Paris '07 Workshop
Towards a Stable and Secure Black Sea Region
Minister of Foreign Affairs
|Georgian Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili (left) with Bulgarian Defense Minister Vesselin Bliznakov (center) and Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu (right).|
security threats are unresolved territorial conflicts in the Black Sea area.
economic cooperation. They breed suspicion and tensions... And they considerably undermine
the statehood of most of the conflict-afflicted countries... [which] renders
secessionist entities in these states virtual black holes,
plagued by lawlessness and smuggling."
It is my genuine pleasure and honor to participate for the second time in this workshop. I would like to share my views on the security challenges in the region that has become one of the most dynamic parts of Europe.
THE BLACK SEA REGION’S TIES TO EUROPEAN AND EURO-ATLANTIC STRUCTURES
Events in and around the wider Black Sea area in recent years have underscored the region’s deep relevance to the entire European as well as the Euro-Atlantic space. The Rose and Orange Revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine ushered in a period of crucial democratic transformation in the region. Together with other positive developments of recent years, this has helped anchor the entire Black Sea area in the European space.
The EU in particular has a special stake in this region. Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in January 2007, a watershed event in the history of the Black Sea, which has now fully returned to its traditional European fold. The wider Black Sea neighborhood is now an integral part of the European and Euro-Atlantic space, in political, economic, and security terms, and what happens there will have an impact on all of Europe. The area’s newfound relevance is clearly reflected in the EU’s new European Neighborhood Policy.
In recent years we have seen very vividly that, along with a significant potential for democratic development and economic growth, the region might soon establish itself as an important hub for energy and transportation flows. Within the South Caucasus alone, launching of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines as well as the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku railway are all eloquent attestations to the prospects of the region. The natural quest of the Black Sea states to deepen their cooperation regarding democratic reforms, economic progress, and mutual security has also resulted in new regional formats and initiatives such as the Community of Democratic Choice and the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development—GUAM.
CHALLENGES IN THE BLACK SEA REGION
Along with opportunities, the unique geographic location of the Black Sea region and its political landscape bring an array of daunting challenges and threats that hinder considerably the positive trends in the constituent countries. The challenges and threats we face are manifold and, because they emanate not only from the Black Sea littoral and neighboring states but from turbulent states beyond the area, they underscore the interdependence of today’s world regions. A number of unlawful activities, including illegal trafficking in human beings, narcotic substances, and conventional weapons, make their way to the west from the Middle East and Asia. It is obvious that if we fail to effectively confront these challenges today, tomorrow’s opportunities will be irretrievably lost.
The biggest security threats are unresolved territorial conflicts in the Black Sea area. They undermine economic cooperation. They breed suspicion and tensions, putting a chill on sorely needed political dialogue. And they considerably undermine the statehood of most of the conflict-afflicted countries. The latter consequence is particularly pernicious, as state weakness renders secessionist entities in these states virtual black holes, plagued by lawlessness and smuggling. The recent seizure of highly enriched uranium in one of the black holes in the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, the breakaway province of Georgia, speaks for itself.
Given this situation, it is clear that if we aim to bring stability to this important region, we will have to focus first and foremost on these conflicts. But this is not a challenge we can resolve on our own—we need the international community to become more actively engaged in the peace process. One of the overriding challenges facing the international community at the dawn of the new century is strengthening democratic governance in the Black Sea states, which find themselves at a critical juncture in their history.
GEORGIA’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO SECURITY AND STABILITY
Georgia’s successes in democratic state-building and economic reform represent crucial factors for the future of democracy in a number of countries of the post-Soviet space and Black Sea area. Our country has proven its commitment to and its ability to be a reliable member of the international community. We have graduated from being a consumer of aid and security—by virtue of our democratic development, our economic progress, the participation of our forces in global security operations, and our involvement in regional energy projects, Georgia is now a net contributor to international and European stability and security.
Our strategic location and progress in reforms make us a natural partner of the European Union. By stepping up our cooperation, Georgia—together with the other countries of the wider Black Sea area—can more quickly become the bridge that connects Europe with Central Asia, the Middle East, and Asia. We can thus help spread stability to and assist democratic development in these crucial parts of Eurasia.
THE BLACK SEA REGION AND ENERGY SECURITY
The Black Sea region is also an indispensable part of another dimension of European security: energy security, which has gained extraordinary salience recently. With steep growth and demand, energy producers have found themselves in a position of strength and tend to wield their clout as an instrument of political and economic intimidation. This should not be acceptable to us. We need reliable energy providers and we need to diversify our sources of supply and transit. A stable, democratic, and economically prosperous Black Sea area can serve as a natural energy conduit to the markets of Europe for the vast supplies of energy in the Caspian and the Middle East.
In this connection, I would like to elaborate briefly on two important initiatives of the German EU presidency—Black Sea Synergy and the newly articulated Central Asia Strategy. Central Asia, of course, is critical to European energy security, yet recent developments with respect to the transportation of its vast energy resources once again have demonstrated the difficulties the EU faces in engaging with this landlocked region. I believe that these developments underscore how essential it is for the EU to take full advantage of the Black Sea region and the South Caucasus in particular as Europe’s natural gateway to Central Asia. Securing the Black Sea as a stable, prosperous, and democratic region—fully integrated into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions—will help cement cooperation with Central Asian states over the longer term. The Black Sea Synergy initiative serves precisely this goal as it envisages stepping up cooperation in practically all spheres that reflect priorities and where the European Union is already involved.
DEFINING THE BLACK SEA’S REGIONAL IDENTITY
As we deepen and quicken our cooperation with the European Union, it is vital to bear in mind that a coherent, unified Black Sea regional identity has yet to emerge. This means that, up to now, the states of the region still harbor differing and sometimes contradictory conceptions of the opportunities and challenges they face. A number of regional arrangements, formats, and instruments that have been developed over the past 15 years reflect these diverse interpretations and aspirations.
For this reason, in pursing Black Sea synergy, we should respect and cooperate with all regional initiatives. We should start by focusing on smaller, targeted projects within the framework of the Black Sea Synergy Initiative—projects that at the early stages may involve only a small number of willing states. This gradual approach will eventually lead to more inclusive regional cooperation and contribute to forging a common regional identity.
Georgia is profoundly committed to joint efforts to build stability and foster progress in the region, so that the threats we face today do not become the crises of tomorrow. The Black Sea should be a uniting sea—a region of stability, security, and economic well-being and the bridge that connects the EU with Asia and the Middle East.
May we realize this vision together.
To conclude, I would like to thank in particular the French Ministry of Defense and the Center for Strategic Decision Research for organizing this workshop. I am convinced that this kind of workshop is of paramount importance for sharing opinions, positions, and experience and hence for finding common understanding and, perhaps, solutions to all of our pressing security issues.