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Council of the European Union: address by Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, to the Munich Security Conference, 7 February 2009

Munich, 7 February 2009
by Emanuele G. - Saturday 7 February 2009 - 1880 letture

I would like to start by thanking the Munich Security Conference, and the German government, for the invitation. The "Wehrkunde" has a special place in the international calendar. This is even more relevant this year. For we are also meeting at the start of a new US administration. A full team of top US leaders is with us today.

There are many urgent problems that demand our attention. They are captured in the rather ambitious title of our session, NATO, Russia, Oil and Gas and the Middle East: the future of European security.

Let me first focus on the last element - European security as such. We tend to believe that security inside Europe is largely "completed". Of course we know many threats remain. But we see them as coming from other parts of the world: the Middle East, Africa, South Asia. Or we think that they are really global in nature: climate change, non-proliferation and poverty.

And it is fair to say that no other region in the world has anything that comes close to our security structures: a sophisticated blend of rules and institutions. Their most important feature is their comprehensive character: cooperation in all the three baskets of hard security, economy and human rights. That was a vision that we have to retain and that we have still to fully achieve.

Moreover, it is quite clear that among the three pillars of the pan-European security order - the US, Europe, Russia - one of them feels uncomfortable in it. For whatever reasons. But President Medvedev’s proposals are a clear signal in that respect. It is in all our interest to analyse why and see what can be done. Let me begin with the "diagnosis".

Last year we had a real war between two OSCE countries. The war in Georgia was a massive breach of a core principle we hold dear: the non-use of violence to settle conflicts. Other, not-sofrozen, conflicts simmer and could erupt into violence. The EU and NATO still keep 20 000 people deployed in the Balkans. Security and stability in that part of our continent are not yet selfsustaining.

At the start of the year we saw, yet again, a major gas dispute between our most important supplier and our most important transit partner. To people across Europe trying to keep warm, this did not look like a purely commercial dispute. Several treaties and agreements, take the CFE Treaty or the Energy Charter, are not functioning as they should.

The economic crisis is encouraging some to follow the dangerous way of protectionism, as if we had learnt nothing from history. Certainly, no "new Cold War" is in the making but all this is taking place against a wider backdrop of distrust. There is a paradox in all this. Never before have so many people worked to promote overall European security. Countless meetings are held in every conceivable format: bilateral and multilateral, formal and informal, among governments and with those outside. But although we meet often, that does not mean more trust among us.

And there is an apparent contradiction: in recent years, co-operation between the US, Europe and Russia on some of the most difficult global issues has been positive. Take Iran, the Middle East Peace Process or non-proliferation and terrorism. Of course I hope this continues. And that it will be expanded to the financial crisis and climate change. But, closer to home, things have been more difficult. No wonder: many times it seems easier to be strategic partners that good neighbours. We need both things.

With Russia we share a continent and a history. But our respective memories are very different. Take the 1990s. For us, these were years of liberation and integration. But for many Russians, these were years of decline. To try to understand that mindset is not the same as condoning the actions that follow that logic. For us, the idea of Russia feeling threatened is absurd. But for Russia, apparently, they may feel like that.

Russia should understand how small countries feel vulnerable beside a giant neighbour. And that in today’s world it is not a good sign if you have difficult relations with many of your neighbours. All of us should ask whether it makes sense to still have people and resources geared towards planning for conflict scenarios among us, rather than towards addressing common threats together. At a time of financial crisis, these questions are even more relevant.

Now, President Medvedev’s proposals. They are still to be explained further. But the underlying ideas deserve to be taken seriously. And engagement in a debate is in itself a road to build trust. Some principles under-pinning European security are non-negotiable: that we do it with the US; that countries are free to choose their alliance; and that we reject notions such as spheres of privileged influence.

Russia knows all this. Just as it knows that there are many elements we can work with: the primacy of international law is one. Calls for legally binding instruments and more transparency are good too. Not just in political and military terms, but also for energy and gas. We should engage in this discussion. And we should have a positive agenda which is about more than "let’s preserve what we have." I think that we should seriously look at how we develop "a Helsinki Plus" rather than a "Helsinki II". The latter might be very difficult to achieve and we should concentrate our efforts on developing further what "Helsinki" has achieved already.

What we have has produced unparalleled results in terms of peace and security. It is immensely valuable – but not perfect. Our goal should be that all three pillars of European security - Europe, US and Russia - feel comfortable with and attached to whatever order we have. The advent of a new US administration offers new opportunities. Let me close with one final thought: for all the talk of rising powers and Asian centuries, we should not forget the centrality of the US, Europe and Russia as the leading players for global security.

Those three agreeing is often a necessary, even if it’s not a sufficient condition to get things done around the world. That is another reason to "secure our base". That means these three pillars working as much as possible together on security across our own Continent. And a very final word, on a fundamental issue, related as well to the security of Europe, which is the Middle East. We have an obligation to get seriously engaged in finding a lasting peace. We are going to face many difficulties. But, more than ever, we have to go beyond crisis management and enter into conflict resolution. We can and we should.

Thank you very much.

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