New Strategy Center and the West University of Timișoara organized on Friday, June 17, 2022, the sixth edition of the conference “Security Challenges in the Balkans”, an event dedicated to the strategic complexity of the region.
The official opening of the event benefited from the remarks of Mr. Marilen Gabriel Pirtea, Rector of the West University of Timișoara, Mr. Ionel Nițu, President of New Strategy Center and of Mr. Dominic Fritz, Mayor of Timisoara. Also, the opening of the event was marked by a special message from the Prime Minister of Romania, Mr. Nicolae Ciucă, who underlined the international security context, “subject to a number of threats and challenges that we thought were left behind us”. The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of the process of enlarging the European Union, which was based on both the EU’s responsibility and the “the candidates’ political will to fulfill the commitments assumed in the accession process”. On this occasion, the strategic importance of the regions and the usefulness of such a platform of discussion, which brings together both independent and international expertise, were emphasized.
Panel I. Challenges of the South East Europe in the Context of the War in Ukraine and Post-Pandemic Crisis
The first panel of the conference enjoyed the presence of the following speakers: Mr. Ovidiu Raețchi, President of the Euro-Atlantic Center for Resilience, Romania, Sir Stuart Peach, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to the Western Balkans, UK, Ambassador Alain Le Roy, former Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), France and Mrs. Christiane Hullmann, Head of Division of the Federal Foreign Office in the Western Balkans, Germany, and was moderated by Ambassador (ret.) Gheorghe Magheru, Member of the Scientific Council of the New Strategy Center.
Given the increasing attention the Eastern Flank and Black Sea region has garnered recently, Romania and its regional partners must address the challenge of strengthening their organic resilience. From the perspective of the United Kingdom, which remains committed to the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans, we cannot allow political problems and other crises to become security issues. One such example are the threats of secession in Bosnia and Herzegovina, fueled by Russia’s weaponization of energetic exports and disinformation campaigns. Such issues are to be solved, as the French insight advises, through EU unity: facilitating the enlargement process by establishing strong dialogues with capitals in Western Balkans and unlocking Bulgaria’s veto. Security issues in the whole continent should be addressed through a “European Political Community”, a format that would include all states willing to cooperate with the European Union. The German view agrees that stability in the region can only be achieved through European integration in the form of full EU membership, but without compromising on the responsibilities of the candidates in upholding their commitments. It is important to emphasize the role of the Berlin Process in assessing various challenges, such as the political, economic, energetic and environmental agenda in the future members of the EU.
Panel II. Countering Classic and Hybrid Threats in the Balkans area. Steps for a Resilient Region
The second panel focused on ways to counter classical and hybrid threats, supporting the states to become more cohesive, resilient and able to manage internal tensions. The Balkan region is plagued by problems such as a lack of functioning democratic systems, economic weaknesses, energy dependencies, unresolved territorial disputes, and a lack of trust in state institutions and international organizations. All issues risk being used and manipulated by third parties with interests in the region. The discussion highlighted the need for a clear, coherent and long-term approach by both the EU and NATO in this region, one that is tailored to the current context of geopolitical competition. During the discussions, the need to strengthen a fusion center, able to assist with good planning and execution of coordinated actions at regional level, was emphasized. This fusion center must be connected to civil society. Also, in order to address the problems created by disinformation and propaganda campaigns, a set of effective information measures and the development of a higher level of media literacy among the population are needed. Romania is involved and intends to intensify its efforts at the regional level, through defense cooperation projects and other joint activities, aimed at strengthening interoperability and good coordination between the Balkan states.
The discussion was moderated by MG (ret.) Leonardo Dinu, Member of the Scientific Council of New Strategy Center, who was joined by General (ret.) Sir James Everard, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR), Honorary Chairman of the International Consultative Board of New Strategy Center, UK, MG John Mead, Deputy Chief of Staff – Plans, NATO Allied Joint Forces Command Naples, UK MG Ciprian Marin Commander, 2nd Infantry Division “Getica”, Romania, Mr. Srecko Latal, Regional Coordinator of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (IBRD), Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Mr. Bojan Elek, Deputy Director, Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, Serbia.
Special Session. Turkish-Russian Relations and their Impact on the Region. Presentation of a New Strategy Center Study
The Special Session of the conference focused on a new study released by New Strategy Center, entitled „Squaring the Circle: The (Improbable) Quest for Strategic Equilibrium in Turkish-Russian Relations”, authored by Horia Ciurtin, Expert of New Strategy Center. In the discussion, the author was joined by General (Ret.) Sir James Everard, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR), and Honorary Chairman of the International Consultative Board of New Strategy Center, UK, who contributed with an introduction to the analysis. The discussion was chaired by Ambassador Doru Costea, Member of the Scientific Council of New Strategy Center.
