Professor Taras Kuzio from Henry Jackson Society and Kyiv Mohyla Academy shares his insights on the Russo-Ukraine crisis, Russian invasion of Ukraine, the conflict in Donbass and Ukraine’s membership of NATO and EU.
Interviewers: Igor Shchubetun, Fabrizio Napoli and Davide Gobbicchi.
In general, when we think of security we consider the fields of conflict resolution and prevention, crisis and catastrophe management, espionage, and military. However, this concept can be interpreted in a variety of ways, including economic security. Although there is not a unique definition of Economic Security, it can be described as individuals, households, and communities' ability to meet their basic needs in a sustainable and dignified manner. The notion is crucial when it comes to Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), as it is one of the greatest issues the region is currently facing. Organized crime, unemployment, poverty and democratic deficits have been threatening the stability of the area for many years.
In this article, we are going to highlight which are the main challenges in the Western Balkans’ Economic Security, in order to understand the security perspectives of the region.
One of the major threats the Western Balkans are currently facing concerns the labor market, at the point that also in times of economic growth of the region, the recovery is often jobless. In fact, all countries of the area have high unemployment rates, especially when it comes to women employment. Nonetheless, the most challenging issue in Western Balkans’ labor market is the youth unemployment rate, which is one of the highest in the world. There are several reasons for the soaring unemployment rates in the area, among which the inadequacy of the supply of skilled labor, as many people, especially the youths, lack an appropriate education, and political instability..Consequently,decision-makers are prevented from implementing medium-terms strategies and foreign investments are not encouraged.
Another obstacle that threatens the Western Balkans’ economic security is the democratic deficit that characterizes the area. As stressed by the outcomes of the 140th session of the European Committee of the Regions, democracy in Western Balkans is currently facing several challenges, including a limitation of press freedom, a refusal to recognize genocide and war crimes, unsettled territorial disputes, leaders' and ruling parties' authoritarian tendencies and a fragile democratic culture. In particular, one of the greatest dangers of local democracy is the “local state capture”. In other words, Western Balkans are affected by influential individuals or groups that use corruption to manipulate a country's policies, rules, and economy for their personal gain.
Unfortunately, corruption plays an unfortunate role in the governments of the majority of Western Balkans’ states affecting the everyday life of peoples. Albania and North Macedonia, however, have earned the title of frontrunners in the fight against corruption, registering the fastest progress in this field and thus giving hope for a future in the EU. In fact, countries wishing to join the EU need to have firstly stable institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the respect for and protection of minorities; secondly, a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU; lastly, the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
Albania has yielded great results in the fight against corruption through a vast vetting process of the members of the judiciary and administrative bodies. This process thus shows to be pivotal to the restoring of public trust in law enforcement bodies of the State. North Macedonia has continued to consolidate its track record on investigating, prosecuting, and trying several corruption cases, including high-level cases. Moreover, the country has been strengthening its institutional frameworks in the fight against corruption, particularly the SCPC and the Prosecutor for Organized Crime and Corruption (OCCPO). Other countries, on the other hand, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro have not delivered as expected, and corruption even at the highest echelons of power still remains a large-scale problem.
In conclusion,''Considering all the information above, what can be done to further reinforce the Western Balkans' economic Security?'' The countries in the Western Balkans region welcome investments needed to improve their infrastructure projects and this eagerness makes them vulnerable to regulatory capture via Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), loans and grant money. Shoud the EU not provide what the Western Balkans have long asked for, they will likely turn to non-EU actors for investment funds, such as Russia, Turkey, China and even the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These influences by non-EU actors have been more so influential during the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent need for medical supplies and vaccines.
Dr. Valbona Zeneli trusts in regional cooperation between Western Balkans and the European Union as a beneficial tool for the stability of the region.This is because it would cease the perplexities of foreign investors but the prolonged accession process and the critical convergence with richer EU countries have contributed to a plunge of public support for the EU. It is important to remember the geostrategic position and role of the Western Balkans for the EU: in fact, as integral part of the natural European continent, any destabilization in the Western Balkans can quickly become a problem for Europe. With this key factor in mind the EU has two choices, according to Dr. Valbona Zeneli: treat the Western Balkans as the key strategic asset the region represents, or let Moscow, Beijing or the Gulf Countries influence domestic and regional relations.
