A rapidly deteriorating situation

The security landscape emerging at the beginning of 2020 was shaped by a sequence of disruptive changes during the years 2014-2016.

The Russian annexation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine as from 2014 signalled a considerable worsening of East-West relations. This led to a drastic rise of tension, especially in Northern Europe, setting in motion geopolitically relevant action-reaction processes – also in the area of nuclear arms control.

In Europe´s southern “near abroad”, The Middle East and North Africa, developments these years – initiated by the Arab Spring uprisings as from 2011 – moved from serious to alarming, especially in Syria. There was a sequence of events involving

  • the rise and expansion in Syria and Iraq of the Islamic State,
  • and the ensuing US-led struggle to halt and push back this extraordinary threat to the international community,
  • Russia´s arrival to the Syrian war scene,
  • early indications of a trend to US withdrawal, and
  • emerging trends to Russian-Turkish-Iranian cooperation,

all indicating that Syria and the wider Middle East were emerging as a central arena of East-West confrontation.

In the year 2015, these and other crises led to an unprecedented wave of migration into Europe, peaking in late 2015. A March 2016 EU-Turkey agreement was seen to have largely halted it. But the migration crisis did have a profound impact on the political order in Europe and challenged norms of liberal democracy.

And in 2016, partly reflecting these trends, came two political watershed moments, the UK “Brexit” referendum and the election of Donald Trump as US president, both events of profound consequences for European and transatlantic coherence.

These 2014-2016 trends and developments continued throughout the following years. This took place against the backdrop of increased concern over global megatrends, such as climate change and an emerging crisis of multilateralism and rules-based international relations. Altogether this piled up a concerning number of disruptive factors and threats/challenges to European security to which the EU, and NATO and other security configurations, now have to respond.

Entering into the third decade of the 2000s, and looking ahead into this year, 2020, it seems clear that security in and of Europe will be profoundly affected by two potentially disruptive “Western” developments:

  • The Brexit implementation process to be managed on the EU side by the newly elected Commission (and other EU bodies),
  • and the US presidential election campaign.

Keywords of security policy analysis, therefore, are uncertainty and insecurity, and more so now than for a long time. Predictability is no longer a shared value even in the West[1].

Towards a comprehensive approach 2.0 in the Southern dimension

This report, a part of the Academy´s current SES project, “Security in tomorrow´s Europe – Swedish perspectives”, focuses on Europe´s Southern dimension. It seeks

  • to define the important challenges arising from the south,
  • and to discuss the responses, current, planned and needed.

This is  an exploratory study seeking to formulate propositions for further research and debate. It will remain a living document at least until the end of the SES project.

Most if not all, of the threats and challenges referred to in this report, are known. This project seeks to put them together in a structured framework, allowing readers to zoom in and zoom out on a dimension of existential importance for Europe and indeed for Sweden.

To see and analyse the need for European responses in this way will facilitate an understanding of an exceedingly complex, uncertain and at the same time threatening development over the rest of this decade and indeed century.

In a Swedish security policy context, focus usually is on military security in the East-West dimension. The focus on the Southern dimension is here chosen, as an increasingly vital – politically as well as analytically – complement to the East-West perspective.

As pointed out by the new EU Commission in its early policy declarations, it is long overdue for the EU to seek activation of a considerably more forward-leaning and geopolitical security policy in the MENA region[2]. It is being seen as untenable for the EU to continue to face spill-over risks in abundance from these areas while remaining insufficiently capable in terms of leverage. Translating economic strength into geopolitical leverage is deemed increasingly crucial for the EU, regionally and globally.

This raises the question, if for the promotion and protection of European security interests

  • effective jointness of external action,
  • as well as functioning internal action

are needed to meet contemporary security challenges. What then – more concretely – is required?

The answers to this question are – as this study will illustrate – not straightforward. Not least: they demonstrate that the way responses are configured may exacerbate problems further. The report deems it necessary to explicitly recognise this dilemma and the ensuing need for what often will be a painful balancing act between different responses.

