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Stronger Together - Slovakia: A New Castle Strategy for 2021

Stronger Together - Slovakia: A New Castle Strategy for 2021
 Roger Hilton
Defence and Security Research Fellow at GLOBSEC

The crises that have affected the European Union over the last decade have put European ambition to the test. In the face of increasingly diversified security threats, Institut Montaigne has endeavoured to lay the groundwork for a new French and European defense policy to ensure resilience and to strengthen its army. In this new series of articles, we asked six European experts to outline their countries’ defense policy and their views on a deepened European cooperation. 

In this first chapter, Roger Hilton, Research Fellow at the Defence & Security Programme of the Globsec Policy Institute, gives us his insight on Slovakia’s need for a renewed "Castle strategy" of defense in today’s increasingly hostile international environment, particularly through a reinforced security cooperation between the EU and NATO which will ultimately contribute better to Europe’s stability and security. 

As the EU and NATO represent the most solid geopolitical area of security and stability, it is necessary for Slovakia - member of both institutions - to successfully balance and satisfy the pillars its MoD is founded upon: American continental protection through NATO, and European autonomy. Nevertheless, Slovakia and Europe’s current security challenges demand a series of innovative policies and military capabilities in order to protect and defend Slovakia’s vital interests for future crises.

It might come as a surprise to learn that Slovakia is a castle powerhouse and holds the record for the highest number of castles per person in the world. Their installation across historical lands, served as the first line of defense to protect against a variety of threats and in most cases, were instrumental to any military victory. Just as their construction was a masterstroke of technology prowess for its time, today, Slovakia and Europe’s current security challenges demand a series of newly engineered software code, advanced military capabilities, and innovative policies, to protect vital interests and defend against an increasingly hostile international setting.

No longer standing as a subservient vassal state, Slovakia is equipped to combat multiple security challenges as a member of both the EU and NATO. Despite this arsenal of support, Slovakia must avoid any complacency and actively look to contribute stability to the European security architecture. There is no doubt, Europe is facing a collection of threats, both traditional and non-traditional, that risks displacing the continent on the world stage in an era of great power politics and eroding the resiliency of EU member states. 

Old and New Threats 

Europe is facing a collection of threats, both traditional and non-traditional, that risks displacing the continent on the world stage in an era of great power politics and eroding the resiliency of EU member states. 

Traditional miscreant actors like China and Russia remain committed to weakening the EU’s unity and desire for strategic autonomy, with the goal of fostering hesitation when decisive action is needed. Although the end goal is the same, both execute their strategy through different tactics. Beijing has shown its adeptness at deploying geoeconomic instruments to build leverage over rivals, by weaponizing foreign direct investments (FDI). These notably concern European critical infrastructure, and decoupling member states from Brussels in formats like 17+1 and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to advance their agenda to the detriment of the EU. Outside of the immediate European theatre, China’s statecraft has begun to build a roster of reliable international partners to obstruct progress on core EU issues such as human rights and freedom of the press.

In contrast, Moscow has recommitted itself to a doctrine of intimidation to accomplish its foreign policy objectives and has shown no hesitation to utilize military force to alter the facts on the ground, in order to ensure an amicable outcome. Nowhere is the threat from Russia to Europe more pressing than when it comes to Moscow’s nefarious activities in cyberspace - the recent SolarWinds hack demonstrates its supreme command of this weapon. It is a sober reminder to the EU of the need to remain vigilant when it comes to the regular scrutinization of software supply chains and suppliers. Russia’s roster of cyber forces possesses a profound imagination to circumvent standard blanket security measures, where EU solutions must match this creativity in countermeasures to have any chance of domain competitiveness. Moreover, while both countries use their UN Security Council vetos to dismiss scrutiny and will continue to do so, the future of a reliable international arms control regime encompassing both China and Russia must remain a priority for EU and member state policy-makers.

If the pressures derived from familiar sources were not enough, the emergence of climate security and its dangerous spinoffs will also produce major threats for Europe. Year after year record-breaking numbers of extreme weather patterns and more frequent natural disasters will not only tax limited economic and military resources, but will increase the chance of conflicts on Europe’s periphery over scarce resources, and by extension drive migration flows from the developing world. As Europe looks to contain and overcome the contagion of Covid-19, preparations to combat the next major health security threat must remain present during the formulation of the EU’s Strategic Compass. To avoid the failures of the current pandemic, a future health threat should be considered a certainty, where plans to enlarge dual training of military personnel to include civilian applications, improve command and control processes, and install flexible supply chains would be shrewd on Europe’s part. The cost of acting now is far cheaper than acting too late, as the world has painfully learned.

