Internet press conference with the Analysts of the Polish Institute of International Affairs Konrad Zasztowt and Artur Kacprzyk (Poland)

On June 30, internet press conference was held with the Analysts of the Polish Institute of International Affairs Konrad Zasztowt and Artur Kacprzyk (Poland) for Armenian media.
 
The press conference was organized within the framework of the “Region” Research Center project “Challenges to the Security of South Caucasus Countries and NATO – 2016” supported by the Public Diplomacy Division, NATO.
 
David Stepanyan, www.arminfo.am
 
Question - Please identify NATO's current interests in the South Caucasus. Are there any prospects of broadening and deepening the Alliance's activities in the region? If so, in what specific areas and programs?
 
Konrad Zasztowt - NATO’s interests in the South Caucasus are constant. The Alliance goal is to have stable, democratic and cooperative neighbours in these region. The means to achieve this goal are changing however, they are enriched by new elements, such as in case of Georgia “substantial package” launched after the Wales NATO summit in 2014. Within the framework of this “package” new Joint Training and Evaluation Centre was opened in Georgia in August 2015. 
 
Question - Except for Russian interest in the South Caucasus nowadays, what other factors prevent NATO from strengthening its presence in the region? Do you think there is an alternative to the Russian security system for Armenia?
 
Konrad Zasztowt, Artur Kacprzyk - Russia’s attitude is influencing thinking of many NATO members about further engagement in the region. On one hand, some of the Alliance members prefer to be less active in order not to provoke Russia, some others (those on Eastern flank) are currently more preoccupied with strengthening of their own defence capabilities exactly due to the fact of continued Russian military potential increase in the vicinity of their borders. Definitely, countries like Armenia are victims of the new situation, which to some extent resembles the Cold War period. In case of Armenia and Azerbaijan, both countries are engaged in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which negatively impacts their ability to cooperate with NATO and enables Russia’s “management of instability” in the region.  
 
Still, the Alliance has been increasing its presence in the vicinity of South Caucasus, namely in the Black Sea. In response to a substantial shift in military-political situation after annexation of Crimea, the Alliance moved to reassure its members, strengthen deterrence, and intensify cooperation with its partners of Georgia and Ukraine. The Warsaw summit is expected to deliver further enhancement of NATO’s posture in the region, including more naval and air activities, as well as increased land presence and exercises in Romania and Bulgaria.
 
Question- The Armenian Parliament is considering ratification of the agreement signed by the Defense Ministers of Armenia and Russia in 2015 on establishing a joint regional air defense system in the Caucasus region of collective security. In your opinion, against whose possible aggression is this initiative directed and is it capable to protect the sky over Armenia?
 
Konrad Zasztowt – This initiative should be regarded in the framework of Russia’s ambitious geopolitical goals. It’s not only related to Caucasus regional security, but also to building military capacity to change military balance in a broader region. Looking at Middle East obviously now Turkey is declared the main adversary by Russia. It may, however, change soon, as the Turkish – Russian rivalry is costly to both sides. Still, Russia will always try to use Armenia as an important outpost in the South Caucasus, an element of the wider geopolitical game encompassing the Black Sea region and Middle East.
 
“Hetq” newspaper, www.hetq.am
 
Question – What, after all, explains the recent enhancement of presence of NATO forces in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States? What can foster the improvement of inter-relations between Russia and Poland?
 
Artur Kacprzyk – Enhancement of NATO presence on its Eastern flank is a part of further response to Russian aggression against Ukraine and hostile stance towards the Alliance.
Russia continues to build up its forces along NATO’s borders and engages in various kinds of aggressive behavior, such as violations of Allied airspace or buzzing of US destroyer Donald Cook in the Baltic sea by Russian planes in April 2016. NATO’s initial reaction, agreed at the 2014 Wales summit following the annexation of Crimea, has focused on improvement of the ability to reinforce the easternmost Allies in case of a crisis or conflict. Meanwhile, Russia has developed various capabilities (long range air defences, anti-ship missiles, land attack cruise and ballistic missiles) that could impede the deployment of NATO forces. Therefore, placing multinational Allied battalions in Poland and each of the Baltic states will strengthen deterrence by signaling to Russia that NATO would be willing and able to defend its members.
 
