Successful reforming is the key to security
To be able to effectively confront external security threats, the post-Soviet Eastern Partnership countries should overcome domestic problems and succeed in reforms – confirms a new survey of experts from Central and Eastern Europe.
Region suffering from security deficit
Despite the different foreign policy goals and orientations, the six post-Soviet countries united within the EU Eastern Partnership (EaP) policy are interconnected in geopolitical and security perspectives and experience significant pressure from Russia that seeks to retain them in its sphere of influence.
Moldova’s region of Transnistria, Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as Ukraine’s Crimea and certain areas of Donbas are all occupied by Russian troops. Armenia and Azerbaijan continue a bloody dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, both receiving military support from Moscow. Thus far, out of the six EaP countries only Belarus has avoided a territorial conflict; yet Minsk pays a high price by having to prove its loyalty to Moscow which includes providing land and resources for the provocative anti-western military drills such as “Zapad-2017”.
Hence, it is no wonder that 98 per cent of experts interviewed by the East European Security Research Initiative Foundation (EESRI) in December 2017 considered Russia’s aggressive policy as the largest external threat to the security of EaP countries. Among other important external threats named were the following: regional conflicts (61%); tensions with neighbouring countries including those driven by growing populist sentiments (47%); location of the EaP states at the centre of the NATO–CSTO/Russia competing interests (39%) and of the EU–EEU/Russia competing interests (21%).
What are the major external threats to security of the Eastern Partnership countries? (No more than three options)
None less important was to identify the factors that most negatively influenced the capabilities of the EaP countries to address external threats. It is noteworthy that besides the obvious lack of reliable international mechanisms and security guarantees (53%), the experts chose a set of domestic issues, such as internal institutional weakness and high levels of corruption (44%); oligarchic models of the EaP states (32%); weak economies and low living standards (26%); and weakness of democratic institutions (24%).
Reforms on the top of agenda
Answering the question as to “What kind of external assistance is most needed to strengthen security of the EaP countries?”, a relative majority of the experts chose the option not directly related to security: “Assistance in creating anti-corruption bodies and in reforming legal systems” (52%). The next three most popular options were also related to reforms: 48% of the experts pointed to the need for external assistance in reforming armed forces and military training; 37% indicated the need for advisory support in the reforms, including in security and the defence sector; and 35% pointed to the need for assistance in reforming democratic institutions.
At the same time, the options “Arms assistance including with lethal weapons” (26%), and “Financial aid/loans/investments” (24%) were less of priorities. Surely, it is not about the underestimation of the importance of weapons and money, but about the first priority of the reforms agenda.
What kind of external assistance is most needed to strengthen security of the EaP countries? (No more than three options)
Symptomatically while answering the question “What measures could NATO take to strengthen security in the Eastern Partnership region?” the experts more often chose the option “Assistance in reforming security and defence sector” (69%) than “Granting aspirant status to countries seeking membership” (45%). A similar situation was in the answers to the question about the measures which the European Union could take: the experts more often pointed to “Assistance in economic and social reforms” (55%) than to “Granting membership prospects to the EaP countries seeking membership” (44%).
Options to enhance security in the region
The above-mentioned does not imply that the interviewed experts underestimated the security potential of NATO and EU membership prospects. Quite the opposite – membership in NATO and the EU were chosen as the best security options for the EaP countries by 76% and 52% experts respectively. But it is clear that these options are not on the table yet. Only 13% of the surveyed experts considered as it high probability for Ukraine to be granted the NATO aspirant country status in the near future, while 52% chose the option “low probability,” and 35% believed that Ukraine will not become NATO aspirant country in the near future. The positive signal was that none of the experts chose the options “Ukraine will never become NATO aspirant country” and “Ukraine does not need membership in NATO.”
What is Ukraine’s perspective to be granted with the status of NATO aspirant country in the near future? (Only one option)
Among the other options that would most likely enhance security of the EaP countries, a combined 40% of the experts pointed to establishing new regional security formats without involvement of Russia and 39% chose the status of US Major Non-NATO Ally. 15% of the interviewed experts believed in neutrality with international security guarantees and 5% put hopes on non-alignment. Nobody selected the formats with participation of Russia as a possible security option.
It is remarkable that the relative majority of surveyed experts (47%) considered that participation in the EU Eastern Partnership policy strengthened security of the countries of the region. Another 31% believed it strengthened in one way and weakened in other way; 23% said it did not affect security of the region; and no expert chose the option of weakening/rather weakening security. Given that so far the EU did not pay much attention to security co-operation within its Eastern Partnership policy, the experts’ assessments indicate the unrealised security potential of the EaP format.
Is participation in the EU Eastern Partnership policy strengthening or weakening security of the countries of the region? (Only one option)
Lastly, it should be noted that external assistance especially from the EU and NATO is of indisputable importance for strengthening security of the Eastern Partnership region, but the main job is to be done by the EaP countries themselves. The ability to confront the current security challenges strongly depends on these countries’ willingness to effectively implement reforms, including anti-corruption, political and economic ones, not only in the security and defence sector.
The expert survey was conducted by the East European Security Research Initiative Foundation in December 2017. The questionnaire method was applied to interview 62 experts from six Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine), and from five Central and East European countries (Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia). The aggregate percentages of responses on some questions may differ from 100% for the following reasons: some questions allowed up to three response options at a time; for simplicity the value of all calculated percentage data was presented as integers. A detailed report with the survey findings can be found here: https://goo.gl/tcTXSj.
Maksym Khylko is Chairman at the East European Security Research Initiative Foundation and Senior Research Fellow at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.
Oleksandr Tytarchuk is a Member of the Board at the East European Security Research Initiative Foundation and a representative to the OSCE Network of Academic Institutions and Think Tanks.