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European Security System: New Realities in the Changing World 

M.Poli.Sci. Bruno Rukavina
University of Zagreb
Faculty of Political Science
Master of Political Science (summa cum laude) 

European Security System: New Realities in the Changing World 

The Europe is facing complex and interconnected challenges. The essay will encompass several issues concerning European security system, focusing on two main parts, firstly describing internal and then external challenges.

Europe deals with internal multilevel, comprehensive crises, many of them are the result of longer and deeper structural difficulties. One of them is economic differences between the member states, which can lead to dangerous center-periphery[1] structure of the EU between the old and new member states[2]. This leads to incomplete integration, a situation where some member states are “more European” than others, like those in the Schengen area or those in the Eurozone. This situation can accelerate with long-term centrifugal forces causing disintegration or further exits, like temporary interesting threat of Poland[3] and Polexit[4]. Furthermore, reasons for these divisions in wider Euro-Atlantic area are great political differences between the right-wing and left-wing values, which are getting more polarized. These ideological conflicts between values are wracking unity of the Euro-Atlantic integration and also unity inside some states. Such divisions were in the USA 2016 and 2020 elections and in 2016 in the UK during the Brexit campaign[5]. The Covid-19 crisis has deepened existing internal crises, since they are catalyzed and manifested by a great rise of unemployment, inflation, and recession caused by health crisis, which can further diminish European solidarity. Lack of solidarity happened during the first wave of the pandemic in spring 2020, when member states focused on their national interests[6]. Contemporary internal social issue in European societies is the division between vaccinated and unvaccinated citizens caused by abolishing unvaccinated citizens their fundamental rights like freedom of movement[7], access to institutions and services.

External problems can be analyzed by the method of temporal comparative analysis. The last decade shown one of the greatest geopolitical changes after the Cold War, for the European security. In 2010, the EU was surrounded by the circle of friends[8], consisting honest and fair relations with the USA; open dialogue and cooperation with the Russia Federation; stable regimes in North Africa and Middle East (Libya and Syria); Ukrainian balance between the West and Russia; Turkey accession negotiations to join the EU; Western Balkan states with clear European perspective. Nowadays, the situation has changed, and Europe is surrounded by the circle of fire. How to define the circle of fire? It can be described as a gray zone or space where there is neither perpetual peace nor permanent war; where it is impossible to define any ongoing war, its beginning, end, its sides or even the tools with which it is fought[9]. There are no clear battlefields, as conflicts are a combination of hybrid and conventional means of fighting. It is a region of chaos and permanent instability[10] around one of the most developed parts of the world (the EU). What does the circle of fire consist of?

In the East, there has been a permanent crisis in Ukraine since 2014 after the coup d’état, annexation of Crimea by Russia and proxy war in the eastern Ukraine, which culminated in February 2022 with special military operation in Ukraine. Russia is again under great economic sanctions causing losses for both sides. In the last two years, the circle of fire has expanded due to protests against Lukashenko in Belarus, the USA withdrawal from Afghanistan and uprise in Kazakhstan. South European neighborhood characterizes hybrid war conflicts in North Africa and Middle East (Libya, Iraq, Syria) especially after revolutions in 2011 symbolically called the Arab Spring which can be renamed in Arab Winter[11]. Turkey became a challenge to the EU with migration threat and engagements on four fronts: Syria, Libya, Iraq, Caucuses. It would be interesting to research if Turkey is becoming a soft underbelly of NATO. In southeast Europe, after the accession of Croatia in the EU in 2013, the EU lost both interest and will to enlarge on Western Balkan[12]. The accession criteria are getting higher, the Western Balkan candidate states have more difficulties to meet them. The NATO hasn’t lost interest in Western Balkan since enlargement to Montenegro in 2017 during migration crisis and to the Republic of North Macedonia in 2020 during Covid-19 crisis. In the last ten years there has been increased activity by China, Turkey and Russia in the Western Balkan. Thus, we could look upon the Western Balkan as a bushfire or polygon of foreign influence which is surrounded by the EU (or again potential powder keg of Europe).

The circle of fire has started to spread inside the Euro-Atlantic area. Firstly, when the USA secret agencies started spying on its allies during the Obama administration[13]. The crack hole in the alliance expanded into a great gap in 2016, when Donald Trump became president of the USA due to worldview differences from European allies, like Angela Merkel. This can be seen as a split between Trump’s realistic approach in international relations versus Merkel’s (European) more liberal approach. The gap has diminished by the election of Biden and the new government in Germany led by chancellor Schulz (especially since green part of Red-Yellow-Green coalition is strongly pro-American and pro-NATO oriented). Secondly, the circle of fire has expanded to the United Kingdom with Brexit. Since it is not part of the EU, it would be interesting to research will the UK be challenge or opportunity for the European security system. It is a great power, part of the NATO, but not a member state, whose role historically was to ensure the balance on the European continent, but nowadays between whom? France and Germany, The EU Center and the EU Periphery, the EU and Russia, underdeveloped unstable south (PIIGS[14] + Western Balkan) and developed stable north (Scandinavia + Central Europe)? Thirdly, China's awakening, which the United States is trying to suppress, is entailing European states into potential conflict in the Pacific. Issues arise when the US is prioritizing and replacing its deals over Europe’s, like in the case with the submarine deal between France and Australia[15]. The Pacific Security System (Australia-UK-USA security pact – AUKUS), can weaken the Euro-Atlantic alliance if there are no cooperation and coordination among the allies. Fourthly, the circle of fire has smoke that is suffocating the EU: the problem of migration. A destroyed neighborhood and an unstable gray zone around the EU have made the population of that area move to a safer place, like European states. Instead of Europeanization of the Middle East (and North Africa) the destruction of Libya and Syria has led to the Middle-Easternization of Europe[16]. Migration process has many political, cultural, social, economic, and security challenges[17] that will represent one of the greatest challenges in the future.   

