Tag: Security

Can’t trust this

  • March 2019
  • Otto Ilveskero

Can’t trust this


Common European action needed to challenge disinformation


Source: Pixabay


With under 80 days to go until the European Elections, disinformation and the integrity of electoral democracy seems to be on everyone’s lips. This week saw the Washington DC -based Atlantic Council bring its #DisinfoWeek conference to Brussels, while the Martens Centre and Antall József Knowledge Centre co-hosted an event on information security in Europe. On top of this, the European Commission is currently gearing up to its 2019 Media Literacy Week later this month, attempting to raise awareness and promote existing national initiatives before the elections in May. The problem has been identified and clearly documented, but how to respond to the challenge posed by malevolent disinformation campaigns remains an issue.


The Commission defines disinformation as ‘verifiably false or misleading information that is created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public, and may cause public harm’. Whether disinformation can be disseminated purely for political gain is left unanswered by the Commission. Currently, the EU’s proposed Action Plan against Disinformation consists of four sectors: strengthening information security capabilities, coordinating joint responses, mobilising private sector actors, and improving media literacy.


The unprecedented speed with which modern (dis-)information spreads creates a need for governments, civil society organisations, and companies to collaborate in an effort to improve the public’s resilience in the face of disinformation campaigns. In addition, the cross-border nature of digital information platforms also calls for a common European approach to this challenge, even though the organisation and protection of elections remain national competencies within the EU. And a response is certainly needed: according to a Eurobarometer survey published in March 2018, 83% of Europeans think that “fake news” are a threat to democracy. Therefore, it is crucial for the EU to strengthen its cybersecurity capacities and enable the sharing of best practice between member state authorities to respond to disinformation campaigns.


It is important, however, to understand that much of disinformation is not simply false information from shady sources as much as intentional misrepresentations of information from credible sources, as explained by Chloe Colliver from the Institute for Strategic Dialogues at the #DisinfoWeek Brussels 2019. The issue is highly complex, as often the information being shared may not be purposefully false but merely information framed to fit a specific problematic narrative. And to make matters more complicated, those who share this information are mostly domestic actors, ordinary citizens, rather than extremists seeking to cause societal harm. Thus, the questions over who and what to regulate become increasingly more difficult the better we understand the disinformation sphere.


Furthermore, not all disinformation is equally harmful or disruptive. Whereas some conspiracy theories (e.g. flat earth theorists) are harmless to the world around them, many other disinformation campaigns carry the potential to incite violence (e.g. malevolent anti-refugee narratives) or serious risks to public safety (e.g. anti-vaccination campaigns). Keeping this in mind, regulators can sidestep much of the accusations regarding silencing the freedom of speech (which is not being advocated here – curbing liberal values and the diversity inherent in democratic debate is what the malicious actors fuelling disinformation campaigns want) by regulating not offensive content, but content that is harmful to the safety and well-being of others.


Then we have the aims to improve media literacy and fact-checking systems. Often posited as alternatives to regulating social media platforms, the former can unfairly place an overwhelming majority of the responsibility on individuals in an increasingly complicated field, while the latter can be almost invisible in the world of social media algorithms that favour sensationalism and echo chambers. Fact-checking is not a viable option, when those within our digital communities reinforce opinions originally based on disinformation. Simply put, facts don’t change our minds. Media literacy, on the other hand, is absolutely crucial and must be robustly introduced in school curriculums across Europe. At the same time, however, improving media literacy is a long-term, expensive solution and requires the input of government regulation, NGO campaigns, and company responsibility to accompany its growing effect.


We cannot expect that a strengthened communication effort less than three months before the European Elections will adequately safeguard the quality of public debate and integrity of the electoral process, when the seeds of the trust-corroding anti-EU message have consistently been sowed over years. Raising awareness through fact-checking and media literacy through education are long-term projects which we must focus on constantly, rather than periodically in times of election campaigns. The current election-to-election focus risks losing sight of the long-term dangers posed by disinformation and can inhibit us from making the necessary, sustainable action plans.


All in all, the issue of disinformation is here to stay and requires long-term efforts to be adequately challenged. Elections provide a fruitful ground for fake news and intentionally misinterpreted content to flourish, but to most effectively tackle the dangers of disinformation, the EU must commit to improving public debate and safeguarding democracy also outside of the campaign season.

