The future of the Common Security and Defence Policy and its impact on the Baltic Sea Region

by Juha Pyykönen

Security deficits in the Baltic Sea Region

The number of poles in the global system has changed four times during the Finnish independence. Today we are in a transit period toward the fifth one, as China is welcomed as a pole together with the USA. Other pole candidates are India, and with the caveat of a ‘confederation’, the EU. Russia is doing its utmost to elevate its status to meet that of the USA, but with limited economic, social and societal capacities it is failing. Consequently, and understandably but not acceptably, Russia utilizes aggressive foreign policies and military capabilities to have a say in the global security issues. Russia has been surprisingly successful in its neighbourhood and in the Middle East. It goes without saying that this results from the hesitant performance of the Western states.

In Europe, it has been NATO to respond with military to Russia’s military aggressions in Ukraine – not the EU. The EU responded with political and economic tools. This indicates that there exists a natural division of labour based on the diversion of capabilities between the two security organisations. It is a solid foundation for deeper cooperation between the two.

In practice, deficits are not necessarily in political, economic or even military capabilities, but in the lack of common interests and the reluctance to make political decisions in order to take a common action. Thus, the EU’s recent proposals do not hit the crux of the problem.

The enhanced role and impact of the Common Security and Defence Policy The basis for the current military cooperation stems from the Maastricht Treaty (1993) and the Lisbon Treaty (2009). So far, results of the EU defence policies and military cooperation could be described as ad-hoc based and modest when it comes to savings or improvements of capabilities. In November 2017 the EU member states decided to foster their defence cooperation through (re-)establishing the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) to be “inclusive” and “modular.” Against the history of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the most probable result is a common agreement, but a selective participation. The main aims of this development are (1) a deeper defence cooperation, (2) the establishment of the European Defence Fund (EDF) to finance this domain, and (3) a better synchronization of the EU’s defence related planning with a Coordinated Annual Review on Defence. However, this will not touch contemporary structures or tools of the EU’s security policy, including political, diplomatic, economic, environmental, societal and human activities, policies and programmes.

In the current volatile situation, it is NATO which guarantees the hard security of the 22 member states of the EU. The remaining six non-allied EU states are a group of rather diversified entities. Two of them are minor by size with very limited geostrategic relevance followed by two small states with constitutional constraints regarding military alliances. Then we have Finland and Sweden situated in the BSR possessing a very important geostrategic location and the closest possible relationship with NATO and the USA. Pertaining to military security, only the last two could be suffering from hard security deficit. For almost two decades, both have been vigorously deepening military and defence cooperation within NATO, within the EU, with the USA and among the Nordic and Baltic Sea countries bilaterally, trilaterally and multilaterally.

In all these contexts, the novelty is the new focus on territorial defence among all the actors mentioned above. In plain English, this means more shared and synchronised military operational planning, common preparations, training and exercising together, common use of infrastructure, interoperable equipment and systems, coherent logistics and corresponding transport arrangements. Furthermore, all these activities will be more congruent, which alleviates the threshold of enhanced future military cooperation in the BSR.

The conclusion is that the expected deeper EU defence structure will primarily serve the direct security demands of the non-allied Finland and Sweden. However, this progress cannot bypass or overtake the security guarantees provided by the collective defence system of NATO, as clearly indicated in the Lisbon Treaty and in the recent EU Council decisions.

This equation indicates that in the EU there is no real demand for conventional military capabilities, such as a ‘European Army’, to defend the territory of the union. However, as decided already in St. Malo in 1998, and later in Helsinki, a set of military crisis management capabilities could serve the EU’s common security interest. Capabilities, processes and modalities to serve this goal have been available from 2001 onwards and these capabilities have been used in numerous operations. To date, crisis management has taken place only outside the territory of the union. In November this year it was decided that the EU must take an action to also defend its own citizens. This applies to the Baltic Sea Region as well.

