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Security and Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region

Security and Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region

Speech by H.E. Dr. Björn von Sydow, Minister of Defence of Sweden. Kiel, June 19, 2000. Source: Swedish MoD, Stockholm.

Meine sehr geehrte Damen und Herren!

Als Erstes möchte ich meine Freude darüber ausdrücken, dass ich heute bei Ihnen in Kiel und bei der Kieler Woche, sein kann. Es freut mich auch zu sehen, dass Vertreter aus vielen Gebieten hier sind – nationale sowie örtliche Politiker, Leute von der Industrie und der Bundeswehr. Ich besuche zum ersten Mal diese bekannte Kieler Woche und möchte gerne einige Worte an Sie, verehrtes Publikum für Sicherheit und Zusammenarbeit in der Ostsee-Region, sagen. Es ist ein Thema, das mir sehr am Herzen liegt. Ab jetzt werde ichmeine Rede auf Englisch weiterhalten.

  • The changes of the last decade

Today, we meet at the south-western shore of the Baltic Sea. This is a sea which today is surrounded by democratic and stable nations. Only ten years ago, the picture was different. In then East Germany, voters clearly stated what they wanted in the first – and last – free elections of the GDR: re-unification with the Federal Republic. In just a few months, the Deutschmark was welcomed as the common currency also in former East Germany. Lithuania had declared its independence from the Soviet Union of which it was still a part. Things were moving fast in Poland and Russia. Not to be forgotten, the Soviet Union had massive military forces in East Germany and in other Central Europan countries. In the still-occupied Baltic countries, around 100,000 Russian troops remained.

How the next few years would develop – peacefully or through armed conflict – was at that time not at all certain. Today we have the answer. With the exception of the tragic events in Vilnius and Riga in January 1991, everything progressed quietly and peacefully. The countries surrounding the Baltic Sea today participate in ever-deeper regional cooperation through a number of new institutions and fora. Soon, almost all littoral states will be EU members. In due course, there may also be a majority of Nato members around the Baltic.

These fundamental changes in the European security structure continued. Today, we are facing a very different security agenda than a decade ago.

In this, the most northern region in Europe, stability reigns and the region is becoming increasingly prosperous. Indeed, the region is becoming an example to other, less peaceful and prosperous regions of Europe. I hope and expect that this development will continue.

I see two main challenges ahead:

  • first, Russia’s development and integration into western structures and,
  • second, EU-largement.

How these two challenges are addressed will influence our region ?.

The political development in Russia constitutes an uncertainty for us and a challenge for the new Russian government. The new Russian government is facing a number of difficult issues, most of them connected with the crucial democratization process which has been ongoing for about ten years now. Still, democracy as we know it, is a fragile thing in Russia. Russia’s newly elected leaders will have to invest considerable capital in gaining the confidence of its people in the democratic process and the values of democracy.

The challenges Russia’s leaders face include the risks associated with weak institutional structures, slackening societal control, frustration within the Armed Forces, widespread criminality, strong power structures, and difficultis in preventing mistakes and accidents at civilian and military nuclear facilities. There is still a lingering insecurity regarding the domestic political development in Russia, and the consequences for the country’s relations with the rest of the world. The economic crisis in Russia continues. The scope for sustainability or reformation of Russia’s military capability is limited. The armed confrontation in the volatile northern Caucasus is expected to continue.

At the same time as we have to notice and acknowledge the insecurity regarding the development in Russia, it is important to continue to build upon the positive changes also taking place. There are great expectations now on the new Russian government, both from the Russian people and from the rest of the world. In Russia, the people is hoping for political sta blity, law and order, economic growth and that most people will be able to lead a better life. A democratic and more wealthy Russia will also be a more stable one. We also hope that the conflict in Chechnya will come to an end, and that a political process is found, also for reconciliation. But we have to be realistic. Great difficulties are awaiting Putin and the new government in all areas.

