The concept and aims of the Black Sea and Balkans Security Forum

The fourth edition of the Black Sea and Balkans Security Forum will be held in the Romanian port city of Constantza, between the 4th and 6th of June, 2020. The Forum has become a regular event, bound by tradition and jointly organized by the Bucharest-based New Strategy Center together with the Ovidius University and the Metropolitan Area Authorities of Constanța. At its fourth edition, the Forum has consolidated its position in the regional security debate as a highly professional conference bringing together officials, scholars, analysts, representatives of non-governmental organizations and international experts with an aim to facilitating dialogue and responding to the need for comprehensive, multi-perspective solutions.

From its very beginning, the Forum was envisaged as a meeting place for in-depth debate on the security risks, threats and vulnerabilities, pushing further the discussion to potential evolutions and imaginative scenarios, as well as the practical ways and methods to tackle those challenges. The overarching goal of the Forum is to foster professional debate and to promote stability and prosperity through cooperation in the twin regions of the Black Sea and the Balkans. The past years confirmed the rationality of such a comprehensive approach to regional affairs considering that some of the reverberations are also felt in the strategically important regions in its vicinity. The plethora of frozen conflicts and the proximity of the Middle East and the Balkans are sources of instability posing significant threats to an already long-time challenged status-quo of the region. In an ever-changing security landscape, with old animosities and unexpected friendships, naval incidents and disputed borders, the region is a tireless source of unexpected developments. Described by a sensitive dynamic where interests of global and regional powers either coincide or collide, the Black Sea region continues to present the particularities of a region with global relevance.

In this complex and troubled international environment, the 2020 Forum seeks to address the relevant security concerns in the Black Sea and the Balkans, while keeping in mind the broader picture. Twenty-one scheduled panel discussions will cover a vast range of topics such as the militarization of the Black Sea, the classical and newly emerging security challenges, the vital importance of the transatlantic link and the ongoing regional cooperation initiatives and the implications of the European strategic autonomy. In addition, more specialist subjects will be tackled in separate sessions (some running in parallel) on cyber security, energy, the implications of the newest developments in the outer space, frozen conflicts, defence industry, hybrid operations, fake news and information warfare.

Starting by asking why the Black Sea Matters, we aim to have an assessment on the new elements in the European security landscape in the wider global context, while tackling the nexus of conventional versus emerging threats, such as the cyber space, disruptive technologies, but also climate change and other environmental challenges. In this context, we also aim to spark a discussion on the various ways NATO and the EU can achieve real complementarity and unity of purpose. 

The emergence of a more heterogenous structure of international actors leads to the question of whether the New Global Order is headed towards cooperation or confrontation. In this context, can the United Nations continue to exist in its current institutional form? Moreover, Europe’s role as a global actor on par with other contenders, as well as its strategic autonomy, comes into question. 

Two important factors are to be discussed when it comes to possible or pre-existing conflicts. The first one deals with the possibility of a ‘weaponisation’ of outer space and how we can avoid a ‘Star War’. Such a context requires a discussion on the political and legal instruments necessary to regulate the inevitable competition, but also promote beneficial cooperation in space research. Would it be feasible to install a world-wide institutional mechanism to tackle space affairs, possibly under the aegis of the United Nations? 

The second such discussion centers around the frozen conflicts in the Black Sea region, which pose a challenge for European security. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the military interventions in eastern Ukraine and the Azov Sea have created unprecedented consequences for the juridical status quo, as well as for the regional balance of military forces in the region. Here, the role that regional versus global actors play both in the negotiation processes as well as the rational management and eventual resolution of conflicts is of crucial importance. We aim to spark a discussion on the contribution that regional partnerships such as the Three Seas Initiative, EU Black Sea Synergy and Bucharest 9 Format have. 

The second day of the forum begins its first panel by discussing the emerging security challenges in the Eastern Flank of NATO, aiming to draw conclusions from recent war games and ‘black swan scenarios’ played in various parts of the region. The necessity of proper planning and coordination at NATO and individual member state level is crucial for the effectiveness of flexible and commensurate response. Furthermore, we aim to enhance the possibility of potential synergies with EU security and defence initiatives. 

