In your time as SEDE committee chair, how has the security and defence challenges facing Europe changed?
For the last 5 years history came back to Europe. With the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, we have witnessed changes of borders by force. Moreover, after the war in Georgia in 2008 we have seen what Crimea can look like down the road, including borderization and creeping occupation of additional territory. We cannot get into a business as usual policy without addressing this as we continue to see how the challenges are becoming more complex and intertwined as advancing technologies, failing states and aggressive actors change our landscape dramatically. I had the honour to lead various missions to seemingly remote places such as Mali, DRC, Japan, Georgia and Ukraine and have seen how contagious conflict and instability can be. From the Donbass to Damascus we have seen an explosion of tensions play out in real time, forcing SEDE to diversify its focus across the globe from issues such as tensions in the South China Sea, widespread terrorism within EU Member States, to an upsurge of refugees fleeing Africa and the MENA region, all seeking safety and a better future on our shores. Most of all, we have seen the adversaries against democracy feel emboldened in recent years, increasing efforts to weaken our institutions, divide our societies and undermine the transatlantic Alliance.
Do you believe the EU is finally recognising the importance of security and defence as a major policy issue, or are actions and investment yet to match the rhetoric?
Both the institutions and the people we represent are more aware now than at any point in recent memory. This has motivated all EU and NATO members to increase their capabilities, investments and actions in the defence of our security. This is why we have seen the deployment of 4 NATO led battalions to Poland and the Baltic States, a major growth in joint trainings and exercises both within and between EU and NATO, increased legislative efforts to ensure military mobility across Europe, the emergence of PESCO to pool and share resources and expertise in Europe and an enhanced scope for CSDP missions and operations to bolster Allies and deescalate conflicts abroad. Together with our transatlantic partners, we have seen an increase of over 77 billion Euros in defence spending, the implementation of over 1 200 personnel to the NATO Command Structure, new capacity building initiatives to help train and support local security forces in the MENA region and an unprecedented rise in defensive cyber capabilities. Its’s a step by step process and of course there is more to do, but the actions and investments by EU and NATO Member States are indeed going in the right direction.
Poland is on the frontline against an increasingly aggressive Russia, are other member states recognising the danger, and what more would you like to see them do to support Poland and Central Europe?
Poland and the whole region of Central and Eastern Europe, have an intimate understanding of both the depth and breadth of Russian aggression which has allowed us to take the lead on supporting those who are most at risk as well as advising those on how best to address the vulnerabilities in their own societies that Russia prefers to target. Equally important is to ensure that our neighbours who aspire to EU and NATO membership are free to decide their futures without becoming victims of Russian aggression. The most important tools in our toolbox to prevent Russian aggression are solidarity and resilience. If Russia believes it can divide us, it will only increase its aggression, but ultimately the best way to prevent threats is to ensure you are not vulnerable to them in the first place, this is why we need to ensure we are doing everything we can to enhance our awareness, trainings and capabilities. Member states throughout the EU and NATO recognize this and understand that support to frontline states is an essential step in this direction. Trainings and military drills bring member states and partner nations closer together. Initiatives such as NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Poland and the Baltic States, the US’s European Deterrence Initiative and the development of NATO’s maritime and air presence in the Black Sea Region via Romania and Bulgaria have been instrumental in sending a clear message that the territorial kleptocracy of the Kremlin will not be tolerated.
Though the EU is increasingly taking on a military role, are you fearful this may divert resources from Nato? What are your views of President’s Macron’s suggestion for an EU army?
NATO remains the bedrock of Europe’s security and is the primary means to ensuring a strong transatlantic bond. Moreover, it’s the only institution with the proven capability, experience and command structure that can address the hard security issues we must confront. As the EU pushed by some Member States is increasing its military role, it must be done in a way that ensures complementarity and avoids duplication. Sharing 22 member states between EU and NATO, our role must be to add value to one another and to ensure that a common threat perception is reached in order to divide tasks and responsibilities when responding to any crisis. We should remember, that even in NATO, its strength is built by contributions from members of the Alliance, there is no separate NATO army. In terms of the EU, one of the biggest advocates for the EU still needs to tackle its long-lasting crisis in its own military structures.
Poland is one of the few Nato members that spends the agreed 2% of GDP on defence, does President Donald Trump have a point that Europe is not doing enough to defend itself and is relying too much on the US?
