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Commentary | 4 February 2015

Securing the Euro-Atlantic Community

Image of Des Browne

Des Browne |Chair of the ELN, Vice Chairman of the NTI, Convener of the TLG and former UK Defence Secretary

Image of Sam Nunn

Sam Nunn |Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Nuclear Threat Initiative; Former United States Senator

Defence Europe Russia-West Relations Security Euro-Atlantic Security

Via Project Syndicate.

Two years ago, together with a broad group of former officials and experts, we warned that, in the absence of a new military and political strategy for the Euro-Atlantic region, there was a risk that stability would weaken and security would break down. Sadly, there are clear signs that this is happening, with Europe now beset by its most serious and deadly crisis in decades.

In Ukraine, more than 5,000 people have been killed, over 10,000 more have been wounded, and 1.2 million have been forced from their homes. If we do not stop the killing and address the mounting divisions in Europe, our generation may claim to have ended the Cold War yet still failed to secure a peaceful future.

No security architecture, old or new, can succeed without leaders who are committed to addressing and resolving core issues. No process or structure, however elegantly designed, can substitute for bold political leadership and agreement on shared goals. Today, however, one cannot escape the conclusion that the Euro-Atlantic region’s existing security architecture is not up to the task of resolving the current crisis and increasing cooperation and stability in the region.

Just look at where we are. The institutions established to support constructive interaction between Russia and the West are badly broken and appear incapable of addressing today’s core political, economic, and security issues. Close personal relationships among leaders and clear, timely communications – essential for managing crises – have been lacking for years, severely hampered by mutual distrust.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been deeply engaged in Ukraine, but it lacks the political mandate to address, let alone resolve, core issues. The NATO-Russia Council, set up to create a more equal and effective partnership, has been suspended when it is needed most. Agreements designed to boost confidence and enhance stability, like the treaties on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, also have been suspended or are at risk.

Efforts to assign blame for how we got to this point, however understandable, must not be allowed to stand in the way of addressing problems that could impose high costs if left unresolved. A recent report by the European Leadership Network details how the intensity and gravity of incidents involving Russian and Western military forces have increased, raising the risk of an accident or military escalation. The report recommends strengthening crisis-management arrangements and exchanging information on military deployments.

But resolving the current crisis and building a new architecture for Euro-Atlantic regional security requires strong political leadership and new thinking. The task we face today – creating a process for addressing political, economic, and security issues that supports concrete steps to improve Euro-Atlantic security today and in the future – is no less challenging than the one confronted by the founders of the United Nations 70 years ago.

The first step is to create a new Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group, personally mandated by presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers. The Leadership Group would conduct a continuous high-level dialogue focused on developing specific recommendations on key points relating to the Ukraine crisis and Euro-Atlantic security more generally, integrating political, economic, and security issues.

The Leadership Group would thus constitute an important public demonstration of governments’ commitment to addressing and resolving core issues, and it would provide a desperately needed vehicle for translating their resolve into action. Its direct ties to US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and European leaders would distinguish it from existing arrangements.

Initially, the Leadership Group could include representatives from a core group of states – for example, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States – directly empowered by and connected to their presidents and prime ministers. To ensure broad membership and transparency across Europe and within existing structures, the Leadership Group should include a representative from the OSCE, the European Union, the Eurasian Economic Union, and NATO.#

The Leadership Group’s first priority would be to address the current crisis. It should then propose ways to improve existing structures – for example, by substantially reforming and empowering the OSCE – or to create a new Euro-Atlantic Security Forum. Such a body, if backed by strong political leadership, could play a crucial role in implementing agreements reached by the Leadership Group. Thus, we welcome the OSCE’s recent initiative to mandate an Eminent Persons Panel (EPP) to develop proposals and suggest concrete steps to make a European security architecture more resilient, and we look forward to its recommendations.

One way the new Leadership Group could play an early and decisive role is by seeking to define principles of transparency and restraint that reduce the risk of encounters between NATO and allied armed forces and those of the Russian Federation. Later, a new Forum, an empowered OSCE, or another body could provide an implementation mechanism to ensure that military command chains throughout the Euro-Atlantic area adopt these principles, and that reliable communication channels exist in the event of serious incidents.

Reducing the risks of such close encounters between armed forces is only one example of how a strengthened Euro-Atlantic security architecture could make a valuable contribution. Even a short list of unaddressed challenges – concerning conventional forces, nuclear weapons, terrorism, and cyber attacks – underscores the urgency of a new approach.

Finally, a new Euro-Atlantic security architecture must be empowered to act beyond traditional “military” matters and engage more broadly on economic, energy-related, and other vital issues. As long as a zero-sum mentality regarding economic integration, trade, and energy persists, distrust will deepen. These issues are crucial in resolving Ukraine’s security and economic crisis and preventing it from becoming a failed state.

Trying times require bold action. We must formulate and act on new proposals now, before Europe is split for another generation.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2015


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.