To conclude, Europe has structural problems from both inside and out. The EU and NATO are lacking the political will to overpower internal issues, and lacking leadership to extinguish the circle of fire in the European neighborhood. Global pandemic crisis could be fatal for the European security system since it has a potential to catalyze pre-existing crises. On the other hand, due to Ukrainian crisis, new-old enemy, Russia, could strengthen the NATO, since it will lead to militarization of Europe, and the USA can focus strictly on the rise of China. Ukrainian crisis has brought together Euro-Atlantic member states, but it has divided continent of Europe in shorter and midterm period. 


[1] Caraveli, Helen. (2016). Global Imbalances and EU Core-Periphery Division: Institutional Framework and Theoretical Interpretations. World Review of Political Economy, 7 (1): 29-55.

[2] Gräbner, Claudius; Hafele, Jakob (2020). The emergence of coreperiphery structures in the European Union: A complexity perspective, ZOE Discussion Papers, No. 6, ZOE. Institut für zukunftsfähige Ökonomien, Bonn.

[3] Tammila, Krista. (2021). Polexit: Concerns Over Poland’s Commitment to the European Union. Link: https://esthinktank.com/2021/12/10/polexit-concerns-over-polands-commitment-to-the-european-union/ (Accessed: 6th January 2022). 

[4] Cisłak, A., Pyrczak, M., Mikiewicz, A., & Cichocka, A. (2020). Brexit and Polexit: Collective Narcissism Is Associated With Support for Leaving the European Union. Social Psychological Bulletin, 15(1), 1-21. https://doi.org/10.32872/spb.2645 (Accessed: 6th January 2022). 

[5] van der Veen, Olaf. (2021). Political Polarisation Compared: Creating a Comprehensive Index of Political Polarisation. Central European University. Department of Political Science. Vienna, Austria. Available: https://www.etd.ceu.edu/2021/van-der-veen_olaf.pdf (Accessed: 6th January 2022). 

[6] Joppe, Anne. 2021. EU Solidarity, Illustrated by the Covid-19 Crisis: What does EU solidarity mean in the context of free movement of goods and persons and how is this illustrated by the response to the Covid-19 pandemic?. Utrecht Law Review, 17(3), pp.130–142. DOI: http://doi.org/10.36633/ulr.683 (Accessed: 6th January 2022).

[7] Panagopoulou, Fereniki. (2021). Mandatory Vaccination during the Period of a Pandemic: Legal and Ethical Considerations in Europe. BioTech, 10, 29. https://doi.org/ 10.3390/biotech10040029 (Accessed: 6th January 2022). 

[8] There were several conferences in 2016 about transformation of European neighbourhood from “circle of friends” to a “ring of fire”: Bröker, Laura. (2016). From Circle of Friends to Ring of Fire. Heinrich Boll Stiftung. Available: https://us.boell.org/en/2016/04/25/circle-friends-ring-fire  (Accessed: 6th January 2022). 

[9] Bressan, Sarah, Sulg, Mari-Liis. (2020). Welcome to the grey zone: Future war and peace. New Perspectives, 28 (3): 379-397.

[10] Carmen, David; Belo, Dani. (2020). Gray-zone Conflict Management Theory, Evidence, and Challenges. Journal of European, Middle Eastern, & African Affairs, 1(2): 21-41.

[11] Grinin L., Korotayev A., Tausch A. (2019). Introduction. Why Arab Spring Became Arab Winter. In: Islamism, Arab Spring, and the Future of Democracy. Perspectives on Development in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-91077-2_1 (Accessed: 6th January 2022). 

[12] Scazzieri, Luigi. (2021). Reviving European policy towards the Western Balkans. Centre for European Reform. Link: https://www.cer.eu/sites/default/files/pbrief_wbalkans_LS_14.12.21.pdf (Accessed: 6th January 2022). 

[13] Brophy, Shannon. (2021). Should the United States Collect Intelligence on its Close Allies?. Honors Theses. 370. https://digitalcommons.coastal.edu/honors-theses/370 (Accessed: 6th January 2022). 

[14] Duman, Özgün Sarımehmet. (2017). The political economy of the Eurozone crisis: competitiveness and financialization in PIIGS. Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/86386/1/Duman_Political%20economy%20of%20Eurozone_2018.pdf (Accessed: 6th January 2022).

[15] von Hippel, Frank. (2021). The Australia-UK-U.S. Submarine Deal - Mitigating Proliferation Concerns. The Arms Constrol Association. Link: https://sgs.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/2021-11/vonhippel-2021-aukus.pdf (Accessed: 6th January 2022). 

[16] Rukavina, Bruno. (2021). Europske migracije – povijest, lekcije i izazovi. Zbornik radova konferencije "Migracije i identitet: kultura, ekonomija, država (2)". Svezak II - znanstvena knjiga. Sigurnosni i gospodarski aspekti migracija. Institut za migracije i narodnosti: Zagreb.

[17] Murray, Douglas. (2018). Čudna smrt Europe. Zagreb: Puls.

12 мая 2022
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