Center for Strategic Decision Research


Southeast Europe, the Black Sea Region, and the Caucasus

Ambassador Philippe Welti
Director for Security Policy, Swiss Defense Ministry

A global view of security can only remain partial if it is not complemented by a focus on regional particularities, threats, and achievements. Regional analyses permit a more relevant overview. Regions must also be seen in their interaction and in their potential to hinder or to promote the spread of threatening trends from and to neighboring regions. Thus, a brief look into the interaction between Southeast Europe, the Black Sea region, and the Caucasus is disturbingly revealing and calls for genuine testimonies from the regions themselves.

Southeast Europe

Throughout the last decade of the 20th century, Southeast Europe has been the theater of civil wars and still is an area of fragile stability. Inter-ethnic sensitivities and historical frustrations were sufficiently strong to reopen and sustain conflicts without interference by outside powers after the Cold War stability factors had ceased to keep old conflicts frozen. The Dayton Accord of 1995 had the benefit of putting an end to the inter-ethnic hostilities in at least part of the former Yugoslavia, but it did not truly solve the conflicts in the area. In Bosnia-Herzegovina it imposed some internationally administered law and order secured by a multinational peace support force (IFOR then SFOR). For Kosovo and Macedonia it served as a warning although it did not explicitly address their conflict potentials. It took another escalation in 1999 before the international community, led by NATO, intervened in Kosovo and later with different means also in Macedonia in order to establish some international control and stability in these sub-regional crisis areas. Thus, the way was opened for the search for lasting arrangements. This search is still going on. The exercise of control by interlocking missions in each of the countries and areas of that region gives some guarantees against the renewed outbreak of violence. However, it has proven not to be a sufficient incentive for communities to engage in reconstructing civil societies according to European standards. The International Stability Pact is the comprehensive approach to that end. But as long as the crisis areas of Southeast Europe do not develop self-sustained and sustainable state institutions, the rule of law and democratically legitimized authorities, they will remain unable to assure reliable neighborhood relations and a minimum of rule of law in intergovernmental relations. As long as this is so, the whole area remains bound to export its structural weaknesses and attract its neighborhood’s weaknesses. Unlawfulness and corruption within government, the judiciary, the armed forces, border guards, and police corps are not only a scourge for the local communities, but also of strategic relevance.

The Black Sea Region

The Black Sea region has great economic potential and therefore potential for strategic competition. Most recent events domestically and in the international options of Russia and Ukraine—the dominant players of the region—have reinforced the strategic competition, with an increased conflict potential. The crisis around the Ukrainian Tuzla island in the straits of Kerch, probably aiming at raising the strategic protection of the Russian harbors on the shores of the Sea of Azov and certainly having an impact on Ukraine’s chances to become a candidate for NATO membership, are part of a chess game which should raise the international community’s attention. It is a move which could provoke Ukraine to revitalize the bargaining power of the Russian Black Sea Fleet harbors on the shores of the Crimea, i.e., of Ukraine. If we add to this the still unresolved status of Transdnistria, the Moldovan province run by the 14th Russian Army, and the absence of any acceptable standards of state institutions and democratically legitimized state control and functioning border control in some parts of that region, it is easy to figure out how far the interaction between Southeast Europe and the Black Sea region will affect the stability of the whole of that part of Europe.

The Caucasus

The Caucasus, finally, has lost none of its century-old strategic relevance as the crossroads of colliding neighborhood aspirations and, at the same time, of inter-ethnic rivalries and conflicting territorial claims. Because of Abkhaz secessionism, Georgia is at risk to fail as a state. Because of ongoing unrest in Chechnya, Russia must take care to avoid becoming an oppressive power with colonialist undertones. Growing instability to the east of Ukraine will increase the latter’s determination to seek security and strategic partnership within NATO, which in return will raise Russia’s sensitivity and security concerns. With regard to effective rule of law, border control, and overall state authority, the Caucasus remains a no-man’s land and a corridor for arms and drug trafficking, thus linking “uncharted waters” like Afghanistan and others to Europe and the rest of the world.

These are some of the structural weaknesses of Southeast Europe, the Black Sea region, and the Caucasus, affecting the regions mutually and, thus, European and global stability and security. It is for the international strategic community—and the governments—to address the causes, the effects, and ways to mitigate these weaknesses which are risks both to the individual regions and to all of us.












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