Security Challenges in Southeast Europe, the Black Sea Region, and the Caucasus: A Romanian Perspective
His Excellency Ioan Mircea Pascu
Minister of National Defense of Romania
Although I was asked to speak about Southeastern Europe, I would like to address the security challenges in the Black Sea and Caucasus areas as well, reflecting the link among the three regions. Southeastern Europe, or the Balkans, can be looked at from a variety of angles; when you do, you see something different from each angle. But if you disregard the fact that, in strict geographic terms, the Caucasus-and not the Balkans-is the southeastern part of Europe, the Balkans region is both a geographic area and a philosophy of life.
There, in those mountains, outsiders are looked upon with suspicion, and memories are long-in fact, someone once said, with respect to one of the peoples in the area, that they had both "long memories and sharp knives." Indeed, as we have seen in that area, yesterday is more important than today, and sometimes more important than tomorrow.
This is why students of the area must have solid historical knowledge to understand the roots of the current situation. Feuds can last a long time, and sometimes are put aside only when outsiders intervene. Indeed, that has been the prevailing political model for hundreds of years. Now, however, it is changing.
For the first time in their long and complicated history, the Balkans stand the chance of overcoming that narrow, confrontational mentality.
After a decade of violence and conflict, and after almost a decade of requiring outside support to achieve the stability necessary to erect and consolidate political institutions, the local peoples are beginning to see that integration with Europe and its institutions is a much more valuable goal than continuing their feuds. Of course, peace and stability are still fragile, the political agenda is being delayed, and tragic events are still happening-for example, the assassination of the former prime minister of Serbia. But, overall, the drive toward integration with NATO and the EU gets stronger every day. More important, that drive is accompanied by appropriate reform.
Such reform is being supported by an increasingly more conducive environment and by a generation of young and energetic leaders. As defense minister I know all my counterparts in the region, and they realize that the main obstacle to their country's progress is isolation from the mainstream.
Therefore, in the military field, our dialogue is centered on downsizing and restructuring the armed forces, meeting NATO requirements, and joining the SEDM and SEEBRIG. This work is so important that I believe all Balkan efforts should be met with encouragement and tangible results, rather than only with new conditions. The recent signing of the Adriatic Charter by NATO candidates Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia and the Thessalonica EU summit reflect the right attitude and should be praised for both their vision and their resolution.
These steps, however, don't mean that everything is going well or that there are no dangers on the horizon. We still must pay attention to the acceleration of the civilian component of the regional agenda, to the asymmetrical threats that are crystallizing there, to the attempted merging of criminal activities and politics, and to the disrespecting of human rights.
Of all these dangers, the greatest is the potential blend of criminality and politics, because it could result in political institutions being controlled by organized crime. If that happens, it will make integrating these countries with Europe's institutions very difficult, if not impossible.
Integrating Romania and Bulgaria into NATO will certainly help, because it will place the problem in the middle of an environment controlled by the Alliance-Southeastern Europe is an area in which the new, crystallizing "division of labor" between NATO and the EU is being tested. But this is not sufficient. NATO and the EU, as well as the U.N. and other international organizations that are present in the area, must stay and continue to do their positive work.
THE BLACK SEA AREA
If the Western Balkans represent the past-namely, the kind of conflicts that dominated the 1990s-the Black Sea is a firm part of the new security environment that has been shaped by September 11 and the war in Iraq. This area is surrounded by important states and has a very attractive economic perspective, with strategic routes to Europe, through the Danube; to Central Asia, through the Caucasus; and to the Middle East, through Turkey.
Most importantly, and soon, the Black Sea will be crossed by ships carrying Caspian oil and gas to Europe. For the first time since the 1850s, this will bring the Black Sea area center-stage. And, then, as in the 1850s (when, for instance, the river Danube had continental importance following the Crimean War of 1853-1856), the area will have continental significance once more.
Because of these positive factors, NATO and the EU are, like the states bordering on the Black Sea, interested and relevant actors in the region. For instance, if Romania and Bulgaria, acting as NATO countries, guard the eastern shores of the Black Sea against the asymmetrical threats coming from the east, they will be doing so primarily to the benefit of Europe and, therefore, the EU. This inevitable shift from confrontation to cooperation concerning the Black Sea area will also be felt in the military arena. If we want to share in the benefits of this new "El Dorado," we have only to cooperate to do so.
Some time ago, the countries bordering the Black Sea decided to create a common instrument for intervention in case of emergency. This instrument is called BLACKSEAFOR, and has been successful since its inception. However, its significance goes beyond its current use, because it reflects the new attitude of cooperation that must prevail in the area if we all wish to share in the promised benefits. Indeed, the fleets in the Black Sea will no longer be asked to fight each other, but to cooperate with each other.
To that effect, I'd like to mention another positive contribution that has been made-a regime that has been established for the military activities in the area. This program was arranged by all the bordering states and put into place at the beginning of 2003. However, as in the Balkans, there are many issues that still need to be addressed. International terrorism, illegal immigration, transport of prohibited materials, sex slavery, and the absence of a final agreement on questions of bilateral interest require our constant attention and efforts if we wish to keep the area safe from conflict and animosity.
The Caucasus is an area that holds great potential and, consequently, is home to conflict both within the state and with other states. This conflict, which representatives from the area would agree with, prevents the countries of the region from concentrating on their internal development and modernization, delaying their integration into the continental institutions.
The chemistry in the Caucasus is different from that of the Balkans: in spite of a growing desire to integrate, the immediate task remains dealing with local problems. In the Caucasus, conflict has not yet changed to cooperation. However, four points are encouraging:
- Hopes for integration have intensified since the NATO Prague summit;
- Local leaders are aware that the only promising future is to become part of the integration trend that dominates the rest of the continent;
- The approaches, methods, and mechanisms that have helped move the Balkans from conflict to cooperation are applicable in the Caucasus too.
- The international community believes in and supports the move to a cooperative environment.
It is my hope that, in the not so distant future, the Caucasus, as the Black Sea area before it, will realize that common benefits cannot be shared without cooperation, and that cooperation will result in a decrease in conflict as well as solid solutions to the current problems affecting the region.