Any attack against these countries would be tantamount to an attack against NATO forces deployed there, triggering further response of whole Alliance. Moreover, forward deployed units would allow to resist the invasion and thus provide enough time for bigger reinforcements to arrive. At the same time, it needs to be stressed that the Alliance’s planned deployment is purely defensive and will not constitute a threat to Russia. Four battalions would altogether include around four thousand soldiers, while Russia has repeatedly demonstrated that it could quickly mobilize tens of thousands of troops in NATO vicinity during unannounced exercises. Moreover, even before the NATO’s decision to beef up its presence in the East, Russia decided to station two additional armored divisions (each around 10 thousand troops or more) in its Western Military District.
 
Question – Do you consider NATO a deterrent force for Turkey, with the latter demonstrating its own policy in relations with the EU and Russia, as well as in terms of Karabakh conflict and the processes developing in the Middle and Near East?
 
Artur Kacprzyk – NATO’s fundamental task is to deter and, if necessary, to defend against an attack against any of its members, including Turkey. The Alliance has already increased its air and maritime presence in the region after Turkish jets shot down a Russian bomber, which had violated Turkey’s airspace in November 2015. Moreover, NATO assets such as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and NATO Response Force (NRF) can be deployed both in the East and the South, also in Turkey. Also, since 2013 NATO members have been deploying anti-missile systems in southern part of the country to provide protection from possible ballistic missile attacks from Syrian territory.  
Question – Do you consider it necessary to establish new security regulations in Europe, what most needs to be revised at this point and what role can NATO undertake?
 
Artur Kacprzyk –For several years Russia has been calling for a so called new security architecture, which would in fact recreate spheres of influence, provide Russia with a veto over NATO decisions, and deny other countries the right to choose their alliances. The Alliance cannot and must not agree to such revision. It would go against the basic values of NATO and the fundamental rules of post-cold war order in Europe, as agreed by all countries of the continent.
 
Nonetheless, there are areas in which dialogue between NATO and EU members and Russia could possibly lead to improvement of security situation. One of them is prevention of military accidents, with a possible agreement on that matter between NATO and Russia. The Alliance has also supported efforts within the OSCE to enhance military transparency. Unfortunately, progress in both areas in currently unlikely given Russian position. Russia has de facto withdrawn from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and exploits gaps in the Vienna Document. Russia benefits from lack of military transparency on its side, as it allows the country to intimidate its neighbors by, among other measures, provocative flights of its aircraft or unannounced military exercises, which could potentially turn into an offensive operation, as they did during the annexation of Crimea. This contrasts with the stance of NATO, which abides by its international obligations and, for example, informs about its exercises in advance and invites Russian observers to participate.
 
Armen Minasyan, www.panorama.am
 
Question – Do you think the Alliance is as solid and united as during the times of the Cold War? Do the security challenges of let us say Portugal and Belgium coincide with those of Georgia, which is seeking to join the Alliance?
 
Artur Kacprzyk –In light of recent instability in the East and South of Europe, the Alliance has demonstrated a remarkable degree of unity. This is evidenced by the decisions of the previous NATO summit in Wales, aimed at responding to challenges from both directions. The Warsaw summit will continue and expand that adaptation process, by adhering to the ‘360 degrees’ approach in addressing all threats to its members. All NATO countries share the goal of preserving peace and stability in Europe as well as strong transatlantic relations between Europe and the United States and Canada.
 
Nonetheless, building a consensus within the Alliance is not an easy task. Countries differ in their threat perceptions. Southern states focus on terrorism and instability in the Middle East and North Africa, while Eastern flank countries emphasize the threat posed by Russia. There are also varying opinions how to best deal with these issues. In effect, Warsaw summit will have to find the right balance between answering the challenges from different geographical directions, as well as the balance between deterrence and dialogue with regard to Russia.  
 
At the same time, one should remember that also during the Cold War there were vigorous discussions within NATO. They regarded both external issues (developing the right strategy towards the Soviet Union) and internal affairs, as best evidenced by French decision to withdraw from NATO’s military structure in 1966. Despite such disagreements, the Allies eventually managed to maintain unity and are on the course to maintain it today, although not without difficulties.
 
Question - What challenges is North Atlantic Alliance facing now? Apart from international terrorism, what is the main threat for the Alliance, which country or group of countries?
 
Artur Kacprzyk –NATO currently faces multiple, often interconnected challenges. One of them is the instability in the South of Europe, resulting in increased terrorist threat and massive migrations. The other is revisionist Russia, which poses a significant threat not just to the easternmost members of the Alliance but also to the stability in whole Europe. Furthermore, NATO nations are targeted by increasingly numerous and sophisticated cyber attacks by both state and non-state actors. Another risk is linked to ongoing proliferation of ballistic missiles.
 
