Ostsee – Friendenssee is a familiar concept for those of us who were already active during the Cold War years. It was a theme actively promoted by the GDR, who hosted the yearly Ostseewoche in Rostock from 1958 until 1975, but discontinued after the GDR had with CSCE in 1975 achieved its long-standing goal of international recognition.
The efforts of the GDR and the Soviet Union to market their brand of Peace and Security were never really convincing, emanating as they did from two of the most heavily militarized states of the Baltic Sea Region. They were more correctly read as efforts to build up the Baltic Sea Region as a Soviet Mare Nostrum, where a kind of Pax Sovietica existed, with no open acts of war being committed.
War in history is not unfamiliar in the Baltic either. In Finland everyone knows the song ”Oolannin sota oli kauhea”, about the Crimean War of 1854-1856, better known in Finland as the Aaland War, when the British Navy landed on the Aaland islands and destroyed the fortress of Bomarsund and raided Finnish ports up to the northern parts Gulf of Bothnia. Both World Wars saw heavy fighting on the Baltic Sea and the lands surrounding the sea, only Sweden escaping being dragged into war on both occasions. Between the World Wars the Baltic was also a prominent theatre of Allied intervention in the Civil War in Russia, with British torpedo boats using Finnish territory to base their attacks on Kronstad.
There are thus sound historical reasons for the Russian preoccupation with securing the Baltic approaches and not allowing them to fall into the hands of her potential enemies.
But advances in military technology had already during the Cold War begun to erode this concept of security and undermine the defensive doctrines behind it. One sign of this was the Soviet readiness to withdraw from its Porkkala base close to Helsinki in 1956, already 40 years before the original lease imposed on Finland in the Armistice Treaty of 1944 ran out.
In the seventies detente started slowly being felt in the Baltic Sea Region too. We should not overlook the role played in this respect by the new Ostpolitik introduced by Willy Brandt, nor the unintended and originally much underestimated consequences that the so-called third basket provisions in the CSCE Final Document signed in Helsinki in 1975 had for developments in Central and Eastern Europe, gnawing away at the foundations of centralized and totalitarian Communist Party rule.
Today we are in situation in the Baltic region which has no precedents in history. The Baltic Sea is today an open region for everyone. It is almost an inland sea, or Mare Nostrum, of the European Union, but since the EU has neither the capabilities, pretensions nor needs to become a military Super Power, or to create any exclusion zones, this should not carry any connotation of exclusiveness or sinister intentions anyone should be suspicious of.
The Baltic Sea for the first time has only democratic countries on its shores, even if we do need to be concerned about the commitment to and sustainability of real democracy in many states of the region and particularly Russia. Apart from the EU (and Nato) all Baltic Sea countries are members in the same international organisations and are obliged to recognize and implement the ever-growing amount of binding commitments they have signed on to in these fora.
Military security in the Baltic Sea region
Does this mean that concerns about traditional military threats to security have disappeared? Obviously not, for there are understandable historical reasons for why concerns and fears may linger on for much longer even after the threats themselves have disappeared. And even if power politics and resorting to the use of military power, is no longer able to deliver any longstanding benefits to anyone hardly anywhere in today’s world, and certainly not in the Baltic region, the mind-set where power politics germinate will take a long time to dissolve. This applies to both those who are perceived as perpetrators as well as those regarded as victims of power politics, also bearing in mind that the difference between the two is not always as clear-cut as we like to think.
To be sure, there are still too many weapons, including nuclear weapons, in or close to the Baltic Sea region. Regional initiatives to reduce these are always welcome, but as these weapons are not deployed primarily for reasons related to the region itself, their reduction is more likely to come about as a result of more comprehensive and global disarmament and arms control negotiations.
There is, however, one item on the arms control agenda which could and should be tidied up in the region, and that is the non-adherence of the Baltic countries as well as Sweden and Finland to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). The countries concerned have nothing to lose from joining the treaty and it would also give new life and credibility to the CFE and lead to the re-engagement in the treaty which was ”suspended” by Russia in 2007.
There are also other issues where states could also act to involve the military also in enhancing confidence and cooperation in the region. As maritime safety is a common concern for all our countries we should engage our navies, which no longer have much use as a deterrent for potential invaders, to cooperate on maritime surveillance and rescue services. This has been proposed as new common assignment for the Nordic countries in the Stoltenberg Report, but I see no reason why this could not be extended to all countries in the Baltic Sea region.
