Interview by Robert Lupițu
NATO Public Diplomacy Division (PDD) it is one the most important instruments that the Alliance has in the sensitive and complicated security environment that we experience in Europa, after the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and the enhanced propaganda that comes from Moscow.
At the beginning of August, at the NATO International Summer School, organized by the Euro Atlantic Diplomacy Society, Eric Povel, Programme Officer in the Public Diplomacy Division of NATO, responsible for Afghanistan, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, talked with CaleaEuropeana.ro regarding NATO, its tools in combating Russian propaganda and hybrid warfare, a possible mindset of a new Cold War, the dawn of the current crisis, NATO’s PDD role, defense budget spending and NATO-EU common approaches.
Robert Lupițu (R.L.): It is a fact that we experience difficult, tense and interesting moments at the same time. Would you say that the uncertainty started by the illegal annexation of Crimea and that Russia’s reassert behavior has developed a mindset of a new Cold War?
Eric Povel (E.P.): The Cold War ended over 20 years ago. It was characterized by the opposition of two ideological blocs, the presence of massive standing armies in Europe, and the military, political and economic domination by the Soviet Union of almost all its European neighbours.
The end of the Cold War was a victory for the people of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and opened the way to overcoming the division of Europe. At pathbreaking Summit meetings in the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia played its part in building a new, inclusive European security architecture, including the Charter of Paris, the establishment of the OSCE, the creation of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and the NATO-Russia Founding Act.
Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has introduced sweeping changes to its membership and working practices – changes made clear by its adoption of new Strategic Concepts in 1999 and 2010. Accusations that NATO has retained its Cold War purpose ignore the reality of those changes.
Over the same period, NATO reached out to Russia with a series of partnership initiatives, culminating in the foundation of the NATO-Russia Council in 2002. No other country has such a privileged relationship with NATO.
As stated by NATO heads of state and government at the Wales Summit in September 2014, “the Alliance does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia. But we cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which our Alliance and security in Europe and North America rest.” (The Wales Summit Declaration can be read here).
This is NATO’s official policy, defined and expressed transparently by its highest level of leadership. As an organisation which is accountable to its member nations, NATO is bound to implement this policy.
R.L.: Even tough NATO managed to release a new Strategic Concept in Lisbon (2010), there were many voices that contested the Alliance’s identity and positive role. Is the new security environment a momentum that reaffirms and justifies the Alliance existence and his core purpose? Does the new insecurity framework (both in the East and South) help NATO to overcome an identity crisis and recover itself from several international critics?
E.P.: NATO’s Treaty of 1949 is as relevant today as it was in 1949: NATO still is a club of like-minded, democratic nations that promises to help each other in case of need, an emergency like an armed attack. So, NATO’s purpose is still the same as it was in 1949. What has changed is the security environment and the number of members of NATO that has increased. One of the key characteristics and successes of NATO is that despite these radical changes in Euro-Atlantic and international security, NATO has been able to keep the cohesion amongst its member states while making drastic adaptations in order to meet the demands and challenges of the new security environment.
R.L.: The dawns of this crisis in Eastern Europe might have started in 2008 when NATO assessed the possibility in offering Georgia and Ukraine a Membership Action Plan (MAP). It would have been possible for the Alliance and for the Western world to prevent this complex geopolitical situation that puts, again, NATO and Russia in opposition?
E.P.: In 2008, NATO did not offer Georgia and Ukraine a Membership Action Plan (MAP). At the 2008 Bucharest Summit, Allied leaders agreed that Georgia and Ukraine – which were already engaged in an Intensified Dialogue with NATO – will one day become members of NATO. In December 2008, Georgia and Ukraine were invited to develop Annual National Programmes (ANPs).
NATO’s “open door policy” is based upon Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, which states that membership is open to any “European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area”. The enlargement of the Alliance is an ongoing and dynamic process. Since the Alliance was created in 1949, its membership has grown from the 12 founding members to today’s 28 members through six rounds of enlargement in 1952, 1955, 1982, 1999, 2004 and 2009.
NATO does not “push” nations to apply for membership, NATO only responds to nations who officially apply for NATO membership. According to Article I of the Helsinki Final Act (here) which established the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1975, every country has the right “to belong or not to belong to international organizations, to be or not to be a party to bilateral or multilateral treaties including the right to be or not to be a party to treaties of alliance.” All the OSCE member states, including Russia, have sworn to uphold those principles.
In line with those principles, Georgia and Ukraine have the right to choose for themselves whether they join any treaty of alliance, including NATO’s founding treaty.
Moreover, when Russia signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act, it pledged to uphold “respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states and their inherent right to choose the means to ensure their own security“.
Thus Georgia and Ukraine have the right to choose their own alliances, and Russia has, by its own repeated agreement, no right to dictate that choice.
