The Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies (IFS) together with the Stiftung Wissenschaft and Politk (SWP) and the Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS) organised the seminar. The event was part of the joint research programmeSecurity and defence in Northern Europe (SNE). Norwegian Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide opened the seminar with a keynote speech, followed by a panel of experts from the United States, Germany, Estonia, Finland, and Norway.
The Ukraine crisis has become a game changer in international security and its ramifications are felt in Northern Europe. But security policy also responds to longer-term geostrategic trends such as the financial crisis, the US pivot to Asia, re-deployment from Afghanistan, or instability and conflict in the Middle East. Russia's increasingly assertive stance – which includes a substantial military build-up and the willingness to use military force – has been a source of concern for the west for several years. Together these developments have forced European countries to re-think how they can deepen cooperation to raise preparedness and improve capabilities.
"One for all, all for one"
Opening the seminar, Norwegian Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide acknowledged the importance of bringing researchers and policy makers together in order to exchange ideas and address critical questions. Such seminars should be seen as a led in an effort to engage the broader public in the debate about security and defence policy.
In her speech she emphasised Norway's long-term commitment to collective defence. In light of the current crisis, "'one for all, all for one' has rarely been a more appropriate slogan." Russia's violation of international law and its threatening behaviour against its neighbours have given renewed urgency to two key aspects: political cohesion and military preparedness.
Diversity and unity in facing the crisis
The following panel's overarching theme was how to deal with the challenges represented by Russia.
According to Derek Chollet, a former senior White House and Pentagon official now with the German Marshall Fund, the US strategy combines measures aimed at isolating and punishing Russia, with political and military support to Ukraine and the reassurance of allies. It is an open question at what point Russia again becomes a partner in areas of mutual interest. While most Europeans support measures of deterrence and reassurance, they also see the need to re-establish a meaningful dialogue with Russia. All speakers agreed that trust was currently at a low point.
Jürgen Schulz, deputy political director of Germany's Federal Foreign Office, acknowledged that there were discouragingly few signs for a successful return to a rule based international order. In the long-term, however, there is no alternative to dialogue with Russia.
In the meantime some countries in the region have to deal with direct challenges to their territorial security.
Merle Maigre, security policy adviser to Estonia's president insisted that the various instruments of military aggression and intimidation used by Russian forces in Ukraine were neither new nor unique. Hybrid warfare in the form of information campaigns, agitation, and border violations has been employed against the Baltic countries in the past, and is part of today's security picture as well. Countering these threats require a broad range of measures, from strengthening political and societal resilience to raising military preparedness through the presence of allied troops.
How well is the institutional framework prepared to meet these challenges? There is no doubt that the conflict with Russia over Ukraine has reaffirmed NATO's status as the principle institutional framework for collective defence. Especially member states bordering Russia are looking to NATO for reassurance, but also non-members like Sweden and Finland have reinforced their ties with the Alliance.
Finland's representative to the EU's Political and Security Committee, Ambassador Piritta Asunmaahighlighted the EU's critical role; as the main forum for European diplomacy, as a framework for defence cooperation, and in countering hybrid threats. Better cooperation and coordination between EU and NATO is therefore also necessary. Even as a non-EU member, Norway has aligned itself with the Union by joining the EU's sanctions regime. In addition, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) plays an important role as one of the few fora in which Russia is still fully participating.
Professor Rolf Tamnes (IFS) shared his "dream" of seeing all Nordic countries one day joining NATO and the EU to facilitate closer and more effective security cooperation across the region. In the foreseeable future, however, Northern Europe is more likely to see pragmatic cooperation in multiple overlapping formats. Together with NATO and EU, regional formats such as Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) and bilateral initiatives such as the recent Swedish-Finnish agreement will retain an important role in the short-to-medium perspective.
In light of the Ukraine crisis, NATO's last summit in Wales is widely regarded as a milestone that has prompted western security to re-focus on its core task. Speakers saw the chain of summits in EU and NATO as a way to maintain momentum in the debates on the future of European security. The EU's defence summit in June 2015 and NATO's next summit in Warsaw in 2016 will become important steps in the ongoing work towards more effective cooperation and increased preparedness.
The seminar was followed by a workshop in which scholars and officials from eleven different countries, as well as from NATO, the EU, and the European defence Agency (EDA) debated Western responsiveness and preparedness with an emphasis on regional cooperation.
Summary by Robin Allers