It is clear that Russia plays a crucial role for European security and stability. The complexity of the problems the Russian nation faces puts it in a different league regarding to what the Russian people and the international community can expect in comparison to the other transition countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Russia must continue to pursue reform. The outside world must continue to provide support, remain willing to cooperate and seek more far-reaching integration. The importance of reinforced democracy in Russia – for Russia itself and for the rest of Europe – is obvious to all of us. The role of free and independent media is critical in this respect. Moscow’s further handling of Chechnya, its choice of means and strategies in relation to European values when dealing with the situation there, will affect its future cooperation with us. I sincerely hope that we will soon see a development of this important issue that will make it possible to maximize EU-Russian cooperation again. The EU-Russian relationship and cooperative patterns will be one of the priorities for Sweden when we assume the Presidency of the EU in January 2001. But despite some differing views – in particular on a number of international matters as well as on Chechnya – which may sometimes affect ongoing cooperation, we must never lose sight of the long-term strategy of involving Russia in all forms of European cooperation. This should also include developing cooperation in crisis management and peace support operations.

The EU in general and the Baltic Sea region in particular offer a remarkable opportunity in this respect. The EU is by far Russia’s foremost foreign trade partner. Today’s 40 per cent of EU’s share of Russian foreign trade will grow to 50 per cent after EU expansion. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement as well as the EU Common Strategy on Russia present a remarkable framework for deeper cooperation. With its new EU Strategy, Russia has demonstrated that it takes this cooperation seriously and that Moscow wishes to develop relations at a faster pace than has been the case so far.

The Baltic Sea region, in turn, represents the largest gateway for Russian foreign trade. At the same time, it is the only region where Russia borders directly to the EU. It is probably also the neighbouring region that is benign and where Russians feel very much at ease and understood in their dialogue. Thanks to the work of the Council of Baltic Sea States and other Baltic Sea organizations, far-reaching cooperation has already developed in the post-Communist environment.

  • EU-enlargement

It is not foremost the changes in Russia which have contributed to the stability in northern Europe. The main contribution to stability in the Baltic Sea region has, of course, come from the region’s states in transition and their successful handling of the tremendous challenges over the last decade. Thanks to their dedicated efforts in combination with steady growth and a surge in high-tech development in the Scandinavian countries, this region is now in the fast lane. The impressive economic growth figures for the Baltic countries and Poland speakf or themselves. Today, the Baltic Sea region with a number of booming economies combined with some of the world’s leading IT nations such as Sweden and Finland is well on its way to becoming one of Europe’s most dynamic regions.

Rapidly increasing prosperity provides for expanding markets. Growing markets provide for interdependence. Interdependence and ever-deeper integration provide for stability and security. This is where this region is going.

Except for the challenge of involving and integrating Russia which I just touched upon, the other main challenge facing the region is the EU enlargement process.

We see the European Union as the main engine of prosperity and stable development, of integration and peace. That is why it is hardly a coincidence that you can find the most vehement advocates of enlargement among the EU members on the Baltic rim. For Sweden, as a new member state, it was also natural to right to give every candidate member fair and equal chances. We therefore argued that formal negotiations should be started with all candidates and this was eventually also the decision taken by the Helsinki European Council in December last year. Our argument was underpinned by the impressive progress in the EU adaptation in Latvia and Lithuania, like Estonia earlier. It is now imperative that the EU speed up its own homework and conclude the ongoing Inter-Governmental Conference during this year so that we will not lose pace in the main European challenge at the turn of the Millennium – the full integration of the Baltic states and the rest of Central Europe into the European Union.

  • Regional and sub-regional cooperation

Nowhere else in Europe has subregional cooperation become so profound and intense in the post-Cold War period as in the Baltic Sea Region. The CBSS and the Barents Council have been a kind of forerunner to other subregional organisations in Central Europe. The volume of the practical cooperation within their framework is incomparable to other subregional organizations, and they are underpinned by a formidable network of specialized organizations ensuring a lot of meat on the bones. A special growth sector for the region’s interaction is the decentralized cooperation between provinces, cities and municipalities which serves as a trigger for trade and development.

  • The New NATO

The OSCE Paris Charter of 1990 laid down the main principles of security in the new era, including the right of every country to choose its own security arrangements. This is, of course, a fundamental right of any democratic state. And if democratic states are able to fulfill their aspirations in this respect, it will only serve to enhance stability and security for their neighbours as well.

