Europe is re-evaluating the concepts and capabilities that underlie its defence, as its security challenges have been exacerbated by turbulent developments in the Middle East and worsening relations with Russia.
Friends of Europe’s annual Security Policy Summit on 28 November aimed to shift talk on European security from threats to opportunities. At the summit, entitled “Europe’s tough neighbourhood – urgent challenges in a complex environment,” participants sought to identify roles and responsibilities at the strategic, tactical and operational levels in the framework of longer-term strategic thinking.
“People weren’t talking about fake news before, and now we are talking about it all the time,” said Giles Portman, Head of the East Stratcom Task Force at the European External Action Service (EEAS). “We have raised awareness and raised inoculation and immunity, but there is still a long way to go. There are bots, cyborgs, artificial intelligence and increasingly sophisticated fake imagery. We have been catching up with the game – but we need to get ahead of the game.”
Russia is widely suspected to be behind the use of these techniques in a sophisticated, hard-to-predict manner that is difficult to counter. The Baltic states, former Soviet republics which are now NATO members bordering Russia, are particularly concerned.
“Russia’s use of hybrid techniques creates uncertainty and unpredictability on security in Europe,” said Zanda Kalnina-Lukaševica, Parliamentary State Secretary for European Affairs at the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Young Leader (EYL40). “Latvia and Estonia are at the forefront of cyber capabilities and boosting resilience. We are increasing efforts to foster a whole-of-society approach. It is important to have a high level of awareness, from school children to high-level national security officers.”
To Europe’s south, the destabilising effects of the Arab Spring in 2011 and then the EU-led military intervention in Libya have contributed to security difficulties including terrorism and mass movements. The response has been complicated by the deterioration in Europe’s and America’s relations with Turkey, their traditional ally in the Muslim world.
There is now a growing awareness that security policy needs to be complemented by economic development assistance and engagement with non-government organisations. “We have to look to more actors than just governments,” said Kati Piri, Member of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET). “My criticism is that we are sending a soft message to the Turkish government and losing – or risk losing – the 80 million people in the country. At least we could show more solidarity with the people in these dark times. Of course, it is normal that you deal with the government, but we are losing track of the longer-term perspective.”
Complicating the security environment in recent years have been signals from the United States that Europe is less of a priority – and that it should do more to guarantee its own defence. “Now the world looks a scarier place,” said James Morrison, Head of Cabinet to European Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King. “The threat is increasingly not just military – though I would not write it off – but a cyber threat, where the threat surface is massive. I think the collective view is that we need to take more responsibility for our own security, and that the means of mitigating the threat rely more on collective action.”
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