Istanbul '09 Workshop

Overview—Looking Ahead

Dr. Roger Weissinger-Baylon
Workshop Chairman

Dr. Roger Weissinger-Baylon


In Istanbul, Turkey, the 26th International Workshop on Global Security brought together defense ministers, diplomats, and other senior leaders from government, industry and academia from more than 30 countries, the U.N., the EU, NATO, and other international organizations. They discussed the security challenges unleashed by globalization in the context of the current financial crises as well as the ongoing regional crises in the Balkans and Black Sea Region, in the Middle East, and in Afghanistan and Pakistan. From the threats of religious extremists, security concerns have steadily broadened to include a host of new challenges ranging from climate change and competition for resources to cyber-war.

Globalization brings new security threats

In his opening address to the 26th International Workshop on Global Security in Istanbul, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül emphasized that all nations now recognize the importance of globalization as a truly vital “...means of opening up economies, lifting people out of poverty, and promoting democratic values.” Yet, though it brings important benefits, globalization also has some unpleasant side effects—including a seemingly endless series of new security challenges. Although there is a long and bloody history of terrorist attacks by religious extremists and other groups, it seems certain that globalization has made it easier for Al-Qaeda to reach far beyond Afghanistan’s borders, attacking the Pentagon and New York’s Twin Towers on 11 September 2001 and mounting the London, Istanbul, Madrid, and other attacks that followed.

Globalization even brings new threats—such as the global financial crisis and cyber attacks against Estonia, Georgia, and a growing list of other countries—that were not anticipated until quite recently. According to Minister Gönül, these new concerns include:

  • Climate change, which “will put many of our key resources, like food, water, and land, under considerable strain”;
  • Competition for energy and natural resources;
  • and Information Technology—a powerful engine for growth that, nonetheless, will “make our societies more vulnerable to cyber attacks.”

Minister Gönül’s Hellenic counterpart, Minister Evangelos Meimarakis, warns of exactly the same dangers while also emphasizing the additional risks of nuclear arms proliferation, piracy, and financially driven immigration (an especially grave problem for Greece). He says that the “...classical concept of threat is now obsolete” and has been largely replaced by “the new concept of the asymmetric threat.” Latvian Defense Minister Imants Liegis agrees that these new challenges of globalization “...have become the bigger threats to global security in today’s age.” Jordan’s EU Ambassador, Dr. Ahmad Masa’deh, points out yet more threats:

...regional conflicts,...failed states, organized crime,...degradation of the environment, food security, securing sustainable and social development, economic growth, and maintaining successful intercultural dialogue at the grass-roots level. Dr. Masa’deh’s views may be especially important since they reflect the perspective of his country, at the center of a region of hot spots.

Though many of these threats could not have been anticipated, a number of globalization’s risks were predicted decades ago, but they were overshadowed by the seemingly graver dangers of the Cold War and, later on, by the international euphoria and hopes for a more peaceful and prosperous future that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General George Joulwan, summarized this period of transition from the Cold War, with its emphasis on deterring a massive Soviet attack across Germany, to a post-Cold War period that has been “anything but peaceful.” As he points out, the world was not prepared for the “atrocities, tribal warfare, and ethnic cleansing” that arrived instead of the peace that was hoped for, and that the costs of not being ready for this new situation have been steep:

In the past we were concerned about deterring a multi-echelon Soviet attack in the famous Fulda Gap of Germany. We arrayed ships, tanks, and planes to make it difficult for the Soviets to succeed in an offensive move against NATO. Our primary objective was deterrence, but we were prepared to fight and win if deterrence failed. And deterrence worked....Twenty years ago the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain were torn down, Germany was reunited, and the Soviet Communist Empire was no more....However, the post-Cold War period has been anything but peaceful. Long-simmering ethnic and religious strife came into full bloom. Atrocities, tribal warfare, and ethnic cleansing placed millions of innocent men, women, and children at risk. The international community was slow to respond to these new threats and, when it did, it lacked the doctrine, force structure, and political will to do so effectively.