The future of the Common Security and Defence Policy as a security tool

If implemented, positive consequences of EDF, PESCO and CARD prevail. However, there is a sense of calm before the storm as the French President Emmanuel Macron launched a new defence idea in his September 2017 Sorbonne speech. In his intervention, called as the European Intervention Initiative (EII), France is aiming at a broader defence cooperation outside the current EU format and area of interest. This could result to a new focus, which could further disintegrate and fragment the current EU centred approach. The model could look like a ‘coalition of the willing’, a concept used by the USA and NATO in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The criteria for participation could consists of political will and military capabilities to act jointly in a new framework outside the EU or NATO.

The EII focuses on operational availability, which could materialize as a more rapid and handy tool for the coalition partners than the EU’s or NATO’s weighty practices. On the other hand, the EII could also retard or even prevent progress made with the recent EU’s defence efforts. Which states would join the effort remains to be seen, but for France there are two obvious areas of interest – the Northern Africa and the Mediterranean. For the states north of the Alps, the effort may not be lucrative enough to join.

In a case where the UK and France, the two mightiest and most active military contributors in the Western Europe, deserted the emerging improvements of EU defence, the whole effort could lose its credibility, which could, in turn, materialize as diminishing the value of the union itself.

Juha Pyykönen is a security analyst and a retired Brigadier General at the Finnish Defence Forces. He has worked as the chairman of the NATO Partner Interoperability Advocacy Group in Brussels, and in many other posts in the field of international military cooperation in NATO, EU and Finland.

The Trump Administration’s Impact on Baltic Security

by Dustin Dehez

A Changing Landscape

Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump struggled with international affairs. He did not really seem to understand the complexity of international trade, demonstrated all too clearly that he had no idea about the make-up of America’s nuclear deterrence and was keen to question traditional U.S. commitments. The foreign policy establishment gasped when Trump declared that NATO was obsolete. Here was a presidential candidate questioning the transatlantic security commitment that underpinned European security for decades, precisely at a moment when Europe’s security architecture faced a frontal assault by Russia. Yet, strangely, Trump’s declaration sounded eerily European. In fact, European politicians could easily have made similar statements. Former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier accused NATO of sabre-rattling, left- and right-wing politicians from across Europe’s political landscape often toy with the idea of replacing NATO with a different security set-up, one that would include Russia and ignore the independence of Central and Eastern European nations. In essence, Trump said something that one could here across Europe. The real problem, though, was this: Whenever Baltic policymakers heard such doubts coming from European colleagues they would rest assured that ultimately the United States would have their back. Imagine for a moment a re-run of Russia’s invasion of Crimea in a Baltic nation. Were little green men to show up and occupy, say, an airfield, would NATO declare it an Article 5 case and move to mobilise and defend that country? This, of course, is a political question and would depend on all NATO states agreeing. But it is easy to imagine that some allies would feel queasy or a German initiative to create a contact group in order to avoid declaring it an assault on all. In such a scenario, Baltic and Eastern European NATO members always relied on the United States to live up to its commitments and impress upon wavering European allies that the situation warrants a military response. But what if a US administration is just as queasy as some Western European nations? Trump’s public doubts on NATO and his recurrent declarations of wanting Russia as an ally sow doubt that the United States will defend the Baltics in the face of Russian aggression and that has severely undercut NATO’s deterrence, jeopardising, in the process, Baltic security. It is in the Baltics, after all, that NATO is most vulnerable.

To fully appreciate the extent of the changing landscape it is necessary to understand that the war the Kremlin wages in Ukraine is not the root of the current crisis. It is merely a symptom of a much bigger problem. The foundation of Europe’s security architecture rests on a number of pillars and every single one of them is under attack by the Kremlin. No matter, which pillar one looks at, whether it is the NATO-Russia Founding Act, the Charta of Paris, the UN Charta, the Budapest Memorandum, the INF-treaty or the CFE-treaty, the Kremlin is in violation of practically all of them or insists on interpretations that directly contradict the intent and wording of these treaties. As a result, Europe’s security architecture is under more serious strain than even in the closing years of the Cold War. Today, more than ever, European allies actually need a strong United States at their side.

