The regional Black Sea general image, including the Balkan area, as seen by the participants in the Black Sea and Balkan Security Forum, includes frozen conflicts easily rekindled, the proximity of the Middle East, a strongly militarized Black Sea, a not so prosperous economic situation, a lack of connectivity, old animosities, naval incidents, and disputed borders. In other words, many avenues for unexpected events. The debates around security, threats, and vulnerabilities, as well as means of combating them, brought to the fore the fact that security issues from the Black Sea and Balkan area ripple out, and instability here affects equally the EU and NATO. The Black Sea is one of the most vulnerable for NATO, and the entire area has become one in which the credibility of the Alliance and its defense and deterrence stances are challenged more and more, as evidenced by Romanian Defense Minister Nicolae Ciuca.
He said that NATO had done a lot in the previous six years for the Baltic area, especially the countries on the Russian border, such as Poland, and for the right reasons. He said that there was more to be done for the greater Black Sea area, adding that from NATO's perspective, there is a need for strengthening capacities and a stronger allied stance.
The minister went on to explain that Russia's aggressive attitude, its rising militarization of the Black Sea basin, as well as the illegal Crimean annexation, along with a multitude of frozen conflicts, make this region a source of risks, not only for security in Europe, but also in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. At the same time, one conclusion of the meeting in Bucharest was that the reality right now is one of high fragmentation in terms of European defense, and limited research in joint projects in this area. However, as Defense Undersecretary Simona Cojocaru pointed out, the development of common European defense is an irreversible process, and PESCO projects offer the means for defense interoperability for member states. She specified that the permanent structural cooperation projects contribute to reaching the Union's targets in terms of developing capabilities, increasing strategic military cohesion, and can increase operational cooperation at EU level. She said that the Romanian Defense Ministry believes that the European Defense Fund will contribute to increasing the Union's resistance to vulnerabilities and risks by reducing dependence on non-European sources, and that the fund would also strengthen military supply chains. She added that the COVID-19 crisis has revealed how important it is to not become dependent in terms of the critical technologies in the area of defense.
The meeting emphasized the concept of strategic autonomy, specifying that this does not mean isolation, but that it means that Europe has to make its own defense decisions. The Union has to pay closer attention to its vicinity, precisely because the Black Sea basin is rife with sources of insecurity, from the open conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the Crimea annexation, increasing militarization in the Black Sea, said Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu. The minister explained that connectivity, for instance, has become an area of strategic competition, and that European supply chains are dependent on what Europe's neighbors do. He warned about the so-called 'infodemics', disinformation and fake news, and that everything about that is geopoliticized, especially the pandemic. The latter also revealed another security risk, namely Europe's dependence on medical materiel and drugs from the outside, a topic that will be tackled at the next European Council late this month. Some concepts, which so far have been the domain of academic study, are now the domain of reality, and are useful for building strategies. What is needed now, under pressure from the pandemic, is to expand the concept of security in areas that so far had not been taken into consideration. This was emphasized by the president of the Fiscal Council in Bucharest, Daniel Daianu:
“The pandemic is not over. The health and economic impact is extremely severe. I believe we will be witnessing a so-called comeback of the state, because a lot is being demanded right now from the state. Which is ironic, considering how many talk of the minimal state, but, under these dire conditions, there is a lot of demand on the state. The impact of the pandemic has to be seen in conjunction with what climate change is, as an existential threat, the impact of new technologies, and of artificial intelligence. Not to mention that we will have even more pandemics.”
Public health concerns are becoming national security issues, Daniel Daianu went on to explain, because if you have a large part of your population that is infected and sick, you have wide ranging impacts on the economic, social, political, as well as geopolitical level.