The world is a scary place right now. From extreme weather events and catastrophic climate change, to Russian assassins in quiet English towns and “fake news” on social media, to refugees fleeing carnage and oppression, to terror attacks in European cities, it sometimes feels like there’s no end to the number of threats out there.
In the long-term, some argue the world has never been safer, healthier, or wealthier. Even if that’s true, it doesn’t mean we can ignore the challenges. Yes, it’s important not to exaggerate the dangers… Nevertheless, is it possible to agree on the most pressing issues when it comes to Europe’s long-term security?
On 20 September 2018, our sister think tank, Friends of Europe, held its annual Policy Security Summit in Brussels, the flagship event of their peace, security & defence programme. The event also saw the publication of the report from the Debating Security Plus (DS+) online brainstorm, including its top 10 recommendations addressing practical policy goals, underpinned by a realistic roadmap for implementation. You can read the report online here.
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Debby, who points out that Europe faces an extraordinary number of threats right now: from a revisionist Russia, to Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
To get a reaction, we spoke to José Alberto Azeredo Lopes, the Portuguese Minister of Defence. What does he think are the biggest threats facing Europe right now?
To get another perspective, we put the same question to Julian King, European Commissioner for the Security Union. How would he respond?
We also put Debby’s comment to Frank Bakke-Jensen, Minister of Defence of Norway (not an EU Member State). What would he list as some of the most significant threats facing Europe?
Finally, we also spoke to Rose Gottemoeller, Deputy Secretary General of NATO. How would she respond to Debby?
Debby, thank you very much for that question. I think the two biggest threats to NATO at the present time stem from both our traditional challenges – and here I’m talking about Russia and the way they have seized Ukrainian territory in the Crimea and destabilised the Donbass, how they’re continuing to build up their military forces in the western military district and challenge NATO members who border the Russian Federation. We, I want to stress and underscore, are a defensive alliance and we have had to respond to the Russian challenges that have come our way, but we have done so in a way that is proportionate and defensive and, in our view, totally in line with international law because we believe it’s very important to be clear always that NATO is a defensive alliance.
The other set of challenges, the other biggest threats, come from a newer direction, although terrorism has been around a long time, the threat that was posed by ISIS coming to fore in 2014, and posing new threats in the way they operate, particularly inside NATO countries, bringing a lot of violence to even in the place I’m living now – Brussels with the attacks that took place in 2016. So there’s a lot that is going on that really has gripped our NATO members and they are concerned about the fight against terrorism. They are concerned also with how to deal with a newly resurgent Russia. Those are the biggest threats we face.
But I want to also emphasise the point that those threats are, in some way, heightened or enhanced by the fact that there are new technologies being brought to bear and new approaches being brought to bear. I’m thinking about the way, for example, that even social networks are being used to magnify the messages of terrorists and recruit young people who may not otherwise have even considered a thing such as joining an extremist organisation. It’s just an example of how these new directions, innovations, new technologies, in many ways they are very positive and helpful to our societies, but in some ways can heighten the threats we have faced for many years…
What is the biggest threat facing Europe right now? And how can Europe best meet its security challenges? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!