Discussion on the policy of Western countries towards armed conflicts at the Warsaw Security Forum 2016
Armed conflicts in today’s world were one of the main themes at this year’s edition of the Warsaw Security Forum. The pannel titled „Charting the right course in conflict zones – new strategies or smarter politics?” opened a discussion on the possible directions in the policy of Western countries toward the war-torn regions. The conversation was conducted between several experts: Jean-Marie Guehenno (President of the International Crisis Group), Vuk Jeremić (Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia), Walter Kemp (Vice-President of the International Peace Institute), Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nalecz (former Polish Ambassador in Moscow) and Maciej Popowski (Deputy General Director for Neighbourhood Policy and Negotiations in Process Enlargement of the European Commission). The moderator of the panel was Marcin Bużański (Director of the Peace and Stabilization Programme of the Casimir Pulaski Foundation).
Jean-Marie Guehenno began his speech with the statement that the situation in the post-Cold War world has been improving over 20 years, but analyzing the last 5 years brings us to the less promising conclusion. Currently, the types of threats are different from those of the past – due largely to the weakness and internal problems of number of countries in the world. These problems, in turn, lead to violent conflict and contribute to the growth of nationalist movements. According to the expert, one of the biggest challenges that Europeans are facing is an involvement in stabilizing the situation on the African continent.
He also pointed out the correlation between Africa and Europe – “Africa’s problems will be our problems, Africa successes will be our successes.” Jean-Mart Guehenno also referred to the situation in the Middle East. He drew attention to the ubiquitous problem of legitimacy of power in the region. Additionally, he mentioned that the phenomenon of terrorism is the result of the conflict, and not its cause. Therefore, in order to eliminate it, it is necessary to solve the problems of a political nature occurring in the Middle East – “If we believe that we can fight terrorism without affecting its political motivations – ending conflicts whether in Syria or neighbouring countries, which resonates this conflict – will never be possible.” Guehenno also referred to the relations with the Russian Federation. The unstable internal situation of both Russia and the EU has a negative impact on bilateral relations. Therefore, the priority should be to restore the institutional framework for cooperation of both entities.
In terms of strategy Vuk Jeremic recommended greater involvement in the conflicts from the side of multilateral institutions, in particular within the United Nations, and not outside of them like it was many times before. It is now necessary to reverse this trend. This would increase the capacity of the UN to carry out stabilisation activities and peacekeeping operations, among others, by improving the efficiency of information exchange and coordination of all parties involved.
The current world’s balance of power does not allow conflicts to be solved without the participation of global or regional powers (like Russia) in the process. Nowadays, Western countries’ relations with the Russian Federation are in bad shape. Visible divergence in the approach to the methods of resolution of existing conflicts can be observed. Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nalecz, said that in order to better understand Russia’s actions in the international environment, we should look at the main assumptions of their foreign policy strategy. Firstly, poor economic situation in Russia necessitates that policy-makers decide on military action outside the country, which are aimed at the mobilisation of society and distracting the public from internal problems. Secondly, Russia is dissatisfied with its relatively weak position in the international arena and seeks to increase its influence on decision-making processes, especially in the EU. Thirdly, one of the goals of the Russian foreign policy is weakening the United States and a general weakening of the position of the West in the world. Therefore, Russia uses two mechanisms, “controlled unpredictability”, or alternating assumptions between a mild and aggressive attitude, and the use of “sensitive periphery”, or engaging the West in conflicts that are too important to ignore them, but not important enough to perform operations on a full scale. Syria, and Ukraine are the best examples of this method.
Referring to the global EU strategy in the field of foreign and security policy, published the day after Brexit referendum, Maciej Popowski emphasized the need to devote more resources to strengthen security within the European Union, as well as outside of its structures. He then agreed with Jean-Marie Guehenno and Vukem Jeremic on the necessity of multi-disciplinary involvement in resolving the world’s conflicts. He also stressed the need to develop a comprehensive and integrated strategy in relation to conflict prevention and to look at the sources of their emergence. We should also use in an efficient way the instruments at our disposal. Sometimes, rather than serve us, certain standards and rules that have been created, actually decrease the effectiveness of our actions. In addition, we must allocate more resources to the promotion of the rule of law and building democratic institutions.
Answering the question about effective ways to resolve conflicts, Walter Kemp stated that the need is to conduct more “robust” diplomacy. Relations with Russia are marked by not only ideological differences in its approach, but also by the lack of confidence. Mutual policy of deterrence and blocking brings no benefit to either party. The need, therefore, is to introduce elements of dignity, dialogue and decency, as it was possible in the 80s, when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev could together lead a constructive dialogue, in spite of substantial differences in ideology. As one of the reasons for the inability to solve the current crisis he pointed to pervasive sense of fear – “fear of the unknown, fear of the other (foreign), fear of change, as well as the pace at which these changes occur.” Fear consequently leads to a lack of confidence of leaders and in institutions in a broader perspective which translates into a lack of trust between state actors. Part of the blame was also attributed to the syndrome of “post-imperial limb-spirit,” or imperial tendencies of former powers, which have now lost their imperial position (cases of Russia and Turkey). He also reminded the old British proverb, which says that prevention is worth a pound of cure, we should rather focus our efforts on conflict prevention, rather than eliminating their after-effects.