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Europe’s High North

  • March 2019
  • Otto Ilveskero

Europe’s High North


The EU must update its strategy as global interest in the Arctic region grows


Source: Wikimedia Commons


As Western Europe basks in the sun with the temperatures reaching unprecedented levels in February, it is good to remember that this just is not normal. Last four years have been the warmest ever recorded in global average temperatures. In fact, the 20 warmest years on record have all occurred over the past 22 years according to the UN-affiliated World Meteorological Organization. Global warming has had a particularly devastating effect on the Arctic, which has lost 95% of its oldest ice cover, and destabilised the northern polar jet stream. In turn, a weaker, wavier jet stream allows warmer air to move unusually north in some regions and colder air to travel further south in others, which has been linked with both the recent heatwave in Western Europe and polar vortex in Canada and Midwestern United States.


At this rate, summers in the Arctic could be ice-free by 2040. The polar region is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the globe and this will have significant implications for the environment, global ecosystems, and lives of the around 4 million people who live in the area. Receding ice will also open up sea routes for commercial opportunities and military use. As a result, the geopolitical status and strategic importance of the Arctic will only grow in the near future, demanding answers to critical questions about security and diplomacy. With three Arctic states as its members (Denmark, Finland, and Sweden) and seven other member states having been granted observer status in the Arctic Council, the EU has a significant interest in the stability of the region.


The EU’s Arctic policy lacks a security angle


The EU’s policy in the High North has so far mainly focused on matters such as environmental concerns, scientific research, and the regulation of fisheries. A premium is also put on regional and local cooperation with the Arctic states and indigenous peoples. For an aspiring global leader in climate action and a strong defender of multilateral regulatory frameworks, this emphasis is of course hardly surprising. A fit for purpose European Arctic strategy, however, needs to be more comprehensive in scope and take into account the growing global interest in the region, which is not purely scientific or environmental.


Security matters were actually omitted altogether from the EU’s latest Arctic policy update, released in 2016. This was the case despite an earlier 2008 document taking into account territorial disputes in the region regarding Russia, for example. To be fair, the EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy does include the Arctic as one of the strategic regions, but even then that specific section is only one paragraph in length. ‘The EU has a strategic interest in the Arctic remaining a low-tension area’, it says, before repeating the key tenets of the aforementioned 2016 policy emphasising the need to tackle climate change and support innovation in the region. The Council, however, highlighted on its June 2016 Conclusions that ‘reinforcing the EU’s engagement in the Arctic’ is an important factor of its foreign and security policy and called for an ‘ambitious cross-spectrum and well-coordinated’ strategy to engage with regional and global actors in the area.


To achieve the EU’s objective of maintaining low tensions, all efforts to avoid a “scramble for the Arctic” are absolutely integral. The melting region is expected to compose the largest unexplored area of oil and natural gas remaining in the world, which is certainly of interest to many global players. Estimated 90 billion barrels of oil and 47,2 trillion cubic metres of natural gas resources remain buried under the seabed, according to the U.S. Geographical Survey. In addition to the resource question, control over shipping lanes will be another hot topic. For instance, the Northern Sea Route would cut the time it takes to ship goods from St Petersburg to Vladivostok by 14 days. Similarly, it would shorten the journey cargo ships carrying goods between China and Europe currently take through the Suez Canal by up to 40%. As such, overlapping territorial claims, military assertiveness, and infrastructure investment (with ulterior motives) from Arctic and non-Arctic states alike have increased accordingly and will continue to do so in the future.


Russian & China: The growing influence of assertive powers


The fears of escalating competition for the Arctic were greatly fuelled already back in August 2007, when Russian explorers (with the help of a nuclear-powered icebreaker and two submarines) placed a Russian flag on the seabed below the North Pole. The stunt gained even more attention when Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov connected it with his country’s ambition to claim nearly half of the Arctic Ocean. The only non-NATO state with a coastline on the Arctic Ocean had previously submitted this claim in 2001 under the procedures set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – only for the demands to be rejected due to lack of geological evidence. More recently, emboldened Russia has asserted itself in the region with constant military drills, reopened bases, and strengthened air defence as per the Kremlin’s 2008 arctic strategy and 2017 naval doctrine. Anticipating competition from China, Japan, and the Arctic NATO states, Russia seems set to militarising the Arctic. Russia’s dwindling economy is, however, going to have an impact on its grand ambitions.


The Arctic is also at the centre of China’s poetically named Polar Silk Road, which forms a part of the multi-billion-dollar Belt and Way Initiative. Lacking military capacity to effectively project power in the Arctic, China relies on carefully planned ‘science diplomacy’ and investments on strategic infrastructure to gain a foothold in the north. This has already resulted in China gaining observer status in the Arctic Council in 2013 and rapidly growing its mining rights in Greenland, for example. The former exemplifies China’s increasing willingness to assert its presence in global governance through a vast variety of multilateral fora, while the latter has tightened China’s grip of the global rare earth materials market, allowing the country to exert price control. Moreover, investment in ports on the Arctic Ocean provides China with the possibility to monitor naval activity, while Chinese-owned airports in the Arctic could allow the owners to observe air traffic. Thus, the EU must keep in mind the real possibility of China using its infrastructure, mining, and space observation investments for non-civilian purposes.