The global financial crisis as security threat. The emergence of the global financial crisis, from which many countries are only beginning to recover, was surprising in its scale, the number of countries affected, and its harsh impact on tens of millions who lost jobs, homes, and/or a large part of their savings as a result. Even pension plans and municipalities, which are typically restricted by law to investments in only the most conservative securities, suffered from investments that turned out to have been outrageously risky, marketed, in many cases, by some of the largest and most prestigious financial institutions. Some smaller countries such as Iceland and Ireland were economically devastated, and even wealthy Dubai has encountered severe financial problems.

Unfortunately, many of the perverse incentives and structural factors that led to the current crisis are still in place, while proposed reforms appear to be relatively limited in scope. Consequently, it appears to be only a matter of time before another global crisis occurs. Minister Meimarakis warns: conditions, the terms of international controversies and conditions for cooperation, as well as the ongoing global multi-level financial, credit, and funding economic crisis have come upon us like an avalanche. The international financial crisis that we know today, which admittedly is the greatest global crisis of the last 80 years, not only reflects the actual dimensions of the situation we are experiencing in the economy, but also in our society and civilization as well. Indeed, the ongoing international financial crisis is a parameter that feeds instability, which consequently affects global security.

Minister Meimarakis shares this assessment with other leaders, including Portugal’s Defense Minister, Dr. Nuno Severiano Teixeira, and Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop. According to Minister Severiano Teixeira, this economic crisis “...began by shaking markets and financial institutions” and in a short period of time created “...visible pockets of social instability and a breakdown in confidence.” Moreover, he says, the effects will be felt broadly and “... particularly in the more vulnerable regions of the world.” According to Minister van Middelkoop, this means that “current financial and economic circumstances” add to the importance of prudent budgeting, and it is more important than ever to direct spending to the “highest priorities.” Britain’s Ambassador to NATO, Stewart Eldon, points out an additional factor: The financial crisis reduces the resources available to deal with other more traditional security challenges, creating the need for “...balance between our level of ambition and the resources available to fulfill it at a time of global economic difficulty.”

Jordan’s Ambassador Masa’deh offers a perspective on the global financial crisis from the Middle East, where this crisis is currently at “the top of the list.” Although various countries in the Arab world are affected in different ways, the crisis shows the need for a “new economic world order” in order to bring more accountability, increased attention to the “notion of good corporate citizenship,” and, especially, the “implementation of a developmental factor that includes the needs...of developing countries and markets.”

Fighting poverty and improving governance. Ambassador Masa’deh also warns that the above changes are necessary to prevent radicalization, which is likely to grow out of poverty if the appropriate steps are not taken. He states:

The situation in the Middle East clearly demonstrates how radicalization is close to poverty and thus how security and economic growth are interlinked. If poverty is not tackled in an exemplary manner, radicalization will always occur. That is why the developmental factor is of utmost importance. Cooperation between the north and the south to create a more stable and hospitable economic environment in the south will gradually eradicate milieus where radicalization and desperation breed.

According to Minister van Middelkoop, security threats are especially dangerous in “failed and fragile states.” For this reason, the Dutch government’s policy favors “...fighting poverty and improving governance worldwide.” According to Minister van Middelkoop:

As Kofi Annan pointed out, unless we assume our responsibility toward fragile states, the world cannot enjoy peace and prosperity. Continued involvement in these states will be necessary in many respects. But prolonged involvement does not imply continued warfare. We must be ready and able to intervene when necessary, but intervention alone is often not enough. Stabilization and reconstruction are just as important and can pose even greater challenges. We therefore must also invest in conflict prevention and reconstruction. We need our armed forces to stabilize failed states, but also to build and strengthen security institutions. Investing in security sector reform will therefore help to prevent conflicts as well as to end them. In short, to be effective we need the integrated deployment of all resources at our disposal.

