NATO`s Challenges and Concerns in the Next 10 Years

(September 25th – 26th 2012, 9:00 a.m., Central Military Club, Sofia)

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The Atlantic Club of Bulgaria together with Sofia Security Forum, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy - Berlin, and under the patronage of the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Bulgaria, organized a two-day international conference, entitled: “NATO’s Challenges and Concerns in the next 10 years”. The event was held in the Central Military Club in the city of Sofia on the 25th and 26th September 2012.

Dr. Solomon Passy welcomed all honourable guests with a short summary of why all the chosen topics for discussion which are significant in today’s world. He also touched upon José Barroso’s idea about the European Union becoming a Federation of States and the possible creation of a joint European Defence Mechanism. 

Then Yordan Bozhilov from the Sofia Security Forum in his welcoming speech pointed out the theoretical importance of the chosen topic for the conference and its significance to the representatives from the Bulgarian government in order to draw the right conclusions for the future developments of NATO, the Bulgarian role in NATO, and what capabilities should Bulgaria develop to prepare for an adequate response.

Lieutenant general Atanas Zapryanov read a welcoming message on behalf of the Minister of Defence - Anyu Angelov, who was the patron of the event. He drew the audience attention to the Chicago Summit in May 2012, where in response to the new problems and challenges, NATO accepted a new strategic concept for the next ten years involving restructuring of the alliance and the processes of planning and creating military capabilities. The General also expressed Bulgaria’s support to the Smart Defence Initiative, the concept of Associated Forces, and the Initiative for Pooling and Sharing with the EU.

The first panel was entitled “NATO’s Role in North Africa after the Arab Spring”, where the panelists discuss NATO’s policy towards the region and made suggestions for future cooperation. Nicola de Santis talked about NATO’s approach to security in the Mediterranean and the Middle East regions, which is characterized with two pillars: political dialogue and practical cooperation. He took the audience through a historical overview of how NATO’s approach in the region has developed from bilateral to multilateral cooperation through time and pointed out the most important changes in the partnerships that took place.

Petko Doykov drew attention to North Africa’s leading role in recent development, which led to a shift in the international focus. According to him the Arab Spring is the beginning of a new world, now that the West and NATO are building a relationship with this new world they have to be very careful in what kind of relationship they are going to build. He also raised the issue to whether the world is fully aware of what happened during the Arab Spring and the following movie called “Innocence of Muslims”.

Andrey Raytchev stated that the West and NATO’s policy towards the region is a confused policy, which is supported with their confused messages and actions.  He pointed out three different perspectives for analyzing recent events: immediate military clash, comparing the Arab Spring to the Eastern Europe revolutions, and giving up of fundamental values.

In the second panel -“NATO - Russia Partnership” Yordan Bozhilov looked in detail at the dynamic processes and interactions between countries within NATO and raised question as to how NATO’s capabilities will develop in regards to decision-making processes or abilities to put these decisions into actions.

Nikolay Milkov talked about the basic parameters which will be important in the future development of NATO- Russia relations away from the current stagnation. The expert explained some of the factors that have affected NATO-Russia relations since 1990s and why some of them have led to contradictions. He advised that policy towards Russia should be formed strictly within the NATO framework.

The third panel in the agenda drew attention to cyber security, cyber threats and specific examples of ways to deal with them - “Cyber Security: Weapon Against Unconventional Threats”. Albena Spasova shared practical examples from her international work against hackers and talked about challenges that investigators of cyber crimes face. She also discussed different ways for organizing cyber attacks through viruses, proxy servers, fishing emails, and dumpster diving. Then her colleague Stanimir Penelov had a very interactive demonstration of how a fishing attack works.

The last panel for the day was entitled “Middle East as a Potential Challenge for the Alliance Security”. The discussion inevitably revolved around recent event in the Middle East such as the assassination of the US Ambassador to Libya, the burning of flags, the “Innocence of Muslim” movie and the victims. Ruslan Trad discussed consequences after the release of the movie “Innocence of Muslims” and how the movie additionally damaged the image of the Muslim world. He drew attention to how the political struggles in Syria, Libya, Egypt and Tunis affect the ordinary innocent people. He also pointed out that those fights have led people in these countries into distrust towards the West and NATO.

Dimitar Michaylov, the last Bulgarian Ambassador in the Syrian Arab Republic, attempted in his statement to define what is currently happening in the Middle East and the instruments necessary for the Atlantic political community to cooperate with this region, and lastly tried to foresee the future. The Ambassador pointed out that the tectonic shifting of layers in the Middle East led to radical changes and presented colossal challenges. He suggested that it is important to understand how those challenges could affect us and he supported his argument by categorizing the challenges in two groups and looking into them in depth: fundamental issues and secondary phenomena such as extremism, terrorism and criminalization.

The first panel of the second day of the conference discussed “NATO and EU Future Relations”, where different aspects of the relations were considered. Ambassador Matthias Höpfner talked about NATO as a community of shared values, which defends freedom, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law and how grateful Germany has been to the solidarity of NATO’s allies. He pointed out the changes in international threats since the Cold War and gave examples such as terrorism, piracy, illegal immigration, cyber security, climate change, and water scarcity.

Simeon Vassilev considered the financial aspect of NATO- EU relations and confirmed that the financial crises is a barrier to their relations. The journalist showed that even though national and allied securities have become synonyms, the national and allied financial budgets are completely different. Lastly he drew attention to the overall pattern of decreasing military budgets within the European members of NATO.

Dr. Dimitar Bechev focused on a couple of fault lines within NATO-EU relations such as Cyprus dispute, the operation in Libya, military presence in Afghanistan and political differences caused by different US administration, and how they affected the relations.

The last panel of the conference was entitled “Piracy and Islamic Connection”. Commodore Georgi Fidanov firstly defined piracy as an armed attack or a robbery performed at sea, for the purpose of enrichment. His presentation focused on piracy along the coast of Somalia, but did not fail to mention the areas of the Malay Archipelago and the Gulf of Guinea. The Commodore pointed out the global patterns of piracy attacks which peaked during the years 2000, 2003, 2004, 2010 and 2011 whereas the year 2012 marks a decline.

Nevena Mandadzhieva took the audience through a historical overview of structural changes, concerning the fight against terrorism, that have taken place within NATO since 2001. She explained in detail some of NATO anti-terrorist operations and pointed out the change in strategic focus of NATO from providing regional security towards global operations.  Lastly, Gergi Savov showed clear examples of different pirate attacks and suggested possible prevention methods. 

The conference “NATO’s Challenges and Concerns in the next 10 years” was very successful and a substantial number of people showed interest and supported the event. The panelists attempted to provide complete answers to questions about the future of NATO and the Bulgarian place within the organization and more importantly they left room for debate and provided the audience with plenty of food for thought.