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George Maior


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very glad to be invited to the Columbia University / International Peace Academy to address a very rich and challenging topic about the emerging dynamics in the Black Sea area in the context of the current transformations of the international security environment.

Why the Black Sea area? Because I believe this region has gained an unprecedented importance for advancing stability and security beyond the European continent and for overcoming former confrontational paradigms that defined its political and historic traditions. We should therefore analyze this topic from three interconnected aspects: the strategic assets and opportunities of the Black Sea area, the challenges and risks emerging from this region and the new foundations for a transformed security approach towards the Black Sea.

1. Strategic assets and opportunities

Within the proposed evaluation of opportunities, challenges and policies, we should examine first some relevant geographical coordinates of this area.

The Black Sea region includes the coastal waters of Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Ukraine and it is a space with densely populated shores, significant natural resources and a tiny connection to the Mediterranean through the straits of Bosporus and Dardanelles. Although it cannot be considered entirely an open sea, it is directly linked with important communication lines, through rivers (the Danube, Volga, Don) and land corridors that unite the Central Europe to Caucasus and Central Asia, and from North to South, the Baltic area to South Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.

Historically and politically, one cannot define the security evolutions in this region without approaching an enlarged vision about the Black Sea, since evolutions in this region are intrinsically connected to the security development in the Balkans from Former Yugoslavia to Albania and Greece, in Caucasus with Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Near and Middle East, from Turkey to Iraq and Iran. To some extend this approach could also incorporate the Caspian and Central Asian areas along the former famous Silk Road or the lines of expansion of Alexander the Great.

The Black Sea strategic importance along the centuries lied in the role it played as a bridge and a frontier, a buffer zone and a transit one, between Europe and Asia. Moreover the Black Sea stood for a point of juncture between commercial routes and regions rich in energetic resources.

The "Great Game" in the Black Sea was shaped along its history by two types of core-policies: political-military containment and deterrence, and economic linkage between continents. Both of them have undergone dramatic changes during recent years.

The classical containment policies were using this region as the limes (in Latin "frontier") between Europe and the Asian continent and as an asset for launching military campaigns for territorial expansion. Politically the argument of prevention and protection of frontiers has been used for example by the Roman emperor Traianus in launching the attacks against the Parts’ tribes in the Middle East that he defeated before dying on his way home in a place that corresponds to contemporary Tikrit.

Since today’s type of warfare and means to conduct military campaigns are less related to classical territorial assessments, both the political and military containments acquired new dimensions. Regional cooperative instruments have been created to build a common understanding among political elites and advance stability and cooperation beyond the European continent. Most known example is the Partnership for Peace.

On the other side, the basic significance of geographical distances has changed. Missiles can reach far-away lands in a matter of hours. Terrorist organizations extended their networking and capacities for launching attacks from everyplace of the world. Therefore military containment policies should be transformed to acquire a new dimension of prevention and response. Against this background, the Black Sea should become a part of a broader defensive arc from Mediterranean to Caucasus, based on surveillance and early warning, information sharing and strategies for prevention of terrorism or arms proliferation. As a starting point, we might use the example of the Operation Active Endeavor launched by NATO in the Mediterranean after September 11 events.

Going from containment to commerce, this region maintains a major role for the commercial flows from Asia to Europe and for the transportation routes connecting the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. A well known Romanian historian and diplomat, Gheorghe Bratianu spoke about the Black Sea as being the pivotal area for the international trade.

If one follows on the map the former Greek, Byzantine and Venetians routes, one will find interesting similarities with current projects for Eurasian transportation and energetic infrastructure. Along the southern path, gas and oil projects are crossing the Black Sea from Caspian and Caucasus regions to Western Europe, from Georgia and Turkey to Romania and Bulgarian ports, to include the opportunities offered by European navigable rivers and the possible connections to the Mediterranean harbors.

Let’s now go to the second point of my presentation and evaluate what are the risks and challenges to European security that emerge from the Black Sea area.

2. Risks and threats to European security emerging from the Black Sea area

The Black Sea area has always been a source of insecurity, invasions and migrations, and a gateway for importing region instabilities to the core of Europe. Against this background, the Black Sea has also been the basis for specific regional strategies, conjectural alliances, diplomatic and military ties with countries from the Caucasus or the Middle East. The steppe diplomacy of the Byzantines or the agreements between Ottomans and Venetians played a major role in shaping the security of this region.

