In Europe, the near-term priority of states is to increase their military strength to enhance defence and deterrence. Instruments of restraint, including arms control and confidence and security-building measures (CSBMs), currently receive less emphasis.

Military conditions are changing quickly, but past experience is only of limited value in understanding the changes because the strategic geography of Europe has changed and technologies that were in an early phase of deployment when existing restraint measures were negotiated have now become central elements of modern armed forces.

A process that promoted more and better analysis of the existing body of military information could help to create favourable conditions for progress in political cooperation and establish a solid basis for discussing new agreements in the future.

Changing security environment

By gaining a deeper understanding of key trends and developments in security, military experts could enhance the quality of their advice to national policy makers. As part of the process of understanding the changing European security environment, the official information that is exchanged between states should be exploited more effectively in initiatives that draw on military expertise.

As a first step, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) participating states should improve their own capacity by promoting national analysis of the information that the OSCE makes available. The expert community created in national initiatives could be linked in international projects that produce joint assessments in groupings that go beyond the framework of alliances and security institutions.

There is an unacceptable level of risk associated with military and political tensions in a relatively small area of Europe – essentially Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova

As new military plans are implemented, the number and frequency of training activities, military exercises and patrols are likely to continue increasing, and it will become more likely that armed forces will find themselves in proximity.

Exercises that simulate opposed, non-permissive scenarios will probably be conducted, and ships and aircraft from states that are not participating in exercises will monitor these military activities closely.

There is an unacceptable level of risk associated with military and political tensions in a relatively small area of Europe (essentially Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova).

Existing measures are not sufficient to address current problems in this part of Europe, which are often a side effect of the deterioration in relations between major powers.

Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova participate fully in European military restraint regimes as parties to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), the Vienna Document and the Open Skies Treaty. Belarus and Ukraine are (for as long as it remains in force) parties to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. However, the current framework tends to separate issues and discuss threat perceptions, conventional weapons, nuclear weapons and missiles, without considering the linkages between them.

A more convincing approach would be to consider how existing mechanisms might be built on to facilitate a more integrated assessment.

A significant number of incidents involving encounters between ships or between ships and aircraft have been noted in recent years. These incidents are not confined to one part of Europe, but occur in the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

Incidents include deliberate actions intended to signal that a naval presence is unwelcome. Such incidents need to be managed to reduce the danger of escalation to a crisis. Unintended incidents also occur, and if an unintended incident is misinterpreted as a provocation or an act of coercion, then it could also escalate in ways that do not benefit any party.

In Europe, a somewhat limited sub-regional CSBM regime exists in the Black Sea region, but it is operating under the burden of significant challenges and its technical risk reduction measures are purely bilateral.

The six-country Black Sea naval CSBM regime does not include the navies of non-littoral states (no matter whether the state has a regular naval presence in the Black Sea) and the current state of relations between Ukraine and Russia prevents the participants from convening.

Integrated approach

Russian proposals to develop a naval CSBM regime including all OSCE participating states have been rejected in the past on the grounds that they did not identify any specific security problem that needed to be solved.

A more integrated approach that incorporates naval capabilities into a potential future CSBM regime might attract support in future, but at present no major substantive revision to the OSCE CSBM regime seems imminent, and a stand-alone naval CSBM measure also seems unlikely.

In these circumstances, a more limited approach that focuses on technical measures to reduce the risks arising from ships or aircraft coming into close proximity may be more feasible. A new measure focused on naval risk reduction could be timely, and it would be better to frame such an initiative in pan-European terms, rather than tailoring it to a limited sea space.

In the naval field, Asian countries appear to be moving towards a regional framework with two elements: a joint commitment to make use of technical aids — notably a Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) — supplemented with measures directly linking countries with particularly sensitive bilateral naval security challenges. A similar kind of arrangement could usefully be explored in Europe.

Recommendations:

1) European states should shield the existing military-to-military contacts to prevent them being cut back as the result of any further deterioration in political relations.

2) Establish national teams of military experts tasked with detailed analysis of the information available through existing OSCE information exchanges.

3) Promote projects that link national teams in order to facilitate joint assessments of the main tendencies in military security in Europe based on a shared body of information.

4) Explore the Partnership for Peace Consortium (PFPC) as a framework to link national experts, including those from Russia.

5) Work to explore the prospects for an integrated set of regional and bilateral CSBMs that limit the risks to Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova arising out of increasing tensions between NATO and Russia.

6) Establish a dedicated forum for navies to explore a stand-alone naval risk reduction instrument under the umbrella of the OSCE.

7) Explore the feasibility of adding a working group on naval incident avoidance and management to the agenda of the Venice Regional Seapower Symposium to support the development of a risk-reduction instrument.

8) Promote the modernization of existing bilateral Incidents at Sea (INCSEA) agreements and the consideration of new agreements to harmonize the content, take account of changes in technology and incorporate the rules laid down in international political and legal agreements.

9) Include the experience and knowledge gained from discussions in Asia as part of the process of thinking about naval risk reduction in Europe.

Reducing military risk in Europe, Ian Anthony, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute