Ebook: Evolving Asymmetric Threats in the Balkans
The Balkans remains a region characterized by inadequate efficiency of state institutions, social and economic instability, organized crime, corruption and unsatisfactory human and minority rights; any of which could be a source for the re-escalation of violence with an ethnic or religious motivation. This book presents the proceedings of the NATO two-day Advanced Research Workshop (ARW), focused on Evolving Asymmetric Threats in the Balkans, held in Belgrade, Serbia in October 2010. Thirty-eight scientists and representatives from NATO and partner countries attended the workshop, with the aim of enhancing cooperation and strengthening the relationship between participating countries, examining the asymmetric threats still active in the Balkans and assessing their influence upon the security and stability in the region. Following an introductory overview of the characteristics, mutual challenges, risks and threats in the region, the workshop was divided into four sessions which covered: terrorism in the Balkans; religious and ethnic extremism; organized crime and corruption and other threats to the region. Each of the first three sessions was followed by a discussion focusing on a number of issues, including the role of the armed forces, combating organized crime and the smuggling of military equipment. The spirit of cooperation, development, democracy, diplomacy, integration and defense evident throughout the workshop, points the way towards positive collaboration among the member states to improve the situation in this troubled region.
During the first Balkan Countries Chiefs of Defence (CHODs) Conference, held in Thessalonica, Greece, on April 18, 2007, the Asymmetric Threats Sub-Working Group was established.
At the 2008 meeting, held in Turkey, the ATSWG identified three asymmetric threats active in the region and other threats that are currently affecting or have the potential to affect the Balkans in the near future.
At the 2009 meeting, held in Serbia, the ATSWG produced the first “Intelligence Assessment on Asymmetric Threats in the Balkans”. In order to add value to annual estimations, during the meeting held in Serbia, the ATSWG took the decision to organize an Advanced Research Workshop (ARW) sponsored by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme. The two-day workshop was designed to enhance cooperation and strengthen the relationship between participating countries, to examine the asymmetric threats that are still active in the Balkans, to assess their influence upon security and stability in the region and to propose relevant cooperation and coordination activities among the armed forces of the member states of the CHODs Conference.
To this end, 38 scientists and representatives from NATO and partner countries met in Belgrade, Serbia between 22 and 24 October, 2010, for a two-day NATO-sponsored Advanced Research Workshop focused on Evolving Asymmetric Threats in the Balkans.
The workshop was opened by NATO co-director of the workshop, and chief of J2, Serbian Armed Forces. In their opening remarks, they highlighted the workshop's contribution to the enhancement of cooperation among Balkan countries' armed forces and military intelligence institutions.
In the introductory session, the head of department for strategic research at the Strategic Research Institute of Serbian MoD delivered an overview of the asymmetric threats in the region. She emphasized the characteristics of the Balkans, the region's mutual challenges, risks and threats and underlined the role of military intelligence in monitoring key threats as a step forward in developing a more secure regional environment.
During the working sessions, formal scientific presentations were delivered by eight experts and academicians from five countries. The workshop was divided into four sessions, which covered “Terrorism in the Balkans”, “Religious and Ethnic Extremism”, “Organised Crime and Corruption”, and “Other Threats to the Region”.
Each of the first three sessions were finalised with a discussion panel focused on “The role of armed forces in combating terrorism in Balkans”, “Euro Atlantic integration of the Balkans / a shield against ethnic and religious extremism. Advantages and disadvantages” and “The role of armed forces and military intelligence agencies in preventing and combating organized crime activities in Balkans democratic societies. Focus on arms and military equipment smuggling”.
All four working sessions were animated by constructive dialogue among the participants. The main words that transpired from all presentations and commentaries were cooperation, development, democracy, diplomacy, integration and defence.
Most of the speakers underlined that currently organised crime structures have political goals and their illegal activities pose a serious danger to the newly established democracies and their state institutions. The threat is augmented by the symbiosis of some organised crime leaders and political stakeholders.
All the participants agree that the region is characterised by: inadequate efficiency of state institutions; insufficient economic stability; social instability; high rates of unemployment; low quality of citizens' lives; organised crime; corruption; increased number of illegal immigrants; huge number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs); unsatisfactory state of human and minority rights, including the rights of ethnic and religious communities and unresolved border disputes. All these conditions could be a source for the re-escalation of ethnic and religious motivated violence.
The first session was dedicated to terrorism. The speakers emphasised that due to the conditions mentioned in the introductory session, the region remains vulnerable to exploitation by terrorist groups. In particular, efforts to recruit individuals based on misinterpretations of religious principles have the potential to inspire acts of terrorism.
Concluding the first session, all participants agreed that in order to prevent and combat terrorism/extremism, all the Balkan states must act as a whole, using strategic communication, diplomatic and economic tolls, and security and defence strategies. The most important is the capacity of the Balkan states to access international or regional information and intelligence. As in most of the states, the task of preventing and combating terrorism belongs to law enforcement agencies, like police or gendarmerie, the role of the armed forces could be focused on intelligence, supporting national or regional law enforcement bodies in preventing terrorist or violent extremist acts.
