Robin Barnett

Robin Barnett

Former Ambassador to Ireland, Dublin

Part of UK in Poland

25th April 2014 Dublin, Ireland

European security under new scrutiny

I last commented publicly on the subject of European security at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Krakow in May 2013. A lot has happened since then. The crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea is of course the most significant development.

I wrote recently about how Russia’s actions are completely indefensible and what the UK, in lock step with European partners and NATO allies like Poland is doing in response. So I thought I would focus this on what the crisis means for European security, including key institutions like NATO.

As my Foreign Secretary has said, “the crisis in Ukraine is the most serious test of European security in the 21st century so far”. By illegally annexing Crimea, Russia has violated the principles that underpin our rules-based international system and afford security and prosperity to all nations. So this has profound implications.

Firstly, Russia’s actions have transformed the security environment that we face. In my speech last May, I argued that the security context was characterised by unpredictability and connectivity while threats were wide-ranging, complex and emanated from many sources. This is all still valid. The dangers posed by, for example, international terrorism, piracy and nuclear proliferation have not disappeared. What is more, any of these could be rooted far from Europe’s shores, but felt at home in a way just as devastating and crippling as an act of military aggression by a neighbouring state. What has changed however is that some of these threats have been brought into greater relief. This includes the threat of military aggression along NATO’s borders as well as some of the emerging security challenges like cyber and energy security.

Secondly, we must consider what this means in terms of our response. In Krakow, I held that an unpredictable and connected world required a readiness to act and the ability to do so with flexibility, mobility and speed. This prescription remains valid though Russia’s actions have amplified the necessity. The speed with which Russia deployed forces in Crimea and along Ukraine’s eastern border underscores the importance of possessing the flexible, mobile and rapidly deployable forces to counter such aggression.

So what does this mean for NATO and more specifically, the NATO Summit?

Russia’s behaviour has underscored the continued relevance of NATO and the value of being part of the world’s strongest and most successful political-military alliance, which has a cast iron collective defence guarantee at its heart.

It has also increased the significance of this year’s NATO Summit, which we are proud to host in Wales. This occasion must serve to ensure that NATO remains ready and able to contribute to the security objectives of its allies. We achieve as much, if not more to deter a potential aggressor by demonstrating the ability to defuse threats wherever they arrive, including in distant places. To do this, allies must invest in the flexible, mobile and rapidly deployable forces I mentioned above and possess the political will to use them if necessary. This is the foundation of effective deterrence.

Effective reassurance is equally important. The UK has already taken steps to reassure those allies, who feel increasingly exposed by Russia’s aggressive actions by flying UK AWACS in support of NATO efforts and to patrol the skies above Poland as well as deploying Typhoon aircraft to police Baltic airspace. This commitment demonstrates UK readiness to stand by our Article V obligations.

In short, Russia’s illegal behaviour is completely indefensible and has implications for European security. But by ensuring that the Wales Summit reinforces NATO’s effectiveness though the measures outlined above we can protect the interests of all allies, including the UK and Poland.

About Robin Barnett

Robin Barnett was British Ambassador to Ireland from 2016 to 2020. Between 2011 - 2016 he held the post of British Ambassador to Poland and his career has previously concentrated…

Robin Barnett was British Ambassador to Ireland from 2016 to 2020. Between 2011 - 2016 he held the post of British Ambassador to Poland and his career has previously concentrated on Central and Eastern Europe and multi-lateral diplomacy.

Robin began his career in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1980 as Desk Officer for Indonesia and the Philippines. In addition to Ireland, he has been posted to Vienna, New York and Bucharest, where he was Ambassador. He has also served as Director of UK Visas and Managing Director of the Business Group in UK Trade and Investment

Robin studied Law at Birmingham University. He has a son and a stepson and is a great admirer of Sir Alex Ferguson and a supporter of Manchester United.