All in all, achieving a political consensus on addressing these threats is a challenge itself. So is gathering the adequate resources. In Wales, the Allies pledged to reach a level of 2% of GDP spent on defence. As of now, only five countries meet that goal (U.S., UK, Poland, Estonia, and Greece). Some signals are promising: many Allies started to beef up their military budgets, in 2015 the overall spending in Europe ceased to fall for the first time since the end of Cold War, and there will be a slight overall increase in 2016. 
 
Defence spending is not only important in terms of military capabilities but also given the political context. As evidenced by the ongoing presidential campaign in the U.S., the Americans are becoming increasingly frustrated by the insufficient willingness of many European countries to pay for their own defence. Despite the fact that combined GDP of European NATO members is comparable to the American GDP, the U.S. defence budget stands for over 70% of totaled military expenditures within NATO. Naturally, only a part of these funds is devoted to cover the cost of American military engagement on the Old Continent, but surely Europe could and should do more. This is also important in the light of growing U.S. engagement in the region of Asia and Pacific, and ongoing military involvement in the Middle East, which altogether strain American military resources.
 
Question – The three South Caucasus countries actively cooperate with NATO in circumstances where Georgia is seeking membership to Alliance, Armenia is a CSTO member and Azerbaijan is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement. From your perspective, under what conditions willit be possible to overcome the separating lines in our region and what can be the role of NATO in this process?
 
Konrad Zasztowt – Obviously the South Caucasus countries through rapprochement with the Euro-Atlantic community, NATO and the EU are becoming closer to peace and stability. The alternative, whether it is Russia-led Eurasian integration or some kind of isolationism (“Turkmenistan model”), is at best petrifying the status quo, which means high risk of conflict resumption in the areas of “frozen” conflicts, corrupt economic and political elites, deterioration of human rights’ situation, growing authoritarian tendencies. Only stability connected to economic prosperity, free market economy, rule of law, democratic standards may convince nations like Armenia and Azerbaijan to solve the conflict peacefully. All these necessary conditions for peace may become reality in case of further rapprochement of the region with European and Euro-Atlantic structures. 
 
Question – The reality is that NATO still has a closed bordering the 21st century -the border between NATO member Turkey and NATO’s collaborate Armenia. Does NATO have the mechanisms to influence this situation? Not the commodity turnover, but for example, the use of the Armenian-Turkish border for cargo transportation?
 
Konrad Zasztowt – Such scenario would be possible if Turkey and Armenia agree for it, which is not likely at the moment. NATO is not able to force any cooperation of this type without consent of the states involved in it. Moreover, Russia would oppose any deeper cooperation of Armenia with NATO by putting pressure on government in Yerevan.
 
Karine Asatryan, www.a1plus.am
 
Question – What is the probability of placement of NATO forces as a peacekeeping contingent on the contact line between the Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in Karabakh conflict zone? What factors does this depend on? Will a consensus between NATO and Russia on some other issue make this possible to happen?
 
Konrad Zasztowt – For now, it’s rather political fiction scenario. If ever possible, it could be rather a result of wider US – Russia consensus. But Russia is highly unlikely to accept deployment of NATO troops in the region. On the other hand, both Armenia and Azerbaijan would be much more eager to accept any peacekeeping contingent with European and American presence than the Russian one. Russia discredited itself as a peacekeeping force, when its peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia turned to occupying forces in August 2008. 
 
Besides, while the developments in Karabakh are of concern to NATO, the Alliance is already preoccupied with deployments and missions in other areas. As NATO’s resources are strained, it makes any involvement of the Alliance in such contingent unlikely. This, however, might not necessarily preclude possible deployment of troops by some members of the Alliance outside of NATO framework. 
 
Question –What priority NATO assigns to the struggle against the Islamic State and other international terrorist forces?
 
Artur Kacprzyk - The fight against terrorism is among NATO’s top priorities. All of the members of the Alliance have joined the coalition against the so called Islamic State, and several of them are participating in military operations. It is also possible that NATO as an organization will agree to join the coalition in non-combat character, possibly by deploying joint capabilities such as AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) surveillance aircraft. At the Warsaw Summit, the Allies are likely to enhance sharing of information on terrorist threats and to establish a new post of Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence.
 