Going Soft

The changing landscape is accompanied by a sea-shift in soft power. Ever since the Cold War ended, Europe operated under a number of general assumptions. The European Union looked attractive and gaining membership did not only promise economic prosperity, it was also a way to express a shared European destiny and a believe in the same set of values of freedom, liberty, progress. Expansion of NATO to the East was less about the expanding footprint of military alliance – in fact, NATO volunteered in the NATO-Russia founding act to avoid exactly that – but about completing a pan-European project. In that context achieving NATO membership was an incentive for countries to continue reforms to ultimately gain membership in the European Union. Nowhere was this project more successful than in the Baltics: Finland and Sweden joined the EU in 1995 and in 2004 Poland and the three smaller Baltic nations followed suit. Today, the picture could not be more different: Russia’s pushback has left many European policymakers weary. The Eastern Partnership is more lip service than ambitious project; NATO expansion has been shelved for all intents and purposes since the Bucharest summit in 2008. With Brexit, the most capable military of the EU is leaving the Union, while Hungary and Poland demonstrate how frail democratic systems still are and how difficult it is for the European Union to halt and reverse authoritarian populism in member countries. In short, while Russia is resurgent, the European Union looks exhausted.

It is no coincidence that this comes at the same time at which the ascent of populism has propelled Donald Trump to the White House. While he turns his back to the traditional alliances of the United States, his rise is a sign of a larger political realignment that engulfs both sides of the Atlantic. Europe has its own share of little Trumps and many of them have shown remarkable election results – from the PiS in Poland to the Alternative for Germany. Their rise and electoral success can be attributed to the same set of societal challenges. Aging workforces, overwhelmed by changes in social norms and the intricacies of globalisation and being exploited by an increasingly fragmented media landscape have mounted a powerful, reactionary backlash undermining the very political systems that enabled their rise and prosperity in the first place. As a result, Western elites often appear at a loss: How could the unmatched economic prosperity the West enjoys possibly coexist with a rising tide if populist, reactionary movement, intent on picking Western democracies and their underlying values apart?

Where to Go From Here

When confronted with an aggression such as Russia’s assault on Europe’s security architecture and the invasion of Ukraine, there are four broadly defined reactions available to Western policymakers. First, the West could decide to act proportionally. Acting proportionally would entail to respond to every single act of aggression with an equally escalating step. The West could have reacted to the invasion of Crimea with massive economic sanctions against Russia. This would have demonstrated to the aggressor that the extent of the challenge was not lost on the West and that it was ready to impose appropriate consequences. Second, Western policymakers could have chosen to overreact disproportionately. To do so is, in essence, the promise of deterrence. It only works, however, if the intention to act is clearly communicated from the outset and underpinned by sufficient instrumental power. The other two options are even easier to describe. Just as there is a way to disproportionately overreact, there is also a way to disproportionately underreact. In principle this would entail detailing and implementing consequences to the aggression but on a much smaller scale and not matching every single escalating step in the aggression with a direct match. This is, principally the route the European Union has chosen when Russia annexed Crimea. Brussels did implement some minor travel sanctions, but real economic sanction would come much later: only after the Kremlin had invaded Eastern Ukraine and separatists downed MH 17 did the EU impose broader economic sanctions. Until the downing of the passenger airline, the EU was reluctant to act proportionately, convinced that it had to offer off-ramps to the Kremlin to easily exit the course of aggression. Of course, this route only created assurances for the Kremlin that it would be able to pocket some military and political gains before reaching out to the EU, creating an incentive to stay aggressive for the time being. Lastly, Western policymakers could also opt to not act at all. Interestingly enough, the debate in Western policy circles has largely centred on the merits of the final two approaches: not acting at all, or disproportionately underreacting. The first two courses of action have been dismissed as to dangerous, even though acting proportionately would, in all probability, have dissuaded the Kremlin from expanding its aggression into Eastern Ukraine.

