The need for dialogue on common security challenges in Europe Participants at the 23rd Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Conference held in Hamburg in December 2016. Photo: Flickr / Dragan Tatic
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hat has brought about the most important developments in military doctrines and security and defence policies in recent years? Is it possible to have a constructive dialogue on this topic?

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) under its previous (German) and current (Austrian) chairs is making valiant efforts to make this happen. A recent example was an event hosted by the Austrian National Defence Academy in Vienna on 3-5 May 2017, which was attended by more than 150 military and civilian experts.

I moderated the third session at that event, which dealt with the drivers of military doctrines and included presentations by senior military experts from the Netherlands, Russia and the USA. Here are my reflections on the session.

Common security challenges

The organizers asked the participants whether there are risks affecting all 57 OSCE participating states, for instance from cyber attacks or terrorism, that could constitute an area for a common approach from the whole of the OSCE region. My perhaps most important note from the discussion is the observation that it is very difficult, at present, for this question to be properly addressed.

Instead doctrines are discussed using an ‘action–reaction’ paradigm. Kosovo, Georgia and Ukraine came back into the debate time and again. This is, of course, both natural and problematic if one wants to promote dialogue. However, a mere focus on actions and reactions can only with great difficulty lead to the structured dialogue sought by the OSCE.

To go from simply focusing on actions and reactions to discussing challenges common to all will be difficult and certainly requires time. The discussion illustrated that this is true even if such challenges seem very obvious and have led to key developments in security and defence white papers around the globe. Some cases in point include nonstate actors, globalization, megatrends and the enormous differentiation of the security discourse itself after the energy crisis in 1973 and the end of the cold war.

Recent history tells us a lot about such difficulties but demonstrates at the same time that progress is possible. In my introduction to the session, I used the example of the Stockholm Conference on Security- and Confidence-building Measures and Disarmament 1984-86.

During this negotiation, it took 18 months for participating states to reach an agreement on the format for negotiations. The potential for progress was certainly not self-evident in the autumn of 1983 when crises in Europe and the world had led to extremely hostile and frosty exchanges between foreign ministers at the Madrid follow-up meeting of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE). Almost all negotiations were down, even bilateral formats between the superpowers on crucial nuclear and other issues. There was little hope of improvement and many thought dialogue to be useless.

The technical capabilities to verify compliance with commitments were also very limited (an important seminar in Stockholm in 1985 hosted by the Swedish Defence Research Institute FOA—now FOI—illustrated this point). But once initial agreements had been reached in 1986, military exercises took place, which led to unprecedented possibilities for people-to-people contact and dialogue. For the first time, officers travelled between East and West Germany, and between the Eastern and Western parts of Europe. The rest is indeed history: there was an end to the cold war, bringing new hope to Europe and the world.

We are now again in a period where people often end discussions about security policy agreeing to disagree or even agreeing that no substantial dialogue seems to be possible.

Still, this would not be true if only more focus on common challenges could be made possible.

Dialogue after war

If we look back at European history from the early 1700s, we find that the continent very often has been at war. The political will to pursue dialogue has typically been mobilized after the end of wars.

The most significant mobilization of such political will took place after World War II with its enormous human toll. This political will led to the creation of the United Nations and then later to a number of regional cooperative structures including the CSCE, which later turned into the OSCE.

The decisive argument for progress in 1983-84 was that there may be no opportunity to mobilize such an effort after a war, particularly if nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have been used. This argument is still true today. This puts a heavy responsibility on all to find ways to develop formats for dialogue and cooperation that also address new and common challenges.

Then, as now, regional organizations such as the CSCE/OSCE were crucial. This is why the current leadership of the OSCE should be supported in its efforts both to maintain dialogue opportunities that already exist and broaden the scope to create new ones.

Encouraging dialogue on common security threats

It does seem vital to seek also to focus on those developments that constitute common challenges to OSCE-participating states, be it nonstate actors and terrorism, organized crime, or megatrends regarding technological developments including cyber, demography and climate change.

The combination of these developments initiated by humans is increasingly affecting the stability of states inside and outside Europe. This, in turn, makes it even more challenging to uphold respect for the OSCE commitments reaffirmed by all participating states as recently as 2010 during the summit of Astana.

Compliance is no longer totally controlled by states. And states are no longer only threatened by other states but also by actors not sitting around the table in Vienna. This has led countries and international organizations to adopt ever more comprehensive approaches to security. Even inside military doctrines there are references to spheres of activity, which employ non-military capabilities, for, instance in the area of information.

So what could help in this situation? One contribution of value could be to develop datasets that underpin the development of additional parameters in future negotiations representing this partially new security landscape. In so doing, we should try to benefit from today’s much improved potential for verification compared with the situation 30 years ago, which set the stage for the current agreements on arms controls.

I mentioned the efforts of SIPRI and others to contribute to this end by developing an empirical research agenda extending well beyond arms-related datasets. The organizers towards the end of the seminar welcomed this. But major powers need to renew their efforts to identify a common basis for dialogue.

First published at SIPRI.org

Dr Lars-Erik Lundin

Dr Lars-Erik Lundin joined SIPRI as a Distinguished Associate Fellow in June 2014. He holds a PhD in political science and international relations and is the author of several peer-reviewed book chapters and reports closely related to the comprehensive approach of the European Union (EU) on external conflicts and crises.

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