The EU must reassess its role in the northern neighbourhood


The West as a whole has been poorly prepared for the growing geopolitical importance of the Arctic. NATO, for instance, has consistently failed to include the region in its Strategic Concept and North Atlantic discussions in a meaningful way (even though both Denmark and Norway’s national Arctic policies do mention NATO’s presence as a security factor). The defence alliance did, however, conduct its largest Arctic drill in decades last October, so perhaps the focus is slowly shifting at last. Meanwhile, the EU’s climate action focus has also lost an ally in the West. Reversing President Obama’s 2016 Arctic offshore drilling ban, the Trump administration has foolishly hopped on board the environmentally catastrophic Arctic energy extraction rush by selling 19 Alaskan offshore sites between this year and 2024. This shift places even larger importance on the EU’s efforts on raising climate awareness and supporting Arctic communities.


The EU needs to reassess its own role in the Arctic. The EU does not have a coastline in the Arctic and will not be a leading force in the region, but it can still have an impact in the way security concerns are addressed and diplomacy is conducted regarding the area. Thus, the bloc must attempt to participate more actively in the meetings of the Barents Regional Council and the Arctic Council, as well as encourage dialogue through the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable and the Northern Chiefs of Defence forum, in order to establish stronger ties with the main actors in the region. Europe must also better recognise the risks posed by overlapping territorial claims and support the UNCLOS procedures to impartially evaluate each competing demand. In addition, given the advantage of Chinese government-subsidised companies in acquiring strategic assets within the EU and the EEA, the Commission’s investment plans should be more visible and provide better support to infrastructure and research projects in Lapland, Iceland, and Greenland to ensure sustainable development.


So far, the EU’s efforts have been crucial in promoting sustainability and supporting science in the Arctic, but in order to raise Europe’s profile in the High North, the EU must take the growing global interest and strategic importance of the region more visibly into account in its strategy.

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Looking Beyond Trump

  • February 2019
  • Otto Ilveskero

Looking Beyond Trump


Europe can still save the transatlantic alliance


Source: U.S. Mission to the European Union


“He has done damage that the Soviets would have dreamt of.” Asked for comments on President Donald Trump’s impact on the transatlantic relationship by the Washington Post earlier this month, the former Foreign Minister of Germany Sigmar Gabriel did not mince his words. But while it is true that the unstable administration in Washington has done significant harm to the trust between the US and its European allies, the United States as a whole has not abandoned its commitment to the transatlantic relationship. The EU should not make matters worse by being complacent and failing to reach out to America beyond Trump.


For critics and supporters alike, Trump presents a mirror that reflects each lookers’ own fears, hopes, and arguments. To his critics, he represents both a 6-foot-3 clueless manbaby who cannot be reasoned with and a wannabe nationalist strongman out there to destroy the EU together with the whole liberal democratic order. He is simultaneously portrayed as a mere useful tool for a dangerous cast of neoconservative hawks in the US government and a bomb with no safety pin catching his own administration frequently by surprise.


The laughter at Trump’s digital tantrums and governance by tweets which perpetuate one caricature is regularly met with the more serious realisation of the implications of the President of the United States singling out specific media outlets as the “enemy of the people”. We cannot even agree whether his outbursts are signs of some kind of mental imbalance that should disqualify him from serving as the president or whether they are ploys to distract public attention from one scandal or unpopular policy to a completely different issue. The media certainly follows like a cat after a laser pointer.


In Europe, Trump is mostly seen as a wrecking ball hurtling through long-standing alliances. He cheers for Brexiteers, gives legitimacy to the illiberal nationalism of right-wing populists, and risks European security by threatening to pull out from NATO and scaling back American involvement in international organisations. Last year Trump even called the EU one of the US’s biggest “foes”. This February, he threatened to “tariff the hell out of [the EU]” unless the bloc agrees to more favourable trade rules with the US. As things currently stand, the objectives of the current US administration and the EU lie so far apart from each other that the alliance’s ability to work together has been significantly weakened.


The transatlantic partners are diverging on values too. For example, during a speech in Brussels last December, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo celebrated European states reasserting their national sovereignty and questioned if the EU is “ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats”. More recently, Pompeo’s tour of Central Europe provided the illiberal governments of Hungary and Poland with the opportunity to present themselves as mere defenders of “the Christian heritage”, echoing Trump’s statements about safeguarding conservative values in his Huntington-esque 2017 speech in Warsaw. For the EU, which currently has Article 7 proceedings in place for both nationalist illiberal governments, the situation is less than ideal.