R.L.: Analysts, experts and media fellows consider that we face a new threat, more dangerous, hybrid and diffuse than the Soviet threat. But, actually, aren’t we dealing with a classic and traditional challenge and threat (Russia) but which evolves together with 21st Century conflict means?
E.P.: Yes, hybrid warfare is not an entirely new phenomenon as there are many similar examples of such warfare in military history. But we have seen that Russia has employed a whole range of political, military, economic, financial, communication/propaganda, and cyber policy tools as part of their hybrid warfare campaign against Ukraine and other Euro-Atlantic countries, and at an unprecedented scale and speed, which requires a rethinking and reviewing of some of NATO’s concepts, doctrines, military and other capabilities in order to be able to deter, and if need be to defend its Allies against such hybrid attacks. Also some of the threats we face in the South East and the South have some hybrid traits that we need to adapt to. NATO expects to take relevant decisions in this regard at its next Summit meeting in Warsaw early July 2016.
R.L.: How does the NATO Public Diplomacy Division (PDD) act and work against an aggressive propaganda and how does it cooperate with member states, especially those from the Eastern flank? How are you collaborating with national instruments in order to develop tools that diminish Russian propaganda and myths generator? Does hybrid warfare weaken just Europe or also, the North American side of the Alliance?
E.P.: It is firstly a national responsibility, for each NATO nation’s political and military leaders, to inform its population about what the national authorities are doing about its communication activities and to counter the Russian propaganda. NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division focuses on complementing the various national communication efforts by using its main communication tools – press operations, via its website and social media, and by face-to-face engagement programmes. They are not focused on counter-propaganda but on setting the record straight and presenting the facts of NATO’s policies, actions and activities.
R.L.: Were you asked for support from Romania to offer expertise of countering the Russian machine of trolls that use manipulation, misinformation and misperceptions?
E.P.: Like I mentioned before, informing the national audience is firstly a national responsibility. Besides NATO PDD’s usual communication efforts, PDD and other NATO structures regularly organize Communications seminars where experts and personnel from all NATO nations discuss current communications challenges and share their experiences and best practices.
R.L.: Will the NATO Force Integration Unit from the six Eastern countries (Romania, also) play an important role in containing and countering the propaganda tool in this hybrid warfare?
E.P.: No. These small units (max. 40 staff) will mainly function as small command and control units that will work with host nations to identify logistical networks, transportation routes and supporting infrastructure to ensure NATO’s high-readiness forces can deploy to the region as quickly as possible if needed.
R.L.: The article V of NATO covers military attacks against member states of NATO. How can the Romanian people feel secure in face of destabilizing actions, like these hybrid and asymmetrical methods where the military tool?
E.P.: NATO’s article V pledge is rock solid for all NATO member states. In the run-up to the Warsaw Summit, Allies are currently discussing potential adaptations to NATO’s current concepts and capabilities in order to be able to address also the kind of hybrid threats and warfare that we have seen Russia use in the Ukraine crisis, and that are also being used in the other crises in the South and SouthEast.
R.L.: In your opinion, the new planning for defense national budgets allocations and spending should or will comprise funds for fighting and combating hybrid threats as propaganda, myths and manipulation?
E.P.: As nations are entirely sovereign in their decision on how much and on what they spend their defense budget money, it is entirely up to them to decide if they also want to spend more on fighting these hybrid threats.
R.L.: What further actions should be taken against the myths perpetrated by the Russian Federation, like “NATO promised not to expand”, “The Alliance is trying to encircle Russia”, etc.? What kind of attitude should the public opinion for Romania (and other member countries, of course) embrace in order to not become a victim of the hybrid warfare and propaganda tools?
E.P.: Each political and military leader of a NATO nation should inform its population about what the national authorities are doing about its communication activities in order to counter the Russian propaganda. We developed a NATO Factsheet on “the facts of NATO-Russia relations”, showing that neither of the myths are true. We are sharing this information constantly through all communications means and platforms that are available to us.
R.L.: In the end, do you believe that the new security threats coming from Russia and terrorist groups are requiring a coherent, cohesive and deepened partnership between NATO and the EU and what will be the results of the Alliance new balancing in a mid-term period?
E.P.: Yes. NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, regularly meets his EU counterpart, High Representative Federica Mogherini, and EU representatives are always invited to attend NATO Summits and Ministerials. We have also intensified NATO-EU staff-to-staff talks to enhance our cooperation, including in the area of Strategic Communications. And in response to the new hybrid threats, NATO and EU will enhance their cooperation as there are areas where each organisation has its strong points and more responsibilities than the other, but where a synchronised and coordinated approach is necessary to counter the various hybrid threats. A more effective, and slowly but gradually increasing NATO-EU cooperation in the area of Strategic Communications will also in the long term help us to inform our populations better about the facts and the appropriateness of NATO’s actions and policies in reaction to Russia’s aggressive behavior and rethoric against NATO Allies and Partners alike. Ultimately, the truth will prevail.
