The West University of Timișoara and New Strategy Center organize the third edition of the conference “Security Challenges in the Balkans”, within a partnership that wants to highlight the strategic importance of the region. Officials and experts from Romania, Croatia, USA, UK, Italy, North Macedonia, Serbia, as well as from the UN, discuss in Timisoara important issues for the security of the Balkans, such as the classic security challenges, those of an emerging nature. A particular attention is being paid in this edition to the theme of the information war and misinformation campaigns, which have a major destabilizing effect.
Panel I – The Balkans: A Strategic assessment
In the first panel of General Nicolae Ciucă, the Chief of Defense Staff and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Ben Hodges,Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies, Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), commander of the United States Army in Europe, USA they conducted a risk assessment and care provision in the Balkans. These represent the intersection point of multiple interest to some old actors, such as Russia or Turkey, that expressed their interest for the Balkan Region, as well as some new actors such as China.
The measures needed to improve the regional security situation require an integrated vision, economic, security and political support. In this regard, it is important for both the EU and NATO to show their openness for the integration of the Balkan states, especially since the destabilization of this region has a potential for contagion towards the Black Sea area, between the two areas. there is a great potential for mutual influence.
Panel II – Security Challenges for the Balkans Region and the European Stability
The second panel benefited from the experience of two reputable career graduates, Mrs. Zdravka Bušić, State Secretary for Political Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs of Croatia, and Mr. Victor Micula, Secretary of State, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania. Their exposures, as well as the discussions that followed, showed that the Balkan area is vital for the security of Romania and Croatia. This area faces a series of threats that have great potential for destabilization, such as migration from the Middle East, Islamic radicalism, the danger of terrorism, attempts to destabilize some states, as happened in Montenegro, to prevent their access to NATO and the EU. The stability of the Western Balkans is crucial for the security of the region and Europe, and the EU and NATO must always keep this area in focus.
At the same time, the Balkans have good economic potential, and that is why countries such as China have an interest in strengthening their economic presence as part of Europe’s market access strategy.
Panel III – Fake News and Hybrid Warfare. The weaponization of Information.
The third panel was attended by H.E. Emil Hurezeanu, Ambassador of Romania to Germany, Romania, Mr. Cristian Diaconescu, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania, Mrs. Alina Bârgăoanu, Dean, Faculty of communication and public relations, National School of Political Science and Public Administration (SNSPA), Romania, mr. Tal Pavel, Head of Cyber Studies – Tel Aviv Academic College and associate expert at New Strategy Center, Israel, Mr. Ion Ioniță, Senior Editor, Adevărul Newspaper, Romania.
The information war is possible to reach an important tool for the hybrid aggression, there are already times when misinformation and propaganda must be made for actions to destabilize a certain state: in Ukraine, especially after the invasion of Crimea, on the occasion of the elections from the USA and France, in Montenegro, to determine a negative climate of NATO post-state accession. Characteristics of the new information environment such as accessibility, speed of transmission of information, anonymity, volume of information have been mentioned, as well as the lack of border. The new enemy is among the ones that use disinformation regarding the influence of society, state policy. Propaganda is a new tactic of war, using the current technology of faster and more efficient care. Investing in the technological field and especially in the cooperation between the state agencies and the private companies can provide counter misinformation campaigns.
Panel IV – The Balkans Region: Old & New Challenges
The final panel of the conference, moderated by Ambassador Simona Miculescu, Representative of the Secretary General of the UN and head of the UN Office in Belgrade, had as speakers. Gordon Barrass, Professor, London School of Economics IDEAS, UK, Mrs. Jelena Milic, Director, Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, Serbia, Mr. Greg Melcher, Center for New Generation Warfare Studies, USA, Mr. Roger Petersen, Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, Mon. Marco Di Liddo, Senior Analyst, Centro Studi Internazionali, Italy.
The presentations and debates addressed the challenges to the stability of the Balkans, as well as specific elements of the development of countries such as Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina or Northern Macedonia, which are trying to join either the EU or NATO, or both. The arsenal of threats has diversified greatly, from the risk of ethnic conflicts, to misinformation campaigns, from terrorist danger to cyber attacks, from the lack of consolidated institutions in some Balkan states to the vulnerability determined by the lack of own sources to it ensures the energy independence of the Balkan countries.
In a multipolar world, with many emerging powers, the Balkan area remains a field of confrontation between old and new powers, which further complicates the choices of the states in this area, where NATO and the EU have not completed their enlargement process.
New Strategy Center and the West University of Timisoara will continue to organize this conference in Timisoara, which provides a useful platform for dialogue of experts from the region and from other states interested in the topic of security in the Balkans area, the event enjoying a real success.