At the same time, however, most internal and external problems in Europe, from the rise of undemocratic illiberalism to Russian aggression in the Eastern neighbourhood, existed years before Trump assumed office and will continue to exist years after if we blame him for our incapacity to sufficiently address them. The role the Trump administration has actually played in all of this is challenging Europe’s complacency by seriously undermining the status quo of the 70-year-old Western security arrangements. This has raised some difficult and controversial questions.


There is no denying that the Trump administration has forced the EU to reconsider its positions on security, defence, and autonomy that are in urgent need of answering. Compared to the EU’s diplomatic efforts and economic status, the bloc is simply a hard power weakling on the global stage. For example, as things currently stand, 80% of NATO contributions will come from non-EU members after Brexit despite 72% of NATO member states still being members of the EU. Reducing some of that imbalance would certainly improve the Americans’ opinion of their allies in Europe. In addition to financial concerns, the EU needs to equally clarify its common goals as an international actor and reform its decision-making structures to increase responsiveness.


For instance, drastically boosting common defence cooperation to develop the EU’s strategic autonomy and reconsidering the Council’s rigid unanimity rule on foreign policy matters to improve the EU’s effectiveness when it comes to responding to global events as one voice are required for the EU to gain credibility as an international actor on its own right. There may be no return to what has been considered normal in the transatlantic relationship thus far after the Trump presidency. The EU must be prepared to accept this. In the words of Donald Trump’s speechwriter: “Europe must demonstrate that it believes in its future.”


This is not to say, however, that the EU should turn its back to the US in order to go it alone. After all, the Trump administration is only temporary. A stable, united, and westward-looking Europe is in the US’s best interests (and the EU’s, of course), and both sides of the Atlantic continue to have more in common than what divides them. Congress has demonstrated its unwavering support for the transatlantic alliance despite Trump’s flirting with revisionist strongmen and threats to dismantle NATO. This January, the House passed a bipartisan bill that reaffirmed the country’s commitment to the military alliance and prohibited the use of federal funds from being used to withdraw from the defence alliance.


All in all, Europe still has its allies in Congress, states, and cities across the US. As Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly, who led a delegation of the US House of Representatives to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly this week, said of the visit: “I think it is a reminder tour that the United States Government isn’t just one branch.” To repair the transatlantic alliance, the EU needs to assume larger responsibility over its global presence and look for allies deeper than the executive branch.

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The Unstable Stability

  • July 2018
  • Edo Katanic

The Unstable Stability

On the NATO Summit


Source: Reuters


What to say after an intense week of politics and football? While the English team failed to achieve their 52-year old dream of winning the World Cup, some dreamers of other sorts took the stages to discuss international politics and security. The arrival of US President Donald Trump, a highly controversial figure per se, guaranteed that things on the annual summit of NATO allies will be very interesting. President Trump announced that he will be demanding that every NATO member starts spending 2 % of their GDP on defence, whether they like it or not, and that the other allies owe money to the US for many years of spending on their protection.


As everyone would have probably expected, things in the NATO discussions did not go very smoothly from the start. European Council President Donald Tusk made it clear on the favourite social media tool of US President, that the EU is a reliable partner, which is spending on defence much more than Russia and as much as China. In his press statement, Tusk went even further by elaborating that US President Trump is not appreciating his allies. It was a clear fight to set to tone and the agenda of the NATO summit, and it was first class media material.



Source: BBC


It is known so far that most of the NATO members are still not very close to the 2 percent GDP defence expenditures, but obviously it is not the same case with a small member state and an economic giant. Speaking of economic giants, Germany was on the frontline of attacks by President Trump, who said that basically Germany is controlled by Russia. Trump was referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline deal between Germany and Russia, which is also not seen favourably among some circles in the EU as well.


Germany depends on Russian gas and the Nord Stream 2 would increase the Russian influence in Europe. President Trump did not rant against Germany as a country, but as a symbol of the European Union as a certain set of norms and political values, which is why he has a visible distaste for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German Government is not used to this type of behaviour, so it is still looking for ways how to address this issue.


In the end, Trump’s press conferences and conversations with journalists are truly becoming something one would like to see live. With the star of the show calling the shots, NATO’s decision to invite FYROM/North Macedonia to become a NATO member ended up being quite marginalised. When pressed with journalist questions, President Trump seems to communicate one thing, and then on Twitter he states something completely different.


Dedication of the NATO members to start spending 2 percent of GDP on defence by 2024 leaves a certain satisfaction to President Trump, who is already announcing that the long-term goal should be 4 percent. The Guardian already called the summit “two days of mayhem”, and it remains to be seen will this “mayhem” be continued on. However, there is a very long period before 2024, and by then, someone else could be sitting in The White House. At least that is what many would have liked.



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