Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Opinion

Where is Northern Europe's security Plan B?

  • Events in Belarus risk adding to regional tensions (Photo: Daria Buryakina for tut.by)

The deterioration of rules-based European security is happening faster and faster. The speed makes it hard to absorb what is going on and what risks it entails, as in Belarus.

Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko is trying to divert attention from the post-election demonstrations, while wearing a uniform and beating the drum about Nato, especially Poland and Lithuania, allegedly threatening the country.

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Military presence and movements in the Baltic sea are at high levels. The Swedish military officially stated its increased readiness, up to levels not seen since the coup in Moscow back in 1991.

A mistake which leads to a firing shot across a border or a collision between two military planes could be devastating.

The Belarusian people's thirst for freedom, 30 years after their neighbours got it, is understandable and admirable. The demonstrations are impressive in scope, design, and courage and deserve our wholehearted support for freedom and democracy.

At the same time, all parties around the table have bad cards.

Lukashenko has lost face after first stealing the election in full daylight and then using violence, which did not quell people.

He is now dependent on Russian president Vladimir Putin to cling to power. If the people do not stay away from the streets and squares, the only tool left for Lukashenko will be more repression. That could end in bloodshed.

Putin does not have the best cards either. His relationship with Lukashenko is not very cordial, and if people can oust a president with demonstrations after "an election" in Minsk, they could do so in Moscow.

That is why Putin wants the demonstrations to ebb before a change of leadership can begin in Minsk.

Meanwhile, should the opposition develop into promoting the same move towards the West as the Ukrainians did, it is likely that Russia will send in the military forces that are ready at the border.

The same scenario could happen if Lukashenko lost control and there was a bloodbath. But Russian military intervention without popular support would be dangerous and trigger more sanctions from the West.

The opposition are also playing with bad cards.

What unites them is that Lukashenko must be removed, political prisoners released, and a free and fair election must be held. But beyond that, the opposition is far from homogeneous.

What if Lukashenko, with Russian help, continues to have control over the police and military and hence remains in power?

How long will the opposition be able to mobilise peacefully if the hope of imminent change diminishes? In addition, violence risks triggering a Russian incursion.

Bad cards

The EU and the West also have bad cards, as sanctions will not change the situation in Minsk.

And Belarus is not the only example of increased uncertainty in Europe.

The United States has announced reductions in troops in Germany and, worse for us northerners, also in Norway, where the marine corps is withdrawing 700 soldiers.

An important strategic deterrent in Northern Europe, which includes Arctic and Baltic Sea theatres, disappears when the United States leaves only 20 men there.

Add to that tensions between Nato-members Greece and Turkey in the Mediterranean and what will happen to the European security system if Trump is re-elected as president of the United States.

A second term with Trump could lead to the United States leaving Nato, as former security adviser John Bolton has warned.

The final act of Helsinki in 1975 and the Paris Charter of 1990 could then be completely overturned if Putin succeeds in creating a new security order that revolves around the interests of great powers at the expense of the sovereignty of small states.

Should this happen, it will open up parts of the Baltic Sea to a Russian sphere of influence if the EU cannot fill the vacuum after the United States.

The EU has yet to demonstrate it can deliver security.

From a northern perspective, being geographically close to Russia, the leading EU-nations France and Germany are not someone to lean against in stormy weather.

History has made Germany cautious on military engagement and it is lacking political will for deterrence.

French president Emmanuel Macron's Russia-reset policy could, speaking diplomatically, be described as hitherto meaningless.

This deterioration of security in Europe makes it urgent for countries like the Nordic and Baltic states to review what can be done so that Plan A, the current order, can survive despite what is happening, but also to seriously have an idea of a ​​Plan B and Plan C.

Conditions for their implementation in a crisis situation need to be created well before they are desperately needed. Also, planning for B and C will raise awareness and could perhaps even save Plan A at the same time.

But you can probably forget about hearing presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers discussing Plans B and C in public.

Author bio

Patrik Oksanen is a journalist and former EU correspondent for Swedish public broadcaster, SVT, in Brussels, a member of Royal Swedish War Academy and senior fellow at Stockholm Free World Forum, a foreign and security policy-oriented think tank. A version of this text was first published in the Swedish language daily Hufvudstadsbladet in Helsinki, Finland.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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