The dangers of radicalism. Another unfortunate consequence of globalization is the increased spread and influence of religious radicalism. According to Minister Gönül:

...globalization is also, unfortunately, a vehicle for importing radicalism and the techniques of terrorism into our societies. It has also facilitated the free flow of material, including the most dangerous ones, supporting nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs. For example, New York, Madrid, London, and Istanbul have all been the target of terrorist attacks. Instability in Iraq and Afghanistan affects all of us, no matter how near or far we are geographically. Iran’s nuclear intentions constitute another problem that needs intensified diplomatic efforts for a solution.

As to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Morocco’s Ambassador Hassan Abouyoub advocates so-called soft approaches, including Arab state initiatives to bring the two Palestinian factions together as well as possible initiatives by the U.S. (President Obama’s Cairo speech raised hopes and expectations), the EU, perhaps the Union for the Mediterranean, and even Russia. Ambassador Abouyoub feels that soft approaches are likely to be far more effective than military means and that, in reality, there are “...limits on any hard security policy device option or conception.” According to Ambassador Abouyoub, it is because of Israel’s militaristic approach that Israel has not succeeded in “accomplishing its strategic aims” in the region. Moreover, he believes that “even the Israeli people are losing confidence in the superiority of the Israeli military system and technology.”

Dangers are also arising from conservative Muslim teachings and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. A serious concern continues to be posed by very conservative Muslim teachings that are exported by Gulf State countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and that seemingly pass through Pakistan—very powerful actors are exporting very, very conservative views into the region. A second, equally grave, problem is Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, which is bitterly resented by Muslims all over the world. This “cocktail” of spreading conservative beliefs and the perceived mistreatment of the Palestinian people can result in disaster. Is it possible for Afghanistan to be reconstructed successfully as long as this dangerous mix persists?

The Balkans and the Black Sea Region

Given the extreme dangers of radicalism, there is a natural tendency to focus security efforts on the Middle East, Afghanistan, or other areas where the menace of radicalism appears the greatest. Nonetheless, the Balkans and the Black Sea offer valuable lessons. In particular, violent conflicts in the western Balkans arising from the breakup of Yugoslavia testify to the risks of allowing crises to spin out of control—timely interventions by the international community might have prevented much destruction, saved lives, and permitted healthier societies and more prosperous economies to emerge. Slovenia’s Defense Minister, Dr. Ljubica Jelusic, warns that many in the region do not yet “enjoy full security” and wisely points out several consequences of ignoring the situation in the Balkans:

Losing interest in the Balkans in the past has proved disastrous for the stability of the region. It happened at the beginning of 1990 and in 1991, when the international community was not very aware of what was going on in the Balkans. There were big changes happening there, but the attention of the international community was diverted elsewhere...Some larger issues were taking place in the eastern part of Europe...While [the Balkans were] being overlooked in the shadow of bigger events, war began. The disintegration of Yugoslavia came about, and we are still suffering the effects of the upheaval. In the western Balkans, especially in countries that were formed out of the former Yugoslavia, we still cannot say that we enjoy full security.

Kosovo is one of the region’s areas that has suffered greatly. Of course, there is undeniable progress in that the country has achieved a certain level of stability, as clearly demonstrated by NATO’s plans to draw down its forces from 16,000 to only 2,500 over the next couple of years. Yet, life in Kosovo is far from acceptable to those who must live there. Rear Admiral Gerald Beaman of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, which has responsibility for the area, describes the situation as follows:

...economic stability and corruption are probably the two largest threats throughout the area...If we want to identify the main threats to stability and/ or security, we could list them in three areas: (1) political—the political parties, in Kosovo in particular, form along clan lines, each one striving for primacy through rhetoric and not through physical means; (2) religious culture, which forms along ethnic lines; and (3) economics, which is the most likely cause of instability in not only Kosovo but the entire Balkans region.

