Judging by the growing engagement of Europe in security cooperation, the times have never been more supportive for a combined strategy. Defense spending is on the rise, new structures are established, and old ones reinforced. The Russian strategy of “divide and conquer” has brought the responding “ally and counter”.
In the European security basket, we can name the most prominent organizations: North Atlantic Treaty Organization (with US and Canada), European Union (EU), Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO), Visegrad Group (V4), and the new political movements Three Seas Initiative and Bucharest 9. The following post will venture to pinpoint strengths of the regional cooperation and their complementary role in the bigger picture.
Europe is a puzzle of security organizations
If we treat the security of Europe as a puzzle, putting together the elements quite literally represents a response towards the divide and conquer strategy. The purpose is to recognize the matching needs and build structures in place to create an air-tight defense, which can’t be taken apart. Once you get to the table and open your box with puzzles you usually start with the corners and the frame. Those are given by EU and NATO – overarching organizations collectively holding the majority of European nations. What do we then add in between to see the joint picture? How does NORDEFCO, V4, Three Seas Initiative and Bucharest 9 connect with the rest of the puzzle?
As with every decent puzzle, European security also has a centerpiece which connects to all directions – Poland. After the NATO Warsaw Summit, Poland has taken a leading role in the Eastern Flank, supported the global links between central Europe and China (via Three Seas Initiative) and has been elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Poland has unique role in regional security bridging
Putting the elements together might be easier with a centerpiece, but is still requires anchors to keep them in place. Those have been provided by unique traits of the cooperations:
- NORDEFCO focuses on Baltic Sea security. The cooperation can be observed by the VIKING series of exercises, joint research in the area of submarines, and even procurement of the same camouflage pattern in uniforms. The founding nations (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) are joined by the United Kingdom and Poland within their meetings.
The Visegrad Group (V4) consists of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Check Republic. It bridges together security and the cultural dimension. This forum has been used to respond at the peak of illegal border crossings in 2016. The four nations have exchanged personnel (border guards and military) and equipment (e.g. helicopters) to create multinational units. This intensified with the joint border patrols that are still active today.
The Three Seas Initiative consists of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Starting from 2016, the initiative leads several strands of work – economy, security and culture. The concept has been supported by the US President during his visit to Warsaw in July 2017, showing the potential of the group. The 12 countries have played an important role in the negotiations with China over its new logistics road through Europe. The road from North to South is at its beginning, but holds the key not only to China logistics, but also military mobility for European security cooperation.
The Bucharest Nine are Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. They are often referred to as “small NATO”. Bucharest 9 represents the NATO Strategic Direction North-East. It has led the security cooperation in terms of partnership with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. From its establishment, it reflects the focus on the Eastern border of NATO, from cyber capabilities to capacity building.
Putting those puzzles together gives a good outlook on a joint European strategy. Cohesion comes from the way that regional cooperations complement the overarching frameworks.
Sometimes there is a tendency to focus on the weakest link in the chain, but the case can be made for focusing on the strongest connecting nodes instead. This gives the strategy agility and a focal point. Through its position in the different organizations, Poland can play this role as the centerpiece which ties together the security dynamics between the Baltic region and Central Eastern Europe.