NATO vs the EU: Moving Beyond Binary Debates

Given the litany of threats facing the continent, it is imperative that the EU generates the capacity to act with pace and assume more risk on operations when it serves its security interests. Evidence to date suggests a disconnect between policy and execution that has led the EU to be more reactive than pre-emptive. The latter should be a foundational element of European strategic autonomy, where improved hardware capabilities and acceptance of faster deployment mechanisms could usher in a more credible model to advance the EU’s security agenda and eventually equalize its standing against peer competitors.

The ongoing tension between the need for an American security umbrella and increased European autonomy remains an evolving concept in Slovakia. Officials in Bratislava recognize there is no substitute for Washington, but remain devoted to advancing the European security project. The Slovak Ministry of Defense (MoD) has responded to challenges facing NATO allies by sending personnel to the enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup (eFP) in Latvia, as well as European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali) and European Union Advisory Mission in the Central African Republic (EUAM RCA).

Evidence to date suggests a disconnect between policy and execution that has led the EU to be more reactive than pre-emptive. 

The policy of the Slovak MoD has confirmed that the debate on American continental protection and increased European autonomy does not need to be reduced to a binary selection. Instead, satisfying both pillars is possible with a deft touch that can profit all stakeholders.

Policy is nothing without resources. The current representatives of the Slovak MoD and Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs have removed any ambiguity on the need for increased military spending. Foreign Minister Korčok has declared it a "non-controversial issue" for Slovakia, which must be a responsible partner and add legitimate value to collective defense. Furthermore, a strategic defense review by the Slovak MoD pledged to increase the quality of contributions to both NATO and EU missions while modernizing its capabilities. To manage the immediate expectations of allies and partners, Slovakia is in the nascent stages of this rejuvenated spending process, where the fruits of their reforms will materialize in the future.

In concert with Slovakia’s renewed defense mentality, it is supremely encouraging to witness the steeling of NATO and the EU. The idea of reserved spheres of security competencies on the continent is now antiquated, based on the groundswell of diverse threats, where increased security cooperation is mutually reinforcing and a useful platform to maximize resources. The 74 concrete actions under implementation in seven distinct areas between NATO and the EU have established a strong foundation with the potential to grow. These shared defense areas include military mobility, with the end state of formally creating a military Schengen zone, shared protection of national critical infrastructure, foreign investment screening of sensitive technologies, technological Research&Development, terrorism, climate security, and streamlined national procurement cycles to avoid duplication. Looking to the future, it would be sensible to assess relations between NATO and the EU, as one cemented on shared selective security priorities that are guided by common values and commitment to upholding the rules-based international order. As the complementary nature of bilateral relations grows, an even more formidable partnership will emerge that will cover a substantial cross-section of hard and soft security topics causing headaches for rivals. Consequently, indirectly returning the challenges heaped on transatlantic members by rivals should serve as motivation to improve cooperation between both organizations. 

The elusive search for a pan-European defense industry is one that requires compromise and, above all else, national sacrifice by certain EU member states.

Concerted Efforts for a pan-European Industry 

The elusive search for a pan-European defense industry is one that requires compromise and, above all else, national sacrifice by certain EU member states. The problem underscoring this long-standing challenge has never been about resources or competency, but selfishness.

Of the world’s top 10 arms exporters, European countries like Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Czechia are regular staples on this list.

It is imperative that any pan-European defense pilot project results in success, so not to dissuade other major arms players from considering the same. It seems plausible that, should a proven track record of joint procurement projects develop and succeed, over time more EU member states would actively look to join forces and self-organize to tackle complex problems. With France assuming the Presidency of the Council of the EU in January 2022, Paris should consider acting as the trailblazer for this unpopular concept. Should Emmanuel Macron win re-election, there would be no better persona capable of convincing a skeptical business audience of the merits of this initiative.

Based on the dismal state of global security, there has never been a more urgent time for the European continent, with Slovakia’s help, to lay the foundations of a new castle strategy. Although labor-intensive, history has proven that a strong first line of defense can go a long way to preserving security.


Copyright: Joe KLAMAR / AFP

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