On 15th September 2021, a trilateral security agreement, AUKUS, was announced by the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, as part of a broader US foreign policy effort in the Indo-Pacific. Although not explicitly specified in the text, the agreement seems to be directed as a wider strategy to counter China’s growing influence in the region. Despite AUKUS being a standard security agreement and apparently harmless for the EU, it has caused the biggest diplomatic crisis in transatlantic relations since the Iraq War in 2003, as it came as a surprise package to the European Union and France in particular. As written in the text, AUKUS will contribute to build eight nuclear-powered submarines in Australia and “will focus specifically on deepening integration in defense-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains, with particular emphasis on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and new undersea capabilities”.
The reasons for France's discontent are numerous. The first one is that Australia unexpectedly scrapped France from a A$90bn (£48bn) submarine contract, signed with the contractor Naval Group in 2016, to purchase 12 conventional attack submarines and to replace its old six conventionally powered Collins-class submarines. Moreover, Paris was not informed by Canberra beforehand and found out about the agreement together with the rest of the world, showing a serious breach of trust between the two countries. Last, but not least, this agreement also had an unfortunate timing: AUKUS was announced to the public the same day the EU published its own strategy for the Indo-Pacific, putting the EU in a disadvantageous position compared to the other Western powers and reviving the discussions on the EU’s strategic autonomy.
Even though the submarine contract between France and Australia was a bilateral issue only with no other EU member state being affected, the AUKUS deal resulted in a serious breach of trust with deep consequences not only for France but for the EU in general: this agreement raises, first of all, serious doubts within the EU about Biden’s administration pledge to multilateralism, demonstrating de facto that this administration is still acting unilaterally, continuing to carry on what is becoming an American trait. Secondly, and most importantly, this strategic agreement relegates the EU to a secondary player position with no real say in decisions concerning the Indo-Pacific, highly contradicting what was written in Biden’s administration Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, in which it is clearly stated that in order to deal with an increasingly assertive China, the US pledged to restore and further strengthen its alliances both in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific region.
Prof. David Burigana, Professor in International History of Science and Technology and History of International Organizations at the University of Padua, shares his insights on the European Union (EU)'s Defence Strategy. He talks about the main issues regarding a common European army, the historical precedents of European cooperation at the strategic and militarly level, and the development of a coherent procurement and defence policy at the European level.
Interviewer: Danilo delle Fave.
This is ITSS Verona Member Series Video Podcast by the Military Strategy and Intelligence Team.
ITSS Verona - The International Team for the Study of Security Verona is a not-for-profit, apolitical, international cultural association dedicated to the study of international security, ranging from terrorism to climate change, from artificial intelligence to pandemics, from great power competition to energy security.
Finland is currently seeking to replace its aging F-18 with a global competition dubbed H-X worth $11 billion. It is expected that a decision will be made public before the end of 2021. Arguably, fighter jets represent a crucial component of States’ security and a decisive hard power asset in every conflictual context. This article aims at uncovering the underlying dynamics of the Western defense industry implied by the evolution of the Finnish tender.
As of December 2021, the Finnish Ministry of Defense has received responses for its request for information from the European Eurofighter Typhoon, the Swedish Saab Gripen, the French Dassault Rafale, and the American Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-35.
Divided European contenders open the way for American offers
The Finnish request for information received answers from all major Western fighter jets producers; hence the comparison of contenders allows us to identify several factors shaping the evolutions of the industry. The very fact that Finland launched its fleet’s renewing process very close to the expected decommission date for its current Hornets, as their “structural fatigue” denounces, exemplifies how procurement programs are not at the top of policy-makers agenda (Finnish Ministry of Defense).
The cost borne by single states with limited expenditure margins is becoming increasingly untenable, especially where political pressure on taxpayers’ spending is large (e.g., the United Kingdom). Moreover, countries may not dispose of design and production capacity over the entire technological spectrum, such as Italy and Spain. The relative political frenzy generated in recent decades made transnational fighter jets’ fleets a common feature of Western air forces. However, the pan-European Eurofighter Typhoon underwent difficulties showcasing the complexity of such projects, with reluctant transfers, unclear directions, and soaring costs due to fragmented production.
