The “Conference on Security Challenges for Europe“ took place on 1 December 2021 at Hotel International in Zagreb. This was the ninth Conference so far conducted as a result of organizational cooperation between RACVIAC – Centre for Security Cooperation and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Office in Croatia. The academic partner in this event was the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies based in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Federal Republic of Germany. This event presents a continuation of an established series of activities aimed at enabling open and comprehensive discussions on emerging security challenges for Europe and South East European countries in particular.
The Welcome Addresses were given by MG (ret.) Jeronim Bazo, Director of RACVIAC and Mr Holger H. Haibach, Head of the KAS Office in the Republic of Croatia.
After welcoming partners, speakers and participants Director of RACVIAC, MG(ret.) Jeronim Bazo, said: “I firmly believe that our Conference represents an appropriate platform for a productive interaction between all relevant security policy stakeholders. I also hope that the content will arouse the interest of the audience composed of the representatives of the academic community, state officials, diplomatic corps, and security and defence professionals, assembled here in person as well as online.”
He continued by saying: „Over the past few years, Europe and South-Eastern Europe have struggled with how to address the changing security paradigm. Challenges and threats such as terrorism, violent extremism, illegal migration, radicalism and extremism, as well as unresolved political issues from the past and consequences of violent conflicts during the nineties make the security situation in the area very complex”. Director Bazo added that the knowledge of the speakers and the engagement of the audience will be the perfect combination for the development of a shared set of values, ideas and policy proposals which might become an appropriate platform for regional security cooperation as well as reconsiderations of national strategies.
Mr Haibach emphasized that in the so-called “new normal” nothing is normal and nothing is certain and that he is very happy that we are here at least in a hybrid way. “Things have changed dramatically over the last 20 years and security challenges have diversified in a way that, I think, a lot of us would not have expected two decades ago” he continued. Citing, individually, all of today’s security challenges (migration, misinformation (fake news), critical infrastructure, internet, 5G…), he pointed out that the real challenge is that “no country can face challenges alone”.
The Conference Introductory Messages were delivered by H.E. Dr Robert R. Klinke, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Republic of Croatia, Dr Matthew Rhodes, Area Studies Chair, George C. Marshall Center and Mr Henry Alexander Henegar, Chief of Political and Economic Affairs at the Embassy of the United States of America to the Republic of Croatia.
Dr Klinke, who joined via a video call, said that, in his opinion, the Coronavirus pandemic, among others, poses a significant threat. He emphasised: “Despite the pandemic, we are able to ensure international exchange in dialogue on important topics against a background full of challenges. This is also necessary. In times of globalization, fake news and disinformation campaigns, dialogue as a central element of security policy is more important than ever.”
Mr Rhodes spoke on behalf of the George C. Marshall Center Director and emphasized the long-term partnership between RACVIAC and the George C. Marshall Center. He mentioned that the topic of “regional cooperation” is not a new topic and that, due to the recent developments, they should be viewed from another perspective. “RACVIAC itself, as an example of real success of regional cooperation in SE Europe makes for a natural host for a discussion of this type” he concluded.
Mr Henegar, as a representative of the US Government, emphasized that the US is responding to recent security challenges through partnership: “The US is committed to everything with our allies and partners, not because it is important but because it is essential to protect our shared values.”
The Keynote Speaker was Mr Frano Matušić, State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Croatia. He stressed that there is an arc of instability that surrounds most of Europe. Southern European neighbors are exposed to radicalization, he added. In his speech the Secretary of State pointed out that Europe is facing unprecedented challenges which can be overcome only by strengthening multilateralism and transatlantic partnership, while preserving international order.
The Conference Panel One focused on the dynamics of Euro-Atlantic integration, its roles and implications for South-Eastern Europe. As Slovenia is holding the presidency of the EU Council for the second time to date in the second half of 2021, and assuming this role after thirteen years, the main goals of Slovenia’s EU Presidency were outlined, including in relation to the Western Balkans and how Slovenia’s EU Presidency has supported the development of the EU Strategic Compass. This Panel also analysed the basic background and reasons for the development of the new NATO Strategic Concept and how it will affect NATO’s work in the security field and finally what Turkey’s overall foreign and security policy priorities in relation to NATO and with the EU are and how it might best contribute to the developing Strategic Concept/Strategic Compass agenda and to regional cooperation in South East Europe. Panel One was an opportunity for the respective panellists (Mr Peter Grk, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Slovenia, Prof Fritz Rademacher, George C. Marshall Center and Dr Mitat Celikpala, Kadir Has University) to present their considerations and provide the audience with their visions of the way ahead. The Moderator of the First panel was Dr. Sandro Knezović from the Institute for Development and International Relations, Zagreb.
Panel Two was dedicated to the recurring theme of geopolitics and economics (Three Seas and 16+1 Initiatives). The moderator of the Panel was Dr Valbona Zeneli from the George C. Marshall Center. Critical questions were analysed, such as how the Three Seas Initiative has evolved since its creation, what its main achievements as well as challenges/limitations have been, what more would we like to see TSI accomplish in the future and do non-EU member states in the Western Balkans have a role to play. The speakers were Mr Ian Brzezinski, U.S. Atlantic Council, Ms Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, Former President of Croatia and Dr Richard Turcsanyi from the Central European Institute of Asian Studies.
The third Panel focused on the topic of regional cooperation and regional initiatives, whose fundamental goal is to strengthen multilateral relations between countries of South East Europe, with the aim of full NATO and EU integration. CEDC is the biggest Central European forum, directed at security and defence matters and the US-Adriatic Charter A5 is a partnership regional security and defence initiative. The panellists presented their considerations on the said topics and provided the audience with their visions of the way ahead.
Critical questions were answered, such as how and why have A5 and CEDC created, what their main achievements have been as well as challenges/limitations, what the priorities for Croatia during its current chairing of both are and should they adapt further over the next 5-10 years. The moderator of the third Panel was Dr Mathew Rhodes, George C. Marshall Center, and the distinguished speakers were Amb (ret.) Michael Schmunk, Federal Republic of Germany, Ms Dunja Bujan, Ministry of Defense, Croatia and Dr Ankica Tomić, MARRI Regional Center.
The flagship Conference gathered more than 60 participants in person and 30 online (from Albania, Austria, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo*, North Macedonia, Slovenia, Serbia, Turkey and USA), senior level national security policy makers and subject matter experts from the ministries of foreign affairs, ministries of interior, ministries of defence, governmental and non-governmental organizations, members of the diplomatic corps accredited in the Republic of Croatia, students of the “Ban Josip Jelačić” War school of the Croatian Military Academy and members of the academic community involved in addressing the contemporary security challenges and policy development processes.
The panellists delivered their perspectives on the subjects candidly and this generated a series of questions on the part of the moderators and audience alike. The interest shown in the topics by the audience proved that many questions are still unresolved (i.e., under a question mark) and should be addressed properly. Certainly, readiness for discussion connected to sensitive issues clearly confirmed that this kind of events can foster dialogue and this is exactly what RACVIAC mission is all about.
Indeed, RACVIAC is following a policy of tracking the situation on the ground in order to prepare its next Conference and stay a relevant actor in this field.
*This Designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.