Kosovo is the poorest country in Europe, with a 58% unemployment rate. Thirty percent of its Gross Domestic Product is generated by remittances from the diaspora. The country has an inflation rate of 13% and lacks investment in infrastructure—the people of Kosovo, especially in terms of energy, live with 1950s and 1960s technology. The high unemployment rate and instability in the economy pose a large threat, and generate organized crime, smuggling, and corruption. So economic factors have a direct impact on other things as well.

Fortunately, some countries in the region are prospering. According to Montenegrin Defense Minister Boro Vučinić, Montenegro has done better than some countries in the western Balkans and “is much more stable today.” He says that, recently, “Montenegro has achieved great economic growth. The 2008 state budget...had a surplus, and, for a short period of time, we have been one of the fastest-growing tourist economies in the world.” Moreover, Minister Vučinić considers that the presence of NATO contributes to the “the permanent stabilization of the western Balkans area.”

As an example of NATO’s potential importance in the broader region, including the Black Sea, Latvian Defense Minister Imants Liegis describes the concerns of his countrymen over the 2008 conflict between Georgia and its larger neighbor, Russia. According to Minister Liegis, if Russia is able to occupy Georgian territory, many of his countrymen are concerned that there may be risk for his country as well—especially since Latvia’s Russian population is not insignificant. He notes:

...Latvia witnessed our joint neighbor Russia actually militarily intervening for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union on the sovereign territory of a neighboring country. And one of the pretexts that was used for this intervention on the Russian side was to protect their nationals living in Georgia. For us, this was a very worrying lesson...and it made our membership in the Alliance even more relevant. It certainly set among the Latvian population alarm bells ringing and recalled memories of how we had been taken over by the Soviet Union in 1940 as a result of the Hitler-Stalin pact.

Georgian Defense Minister Vasil Sikharulidze describes his country’s situation following the conflict with Russia, which resulted in Russian troops remaining in Georgia’s territories:

Today, the security situation in Georgia is tense. Russian armed forces occupy the Georgian territories of Abkhazia, the Tskhinvali region, the Akhalgori district, and the village of Perevi. Russian occupation forces deny the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) access to the occupied territories...Russia also vetoed the renewal of the U.N. Observer Mission in Georgia and the OSCE mission in Georgia.

Nonetheless, Georgia has the potential to make enormous contributions to the “energy security of the entire European continent,” as Minister Sikharulidze observes:

...we now have the prospect of linking the Caspian Sea, the Eurasian heartland, Europe, and the North Atlantic in a single 21st-century zone of prosperity and democracy....On the eastern shore of the Black Sea, Georgia is part of Europe and a gateway to and from Central Asia. It is a vital conduit for energy supplies from the Caspian Sea and from potential Central Asian suppliers beyond.

That corridor is usually referred to in the context of energy, particularly the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and South Caucasus natural-gas pipelines. However, these energy conduits form the critical mass required to promote and sustain a broad east-west commercial corridor. With commerce comes people, so this east-west corridor will also become a pathway for ideas, which is perhaps the most important prospect. Also, the strengthening and developing of this energy corridor will greatly contribute to the energy security of the entire European continent. In the immediate term, this corridor is also vital as an alternative supply route to Afghanistan. All at once, a South Caucasus route offers another alternative and a chance for independent NATO diplomacy with the Central Asian countries.


At the Istanbul workshop, the understanding of defense ministers; ambassadors; flag and general officers; officials of NATO, the EU, the U.N., and other international organizations; and industry leaders seemed unanimous: Afghanistan is a place where the U.S., its NATO allies, and the supporting international community has to succeed. The very destiny of the Alliance and perhaps even future global security depend on it. What a difference a few months make! It is now clear that the situation in Afghanistan is serious and that, despite successes in some areas, the Allies are not winning. Worse yet, as Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo points out, “...some of the countries in the international alliance...are showing increasing Afghanistan fatigue, and this poses a great challenge for all of us.”

