility to operate outside the orthodoxy of conventional wisdom. The fact that the Conference on “New Security Challenges – perspectives from the West and from the East” in Bucharest is a meeting of think tanks from countries belonging to different organizations on two continents provides a welcome opportunity to discuss any political issues, no matter how complicated, without prejudice to the officially held positions. The merit of meetings like this one lies in the variety of policy-oriented analysis from various angles, exchange of valuable expertise and access to relevant research. Such meetings have also proven their worth as funnels for civil society input in support of governmental analytical capabilities.

The new paradigm of national security is permanently linked to the adequate management of risks beyond national borders, which are becoming less and less relevant as barriers to threats and vulnerabilities. The failure to adequately address these issues invariably affects national security outcomes. Even the traditional view of national security is undergoing a transformative process, as new developments challenge its focus on the state. Increasingly, the emphasis is shifting to the notion of human security, or a citizen security-oriented paradigm. Cooperative action at an international level also acquires additional importance. Threats to critical infrastructures of global importance, such as pipelines, financial markets or communication networks, or the contagion of social unrest and political strife can now be tackled with optimal results only through concerted efforts, constructive cooperation and burden sharing.

The choice of Bucharest as the venue for this meeting reflects the traditional status of Romania as a gateway between East and West. It also highlights the current geographic reality of the Black Sea as a border region between NATO, the EU and the SCO. Our purpose is to have an informal, friendly discussion, to identify issues of common interest and to exchange ideas on possible solutions. The result should be a reduction of the information gap between various perspectives on issues which are essentially global in nature.

The presence of the European Union in this debate is also logical, even though, at first glance, it would be easier to simply emphasise the NATO-SCO duality because of their common security-oriented character. Clearly, the EU has a definite role to play in dealing with security issues and is actively exploring ways to improve risk governance for its member states. The recently completed European Global Strategy (EGS) stresses the importance of EU coordination with NATO and the need to open lines of dialogue with the SCO as a precondition for adequate engagement with the world as an influential actor in its own right. Meanwhile, NATO is undergoing a process of recalibration to adjust to contemporary security needs and to rationalize the use of its resources through the introduction of “smart defence”. It now emphasizes its capability to respond to asymmetric threats, to manage energy, water and food security in an increasingly interdependent and shrinking world. Hopefully, our debates will be able to ascertain that there is ample scope for the three organzations, NATO and SCO together with the EU, to eliminate past communication deficiencies and to find common ground for constructive cooperation. The exploration of the possibility to engage in joint research projects on issues affecting all parties can contribute substantially toward enhancing mutual understanding and confidence. The discussions taking place under the umbrella of the First Think Tank Meeting in Bucharest should be viewed as a welcome start of a continuing process that does not have necessarily to be institutionalized. An informal, flexible approach may be better suited for eliciting the most pertinent responses and perspectives from the participants. There is a variety of issues with significant potential for cooperation that we can identify right away, and further dialogue between think tank experts is likely to yield many more. As NATO, the EU and the SCO continue to develop institutionally and in terms of their respective strategic vision, more common subjects may emerge, providing a solid argument in favour of continuing the NATO/EU-SCO think tank meeting framework.

The following are some of the common concerns that are readily identifiable: fighting terrorism and trans-border organized crime; improving cyber security; coping with the nexus of energy, water and food security; protecting critical infrastructure, dealing with citizen-oriented security. Other long-term issues were also highlighted in various documents, such as the European Security Research and Innovation Forum Report (ESRIF), released after two years of work of over 600 European experts. The report highlighted some key obstacles in managing these issues, such as a lack of international coordination, or structural defects in mechanisms for collective action. Most importantly, it stressed the fact that, in the absence of a collective response, emerging security gaps may invalidate even the most competent responses at national level, leading to suboptimal outcomes.

Terrorism is a global and shifting threat posed mostly by non-state actors that are neither confined to a certain geographic area, nor are they sensitive to the types of reprisals which deter hostile action by state actors. The resulting asymmetric warfare has deeply challenged existing response doctrines, and has prompted the development of new capabilities and structures. With increased mobility, resources as well as contacts with an eye towards attracting global publicity for their cause, terrorists are an elusive threat and a challenge to the intelligence-gathering and policing capabilities of states.