Meanwhile, the individual offers from France and Sweden do not seem greatly superior. The Dassault Rafaleand the Saab Gripen offer suffer from their limited interoperability and relatively isolated stance in the current geopolitical equilibrium. Indeed, the political logic of defense procurement programs vastly supersedes the economic aspects of the choice. Was Finland to purchase the Saab Gripen underdog from its neighbor, its strategic prospects would be very limited and centered on Russian containment. The Rafale, in turn, would signify Finland’s alignment on the French posture of European strategic autonomy from the U.S. The 1,340km-long border Helsinki shares with Russia makes this perspective impossible. Therefore, although the Rafale has recently been sold to Croatia and Greece, Dassault’s offer seems compromised.
The American bidders consequently benefit from the lack of unity of European actors and put forward the geopolitical continuity they represent as a sales’ argument. The Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet proposal would minimize the H-X program costs due to pre-existing maintenance and operating capacities while selecting the F-35 would guarantee the acquisition of new, cutting-edge capacities.
A degrading security environment
In recent years, we have witnessed a degradation of the international security environment with Russia’s resurgence and the growing assertiveness of China’s behavior. Primarily concerned with Russia, Finland finds itself in a delicate position as it is the E.U. member that shares the largest border with Russia. Russia has been particularly active in recent years by bolstering its military, as demonstrated by its intervention in the Syrian front, its attempts to upset the status quo, and its destabilization of NATO from within. Growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine are fueling a sense of regional insecurity with a Russian troop buildup as well as creating some levels of uncertainty regarding Russia’s intentions. Amid a large scale rearmament program, Russia has been able to field the SU-57, a modern stealth fighter aircraft, and develop lighter fifth-generation aircraft, the Checkmate, focused on export markets and somewhat reminiscent of the F-35.
Given the growing insecurity of its regional environment, Finland may be looking to maintain its strategic relationship with the U.S. and reinforce its indirect relationships with NATO. A critical political and strategic factor to consider is the interoperability of weapon systems within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Although Finland is not a member of the Alliance, the Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet would expand the reach of NATO and its ability to share data, engage in secure communication, and increase interoperability capabilities between the U.S. and other U.S.-allied European assets. Thus, beyond the interoperability aspect of those deals, acquiring the F-35 or the F-18 does bring diplomatic benefits and strengthen relationships with the United States.
The case of buying a strategic relationship with the U.S.
When it comes to large military hardware procurement, countries’ decisions are influenced by the prospect of a future strategic relationship with the procuring country. Buying U.S. material implies future interoperability, a valuable prospect in a world of growing tensions. In addition, the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) framework is largely seen as a political instrument by Washington to deepen relationships with key allies. As such, the F-35 initially developed to replace aging F-16s, is poised to become one of America’s biggest exports. By strengthening military interoperability with U.S. allies across the globe and elevating their airpower capabilities, the F-35 is instrumental to America’s containment military strategies. Furthermore, some experts argue that the F-35 program acts as America’s Belt and Road Initiative, at least from a strategic and military standpoint. It provides a network and a platform acting as ‘a generator of wealth and peaceful co-existence on a global scale.’
Even soaring costs do not prevent countries from buying the F-35. Small players such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland have already chosen to buy the F-35 jets, notwithstanding questionable financial dispositions. This perfectly illustrates the underpinning political challenge at stake. For example, Switzerland agreed to buy 36 F-35As in July 2021 and Patriot air defense systems, even though the decision was controversial and considered overkill.
Thus, buying American-made fighter jets does bring significant commercial, industrial, and geopolitical benefits. Indeed, by buying American fighter jets, Finland would essentially strengthen its strategic relationship with the U.S.
Conclusively, given the degrading security environment Finland finds itself in and the growing importance of the U.S. strategic relationship, Finland is more likely to acquire U.S. technologies to replace its aging F-18s. Arguably, the F-35 appears better suited to meet Finland’s short and long-term requirements by strengthening its military and political relationship with the U.S. and acquiring an aircraft that could address the existing and emerging military threat as Russia deploys additional advanced stealth combat airborne platforms.