The US concerns in this area date back to the 90’s and we must indeed recognize that some European nations have relied too heavily on US support. The major change in recent times has been the expansion of the threat environment. This is why following the NATO Summit in Warsaw in 2016, we finally saw a major improvement towards enhanced defence spending. Across Europe and Canada, there has been an increase of 3.8% of total defence spending, this is a 77 billion EUR increase since 2014. At the time of the Warsaw Summit, Poland was one of only 5 nations that met the 2% rule. Today 8 Allies now meet the 2% rule with more Allies passing the threshold each year. With the ultimate goal of having all 29 Allies meet 2% by 2024 I believe we are on the right track but what is more important than the amount we spend, is the way we spend it. This is why many nations that are still working towards the 2% line are indeed providing major contributions to the security of Europe and the international community in terms of the capabilities, troops, technologies and expertise they provide. In the era of the new technological revolution we cannot rely on hangover equipment from the Cold War. Security requires investments, especially in the R&D sector.
You recently hosted an event on propaganda, disinformation and election hacking, how dangerous is this threat to the stability of the EU, and what would you like done to counter this threat?
Simply put, disinformation kills. This has become increasingly clear as we continue to see the extent to which disinformation can disrupt and devastate our institutions and societies. History shows us that wars can be won or lost not only in military means, but also in terms of perception, based on successful communication strategies. I would like to highlight that disinformation is only one of the tools imposed against us, being a part of a wider hybrid warfare strategy. That’s why I don’t like the term „fake news”, which blurs the broader picture and the essence of intentions. The best steps to take all revolve around improving education, monitoring and response capabilities. Key to these objectives, and an area where the EU can make a major difference, is increasing the understanding and development of our technological capabilities to protect our institutions and expose disinformation. When we look to the way new technologies are being used by states like Russia and China, we see how the use of increasingly capable social media bots, AI-created fake images and video have been effective in misleading major parts of our populations. In my region, automated social media bots, produced roughly 70% of all Russian disinformation messaging. The EU institutions have been awoken by this and have some quite reasonable proposals, regrettably they still hesitate to implement the easiest and proven solutions like strengthening Stratcom East Task Force. We should also remember that the biggest part of the job is to be done on the level of member states. And here we have some very good examples of best practices. Most of them – once more, in my region. One needs to remember, that even knowing the full picture of harmful projects, such as Nord Stream-2, there are powers in the EU that do not share our perception of threats and put their own interests in the foreground. Undermining solidarity in one area, forces a lack of cohesion and unity in others.
What is the impact of AI and autonomous platforms on defence capabilities? Should this technology be banned from military use, or should Europe do more to research and invest in such innovations?
This is the era of decentralized innovation and software-driven warfare, where access to data creates strategic advantage, so it is hard to overstate the impact of AI and autonomous platforms on defence capabilities. The use of this technology is already in the military sector in different countries around the world and banning it in Europe simply won’t help. We should rather think about general regulations and strengthening cooperation with the US in this domain. Unlike defence industrial bases, which are needed for fighters or tanks, critical AI innovations could come from Europe’s smallest nations. Europe should enhance its research and investment in this area as the EU could play a major role in developing a set of AI capabilities matched to a Member State’s operating concepts. This would bridge technical gaps and modernize defence ministries. Moreover, taking full advantage of AI can prevent the escalation of a crisis by combining efforts to determine how, and when, a scenario will develop.
New technologies are good for societies and aid decision makers so I deeply value the debate and research SEDE has on AI. Increasing European research and investment in this area, particularly in virtual and augmented-reality visualization, would play a significant role in providing advanced training and pre-deployment preparation for EU or NATO-led forces during peacetime. With the right policies in place at the EU and member state level, AI can assist us with a range of issues that currently plague CSDP or NATO operations and provide consistency of execution for our forces.
Are you fearful that Brexit could have a negative impact on EU security and defence? And how would you like to see EU-UK defence cooperation develop post Brexit?
I am not fearful as the UK has always been and will continue to be a major security provider to the international community. The UK will remain in Europe, and its troops will be present in my region. Regardless of Brexit, it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that defence cooperation post-Brexit not only continues but expands to ensure seamless cooperation, especially in areas of cyber security, counter-terrorism and capacity building for third countries. When looking to the future it’s important to note that the UK is a UN Security Council Veto Power, a leader in NATO, the leader of the Commonwealth, a G7 economy, a nuclear armed power, the 6th biggest spender on defence and has the most sophisticated and capable armed forces this side of the Atlantic with a world class special forces and intelligence agency. The future of European and indeed international security depends on more cooperation with the UK, not less.
Will you be standing again in the European Elections, and what will be your key political/policy priorities? Will European security and defence be an important issue?
Politicians should look to the future, however it’s too early to make such plans after the EP elections. I am focused on current tasks and challenges. Security of both eastern and southern EU neighbourhood remains my biggest concerns.