Organized crime has evolved to the point that its trillions of dollars of business could warrant “a seat in the G20”. Its trans-border operations have increased in step with global trade, establishing supply lines and financial ties that rival those of the legitimate economy. Organized crime groups have been remarkably quick in adopting the latest technologies and business practices to streamline and secure their operations, as well as to identify new sources of revenue. The rise of white collar crime has resulted in an opportunity for the criminal groups to launder money almost with impunity. All the while, law enforcement entities, even international ones, have been hampered by a lack of resources, limits on mobility due to jurisdictions, and difficulties in keeping up with the pace of innovation in criminal enterprises. Organized crime undermines the rule of law, subverts the normal functioning of the state and its decision-making, and imposes substantial costs on society and the economy. Moreover, the internationalization of certain crime groups and their businesses has rendered them resilient to individual state action. At the same time, a disconnect between the familiarity of street criminality and the lofty lifestyles of some of these groups has allowed them to become more public in stature, even to become almost socially acceptable in certain countries, flaunting their wealth and their high-placed contacts. Finally, there are also notable ties between crime groups and the services they render, and terrorist groups, who rely on their expertise in moving money and restricted goods.

Cyber security has received a lot of attention due to the increased networking of critical systems that enhance the impact of successful attacks on business interests and personal privacy. It is a fact that, nowadays, any skilled teenager with a laptop in a slum can cause untold damage to cyber systems. Joint research leading to specific agreements at official level can greatly contribute toward diminishing this vulnerability, and can also mitigate apprehensions about the perceived potential for cybernetic enmity between states. With so many existing examples to choose from, it would not be an exaggeration to state that cyber security will remain a priority positive cooperative action in both bilateral and multilateral format.

In the context of the shift in focus towards human security, the nexus of energy, food and water security emerges as a possible source for anticipated future conflicts. The fact that NATO is gearing for action towards preventing economic and societal shocks through measures aimed at improving energy security indicates the importance it places on this issue. Next comes water security, considering the increasing pressure on diminishing or non-renewable sources of water for industrial, agricultural and household consumption. Conflicts over access to and use of water become a distinct possibility in some of the most populous areas of the world. The past few years have also brought to light the precarious position of many countries with regards to food resources. Global markets have responded with increased prices, to reflect the competition for reduced supplies. While some of these issue can be resolved in the short to medium term through better governance and rational action at a national level, it makes sense to consider them as a priority subject for international cooperation in order to seek agreed, long-term solutions that would also take into account the worldwide implications of climate change. Eventually, NATO, the EU and the SCO will equally have to anticipate the possible consequences of inaction and become more proactive, since the cost of neglect is not only high, but also carries unpredictable security risks.

Critical infrastructure protection has emerged as an international security concern of the first order. Significant infrastructural systems are now linking the NATO, EU and SCO member states in areas such as energy, communications, transport and others. The interdependent nature of these systems means that a lateral disruption can have cascading effects throughout the whole system-of-systems. Higher levels of integration also breed new vulnerabilities. A cyber-attack may knock out power plants, which shuts down manufacturing, transportation, communications and so on. Effects are felt beyond the area of denial of critical products and services, since financial markets react quickly to such events and throw global supply chains and financial flows into disarray, resulting in long-term, sizable losses. There is an added challenge in the protection of international or global critical infrastructures, since it involves effective coordination and coherence. In the absence of these ingredients, the infrastructure is only as safe as its weakest link will allow, and the countries it serves are only as safe and as prosperous as a functional infrastructure will allow. Joint research and development in this area can yield significant results, since the security gains of one actor accrue to others as well, in an incremental fashion as an investment multiplier and a stimulus for international cooperation.

