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9. 2. 2009 9:44

NATO, Russia, Oil and Gas: The Future of European Security

Munich Security Conference, Statement delivered by Alexandr Vondra, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of the Czech Republic, 7 February 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Speaking on behalf of the Czech EU Presidency, one should expect me – based on some articles in press – either to stay here in 10 minutes of silence and passivity, or to become as provocative as some Czech artists or politicians occasionally used to be. Do not be afraid, nothing like this is going to happen today. We are aware of our responsibility.

Let us start with NATO, which will be celebrating its 60th birthday this spring. At the age of sixty, one considers whether to retire. But we are far from taking a luxury of becoming pensioners. Security in our unpredictable world is demanded commodity. The gas “wars” between Russia and Ukraine, the real wars in Georgia and Gaza, the terrorist attacks in Islamabad and Mumbai, the nuclear and ballistic missiles program in Iran and general instability in the Middle East – all that should lead us to a solid conviction that we need each other. No single country can fix all those problems on its own. Although the current world is different from the Cold War, the transatlantic bond is as important as ever before. Europe needs strong and committed U.S., and America needs a strong and undivided EU. The time has not yet come to retreat. But external threats are just one side on the coin.

The other threat is based in potential internal frictions. It is true for both the EU and the Transatlantic Economic Council. Our unity and strength is seriously tested and challenged by the current financial crisis and the economic recession. Temptation of protectionism is on the rise. In the bad times the skirt is always closer than the mantle. We can see slogans in the streets: “French cars to be made just in France!”, “British jobs to the British people!”, “U.S. steel for American bridges.” Unilateral steps – be it in power games or in breaking the established rules of common market – always counter the spirit of partnership and can establish the roots of future conflict.

In the nineties Senator Richard Lugar made his seminal statement about NATO going either out of area or out of business. Back then, we were able to find the right answer. We stabilized the Balkans and we successfully enlarged the Alliance and the EU. (By the way – we should be proud of this achievement and not fall in doubts or fatigue what seems to be the increasingly popular habit now.) However, the challenge of today is more complex. On the one hand, we have to continue in completing the enlargement agenda. On the other hand, we must return NATO in the area and in business.

Internally, we need a new strategic concept, in which the common defense remains our key mission but which will also enable us to respond to new security challenges, be it terrorism, WMD proliferation or energy security risks. We also need efficient and modern military capabilities as well as the ability and will to pool our capacities and resources.

Europeans and Americans also need to enjoy the same level of protection. This has been the core principle of the transatlantic relationship since the end of the WWII. Weakening this principle would inevitably lead to divergence in strategic thinking and to undermining the cohesion of the alliance. Therefore, it is also important to develop the future missile defense system, which would protect us against increasing threat of WMD proliferation in the Middle East, as a part of NATO based security architecture. Russia should be invited to this cooperation but must not have a veto over it.

The talk of the day is the expected return of France to the NATO military command. It would certainly be a tremendous contribution to both military and political strength of the Alliance. France’s added value to shaping military operations, as well as the NATO renovation to make it fit for 21st century, would be undeniable.

It brings me to the area where we are unfortunately lacking the progress we are hoping for. I mean the strategic partnership between EU and NATO, which could be unique and outstanding if it is not blocked by differences between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. 21 of NATO members are also members of the European Union. Common Foreign, Security and Defense Policy have been developed during last decade. The Lisbon Treaty will boost it. The Czech Parliament is getting ready to vote for it in mid-February. EU is ready to share the responsibility for the world security as we demonstrated from Bosnia to Afghanistan. Our main task is no longer to secure peace only inside Europe. The time is ripe to strengthen European defense and security by committing more financial resources, more military capacities and – most of all – more political will.

Needless to say, the EU itself needs to speak with one voice. This regards not only security and defense, but also other issues, like energy.

The EU was, at the beginning of this year, once again forced to grab the referee’s whistle in an annual match that nobody was keen on watching: the gas dispute between Moscow and Kiev. The Czech presidency and the European Commission managed side by side the situation and finally helped to find solutions. We brought the two sides behind the negotiating table and we were able to preserve the unity of the EU – an uneasy task when Bulgarian citizens were freezing and Slovak enterprises were almost collapsing because of gas shortages. But while doing so, we felt very strongly, how much the word „European solidarity“ needs to be filled with substance. Now that the gas supplies have been resumed and adrenaline levels gone back to normal, two tendencies can be observed in Europe.

Firstly, a certain crisis of confidence vis ? vis our partners in the East. And secondly, a real need for enhanced energy security.

On the first, it is understandable that lack of consideration for freezing EU citizens hurts more from EU-oriented Ukraine than Russia. But Ukraine’s existing weaknesses should not be used as excuses for disengaging. Quite the opposite is true. Ukraine is the 7th most populous country in Europe. 80% of Russia’s gas exports to the EU go through Ukraine and this is likely to remain so for quite some time. It is EU´s vital interest to contribute to the stability, transparency, better government and economic development of this country. That’s why in the light of the crisis EU should step up its efforts to establish the Eastern Partnership. Approximation of standards is the best way to avoid crises to recur. The Presidency will launch the Eastern partnership by a high-level summit on May 7, 2009, back to back with the so-called Southern Corridor meeting, which should bring together the countries supplying and transiting gas to Europe from Caspian region.

That brings me to my second point, to energy security. It has been clear long before the crisis that EU would have to diversify. The truth is, that in order to ensure safe and stable gas supplies to EU citizens, we will need as much gas routes as possible: Ukraine, North Stream, South Stream and certainly Nabucco. Many argue that this project is too expensive and only viable if there is enough gas to fill it. But both challenges can be tackled if enough political will is gathered. The Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline would have never seen the light of the day if it hadn’t been for the political support of American administration. It is therefore important that the EU sends a strong signal to both investors and producers to disperse the cloud of doubts hanging over this project. Nabucco is the only terrestrial pipeline that provides an alternative to Russian gas. And North Stream is the alternative to transit through Ukraine. We won’t be able to talk about genuine diversification, unless all EU members have a choice from at least two suppliers and from at least two transit countries. It is even more important in the light of upcoming ETS legislation to reduce CO2 emissions, which will further and substantially increase share of gas in EU energy mix.

The lesson to learn from the gas crisis is simple: we need to provide ourselves with tools vis ? vis both actors of the dispute.
- We need alternative supply routes to have enough leverage when dealing with Ukraine. We need to develop a real strategic dialog with Turkey.
- We need alternative suppliers to be able to bargain with Russia. Nabucco is the solution bringing gas from Caspian region.

We, of course, need much more to secure as in energy. We need better interconnected grids, we need more LNG terminals, we need larger storage facilities, and we have to increase our energy efficiency. We also need to develop and restore a relationship of trust with Russia. Together with the European Economy Recovery Plan implementation, these are the key points on the agenda at the upcoming spring European Council.

Security is a matter of strategy. It requires us to think and build solutions well ahead. This holds for energy the same way as for ballistic missiles. It is too late to start building a pipeline when gas stops flowing. And it is too late to start building a defense shield, when the missile is already in the air. Let’s be aware of that.

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