In so doing It is increasingly necessary to cut the Gordian knot long before policy choices are made in terms of budgetary allocations or operational decisions. A “comprehensive approach 2.0” as discussed in this report needs to make policy choices explicit on the level of strategy[3].Such a strategy will, however difficult it is going to be, have to avoid a simple listing of values, goals and instruments. The fact that choices ahead are difficult will need to be made explicit in a hierarchy of goals and interests. Furthermore, the strategy will need to factor in European internal vulnerabilities, not only its strengths.

All in all, this will require, both at the national and European levels, a significant build-up of analytical and diplomatic capabilities to see the full picture much more clearly than could be done at the time of the European Security Strategy of 2003 and even at the time when two separate strategies were put on the table by the EU – the Internal Security strategy from 2015 and the Global Strategy from 2016.  This upcoming strategy, in turn, will need to correspond to the resources that can be allocated in the security and defence policy context to cater for needs in the Southern dimension.

The report makes a distinction between on the one hand

  • threats of major war, whether or not risking spilling over to European shores, arising from the various conflict zones in the South – in which prevention of conflict escalation/proliferation becomes the overriding European security interest,
  • and, on the other hand, the need to protect versus interdict flows of essential importance for Europe. These include on the negative side a wide range of security challenges requiring specific policy responses, such as (illegal) migration, terrorism and organized crime. On the positive they include essential aspects of globalization – material, human and virtual flows.

The immediate challenge: the threat of war spilling over to Europe

Hence, as regards the threats and challenges to European security posed by conflicts in the South risking to spiral into a major war the report starts with the case of Iran. It includes

Iran-Iraq, Iran-US, Iran-Israel and Iran-Saudi Arabia relations. The report concludes that at the time of writing at the end of 2019, the Iran crisis posed particular challenges to Europe:

  • in terms of the imminence of risk of major war
  • and in view of strains in the EU-US strategic relationship in the Middle East
  • in general and in Iran in particular with
  • the fate of the crucial nuclear deal (JCPOA) being at the centre stage in this situation.

And then there is the similarly demanding case of Syria, with its toxic mix of complex sub-conflicts (the north-east, Idlib and the Israel-Iran conflict), the involvement of not only regional but also global actors, notably Russia and the US, and the humanitarian and migration-related challenges, combined with Syria ́s proximity to Europe contributing to a concrete spill-over risk in various ways.

The report then proceeds to highlight the way the broader trends in the Mid-Eastern security theatre has recently affected Libya. An increased internationalization of that conflict has threatened to create a proxy war also there. Clashing hydrocarbon development interests in the Eastern Mediterranean are becoming securitized, even militarized. Both these evolving conflicts directly affect European security interests. The needed unity of action between the different European countries is increasingly difficult to establish..

It is noted that a minimum degree of stabilization of Europe ́s “near abroad”, notably crisis-ridden countries such as Libya and Syria – with the complex case of Turkey as an intervening variable – remains a necessary condition for European stability. In the longer term, such stability is required for Europe to manage essential flows linked to the demanding global and regional megatrends. Developing Europe into relevant global actor, reflecting its economic strength, is an increasingly tall order.

Other short- to longer term threats and challenges

Megatrends will of course not affect all parts of the globe in the same way. Population explosion and climate change are expected to hit Africa and the Middle East harder, particularly if one also includes Pakistan. This is likely to shatter hope for the future and increase frustration on the part not least of large segments of the educated young population in a large number of growing megacities in the south.

  • Africa and the Middle East will increase its share of the world population several times over in this century[4]
  • At the same time, Europe and the Asian part of the Russian Federation are ageing[5] which will make it impossible to support a large part of the population without legal migration,
  • Some of the worst effects of climate change will hit the Middle East and large regions of northern and central Africa disproportionally[6].
  • Urbanisation is already underway on a large scale in Africa and the Middle East[7] Megacities are developing with an enormous number of young and to a certain extent, well-educated people with an uncertain future.

All this means that the immediate challenges outlined above are likely to increase and proliferate over the long term. They will relate to more specific, albeit related, policy areas/challenges of cooperation such as energy security, the humanitarian imperative(s), migration, terrorism and organized crime.

