Staying secure in times of austerity

‘SECURITY issues’ is no longer code for just military-related affairs: many other aspects need to be taken into account when ensuring a country’s capacity for effective security. That, as well as other challenges, was among the topics debated by central European experts in Bratislava in mid-November.

‘SECURITY issues’ is no longer code for just military-related affairs: many other aspects need to be taken into account when ensuring a country’s capacity for effective security. That, as well as other challenges, was among the topics debated by central European experts in Bratislava in mid-November.

Security experts from countries in the Visegrad Group – which comprises Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary – met on November 20 in Bratislava to share their knowledge and look for answers to new security challenges affecting the world in the wake of the economic crisis. The conference, entitled Smart Security: Regional Cooperation in the Time of Austerity, was organised by the non-governmental Slovak Atlantic Commission and the Centre for European Studies.

Austerity measures which have been introduced in practically all NATO member states, including the V4 countries, have had a negative impact on defence budgets and expenditure on security-related issues, experts at the conference agreed. But states must still deliver security to their citizens and ensure that they possess all the necessary capabilities to do so, making international cooperation a must, Slovakia’s foreign minister, Mikuláš Dzurinda, said in his speech opening the conference. He added that nowadays we see the borders between foreign and security policy and fiscal policy disappearing.

“Coalition security is a necessity rather than a sort of luxurious pastime for Slovakia,” security expert Rastislav Káčer, who is currently president of the Slovak Atlantic Commission but previously served as Slovakia’s ambassador to the USA, said in regard to the country’s position within NATO. According to him, Slovakia is dependent on international cooperation and on the security delivered by the alliance, and it will never be self-sufficient in this area.

Apart from NATO, Slovakia’s chances for cooperation lie in the first place with its neighbours, the V4 partners, who share the same historical experience, as well as with the European Union, since Slovakia is interconnected with the European economy, and uses the single currency.

NATO is not divinely ordained and as such it is bound to perish one day, Káčer said during one of the panel debates at the Smart Security conference.

“NATO was created in order to deliver security and guarantee prosperity in the background for Europe,” Káčer later explained. “It is a very successful project of 60 years of modern history and it has indeed guaranteed security in those 60 years, during which Europe experienced unprecedented growth.”

But with the end of the Cold War the polarity of the world is changing, Káčer said, adding that Europe has become much more emancipated and self-sufficient, while the roles of other countries, such as Russia, China, India, or Brazil, have been going through significant changes too.

“NATO must find its answer, but it can only find it if we provide it,” Káčer said. Without such an answer, NATO will just fade away, he concluded. “The point in the whole critical discussion that we have seen here today is that the alliance should persist [in] this evolutionary pressure, and it can only persist by adjusting to the changed conditions in the world.”

Strategic thinking missing in Slovakia

Slovakia has got the potential to offer its own contribution to the smart security concept in the alliance, but Káčer sees a lack of strategic thinking among the country’s politicians as the main obstacle to that.

“In Slovakia, populism and the search for short-term, simplified solutions are on the rise, but the ability to look into the future and say things that might not be popular at that particular moment, is missing,” he said, adding that strategic thinking and the ability to lead public opinion rather than bowing to short-term populist pressures is what the country needs to ensure long-term prosperity and its long-term ability to survive.

In fact, Slovakia has many traditions and capabilities as a legacy of its past that could make an interesting contribution to international security. As part of Czechoslovakia, Slovakia used to be a country with significant production and research-and-development resources.

One of the strengths that Slovakia shares with the Czech Republic is its tradition of military education.

“Here, our proximity to the Czech Republic, both linguistic and historical, could allow us to do a lot,” Káčer noted.

Another area where international cooperation could benefit the country is in the integration of air defences, which Káčer called one of the key areas of the national sovereignty and security.

“On the one hand we need to do something [in this area] because it is very expensive; on the other hand it is very hard to find a balance in how to divide the responsibilities, so that when something happens, politicians will not be able to blame each other,” Káčer said.

Another area that he said requires international cooperation is intelligence-related.

“Nowadays the world is much more complicated than before [during the Cold War] and [the intelligence services] are not about simple military confrontation any more,” Káčer explained, adding that their changing task today should be to catch all the possible negative trends that occur, including internal issues such as political extremism. He cited the attack by Anders Breivik in Norway this summer and the recently uncovered attacks by neo-Nazi groups in Germany as examples and noted that such elements occur in every country to some extent, but that thanks to the EU’s open borders they are now able to move around more easily.

“Then there is a wider global confrontation, in that dominance can be pursued through different, not exclusively military, means but also through energy dependence, debt dependence, and so on,” Káčer said.

These are the reasons why integration and cooperation should be pursued in the intelligence, security, and foreign-policy areas, he concluded.

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