Green Village Resort, the Danube Delta impressive location, opened for tourists under maximum safety measures
Green Village is naturally isolated with access to immense beaches stretched for kilometres, canals where tourists can make a different trip every day, they can fish, walk in nature, watch birds, without meeting any crowds.
„Even in a normal period, tourists felt safe and enjoyed a quiet vacation. Romania is a growing destination for foreign tourists. Although slower than we want, Romania attracts foreigners, who come here with moderate expectations, but return home beyond enchanted by the landscapes, people, and security that our country offers”, said Dragoș Anastasiu, owner of Green Village Resort.
Last year, more than 40% of our tourists were foreigners. They enjoyed mostly excursions on the canals, fishing, birdwatching, going to the beach and short trips to nearby cities such as Sulina and Tulcea.
Romania Remains Attractive As Software Outsourcing Destination in COVID-19 times
Romania is 1ST IN EUROPE and 6TH IN THE WORLD, in terms of number of certified IT specialists. With an estimated 150,000 in 2020, Romania is moving up the diversity spectrum in terms of outsourcing capabilities. The local talent pool has been a main decision factor for evolving from a cost driven approach to a value driven one, Romanian specialists proving to be very resourceful in operating many complex project assignments.
Romania doesn’t offer lowest prices in the outsourcing business, but it is highly competitive when you take into account the level of technical proficiency and soft skills in the country, “superior to what is typically found in other outsourcing locations,” according to IDC.
Romania also benefits from two political factors—its membership in the European Union, and strong institutional support from the government. This includes several tax incentives and breaks, alongside wages that remain highly competitive within the EU (the average minimum wage is the second lowest in the political union). More importantly, membership in the EU comes with more than just financial and security advantages, one example is access to the Horizon 2020 program for Research and Innovation.
As a member state, Romania’s regulations and compliance laws must fall in line with the broader union, meaning that companies have significantly less startup barriers when setting up BPO or ITO offices. Apart from easier setup, this gives companies a much safer framework and infrastructure for financial transactions, as well as access to many of the same financial services and banks available across the West.
We asked one of the local companies what are their thoughts on the Romanian IT sector future and how is the COVID-19 disrupting their business model:
“This highly competitive industry sometimes forces us to ignore the long-term strategy and focus on the quick opportunities. The biggest risk is that we won’t see a lot of Romanian products competitive at global scale any time soon, but definitely in almost every successful project launched today around the World there is at least one Romanian engineer in the team. We give a lot of attention to our Research and Innovation department and we try to keep the right balance between outsourcing and internal products development (chasing our dreams). Regarding the COVID-19 disrupting our business, we just practiced what we preach, we used our entire digital offering on ourselves and we were able to completely switch into remote work during lunch break” says Anamaria POPA, General Manager of Soft Galaxy.
It is not enough for the professionals out there (in institutes, universities, private companies, innovators and entrepreneurs) to press ahead with their work, they need to stand together and promote the Romanian excellence in research and education.
Vasile Blaga, MEP: I am convinced that the firm measures adopted by the EP against Covid-19 will not stop here. The EPP Group is already working on a strategy for the rapid recovery of the post-crisis economy
Vasile Blaga, MEP (PNL, PPE) told caleaeuropeana.ro that the EPP group in the European Parliament is already working on a “very clear strategy” for managing the current crisis generated by the new coronavirus, but also for the rapid recovery of the post-crisis European economy,
The unanimous vote of the European Parliament last week on proposals from the European Commission for the management of the European health crisis shows that the hesitant response at the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic was an accident, explains MEP Vasile Blaga, adding that “the answer came to correct the rather timid initial reaction of the European executive in the beginning of this challenging crisis for Europe and all the other states around the world ”.
The 37 billion euros (part of the Corona Initiative) allocated to the Member States through the vote in the European Parliament will be directed towards health systems, local communities, small and medium-sized enterprises and economy sectors seriously affected by this crisis.
“The European Union means, first and foremost, solidarity – for better and for worse, and those who support the opposite are either not aware of what is being done at EU level, or have an interest in destabilising the Union,” says Blaga.
The vote in the European Parliament was also aimed at reallocating 800 million euros from the Cohesion Fund in 2020 to cover emergencies in the medical systems of the EU member state
“I am convinced that the measures will not stop here. The EPP group is already working on a very clear strategy for managing the current crisis, but also for the rapid recovery of the economy once the public health crisis is over. There are countless proposals and projects in progress that will help us all overcome this unprecedented crisis in recent history,” adds Vasile Blaga.
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