At the Istanbul workshop, concerns already existed regarding the gravity of the conflict in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.N., Abdullah Haroon, gave perhaps the sternest warning:

You are dealing with an implacable foe who has a world design. Unfortunately, history has shown that when a civilization is threatened, it is often by forces [like the Taliban] which are diminished or that do not have the wherewithal and the finances to sustain such an attack on a civilization. If you read the annals of Rome, Greece, or other civilizations, this is what happens every time. So I warn you: Do not take this as a limited or a regional move. This is a move for the world, no matter how absurd it might seem to all of you living in the west.

Given the importance of success in Afghanistan, the country’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Zahir Tanin, emphasized that it would be necessary to acquire a better “...understanding of the situation in Afghanistan in order to improve our actions.” According to Ambassador Tanin:

I believe we need to cultivate two understandings: one, an understanding that rejects defeatist assumptions about the politics of Afghanistan; and, two, an understanding that better identifies the enemy so that we can defeat it. Far too often, I am asked about the ‘likelihood’ or the ‘possibility’ of building a successful state and political culture in Afghanistan. To understand my country’s history is to recognize that there is no question about a possibility—there is only the actuality of a stable, democratic state in our country’s history.

In his wrap-up remarks, SHAPE’s Chief of Staff, General Karl-Heinz Lather, related an anecdote—very much in line with Ambassador Tanin’s recommendations—that highlights important dimensions of the situation:

Very recently, I was in Kambu and had a chance to talk to two elders: one Pashtun and one Uzbek. And I put this question to them: ‘Our intelligence has told us that it is mostly local people who fight themselves and fight us. Well, these are your children, these are your sons. What can you do to talk to them, and to stop them?’ They each gave their own arguments as to why this is not feasible and were very adamant about it. One response was, ‘There is too much corruption in our country.’ The other was, ‘There is no real governance in our country. We do not see any effects trickling down from the center of government to our province, to our district, to our village, or to our city. We do not see investment, so the international money does not come here.’ And the result of that is, there is no work for the youngsters.

There only need to be a few extremist Taliban coming from either Pakistan or the south of the country, and then these youths become inflamed. They want to have something meaningful to do, or at least something that they think is meaningful. This is a vicious cycle. And on top of all that, in that particular province the governor does not use the instrument of the Sharia, which is part of the Afghan culture, to resolve problems on a local level. So they are disappointed about that as well.

Where are the U.S., NATO, and their allies headed in Afghanistan?

At the end of August, concern escalated dramatically following the leaking of a confidential report by General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force, Afghanistan). In this report, General McChrystal told NATO and the U.S. Secretary of Defense that “to succeed in Afghanistan” he needs approval for a “new strategy”—with an increased focus on reconstructing and rebuilding the country—and as many as 40,000 additional troops. According to General McChrystal’s report:

The situation in Afghanistan is serious; neither success nor failure can be taken for granted. Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating. We face not only a resilient and growing insurgency; there is also a crisis of confidence among Afghans—in both their government and the international community—that undermines our credibility and emboldens the insurgents.

With U.S. public support for the war in Afghanistan hovering slightly under 50%, and with considerable political opposition to the war within other countries, there was immediate speculation that President Obama was deciding between General McChrystal’s recommended military-civilian surge, withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a completely different approach.

One much-publicized option was U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s plan to compensate for large troop reductions in Afghanistan by focusing on fighting Al-Qaeda (especially in Pakistan). Among the many other suggestions were those of former President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbiegniew Brzezinski, who recommended a significant reduction in troops provided the U.S. and the international community were willing to commit to a large-scale rebuilding of the country to demonstrate international concern for the well-being of the Afghan people.