Broad security in the Baltic Sea region
The Baltic Sea region today is an area in the world where the new threats to the broad concept of security are central. We have them all: degradation of the environment and in particular the deteriorating ecology of the Baltic Sea itself, nuclear security concerns, cross-border crime, drugs, trafficking in human beings, TB, HIV-AIDS and other communicable diseases. While we do not have home-grown terrorism in the region nor any failed states close by, the threats these entail can nevertheless reach the region and cause incidents, even if they originate in far-away places. Neither should we overlook, that there are still minority and other issues which are potential threats as long as they remain unsolved in a manner satisfactory to all concerned.
The fragile ecology and deteriorating health of the Baltic Sea itself is a source of growing and well-placed concern. 3O years after the entry into force of the ”Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area” (the Helsinki Convention) signed in 1974, we can either regard it as a half-full or half-empty glass. Due recognition should be given to the undeniable achievements in reduced discharges of course, but this is a small consolation if the levels of pollution are still enough to endanger the marine environment.
The Baltic Sea is endangered when countries round the sea are developing their trade and industries for economic gain without adequately weighing their impact on the ecology. The increasing transport of oil on the Baltic Sea is an indication of wealth-creating economic activity, but at the same time entails a growing risk of accidents. The equivalent of an Exxon Valdez incident or the blow-up of the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the Caribbean could literally kill the vulnerable Baltic Sea.
As environmental issues will be discussed more in depth at other sessions in this seminar I will not continue on this, except to raise the issue of the North Stream gas pipeline under construction across the Baltic Sea.
There are many reasons to welcome the North Steam gas pipeline, as an example of the kind of trans-national cooperation which will promote positive interdependence between Russia and the EU. I find the concerns expressed about the pipeline as an instrument or excuse to increase Russian military presence and activities in the Baltic Sea region to be unfounded. Should Russia want to increase her military presence she will not need any pipe line excuses, and as far as the security of the pipe line is concerned that is an object for mutual cooperation rather than any confrontation.
The environmental concerns the North Stream pipeline has raised in many countries are legitimate, but have been also exaggerated, also for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the environment. After all, it is not as if we are dealing with a new and untested technology that carries inherent risks. Gas pipelines have been criss-crossing the worlds seas for several decades without reports of any serious damage or environment-threatening accidents. A gas pipeline is certainly much more preferable and safer method of transportation compared with the equivalent amount of energy being transported in surface vessels over the Baltic.
But given the especially vulnerable conditions in the Baltic Sea it is essential that the project must respect the most stringent environmental requirements and use the latest state-of-the-art technology. Since the project is a joint Russian-German venture the participation of German interests in it has, frankly allowed us to regard the project with more confidence from an environmental point of view then if it had been a solely Russian venture.
The environment is not the number one priority on the Russian agenda. But this doesn’t mean that others around the Baltic Sea can afford to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude towards Russia in this regard. This also goes for Finland, which has in recent years clearly failed to live up to the reputation it had earlier earned along with the other Nordic countries as a standard-bearer for good and responsible environmental management.
It is therefore imperative that the environment is so centrally place on the Baltic Sea cooperation agenda – at least as far as the paper-work is concerned. The environment is one of the four focus areas the EU’s Baltic Sea strategy. In the Northern Dimension it is one of the three partnership programmes. The newly created EU-Russia Modernization Partnership also refers to promoting a sustainable low-carbon economy and fighting climate change, but since this is one of the ten specifically mentioned ”priority areas” in the non-exhaustive listing of cooperation areas of this particular exercise, one cannot readily tell from this document, what the real priorities are going to be and what role will the environment in real terms play in them.
It is, of course, quite common in international cooperation that there are often more good intentions in our declarations and commitments than concrete examples of them being put into practice. The EU Baltic Sea strategy is ambitious and is even held up as an example fore other regions to emulate. It opens many new vistas and possibilities, but it is also demands that all of us in the region – and the Commission too – must deliver.
For more things to happen in practice it is not enough that government ministers and officials hold regular meetings: also civil society, the social partners, NGO:s as well as the local and regional authorities have to be engaged.
This kind of engagement and particularly the people-to-people contacts it will facilitate and promote will also serve to enhance security and our common endeavours to be able to thwart new threats to broadly understood human security.