Yannos Papantoniou: European Security in a Global Environment

The concept of security can refer to many subjects: from its simplest form of the security of one person, to the security of an individual state and nowadays, more often than not, to the security of groups of states. The European Union is nowadays the best example state of a group of states with common security issues and, hopefully, common policies to deal with these problems.

Only two decades ago, security in Europe meant the capacity to deflect an eventual onslaught of Soviet tanks through the German plains. Security policies were geared to that concept. Now, with the Soviet Union gone and the policies designed to avert Soviet military domination gone the way of the dodo, the West and the EU in particular have to face other security challenges that are more wide ranging and unlike a conventional military threat are not susceptible to simple methods of deterrence.

Most of these challenges are global ones and must be addressed with the co-operation of as many States as possible. In this connection, the EU looks forward to cooperating closely with the new US Administration.

One of the major issues facing Europe nowadays is the question of the energy security. Recent developments that have temporarily disrupted the flow of Russian gas to European countries simply underline how acute the problem is.

Europe is among the various continents the one that is most dependent on imports of energy. Nuclear energy is widely used only in France and the prospects of further nuclear plants being widely built are at the best doubtful. Local resistance and wide-spread fears of an eventual nuclear incident are part of the reasons. The enormous investment involved in the construction of new plants and the time necessary for them to be eventually built also mitigate against the prospect of expanded nuclear power being sought out as the solution to the energy problems of Europe.

Alternative sources of energy are being pursued but for the time being they can cover only a limited percentage of European energy needs. Aeolian energy and solar energy are ideal from the environmental and ecological point of view but form only part of the solution of Europe’s energy problems.
For the foreseeable future Europe will remain dependent on imported sources of energy. Fossile fuels and gas are obviously the main elements in this prospect.

Russia broke off supplies, due to its perennial quarrel with the Ukraine regarding payment/non-payment of the gas bill, linked with accusations about siphoning off natural gas during its transit through this country. This action in connection with a particularly heavy winter created major problems in a number of European countries, particularly former Warsaw Pact countries greatly dependent ever since to Soviet/Russian supplies.

Underlying the Russian natural gas problem is the recent political tension between Russia and the Ukraine and the desire of Moscow to keep Kiev as much as possible under control. Aspirations by some western countries to see the Ukraine within NATO increase the difficulties, with Moscow making it abundantly clear that apart from any other measures she might take, a NATO-linked Ukraine would lose access to Russian gas.

Faced with this danger to its energy security, the EU has up to now not been able to present a unified policy. The issue of diversification of sources is being repeatedly brought up, with limited success. The problem is that natural gas has to be transported by pipelines, since liquefied gas necessitates receiving installations that not all countries have available. Natural gas is not like oil which is transported by tankers up to its destination. The issue of cost is paramount: building the pipelines entails enormous expenditure and the pipelines, once built, have to be used for the countries they link.

Building a new pipeline is an enormous undertaking and it is obviously understandable that financing by interested institutions can only be available if a guaranteed amount of natural gas is certain to flow through it. The EU has promoted the Nabucco pipeline to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan. Russia is promoting the North Stream and the South Stream pipelines, which bypass Central-Eastern Europe and would bring natural gas more or less directly to its main customers in Western Europe.

Obviously the issue has a further dimension not linked directly to economic considerations, a political one. Some understandably Russophobe Eastern European countries, previously Soviet satellites, argue forcefully in favor of any solution that would increase European dependency on Russian natural gas. Others, which carry less political baggage, would prefer the Russian solution which could be, it seems, easier to finance. At a time of world-wide crisis economic considerations become paramount.

EU failure to come up with a common policy reflects differing interests among its members. Obviously Brussels was extremely active during the recent interruption of natural gas supplies. But that is a mere palliative regarding the main challenge, to formulate a European energy policy to address the security issue.

The attitude of states regarding the issue of Russian gas cannot, of course, be separated from their overall policy vis-à-vis Russia. If certain countries continue seeing Moscow as a potential enemy, along cold war lines, then it is obvious that there is no real possibility of a conversion of views and agreement on a common policy. If, however, we see Russia, on account of its economic weakness as well as deficient infrastructure and military capabilities, not as a world power, but as a regional power which cannot threaten the West, then it is possible to arrive at a common position. Is such a conversion of views possible? Well, I can only say that this is more possible now than it was in the past.

