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A dispatch from the Warsaw Security Forum 2022

The 9th edition of the Warsaw Security Forum took place on October 4-5. It was likely the most tense and intense so far, with organisers reporting over two thousand participants who followed a plethora of bigger and smaller discussion formats in the shadow of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the nuclear threat looming over the world.

November 3, 2022 - Agnieszka Widłaszewska - Events

The two days of debates were divided into four main tracks dedicated to energy security and climate, defence, democratic resilience, and the future of global relations. High-level panels featuring heads of state and government and high-rank officers took place alongside smaller roundtables with experts, while some events were held behind closed-doors, giving the participants a chance for presumably more frank exchanges (this author can only hope to one day be able to find out for herself what these look like, exactly).

Despite the presence of many distinguished guests at this year’s Warsaw Security Forum (WSF), one visit in particular made the crowd check their watches more eagerly on the first day of the conference, as it was announced that the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, who was initially meant to deliver a speech online, would in fact be present at the Forum. VIPs or not, all had to patiently queue in front of the room in which she was going to deliver her speech, as last-minute preparations and security checks were being conducted.

Zelenska’s visit was as much a nod of recognition to the Forum, as it was an expression of gratitude to Poland and its authorities, whose sizeable representation at the WSF was led by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. The First Lady’s speech was brief but she made sure to underline several times the importance of the support Poland and its people have provided to Ukraine. Zelenska urged those listening not to allow Russia to use aggression as a solution to world issues, not to accept rockets targeting people’s homes as a way of solving disputes and not to let nuclear blackmail become our everyday life. The First Lady reiterated the need for Kyiv’s allies to provide all possible types of aid to Ukraine, stressing that it will be an “investment in the security and stability of the region, Europe, and the entire world”.

Later that day the First Lady accepted, on behalf of the people of Ukraine, the Knight of Freedom Award presented by the organiser of the Forum, the Casimir Pulaski Foundation. She was hardly the only representant of her country present at the conference; the power couple behind the Foundation and the Forum, Prof. Katarzyna Pisarska and Zbigniew Pisarski, have been invested in supporting Ukraine in its defence against Russia from the start. Ukrainian decision-makers and activists thus featured prominently on the Forum’s agenda, including during a half-day-long special session titled “Advocating for Ukrainian victory”, organised in partnership with the International Centre for Ukrainian Victory.

With the Forum having a strong military representation among the speakers and participants alike, the N-word kept creeping into the debates, but while many were willing to ask about the consequences of Russia’s potential nuclear strike, none of the current or former decision-makers and military commanders were willing to answer (unsurprisingly so). The nuclear aspect also played an important role in the energy-related discussions, yet there was hardly a consensus regarding whether nuclear power was the answer to the current crisis in Europe caused by Russia’s energy blackmail.

Even tough Ukraine undoubtedly dominated the Forum, several other regions also made it onto the agenda. Two sessions were dedicated to the Western Balkans, Belarus got some spotlight through Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s participation in several panels, and a number of events focused on the Indo-Pacific, China and Taiwan in particular. The latter topic was still strongly influenced by the war in Ukraine; a researcher from Taiwan noted that one of the lessons learned from Ukraine’s experience is that in case of an armed attack from China, any help for Taiwan would not come quickly. Taipei would therefore need to show that it can defend itself and withstand the attack at least for several days, while the international community would be deciding on how to react. A rough yet realistic assumption.

China was also in focus during the last panel discussion of this year’s conference, dedicated to “Beijing’s splendid isolation”. One of the key conclusions was that although China might not be entirely happy about what Russia is trying (and failing) to do in Ukraine, it would be naïve to expect Beijing to turn away from Moscow in the near future. The two countries are bound by a strategic partnership aiming at restructuring the world order and that is not likely to change anytime soon.

Over the years the Warsaw Security Forum has become one of the key security conferences in Europe, using its location and network to highlight voices from Central and Eastern Europe, up until recently frequently omitted at bigger events organised further west. As the region is becoming key to Europe’s stability and security, and the assessments of Russia made by countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or Poland have gone from being labelled as paranoid to becoming the dominant European discourse, the WSF is likely to grow and benefit from this shift. Keep an eye on it in the years to come.

Agnieszka Widłaszewska is a Brussels-based political scientist and a co-host of the Talk Eastern Europe podcast. During her studies at University College London and College of Europe she specialised in European politics and the European Neighbourhood Policy (mainly focusing on the Eastern Partnership countries). She is particularly interested in the topics of security, conflicts and conflict resolution, as well as anything Russia-related.

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