Currently the security challenges are generated by the interrelated evolutions of economic disparities, low intensity conflicts, illegal trafficking of armaments, mafia intrusion, human beings and drugs’ traffic, migrations and terrorist phenomena.

The creation of a large number of new states after the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the Former Yugoslavia brought to light a number of frozen territorial and ethnic disputes that are still not solved from Transdniestria to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Kosovo issues.

The large accumulations of military technique in the Black Sea area during the Cold War has increased the opportunities for illegal trafficking of armaments and munitions that also feed the needs of secessionist movements in building private armies and paramilitary forces. In my opinion we are facing now a de-localization of domestic disputes and their gradual expansion, since illegal groupings have acquired the means to geographically extend their networking.

The Black Sea region is also facing potential significant migratory flows for several reasons including historical motives, demographic and economic growth disparities and maintenance of frozen conflicts. The area is a potential European gate for illegal immigration from other continents. Such evolutions could support the increase of armaments’ trafficking and the diversification of transit routes for terrorist organizations through the Black Sea to Europe.

Finally, transition to democracy and market economy in former communist countries has not been an easy process. The inherent difficulties of strengthening the rule of law and political legitimacy contributed to the development of internal tensions and center-periphery dichotomies. It is one reason why, in some cases, authoritarian models of governance are still an appealing solution for the political elites in this region.

It is obvious that these security risks are interconnected and that conventional threats and frozen conflicts catalyze the emergence of asymmetric challenges.

There is no single Achille’s heel but a complex picture of hot spots, associated weaknesses and growing instabilities. A potential solution for regional problems cannot be based therefore but on an extended concept of security that might incorporate regional integration, democratization, economic growth and re-definition of strategic policies towards the Black Sea.

3. A strategic approach to the future of the Black Sea in the current security context

How can we define a new security approach towards the Black Sea area? As mentioned, I believe there are tremendous opportunities today to overcome strategic legacies and move towards new patterns for cooperation and sustainable development. Two main security evolutions could play a catalyzing role.

First, the enlargement of NATO and EU and their policies of peace and stabilization introduced a comprehensive and historically exceptional project of modernization in the Black Sea region. Extended cooperation with the Russian Federation has also open new opportunities for joint action and definition of common security interests.

Second, the September 11 events taught us that remnants of the traditional divisions into spheres of influence could be replaced by a more pervasive definition of the enemy that is faceless, borderless and pitiless. The way this region will cope with emerging security risks is a challenging test for countries in the region and the international community.

The last 10 years stood for a positive accumulation of cooperative security arrangements, from the inclusion of all littoral states into the Partnership for Peace, to the development of confidence and security building measures, multinational military forces (Black Sea FOR) and regional formats for economic cooperation (BSECO). There is a now a real possibility of solving the "frozen conflicts" through multilateralization in areas such as Abkhazia, Transdniestria or Nagorno - Karabach with the support of different international organizations.

But the last 10 years also demonstrated that there is a need for a more visionary policy towards the entire region and the creation of inter-institutional chains of cooperation and burden sharing.

With the encouraging progresses in the Balkans, the problematic European backyard is gradually moving from Southeastern Europe to the Black Sea area. In this context, the Black Sea could be the litmus test for the spread of democracy and security beyond Europe, in three major areas:

1.     In political terms, the success of institutional liberalism and the transition towards democracy of riparian countries will form the basis for predictable security partnerships and extension of stability and peace from the Balkans to Eastern Europe, Caucasus and even farther to Afghanistan.

2.     In military terms, the region could be both a platform for power projection and peace support operations in neighboring areas and a buffer zone against asymmetric risks to European security. In this context, there is a need for an extensive evaluation of opportunities for infrastructure development, force deployment and sustainability, early warning and prevention mechanisms in the Black Sea.

3.     Finally, in economic terms, the Black Sea could become a significant source of prosperity and market development for both Europe and its riparian countries, by the developing and securing of the energetic routes, communication and financial flows between the Caspian and Central Asian regions, Southeastern Europe and Western Europe.

To conclude, in redefining the Black Sea security dimension I will replace the "bridge versus frontier" thinking with a new and, I believe, more comprehensive description: the Black Sea could become a strategic platform for the spread of democracy and stability, an emergent center for sustainable development and a networking piece in an extended security approach from the Mediterranean to Levant, Middle East and Central Asia.