On 10 December, New Strategy Center, London School of Economics IDEAS and The Norwegian Institute for International Affairs organized ”NATO Facing Challenges From the Arctic to the Black Sea Region” conference, dedicated to the challenges to NATO in the Arctic and the Black Sea region. The challenge posed by Russian political and military ambitions is rapidly evolving on NATO’s northern and eastern flanks. In the Arctic, climate change and the expansion of navigable waters is bringing growing economic and military interest into the region. In the Black Sea region,  where frozen conflicts contribute to the instability of this area, Russia is continuing the militarization process, hence projecting its military force to the Middle East and North Africa.

The first panel of the conference ”Security Challenges to NATO in the Context of the Pandemic” was moderated by Peter Watkins, Visiting Senior Fellow, LSE IDEAS, and the speakers were LTG Daniel Petrescu, Chief of Defence Romania, General (Ret.) Sir James Everard, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Karsten Friis, Head of Research Group on Security and Defence, NUPI, Norway.

We notice a context of instability and crisis around Europe, where hybrid and asymmetric threats are becoming increasingly substantial, from the Arctic to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. We are witnessing strategic shocks, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and the pandemic has tested the capacity of strategic anticipation for all. In both the North-Eastern and the South-Eastern part of the Alliance, Russia is implementing a unitary plan, positioning an increasing number of forces in this area, and NATO flanks remain the spaces for allies to act in a unified, synchronized effort.

The speakers indicated that the recent report of the group of experts, tasked with formulating analyzes and recommendations on NATO in 2030, was published at an appropriate time, given the different context and emerging threats. They consider that the revision of NATO’s Strategic Concept is a process that should be triggered soon. The potential challenges of emerging and disruptive threats (EDT), the economic impact of the pandemic on national budgets must also be priority concerns for the Alliance.

 

The second panel of the conference, “The High North, Between Shipping Routes and Militarization: Security Challenges to the Arctic”, moderated by Megan Palmer, Programme Manager, Central & South-East Europe Program, LSE IDEAS, focused on the security challenges in the Arctic, with Jakub Godzimirski, Research Professor, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Colonel (RET) Per Erik Solli, Senior Adviser, North University and Rebecca Pincus, US Naval War College as speakers.

The Arctic is unique in that no state has sovereignty over this region, and there is no international treaty to moderate it. By contrast, the Arctic is governed by maritime law and countries bordering the Arctic Ocean are engaged in bilateral cooperation, which reduces threats in the region. Even if Russia’s military activity in this area is increasing, the possibility of conflict remains minimal. There is no reason why Russia should act offensive in the Arctic, however, there is a possibility that problems with Western countries may have a spillover effect on this region. Any offensive aspects in this region have a direct effect on the countries of Northern Europe. Moreover, although NATO is not directly involved in the Arctic, there are plans to deal with the worst case scenario, especially in order to be able to support allies in the region.

One important aspect of the debate was the climate change and the way in which the Arctic area is affected, particularly because global warming is developing much faster than the official data predicted.

The last panel of the conference,  ”The Militarization of the Black Sea Region and Consequences for South East Europe” focused on the security situation in the Black Sea region and the effects of militarization on the stability of the wider region. The speakers were MG (Ret.) Leonardo Dinu, Member of the Scientific Council of New Strategy Center, Dan Dungaciu, Member of the Scientific Council of  New Strategy Center and Harlan Ullman, Senior Advisor, Atlantic Council.

The Black Sea region is becoming an increasingly important topic of discussion in the field of international security, particularly due to the extensive militarization process carried out by Russia. Security in the Black Sea area has changed dramatically in 2008, with the outbreak of the war in Georgia, and especially in 2014, after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine. The Black Sea region is characterized by prolonged crises and frozen conflicts, which Russia uses to block the aspirations of countries in the region such as the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine or Georgia to integrate into EU and NATO frameworks. Thus, frozen conflicts become strategic instruments of great importance in Russia’s hands, and the presence of Russian troops in the territories of these regions has both a political and a military role. In addition, following the annexation of Crimea, this peninsula has become the military center of Russian forces in the Black Sea, from which Russia is projecting its military force in Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.

The conclusions of the event were presented by Ambassador Sergiu Celac, Honorary Chairman of the New Strategy Center.

New Strategy Center and The Norwegian Institute for International Affairs (NUPI) are partners in the FLANKS project – “Enhance knowledge of Russia’s behaviour in the Kola Peninsula and Arctic region, as well as in the Crimean Peninsula and the Black Sea region – and to compare in terms of similarities and differences”, funded through the Fund for Bilateral Relations SEE&NO 2014-2021.