Moving forward, the focus will be on the Eastern Partnership countries and the need to strengthen their resilience along the northern, central and southern tiers of the Eastern Flank of NATO and the EU. This will be done by analysing their progress after eleven years of partnership, drawing conclusions and realistic expectations. The central question this panel aims to answer is whether or not the current conceptual framework of the EaP is adequate, and if not, if it would require an update or rather a complete reform. 

When it comes to the EU Defence Industry and PESCO projects, we aim to stir the discussion in the direction of possible opportunities for Eastern Europe, focusing on how to best reconcile industrial interests at a national level with the principles of solidarity and cohesion. Avoiding a deepening of technological East/West and North/South divides within the EU, and making rational use of existing R & D and industrial assets, are also valuable discussion points on the agenda. 

The advent of 5G brings with it a plethora of benefits and challenges for our society and a further step in the development of cyber networks. Apart from the societal impact of these new technologies, it is important to analyse the geopolitics of 5G and its effect on security and military. Continuing in the same realm of cyber space, a discussion is to be had on the use of modern communication to disseminate fake news, disinformation and subversion, and the possible implication of state actors, the media and social networks in this development. What are the best practices and instruments to be used to contain and combat such issues and what roles do NATO and the EU play in these scenarios? 

Moving onto more regional issues, the next panel will focus on the Western Balkans, looking back at the region’s progress and assessing possible steps forward. It is without a doubt that both the European and EuroAtlantic community have a great influence on the political sphere of this region, which begs the question how can these two organisations encourage policy reform and democratic advancement? 

Cooperation within the Three Seas Initiative and the B9 Format aims to stimulate more rapid development of the region stretching between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas, and is currently entering its implementation stage. Thus comes the question: how do these cooperation schemes fit within the strategic designs of the EU? Priorities of these two regional schemes in the short and medium run will be analysed. 

The final day of this forum starts with a debate on the Transatlantic Link and the EU Strategic Autonomy. NATO is currently facing a crisis, and its status as the most successful alliance in history comes into question. As for the EU, a more thorough analysis of what exactly ‘strategic autonomy’ is and what the envisaged final product would be, is needed. 

After recognising cyberspace as an operational domain back in 2016, NATO has been upgrading its defence and response capabilities. We aim to have a review of the level of preparation needed to actually be properly prepared for challenges to come in this domain and to examine the lessons learned so far and examples of best practice in this respect. 

In order to enhance the independence of the Black Sea Region and the Balkans, energy security represents a central issue. In this sense, there needs to be acknowledgment of the importance of secure, reliable and diversified energy sources, as well as routes of supply for virtually all countries in the two regions. Thus, the discussion will focus on issues such as source and route dependency, transition to no carbon economy and the electrification of all sectors of economy.  Moving onto a different topic of discussion, we come to the issue of education, a driving force for the economic development of the region. That there needs to be a comprehensive reform of educational systems at all levels to comply with the current labour market demand is not a novelty. There also needs to be more active use of the resources available under special EU programmes. A central question of this panel is going to be how to reduce the current brain drain of expert and the highly skilled workforce?

The UK might be in the process of leaving the EU, but it remains an important NATO member and cannot be excluded from any future European security and defence arrangements. The question, though, is how much will it be involved in the security of Europe from now on? And how will the bilateral relations change in the current political context? Speaking of bilateral relations, we cannot oversee the importance of the US Defence Industry and its impact in Eastern Europe, and especially in relation to the current cooperation with Romania. The US is a major supplier of military equipment and security in the region, but it is necessary to assess how the industry will evolve in the future, and how we can continue to develop and promote our domestic production capacity. 

Finally, the last panel which is separated in two slots, will examine the hybrid warfare from the Arctic Region to the Black Sea. The concept of ‘hybrid’ warfare is an elusive one, coming with a series of different definitions, which creates the necessity of some conceptual insight and clarification. Moreover, in light of this new warfare type, there are certain new challenges for refining doctrine, contingency planning and training requirements. 

As per tradition, the first three editions of the Forum, the list of confirmed keynote speakers and panelists is impressive, comprising incumbent or former high government officials, both civilian and military, leading think tanks and prominent scholars and political analysts from EU and NATO member states and partner countries, including a strong contingent from the United States. Some of the working sessions on sensitive subjects will be conducted in confidence under Chatham House rules while others will be open to the public and the media, according to the conference program. Media opportunities will be available to participants throughout the conference.