The perceived needs on the part of governments in the South to acquire ever more sophisticated weaponry, including weapons of mass destruction, also pose potential threats to Europe.

Taken together this is a tall order, given the undermining of the international multilateral system (cf the Iran JCPOA deal).

Domestic political stability in European societies needs to be resilient to threats originating from the south. Constructive ways to address threat perceptions held by broad segments of the general population in Europe need to be developed.

The threats and challenges emanating from the South can no longer be assumed to be contained in the South by global and regional powers.

Policy responses: a painful balancing act

Clearly, it is both for the short-term and the long-term future widely deemed not to be a viable proposition that development and humanitarian policies will suffice to address these threats and challenges. Specifically, it is doubtful whether the agenda for sustainable development on the global level is sufficiently elaborated as regards the security policy responses needed for the future[8].

A further complicating factor is the following: The way responses are developed can, as shown by a long chain of evaluations, also exacerbate threats against Europe[9]. There is obviously a need for a wide range of complementary policies.  But they will require a careful balancing act on the part of the responsible governments and international institutions to avoid adverse side effects of potentially considerable proportions. These include radicalisation, polarisation and generally increased frustration leading to more terrorist acts, organised crime and more illegal migration.

How to relate to the existence of undemocratic societies in the South with a considerable amount of corruption and a low level of human rights, is in itself another challenge. These will most likely include countries against which sanctions are or will be in place.  Seeking to isolate areas of cooperation, while facing wider areas of conflict and confrontation, as during the Iran nuclear negotiations, will continue to require skillful diplomacy.

A conceptual note:

Conceptually, the notion of radicalisation is well known.  It is widely used, particularly with reference to radicalisation to terrorism. Frustration is in the scientific literature mainly linked to aggression but now also increasingly referred to in the context of migration. It can in the context of societal changes, be seen as the opposite of projecting hope for the future in particular for young educated people.  Polarization takes place on all levels from the level of families to entire societies.

It is increasingly going to be a fallacy to believe that Europe can be shielded from cyber and financial crime pursued by frustrated and educated young people in developing megacities in the South.

EU(ROPE) as an essential framework and actor

Little evidence supports the notion that countries benefit from going alone addressing the threats and challenges from the South.

To isolate oneself from cooperation with others in Europe, to adopt standards and policies which aim at unilaterally securing stability in your own country, disregarding the situation in others, could perhaps work in a world which is not globalised. All European countries are not only mutually interdependent, but also dependent on the well-being of Middle Eastern and African societies at large.

In terms of institutional responses, this set of problems can be addressed mainly in the EU context. The burden falls increasingly on Europe as a cooperative framework also for security policy to take responsibility for developing capabilities to respond to a wide range of threats and challenges from the South.

The European Union will play an increasingly important role in this context already by providing a forum, the European Council, for continuous crisis communication and consultation among leaders in Europe and with close partners such as the United Kingdom[10]– This role will most likely increase also when it comes to seeking to prevent manage and resolve conflicts in the southern regions. Utmost care will need to be taken to develop a European posture conducive to such conflict and crisis management:

  • In some situations, Europe would have to act as a party to disputes taking a resolute side against those who wish to undermine international stability,
  • In others, it may be able to play a role as a mediator not being associated with one of the sides in the conflict in question,
  • In others again, Europe will have to seek control over non-state actors in Europe which intervene or exacerbate conflict in Africa and the Middle East,
  • Europe will also need to work on the community level through more long-term programmes which do not require constant new approval by unanimity among European states.

In so doing, the EU will need to develop the capacity to think both fast and slow. Crises in and around Iran, Syria, Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean, including new threats of horizontal nuclear proliferation, require immediate reactions on the part of European leaders which they need to consult on with their counterparts[11].

The EU will continuously need to avoid creating a perception of a Fortress Europe being reborn. In a globalised world, people who are not welcome to work with and in Europe are not likely to welcome Europeans to work with and in their countries. For this strategy will be necessary. In this context it is significant that Sweden has nominated a Commissioner now responsible for developing what is likely to be much more than an intergovernmental strategy for internal security in the European Union. This strategy will in important ways influence the perception of Europe as a defensive or cooperative actor.