The paper aims at filling a gap in our understanding of Russia and Turkey, as previous efforts have only looked at these actors’ influence over the Balkans and the Black Sea region, neglecting the dynamics of their bilateral relations, characterized by both cooperation and competition. This Russo-Turkish relationship might be, however, “stretched to its limits” by the war in Ukraine. During the Q&A session, the speakers engaged in speculation about the aims and methods of Turkish foreign policy not only with regards to Russia in the context of the war in Ukraine, but also in relation with other actors with importance for Ankara.
The study is available here.
Panel III. Building Resilience Through Education: The Case for the Balkans
The third panel of the Security Challenges in the Balkans conference addressed methods of increasing national resilience through education, particularly in the Balkans. The discussion benefited from a wide range of expertise and was moderated by Prof. Silviu Rogobete, West University of Timisoara, who was joined as speakers by Prof. Mário Lino Barata Raposo, Rector of Beira Interior University, Portugal, Prof. Assoc. Florin Drăgan, Rector of the Politehnica University of Timișoara, prof. Romiță Iucu, Vice-Rector of the University of Bucharest, and prof. Assoc. Sanja Knežević, Director of the Department for Croatian Studies, University of Zadar, Croatia.
The debate presented the vulnerabilities of Balkan resilience and their sources, as well as ways to increase both national and regional resilience. The main sources of instability at the regional level are the presence of foreign influences and their increased political and economic activity. Education is the foundation of knowledge, and an informed population is a resilient population. Thus, the active contribution of civil society and educating the population from an early age are the foundations of a stable country. There is also a need to initiate training programs for teachers to provide the essential information for developing resilience among students. Intercultural programs for students and exchanges of experience need to be organized at the level of educational institutions.
Panel IV. Mitigating Risks and Consequences of Severe Crises. How to Ensure a Safer Region through Economic Opportunities?
The last panel of the 2022 edition was moderated by Prof. Cosmin Enache, PhD., Vice-Rector, West University of Timisoara, Romania. Mr. Mihai Precup, PhD., Secretary of State, Ministry of Finance, Romania, Mr. Laurențiu Pachiu, Vice Chairman, Energy Policy Group, Romania, LTG (ret.) Florian Coldea, Professor, National Intelligence Academy, Visiting Professor, West University of Timișoara, Romania, Mr. Titus-Constantin Bălan, PhD, Cybersecurity Solution Manager and Head of R&D Transversal Programs, Atos, Romania, joined the discussion as speakers.
The discussions centered on examining the risks and consequences of current crises, such as the Covid-19 outbreak, the war in Ukraine, and the food and energy crises, all of which have a direct impact on the economics of the region’s states, as well as their stability. Speakers also discussed how to combat and address these threats.
The European Union is experiencing an energy crisis as a result of the war in Ukraine and Russia’s response to Western sanctions by cutting off some of its natural gas supply to Europe. This has increased the debate in Europe about the need to reduce reliance on Russian energy sources, and will almost certainly hasten the green transition in the long run. The Russian Federation’s position in the Black Sea jeopardizes Romania’s ability to become a significant gas exporter. In the Balkans, one way to ensuring regional security is to speed Euro-Atlantic integration and assure the operation of resilience-building institutions. However, Russia’s presence in the region remains one of the most serious challenges to regional stability.
On June 17th, the West University of Timisoara, in partnership with the New Strategy Center, organizes the sixth edition of the international conference “Security Challenges in the Balkans”, held under the patronage of the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The event will bring to Timisoara guests with extensive professional experience, to debate the classic and emerging security challenges in the Balkans region.
The topics of the event concern the security challenges in the South-East Europe in the context of the war in Ukraine, against the background of the post-pandemic crisis, the ways to counter classic and hybrid threats in the Balkans region to strengthen the stability of the region, the chance to use education as a tool to build and strengthen resilience in the Balkans, as well as the risks and consequences of the post-pandemic crisis and seizing economic opportunities to mitigate the effects of this crisis. The topics addressed, which concern challenges that can affect the Balkans and, implicitly, Romania will be analyzed by Romanian officials and experts, from NATO, from UK, France, Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Organized at the Senator Complex in Timisoara, the conference will benefit from the presence of representatives of the diplomatic corps and academia and of the business environment in Romania.
The war in Ukraine has a strong impact on the stability of the entire European continent and can generate further instability in the Balkans. This space still faces geopolitical clashes, internal pressures and divergent interests of various foreign actors. With many sources of instability, from hostile actors threatening the security environment to disputed borders and internal disagreements, the region is an endless source of sensitive dynamics.
While the international focus is now on the Ukrainian crisis and the Black Sea, the conference in Timisoara aims to analyze the developments and consequences on the Balkans from a political, military and economic point of view.
The developments in recent years prove that the Balkans region remains a particularly important area for European security, as the challenges that this area is facing have intensified in recent years. The West University of Timisoara and the New Strategy Center have decided, since 2017, to organize such a debate in Timisoara in order to emphasize first the historical ties of the capital of Banat and to highlight the fact that the Balkans is a vital area for Romania’s security. We are glad that we can already talk about a tradition and that this event has reached its sixth edition.
The conference will be livestreamed here and the program is available at Security Challenges in the Balkans 2022