Common interest in the preservation of critical infrastructures naturally leads to cooperation on outer space. Certain space systems qualify as being critical, because they are key providers of services which are deeply embedded in our economic systems, as determinants to our quality of life – for instance, communications, Earth observation and global navigation satellites. Through the characteristics of the orbits on which these satellites are placed, the vicinity of Earth becomes one of the most international environments, with just a small number of satellites providing services to many millions of users. These critical infrastructures subsist in the most hostile environment known to man, with high requirements in terms of time and treasure for design, construction and replacement, and little redundant capacity. Regardless of notional owner or nationality, the security of these systems is a collective responsibility, since any disruption can have dire repercussions. NATO, the EU and the SCO, through their respective member states, concentrate most of the space expertise and industrial capacity in the world, with significant potential for benefits from cooperation on issues such as prevention of impact with debris or the reduction of the rate of new debris creation. Space is also the source of other risks. For instance, space weather phenomena may disrupt even ground based infrastructures, with numerous examples of blackouts affecting millions of people due to unshielded transformers. Another risk is that of impacts with asteroids of different sizes and compositions. The recent Chelyabinsk near impact highlights that, while statistically unlikely, serious collisions do happen and the potential for damage is great. However, handling all these issues, such as monitoring near-Earth objects or the activity of the Sun and ensuring early warning capabilities and resilience capacity, requires significant capital expenditures and other efforts. Again, collective action is a promising way forward, with burden sharing accompanied by information exchanges, building on the already impressive legacy of cooperation between countries in the West and the East, as well as rapidly advancing new players.

The tentatively listed subjects have a number of things in common. Some of them have to do with asymmetric conflicts involving highly mobile and motivated non-state actors utilising modern technology and other tools which would have been unavailable to them in the past. Many new threats are not easily addressed by individual countries, but require collective action to mitigate their worst vulnerabilities. But most of the subjects mentioned above are non-confrontational, opening prospects for peaceful cooperation – one actor’s security gains do not make another less secure. In fact, when it comes to critical infrastructures, security gains are generally shared by all. Last but not least, many of these issues are associated with high costs and general complexity, providing additional incentives for a cooperative approach.

Finally, of immediate interest are the prospects for Afghanistan and the region after 2014, when the main burden of responsibility for security will shift completely to the central Afghani administration. Also important is the future of Syria, not only in political and military terms but also with regard to the huge problem of refugees and displaced persons.  All this is happening in close proximity to the EU, NATO and the SCO, and it stands to reason that such issues are a matter of serious concern for many think tanks represented at the meeting in Bucharest.

The rise of extreme weather events, the impact of climate change and the potentially disastrous effects of other natural or man-made hazards should also qualify as topics of universal interest for discussions. Future cooperation may cover not only actions for alleviating the damage and human suffering but also preventive measures through the establishment of early warning mechanisms, population evacuation techniques, and the maintenance of appropriate administrative and governance capacity.

This abundance of common interests should provide an adequate basis not only for discussions during the First NATO/EU-SCO Think Tank Meeting, but also for the newly emerging process of constant dialogue between think tank experts from the countries belonging to these three organizations. Moreover, the application of a “Thinking the Unthinkable” approach can result in the identification of new threats or challenges arising from the increasing complexity of the system of international relations. The commonality of major interests and concerns in various security environments may trigger a productive debate leading to better communication, coordination and cooperation in all these areas. The First Think Tank Meeting of its kind in Bucharest and its possible follow-up provide experts with opportunities for deep and meaningful interactions and may eventually shape the outline for a security agenda for the years and decades ahead. The end goal of our scientific endeavour is to supply national decision makers with alternative analytical tools and policy recommendations apt to secure enhanced resilience in the face of an ever more complex set of risks, threats and vulnerabilities, from terrorism and trans-border criminality, to stewardship and allocation of scarce resources and the protection of critical infrastructures. There is more to gain from cooperation and agreements than from mutual recrimination and hostility. The latter comes at the price of neglecting practical issues, such as global stability and the functioning of the myriad interdependencies between states, their respective institutions and the network of networks of their citizens. What we need now is to establish a sustained multiple dialogue and to build up our capacity for absorbing the knowledge and practical lessons resulting from such interactions.  The scope for cooperation is indeed significant, and the contribution of think tanks and individual experts may well prove to be of high value for the process of building goodwill and fruitful, mutually rewarding cooperation.

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