European countries will also need to consult very carefully, including among parliamentarians, and notably in the European Parliament, in order to minimise negative aspects of cooperation with the South. Dealing with organised crime and terrorism in Europe will continue to require very substantial investments into advanced systems of surveillance and control of people which are difficult to harmonise with policies regarding data protection and personal integrity in Europe.

The entire Southern dimension of European security would seem to be extremely important also from an East-West perspective. Current developments in the South

  • Undermine our capabilities to deal with the threats and challenges facing us from the East in many ways, including by undermining vital Western cooperative projects, notably the EU and NATO,

And undermine a future potential willingness of the Russian Federation to develop peaceful and constructive cooperation with the West. [12]

– – – – –

In the Swedish defence review published in 2019, it was noted that many of the developments in the South ultimately would affect Swedish security. This is most likely an understatement.

Furthermore, the proposition that the deployment of military personnel to the South should receive relatively low priority in the first half of this decade is possibly also wishful thinking including the notion that what should be deployed should not include specialised capabilities (Hormuz? Mali?)[13].

[1] On predictability under Trump see https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/trump-presidency-and-american-democracy-a-historical-and-comparative-analysis/E157E9BBA8D3E531A7DD4FD1A01E0478/core-reader

[2] Case in point: Borrell and Libya https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/eu-borrell-bloc-ways-libya-truce-200120103627272.html

[3] See the overview concerning the current EU Global Strategy by Borrell https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2019/640173/EPRS_BRI(2019)640173_EN.pdf

[4]. The striking change between now and 2100 is the expected growth in the African population. Today, its population is around 1.3 billion; by 2100 it’s projected to more than triple to 4.3 billion. https://ourworldindata.org/region-population-2100

[5] Working age population in Europe will be reduced from a little less than 2/3 to around half of the population until 2070. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/economy-finance/ip065_en.pdf

[6] https://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/mena-climate-change

[7] https://thesouthernhub.org/resources/site1/General/NSD-S%20Hub%20Publications/Urbanization__in_Africa_and_Middle_East.pdf:Many new and emerging megacities currently suffer from acute housing shortages, increased crime, lower life expectancy, and higher economic inequality. Some have cautioned about the “rise of poor megacities”. They warn that it will become a significant problem in the near- to mid-term in the Middle East. Urbanization is slowing, but a growing youth population and scarcity of resources, especially water, in major cities could put intense pressure on governments and help fuel instability.

[8] In the EU Global Strategy SDG:s are mentioned early on in the text as a requirement for shared prosperity worldwide, including in Europe. Throughout the document, the SDGs are also referred to in a number of contexts:  resilience, investment, trade and development as well as peace, security and human rights. Furthermore, implementation of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change are mentioned as crucial elements of the EU’s commitment to ‘Global Governance in the 21st Century’ 36. Finally and importantly, the SDGs are also referred to as an opportunity to catalyse coherence between the EU and Member States, the European Investment Bank and the private sector. https://ecdpm.org/wp-content/uploads/DP197-Implementation-2030-Agenda-EU-Gregersen-Mackie-Torres-July-2016.pdf

Still, there is little evidence that the succession of crises in the Middle East and Africa are addressed strategically in Agenda 2030.

[9] An extensive discussion is underway about whether securitisation of EU external policies in relation to migration and terrorism creates new risks. See, for instance, Partners in crime?

The impacts of Europe’s outsourced migration controls on peace, stability and rights

Partners in crime? The impacts of Europe’s … – Saferworld

[10] https://www.lelundin.org/european-council.html

[11] https://soundcloud.com/lars-erik-lundin/robert-einhorn-on-the-risk-of-horisontal-nuclear-proliferation

[12] https://www.ui.se/globalassets/ui.se-eng/publications/ui-publications/2019/ui-paper-no.-2-2019.pdf

[13] https://www.government.se/4ada4f/globalassets/government/dokument/forsvarsdepartementet/forsvarsberedningen/defence-commissions-white-book-english-summary.pdf