One of the main aspects of Alliance’s engagement in struggle against terrorism in the coming years will involve closer cooperation with partner countries in enhancing their own defence and security sectors. Advisory and training support of NATO will allow other countries to cope with terrorist threats more effectively. The Alliance is currently training Iraqi military officers in Jordan and working with Tunisia. Such activities are to be expanded to other states of the Middle East and North Africa, including Iraq and potentially Libya, if the situation in the country and political agreement among NATO members allow to. To effectively project stability, the Alliance has been also strengthening its cooperation with the EU, which has a broader non-military toolkit, necessary to provide a comprehensive answer to complex challenges in the region.
 
Furthermore, NATO is taking part in response to the migration crisis, which is largely caused by growth of radical terrorism. Allied ships are present in the Aegean Sea in a surveillance role, and thus assist in stopping illegal human traffickers and in rescuing people at sea. Similar mission is expected to be launched in Central Mediterranean to assist EU operation Sophia.
In fact, the Alliance has been focused on fighting with terrorism already for over the first ten years of the XXI century, after 9/11 attacks in the U.S. In 2003-2014, NATO led the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. As of  today, the Alliance is conducting a Resolute Support mission, with smaller number of troops  in a training and advisory role, and providing financial support for Afghan security forces.
 
Artak Barseghyan, Public Radio of Armenia
 
Question - Georgia was the only South Caucasus country to display a desire to join NATO. Nevertheless, Brussels does not seem to hurry to accept Tbilisi to the Alliance. What is NATO’s attitude toward the South Caucasus?
 
Konrad Zasztowt – NATO members are indeed not eager at this point to grant Georgia Membership Action Plan, which is necessary step to full membership in the Alliance. On the other hand, the Alliance underlines that it’s continuing open door policy. This year for example Montenegro joined NATO (although its membership still has to be ratified). Regarding Georgia, further practical cooperation, joint military exercises, and continuation of security sector reform is necessary. The ultimate goal, however, is full membership in the organisation. 
 
Question –How would you evaluate cooperation between NATO and Armenia in different aspects?
 
Konrad Zasztowt – Armenia and NATO have long time record of cooperation within the framework of NATO Partnership for Peace program. Armenia was contributor to the Alliance peacekeeping operations such as ISAF. Unfortunately, now the climate for cooperation is not good due to Russian pressure on Armenia. Russia wants the CSTO members to act as anti-NATO alliance, and that has impact also on Armenia – NATO cooperation.   
 
Question –How conformable is the policy of NATO with the EU policy regarding Turkey. Couldthere be a question of expelling Ankara from the Alliance in light of its intense inter-relations with its European partners?
 
Artur Kacprzyk - There is no question of expelling of Turkey from NATO, as there are no such procedures envisioned in the North Atlantic Treaty, nor present in the Alliance’s practice. While some NATO countries are critical of certain Turkish policies, Turkey remains an important NATO ally.
 
Gagik Baghdasaryan, www.newsarmenia.am
 
Question - Turkey is one of the key members of NATO. However, its role in the settlement process is extremely negative. In particular, during the recent escalation of the situation in Karabakh conflict zone, Turkey was the only country in the world to support the aggressive behavior of Azerbaijan. Could the Alliance assert influence over its ally towards a change of its attitude or at least non-interference?
 
Konrad Zasztowt - Obviously NATO is a platform for political discussion, thus the Alliance members may influence Turkey’s stance. On the other hand NATO members are sovereign in their political decisions and cannot be coerced by the Alliance to any policies. 
 
Question -Do you think enlargement of NATO, implying membership of post-soviet countries like Georgia and Ukraine is possible in the near future?
 
Artur Kacprzyk –By signing the accession protocol with Montenegro, NATO members have clearly signaled that the door remain open for new members. Nonetheless, one should not expect Georgia and Ukraine joining the Alliance in the nearest future. Several NATO countries have long opposed such a move, on the ground that it would lead to tensions with Russia. In a present situation, there are also concerns on NATO’s ability to protect these countries, should they become members and a conflict erupts. Strengthening of NATO defences on the Eastern flank is already entailing significant political and financial efforts, and so is countering other threats. 
 
Notwithstanding, NATO will remain interested in continuing the process of reforms by both countries, with Georgia being much more advanced. Through the Alliance’s assistance in security sector reform and capacity building, and participation in joint exercises, Georgia and Ukraine are not only getting closer to reaching NATO standards, but also enhance their defence abilities. At the Warsaw summit, NATO will offer new assistance packages to both countries.

 

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