It is not without irony that while the conflict is constantly being described as hybrid; the fear is mostly that it might in fact lead to a military confrontation. This has led many to observers to call for calm and provide exits and off-ramps to the Kremlin. The underlying hope is that the Kremlin might return to a more conciliatory policy and that ensuing economic cooperation would ultimately pave the way to a more productive relationship. Such hopes are misguided. All the points I made here form a distinct picture: Russia uses international organisations as a fig leaf, pretending to cooperate, when in fact undermining international norms and treaties where it can. The Kremlin has also excelled in understanding, manipulating and fostering the social cleavages that have put so many Western policymakers at a loss. In doing so, the Kremlin has seized the initiative, leaving Western policymakers in a defensive mode, hoping that the storm will pass.

It will not. Instead Western policymakers should remind themselves why democracies have such a stellar record in comparison to authoritarian regimes. They simply find it easier to adapt to changing circumstances, he pressures exerted by a changing economic and international landscape. Authoritarian systems find it much harder to adapt. Democracies can claim more legitimacy and can, with that legitimacy enact deeper reforms. As a result, Europe’s point of departure is still many times stronger than that of Russia. But in order to prevail, European policymakers must understand that they are locked in a systemic confrontation. As they say, the first step is to admit that you have a problem. It is time to use that strength, reignite the promotion of its values and resist the authoritarian backlash. Only then will the European Union have a future.

Dustin Dehez in Managing Partner at Manatee Global Advisors, an international strategy consultancy.

Soft security from below – the role of macro-regional actors and structures in the Baltic Sea Region

by Nina Tynkkynen

The environmental sector is one of the main soft security sectors in the Baltic Sea region. The Baltic Sea is among the most polluted seas in the world; while at the same time, its protection in (macro)regional cooperation is often referred to as a success story of international environmental politics. The environment of the Baltic Sea has been in the focus of public attention since the early 1970s. In 1974, the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea was agreed upon by all the coastal countries. This Convention was revolutionary, for it was the first multilateral agreement between members of two competing military alliances, the Warsaw Pact and NATO. A macroregional organisation, HELCOM, was formed to govern the Convention.

The Soviet Union, and later also the Russian Federation, highlighted that cooperation within the HELCOM framework is valuable, as it is not political and it is based on science. Yet, scholars who have studied this cooperation argue that the participation of coastal countries in the Helsinki Convention was first and foremost motivated by political interests. During the times of polarization of the Baltic Sea region, environmental cooperation served as a way for the countries to demonstrate their willingness to create a positive political atmosphere in Europe. To a certain extent, this interpretation applies also to the current situation. Macroregional organisations like HELCOM and the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) help to stabilise the political situation in the region and to support diplomatic relations from below. From the environmental perspective, this task seems to have on occasion been more important than achieving improvement in the actual state of the Baltic Sea environment.

Cooperation within the HELCOM framework has taken different forms at different times. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was mainly about building diplomatic relations and scientific cooperation. During the 1990s, practical, project-based cooperation was carried out under the HELCOM framework, including the modernisation of the water sector of the city of St Petersburg. Although this practical project cooperation has continued until recently, Russia’s attitude towards the Baltic Sea environmental cooperation has changed. Nowadays, Russia tends to emphasise its role as an equal partner, rather than a recipient of aid. During the 2000s, Russia became more active in HELCOM; it also hosted the HELCOM presidency in 2008-2010. This activity can be explained by Russia’s active attempts to revive its geopolitical status through strengthening its role and influence in various international organisations, including HELCOM. Russia has also stressed the importance of HELCOM and other regional soft security organisations to balance the political domination of the EU in the region. This links to Russia’s strategic aim to concentrate its energy exports to the Baltic Sea and to promote the topical NordStream 2 project and the politically acceptable transport of its energy sales to the European consumers.

In sum, the main role of macroregional actors like HELCOM and CBSS is to engage Russia in regional cooperation, as the EU seems quite powerless in this engagement and Russia is eager to work through these organisations and structures. Therefore, the task is not only to take care of practical soft security matters, but also to maintain day-to-day relations and enhance overall cooperativeness in the Baltic Sea region. In the long run, enhancing soft security from below serves also as a means to manage hard security issues.

Nina Tynkkynen is university lecturer in Baltic Sea Region Studies at the University of Turku. Her current research interests focus on the politics of environmental knowledge and the dynamics of international environmental politics in the context of Northern Europe in particular.