Three Questions with Claudia Major
Editor’s Note: The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies hosted an event in Stockholm, Sweden May 16–17, 2017. This was the second edition of a long-term project that serves as a platform for high-level European and American security experts, strategic thinkers, senior policymakers, and other representatives to convene in the series of workshops in Warsaw, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Tallinn to explore the most challenging priorities of the Baltic Sea Region in the years to come. Dr. Claudia Major, senior associate at the International Security Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin (SWP), spoke at the event and we asked her about important policy issues related to the region.
Q: Given Russia’s extensive information campaign against the West, should organizations such as NATO and the EU consider offensive measures?
Claudia Major: There is a difference between authoritarian regimes and open liberal democracies — and we should proudly believe in the strength of the latter. We should be offensive in telling and defending the truth, in unmasking fake news and in demonstrating how propaganda works. But we should not give up of our standard — the West should not develop counter propaganda when trying to respond to Russian propaganda. It should rather seek to systematically and convincingly unmask Russian propaganda by promoting responsible media, uncovering fakes, and educating and training the population. Examples are the training programs for media in the Baltics, or the increased financial support of the German government for the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and its Russian and Ukrainian language channels.
The interconnectedness and openness of our Western societies are simultaneously one of their greatest strengths and weaknesses. In fact, our liberal democracies and open societies are critical infrastructures as much as energy supply or water systems, and should be treated as such. We should invest more in making our structures resilient. Societies have to be empowered to better resist and to quickly recover from various attacks on their values and every day functioning. Prevention is essential. The EU and NATO responses were initially slow but have recently picked up speed. Yet, both still can improve in streamlining expenditure and maximising output.
Q: What has changed in the security debate in the Baltic Sea region, which factors and themes have become more significant?
Claudia Major: The countries around the Baltic Sea are among Europe’s frontline states affected by the conflict between Russia and Western Europe. The Baltics and Nordics share a common concern about a revisionist, aggressive, and rearming Russia. Since the onset of the crisis in and around Ukraine in 2014, these countries have felt increasingly exposed to Russian military and non-military intimidation. Currently, they can neither defend nor maintain regional security by themselves. Their capacities are limited and their memberships in different security institutions (EU and NATO) complicate a common assessment and response, as do their diverging security policies. They depend on the deterrence and defense efforts of their partners and NATO. This has turned the regional Nordic–Baltic security challenge into a European and transatlantic one. NATO’s credibility depends on whether it can guarantee the security of those countries. Germany, as one of the largest and most capable countries bordering the Baltic Sea, is working to improve regional cooperation and to sharpen the Nordic–Baltic dimension of its security policy. Yet, quite worryingly, the most recent challenge does not come from the outside, but from inside of the Alliance. Several members question NATO’s unity, coherence, and utility — and therefore affect its credibility and capacity to act. U.S. President Trump’s reluctance to clearly commit to the Alliance and Turkish President Erdogan’s spoiling for a fight are just two examples how internal developments weaken the Alliance as much as the insufficient defense spending of the European allies. This is particularly felt in a sensitive are like the Baltic region.
Q: How can Germany’s unusual policy on Nord Stream 2 be combined with stronger German cooperation with its Baltic partners?
Claudia Major: These two elements already coexist. Yet, Germany has to make very clear that it is a reliable partner when it comes to defending the Baltic partners. Although Germany has responded, since 2014, with substantial material and political defense commitments to the region, it has also irritated regional partners with apparently contradictory decisions. Berlin’s support for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which circumvents Ukraine and gives Russia a direct energy supply link to Europe, irritated the region and has been viewed as being incoherent with, if not counterproductive to Berlin’s other policies.
Since the crisis with Russia has brought the Baltic region to the forefront of security and defense issues, Germany has increased its commitment tremendously, in particular to the Baltic states and Poland. Berlin has for example signed a series of cooperation agreements with the Baltic States to counter hybrid threats in various areas, including in the areas of energy, culture, media, and communication. Within the EU, Germany supports the sanctions against Russia. Within NATO, Berlin substantially supports the renewed focus on collective defense. Its commitments to the region are considerable in terms of rotating troops (leading one of the four enhanced Forward Presence battalions), providing personnel, participating in exercises; and its general standing contribution to NATO forces. Yet, Germany’s considerable commitment in the East could have an even greater impact if guided by a concerted Nordic–Baltic approach. The countries in the region look to Germany as a key player. Both Germany and the countries of the region need to clarify their expectations and the scope of what they are realistically willing and able to commit. Regional security would benefit from more clarity on Germany’s role, regional contributions and interactions, and transatlantic relations.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.