Another acute security problem concerns the spread of militant fundamentalism. Islamic fundamentalism is a fairly recent phenomenon, particularly in its militant phase. As is the case with all extremist ideologies, there are specific reasons why it appears particularly in its most virulent forms.

First of all we have to distinguish between the leaders and the followers. The leaders, the small minority of zealots, who for reasons that are very hard to fathom, entertain a visceral hatred of the West, but they cannot be really dealt with since they are beyond argument. And, more important, because by themselves they cannot do much harm. It is their followers, either active or passive ones that are the important element because they are much more numerous and dangerous.

We have to establish and, even more important, to accept that they have reasons for their actions, even though we might not consider these reasons valid ones. Only thus will we eventually be able to counter this danger.

Disenchantment with the level of development and progress in their own countries accounts for a large part of frustration. Ever since the end of World War II and the beginning of decolonization, there has been an effort among the people of the Arab/Muslim countries to arrive at a higher level of economic and social development. However, corrupt regimes, ostensibly aligned with the West, first drove these countries and their populations to the path of nationalism and pan-arabism combined with overtones of Soviet-inspired socialism and secularism. The abject failure of these policies to satisfy the aims of their people provided the religiously-oriented movements with an opportunity to gain the allegiance of a desperate population.

In many cases, religiously oriented movements although theoretically banned, remain active and provide the indigent with a number of social and medical services which would otherwise not be available to them. The result is that wide strata of the population are looking at the Islamic movements with sympathy since for them they are linked with an effort to improve their difficult lot.

This issue is one on which the EU and the US already cooperate, mostly on security and military means to face direct dangers. But the cooperation should be expanded on the political field to deal with the root causes of extremist fundamentalism. It is not an easy undertaking but it is one that should be at least attempted.  

Perhaps the most dangerous development that threatens European security is the continuing illegal immigration which, particularly at times of economic crisis and high unemployment, entails grave dangers. An additional difficulty and threat is the growing alienation of long-established immigrants who have not been able – or have not attempted - to adapt to the culture of the receiving State. Their frustration regarding what they consider to be a policy of discrimination or at least a way of life which does not seem to give them the opportunities they would desire often leads them to acts of violence. It is obvious that they also fall easily prey to the fanatics who try to represent the West as the source of all evil and who make good -or bad- use of their frustrations for their own criminal aims.

Illegal immigration and radicalization of long-established immigrants constitute a major challenge to European Security. These dangers become more serious if one considers the eventuality of the creation of racist and xenophobic feelings among the populations of the European countries involved. We have already seen signs of this in certain countries where anti-immigrant and thinly veiled racist political parties have appeared and show that they can appeal to a certain segment of the population. Happily, this tendency is as yet not an important one.

European countries have undertaken certain efforts in order to stem the influx of illegal immigrants and also in order to better integrate longer established immigrants. Results are, to be charitable, mixed.

Policies aiming to diminish entry of illegal immigrants broadly fall within two areas: police measures that would stop them from entering the country, and more sophisticated measures that would deter them from leaving their home countries. The first are of doubtful efficacy: since most of the illegal immigrants try to enter the southern European states by sea, there are limited possibilities as to what one could actually do, since violent measures could have as a result that the ramshackle boats they travel on would sink and the would-be immigrants drowned. An unacceptable policy.

The long-term policy is to try to improve the economic situation in the countries of provenance of these immigrants so that they would not consider it necessary to leave them.  This is a good policy but it has the disadvantage that it refers very much to the future, while the problem is an actual one.

So we come to efforts of crisis management, which in effect means trying to formulate policies that either facilitate the entry of what one might call qualified migrants or attempt to find a formula that would more or less equitably distribute entrants among the various member states. It is obvious that the southern European countries which receive the vast majority of immigrants are the ones most interested in such a formula, while the northern European are much more restrained in accepting binding arrangements.

I would like to conclude by turning very briefly to the Middle East.

One cannot overstate the importance of this issue. The Middle East issue does not only constitute a danger for interstate relations in the region and their peace and security. This festering issue has been manipulated in order to imbed in a generation of young Muslims the conviction that the West by its support to Israel is, by definition, an enemy of the Arabs and, by extension, of Islam. A solution is urgently needed. And there the USA and the EU can pool their political and financial muscle and promote by all means a solution. A certain degree of exhaustion exists among the two sides.
It is an opportunity that should not be missed.