In an address to Congressional leaders in early October, President Obama ruled out the possibility of a large-scale withdrawal, and he specifically excluded Vice President Biden’s proposal. Until the eve of his West Point address on 1 December, it was not certain that President Obama would decide in favor of the proposed “surge.” We now know that at least 30,000 additional troops are committed to Afghanistan—at least until 2011, when their withdrawal is projected to begin. It also seems that there will be some kind of political-military surge, with an emphasis on training Afghan troops, fighting corruption in the government at all levels, and rebuilding the country.

As to support from NATO and other sources, it seems nearly certain that the Allies will not provide as much support as the U.S. is requesting. In fact, they will probably not offer a great deal more than 5,000 additional troops. So, it is likely that the burden of increasing troop levels will fall mainly on the United States.

Whatever happens, we can assume that there will be an intensive push to train more Afghan police and military forces as replacements for U.S. and allied troops, and there may even be a renewed effort to tackle corruption. Yet, success may be limited by the almost unprecedented difficulty of the task, the reality that the Afghan government does not actually control the whole country, and other factors. One extremely discouraging factor is President Karzai’s contested election. He is now dogged by questions as to the legitimacy of his election, including allegations of fraud and charges of vote buying. Despite his post-elections promises to clean up his government, his progress so far is not encouraging.

Is reconstruction a practical strategy for Afghanistan?

According to military doctrine, success in Afghanistan requires the allocation of 80% of the resources to reconstruction, rebuilding, and related areas. While the actual level is unknown, it surely falls far below 80%, and the plans that were recently announced to achieve that end do not seem adequate to do so.

Is the doctrine, then, simply impractical—or even impossible—to implement? The obvious question is, “Where will the required reconstruction resources—the 80%—come from?” While the military and the defense industry do have powerful lobbying forces in many countries that help assure support from troop levels and weapons acquisitions, there are relatively few influential lobbying forces for reconstruction and development. Moreover, since reconstruction funds are normally spent in remote parts of the world—far from Europe, the United States, or other potential donors—they would be spent neither in the home district of a Member of Parliament nor in a congressman’s backyard nor in the state of a senator, making such funding unattractive to most. Under these circumstances, how would it be possible to generate the necessary political will to support the goal?

Even if the necessary funding can be found, the cost of delivering the resources is another concern. Only 25% of allocated resources for rebuilding and reconstruction are typically spent in Afghanistan; in some cases, the figure may be as low as 10%. So we are talking about delivering resources that are often of U.S. or European origin—i.e., from high-labor-cost regions—into areas such as Afghanistan—low-labor-cost regions. In addition, transportation costs will be high because of the remote areas involved, the long distances, the logistical complexity, and, in some cases, vulnerability to terrorist attacks. Knowing this, does the approach make any economic sense at all?

Another problem with reconstruction is reliance on donors and NGOs. Typically, the U.S. military and other militaries are not good at reconstruction—and they are not really interested in acquiring such capabilities. In addition, the efforts of donors and NGOs tend to be fragmented, staffers are often on short-term assignments, and funds are often awarded for political motivations. In addition, many NGOs are reluctant to work with the military.

Nonetheless, there are a few rays of hope. India and China have done considerable civil work in Afghanistan. These countries are competent and they have lower costs. So, perhaps, reconstruction can happen if the proper distribution of efforts is worked out among participating countries.

The way ahead

Finding the right way to move forward in Afghanistan will not be easy. In fact, U.S. National Security Advisor General James Jones believes that success in Afghanistan is impossible without vast improvement in security, the economy, and governmental corruption. Improving each and every one of them will be a hard task. In addition, there is an extreme shortage of willing actors among nations, which is likely to be exacerbated by the current economic crisis. In his workshop wrap-up remarks, SHAPE Chief of Staff General Karl-Heinz Lather summarizes the challenge:

To break this vicious cycle, we need to proceed just as we discussed [at this workshop]: comprehensively, collaboratively, and cooperatively addressing all of the surrounding issues. If we are successful, then Afghanistan will be better off in the end. But Afghanistan has to do its part as well.

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