In the Baltic Sea region, this principle holds true for the Baltic states, whose quest for Nato membership should be respected. We welcomed the decisions by Nato's Washington summit to clearly include them in the list of candidates and to initiate Membership Action Plans with, among others, the Baltic states. These plans have already had a positive impact on the establishment of modern defence forces in all the Baltic states. In this context, I have also been encouraged by the commitment of all candidates for Nato membership, among them the three Baltic states, to working together instead of competing to reach their goals. Although the European Union and Nato serve different purposes, they are both founded on the same set of democratic values. The enlargements of the two organizations are parallel but related processes, since both represent the mending of the artificial division of Europe that persisted for so long. The community of interests is also demonstrated by the considerable attention that both organisations are now devoting to crisis management and support for peace on the European continent. This is a big change for both organizations.

Security is indivisible, and cannot be maintained in the long run without a functioning relationship with neighbouring countries. Russia has been sidelined for some time, largely as a consequence of Russian reactions to developments in Yugoslavia and Kosovo, but also – justifiably – as a result of EU reactions to the use of excessive force by the Russian military in Chechnya. But since Russia is a key to security and stability in most contexts – globally, in Europe, and in the Baltic Sea region – the resumption of ties between Russia and Nato is welcome.

We are also looking forward to more active Russian participation in activities within or in the framework of Partnership for Peace in the Baltic Sea region. This includes exercises and training programs of different kinds. But again, much of this depends on developments in Chechnya. Even if there is a joint interest in closer ties, we must also make sure that we share and apply the same fundamental values.

  • Regional Cooperation a Step on the Way to Security

The process of overcoming the divisions of the past is not yet finished. The Baltic area is one of the areas in Europe where the security architecture – as it is usually called – has not been finally settled. This will only be done when the EU has expanded to include the present candidates, when the Baltic states have reached their security goals and when Russia's ties with the EU and Nato have grown to include much more substance than now.

Still,when looking at security problems in a regional framework, we have to remember that the Baltic region is part of a larger Euro-Atlantic context. It should be clear from most of what I have said that the Baltic Sea region is important for Europe as a whole, and for the United States. This is positive for the countries in the region. It means that it will be easier to mobilize an interest and external resources from for important projects in the Baltic area. This interest also makes it easier to integrate countries in this formerly divided region into the EU and Nato, if they so wish.

Regional cooperation of the kind that I have mentioned can be helpful in strengthening security and stability. In this way, we can create the conditions for anchoring the countries of the region in the European and trans-Atlantic security framework. We should make sure to develop this regional cooperation in such a way that it does not lock the countries in a rigid structure that makes their integration more difficult and that can be seen as a regional alternative to the EU, Nato or Partnership for Peace. Regional cooperation is an instrument to facilitate further integration, not an alternative to it.

  • Swedish-German cooperation

One of our security policy objectives is to intensify cooperation with Germany, both bilaterally and in the region. Some projects are already ongoing. I am very pleased that we today can announce yet another joint project, aimed at furthering and strengthening cooperation in the region.

In consulations between our two countries and more specifically between our two ministries of defence, we have agreed on the need to strengthen regional cooperation in the defence-related field. That is why Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping and myself today launch an initiative to hold an informal Defence Ministers Meeting In the Spirit of PfP during 2001. The meeting, and the preparations for it, will focus on how we, on a practical level, can strengthen cooperation. The meeting will be preceded by meetings of high-officials during the fall of 2000. The focus of the meetings will be practical, and we today envision that we will focus on areas such as humanitarian and search and rescue operations, military as well as civilian aspects of crisis management, and military cooperation. Other areas may of course also be included.

We envision that a Ministerial meeting will provide the desired political impulse to deepen and expand the desired practical cooperation in the region. This does not mean, however, that institutional structures should be established. We see all littoral states to the Baltic Sea as natural participants, but also countries having military structures in, or in the vicinity of, the Baltic Sea. As the meeting will be arranged in the Spirit of PfP it will be open-ended, and all partner countries expressing an interest to participate should be welcome.

  • Final words

In my speech today, I have identified several ongoing and complementary security-related processes in this region:

  • The solid economic growth and strengthened economic and political links between the countries of the region,
  • Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland’s integration process into the European Union and Nato,
  • The furthering of constructive relations with Russia and Russia’s integration into western structures,
  • Russia’s economic and political transformation,
  • The development of regional and bilateral cooperation structures, and
  • The involvement of the United States in the region

These processes are mutually reinforcing and contribute to enhancing and strengthening stability, security and cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region. It is my firm belief that this region will continue to grow and prosper, and that the impressive political and economic progress of the countries of the Baltic Sea Region clearly demonstrates that this region will soon become one of Europe’s most dynamic areas.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).