Center for Strategic Decision Research


Regional Cooperation as a Factor of Security

His Excellency Herbert Scheibner
Defense Minister of Austria


At the end of the Cold War, no one thought that a conflict with almost 300,000 victims and countless human rights violations could ever break out. But it did, and it is just one example of the security problems on our continent. Now, dangers such as international terrorism; the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their associated long-range delivery systems; and flows of refugees all call for a reorientation of European security policy. In the current climate, no country in Europe can assess its security situation as an isolated one, since instability and dangers in and around Europe affect all countries well beyond their borders. In a world of growing interdependence, national security depends largely on regional stability frameworks. Trans-border risks and dependencies, new technological developments, and the increasing vulnerability of modern societies result in the need for interdependence between stable and unstable areas and instability's inevitable spill-over into stable areas.

The new security challenges and risks cannot be handled by an individual state on its own. A cooperative security policy is required to handle the increasingly intertwined security interests among the states in Europe and the increased efficiency of security-related multinational action.

A modern kind of security policy, however, should not focus primarily on threats themselves, but on the question of how to build a Europe in which threats cannot evolve in the first place. The idea is to create a favorable security environment that will influence risks and threats before they evolve and minimize vulnerabilities. Such an environment can be created with internal stability, by preventing external threats, and, if need be, by defending both people and values.

Modern security policy, therefore, must aim at creating and maintaining a maximum level of stability in political, economic, social, and ecological matters in the region, and minimizing the likelihood of conflicts through political, economic, cultural, and military cooperation.


Regional cooperation can foster effective integration. In addition to including in the Western European stability zone individual states that, as of now, are still on the fringe, regional cooperation can also actively suppress destabilizing factors within the European community. Through this form of cooperation, potential future problems can be addressed proactively.

Though regional cooperation addresses Europe as a whole, it is institutionalized mainly through the EU and NATO. Regional cooperation of a closer nature-sub-regional cooperation, if you will-addresses geographical or cultural areas inside Europe, such as Scandinavia or Central Europe. Since historical experiences form the basis for people knowing and understanding each other, and also for fearful prejudice, they can result either in dangers or in opportunities. Regional and sub-regional cooperation is a way to have experiences result in opportunities.

Nowadays, security and stability can be provided only through the combined efforts of mutually supportive institutions. Peace and stability in Europe are based mainly on cooperation among many European states in the EU and in NATO, and on the complementary roles of these organizations.

European security policy is based on vital national security interests and on the security interests of the European Union. This means that to attain political and strategic goals, prevent risks and threats to the continent, and encourage increased acceptance of responsibility for peace and security in Europe, efficient civilian and military capabilities and resources for the EU must be built. Only through these resources will active and pro-active efforts based on common security interests be possible. European security policy will be able to reduce common vulnerabilities by actively shaping the political environment through political, economic, technological, ecological, and military action within the framework of coordinated and comprehensive cooperation among all relevant national and international bodies and institutions.

Further development of the European Union will therefore be decisive for the future of Europe. The EU's Common Security and Foreign Policy (CSFP) requires credible military means to be effective. If the EU continues to be determined in its efforts to develop a European Security and Defense Policy and to become an actor in the security and military fields, it will be able to exert its influence by supporting order and stability and by taking over a larger share of the responsibility for peace and security in Europe. In doing so, it will work in close cooperation with NATO.

From the very beginning, the integration of Europe was considered a peace initiative, and therefore a concept of security policy. This is another reason why EU enlargement is an opportunity for Europe-its security, its economy, its culture, and its position in the world. Peacefully and voluntarily integrating free nations into the European continent will assure stability and make war impossible there. The painful effects of war, such as refugee issues, destruction, and financial expenditures, which occurred not so long ago, will also be avoided.

Through regional cooperation, Austria and Central Europe have the unique opportunity to become the core of a newer and larger Europe, a Europe based on common history and common experience. Centuries of experiences with our neighbors should help us shape an area of peace, stability, and prosperity in the center of Europe to further our own interests as well as the interests of Europe as a whole.


Because we are located on the fringe of Central Europe, several countries in our area are members of different organizations. Some are NATO members, some are EU members, and most Central European countries are just candidates, hoping to join these two essential Euro-Atlantic organizations. Our situation must result in mutual support of these countries. Austria in particular is eager to foster regional cooperation to jointly overcome the problems resulting from our countries' different memberships.

Increased cooperation among NATO and EU members and candidate countries does not only result in integration on a sub-regional level. The acceptance of European standards by the candidate countries is also leading to improved general regional security. To continue this improvement, however, sub-regional initiatives must complement both the intentions and the procedures of both the EU and NATO.

The smaller, the higher developed, and the better integrated a country is, the more important it is for that country to be part of cooperative security development. Small as well as medium-sized countries have a special need to be integrated into international security systems and organizations. This is the only way for such states to effectively formulate and implement their security interests.

Because of the lack of resources and power, small states in particular are practically unable to pursue national interests; they can only align their interests with those of other states. Sub-regional cooperation enables small states to take part in security-policy decision making much more effectively than they could on their own. To coordinate efficiently, however, a common language is needed, one that prevents European security policy from being dominated by bigger states.

Sub-regional cooperation among similar-sized states also permits the optimum use of the limited resources that small states can muster; cooperation with nearby states saves expenses. Moreover, since the problems of contingents from small countries in multinational forces are similar and their interests often match, cooperative training missions and deployments enable intensive exchanges of experience. To aid sub-regional cooperation, concepts must be developed within the framework of the Common European Security and Defense Policy to improve the usage of resources provided by small states within Europe. A good example of supportive efforts is the cooperation between Austrian forces and those from Slovakia on the Golan Heights; another example is the cooperation between Hungarian and Slovenian forces in Cyprus; a third is the cooperation between Switzerland and Slovakia in Kosovo-all missions in the spirit of CENCOOP, the cooperative effort among Central European nations.


CENCOOP began in 1995 as a sub-regional project to secure peace. It is intended to enhance and strengthen the capabilities of participating nations in international aid missions through joint efforts. CENCOOP also serves as a common denominator for EU and NATO countries, candidates for membership, and those who are to be included into a greater Europe. The organization acts as a bridge; the peace-support operation examples just mentioned illustrate the clear advantages of burden and benefit sharing on a sub-regional level in a pan-European context.

I would also like to mention Austria's cooperation with its two larger neighbors in peace-support operations. In 1997, Austria and Italy together conducted Operation ALBA, and are currently involved in the KFOR deployment with Germany. In both cases, our neighbors are the lead nations for the Austrian contingents, and our close and multi-level cooperation on a sub-regional basis has been highly successful.

Armament cooperation is an area that requires some impetus; it must be a major driving force for continued European integration. The idea behind such cooperation is to formulate a constructive response to the U.S. superiority in this field without bringing into question the basic importance of transatlantic relations. Sub-regional armament cooperation is an ideal way to augment regional initiatives. Austria became a full member of the Western European Armament Group (WEAG) as a regional cooperative effort late in 2000.


Regional and sub-regional cooperative efforts are critical to our ongoing integration work. They enrich European cooperative efforts in the field of security; they bridge varying capability levels between members and candidates; they permit optimal use of resources, especially those of small states and, finally, help to secure lasting friendship among neighbors.


Top of page | Home | ©2003 Center for Strategic Decision Research