The second session was focused on religious and ethnic extremism. The speakers built up their presentations on a number of key aspects. Religion in itself is not the cause of any conflict. Very often, it is dragged into several conflicts and is used as a motivation for concentrating and polarizing communities. All these happenings are attributable to the strength and important sense of identity that a principle such as faith gives to people. The notions of in-group purity and out-group vice could be added, as it is the case for mythic narratives, logicality of action and model of group differences embedded in the religion's teachings. All the elements of a religion that have passed into everyday life could represent motifs for conflicts of a religious nature when they tend to separate the sacred from profane rules, norms, behaviours, individuals or way of life or imply a violation of a moral or cosmic order, central to the stories of a conflict. In this respect, there are many examples of religious extremism fuelled on these bases. Extremists fight to preserve their group identity and echo the way in which they imagine or perceive religion themselves (or are lead by false preachers of the same extreme interpretation of their religion). This cosmic fight between the forces of evil and good is current in religious conflicts and their violent actions are perceived as representing necessary responses to the threats of the criminal “other” – which is also the result of a value judgment of the extremist and not an objective result of evaluation.
The basic dimension of ethnic extremism is the readiness of a political actor to resort to the use of violence to achieve proclaimed objectives, even if there are legal avenues available for pursuing these goals. A second dimension is cultural and political exclusiveness materialized in the reluctance of some ethnic minorities to seek political support from other ethnic groups or to admit willing recruits from such groups to their ranks. A third one is separatism, as a movement having as its primary goal the achievement of independence and sovereignty including secession. In a democratic society, the government's response to ethnic extremism has to be twofold: on the one hand, it has to provide public safety and ensure the security of the state, and on the other hand, it has to decide to what extent it should satisfy the political, economical, social and cultural claims of the extremist groups. The ability of political leaders to promote radical claims is influenced by the mood of the masses, which in turn is affected by the purposes, and the rhetoric of the same leaders. As democratic processes are not immune to ethnic issues with explosive potential, it is possible to pursue simultaneously the diffusion of democratic values and the implementation of conflict reduction measures. A key element for reducing the support for violent ethnic movements is to induce a sense of responsibility among the elites towards the population, including the ethnic minorities and to promote preventive measures such as providing security for all members of an ethnic group and peace-building strategies.
At the end of the second session, the participants agreed that the activities of radical religious groups are still limited to the dissemination of aggressive propaganda, radicalization and recruitment of individuals. From this perspective, these groups do not pose an immediate regional security threat. The region remains vulnerable to ethnic disputes. Most likely, the mistrust among different ethnic groups, deep mutual suspicion, incompatible agendas and uncertainties about the true goals of each ethnic group could spoil any process of reconciliation and will continue to fuel ethnic disputes.
The third session was dedicated to the discussion of organized crime and other illegal activities. When it comes to organized criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, illegal migration and trafficking in human beings, the Balkans region appears as a provider for the countries of the European Union, and an important receiver of illegal money obtained from these crimes. Nevertheless, the region is displaying continuous growth as a destination market, with an important potential to develop in the near future for some of the countries and for others on a longer-term perspective. The Balkans is one of the most profitable regions for the exploitation of black markets, through counterfeit or genuine smuggled products. The Balkans is not only an origin for counterfeit money, but also a destination for counterfeit Euros. Credit card fraud and Internet fraud may be included in the portfolio of important organised crime groups. These are fast money making crimes, with low levels of risk and high profits. More and more skimming cases at ATMs and POSs are being recorded in Balkans countries. The Balkans is an important market for original and counterfeit cigarettes and counterfeit products, but also a transhipment point towards Western Europe. Not only do organized crime activities influence the economy but also economic instability facilitates organized crime activities. Organized crime and economic instability give raise each other, creating to a vicious cycle.
The fourth session was dedicated to other threats. The speakers were focused on CBRNE threats and other threats that jeopardise regional security. CBRN agents result in destruction, produce terror, boost media ratings and sometimes might even achieve political gains.
In all CBRN plans, medical/hospital CBRN defence represents the weak link. State bodies tend to invest in operational aspects of CBRN operations while forgetting that medical consequences might last months or even years. On the other hand, the medical community is not very willing to be involved in such operations. It is ignorance and lack of specialized knowledge that creates an exotic environment when it comes to chemical weapons or dirty bombs. The key to this problem is training in both theory and praxis, which can turn a medical student into a thoracic surgeon or an EMS physician into a medical CBRN specialist. It is totally understood that such training requires time and effort, physical conditioning and dedication. This is where motivation plays an important role. The questions: “What does it mean for me?” and “Why should I be involved?” must be addressed carefully and with good will in order to achieve the final goal – volunteering. One cannot force medical people to do things. Medicine is a vocation and not just a profession!
A second problem has roots within administration attitudes. If people in high places do not believe that new emerging threats pose a danger to society, then it is extremely difficult to establish good plans. Specialized equipment costs significant amounts of money, training costs money as well – and time. At the same time, hospitals are always on the look for financing in order to cover daily expenses and future projects. Spending money on a program that will last only for a few weeks looks like an investment that will bring no gain to the hospital, especially when “nothing is going to happen to us!” All those involved in administrative duties must realize that the threat is here to stay. It is an investment in lives.
Problems identified at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, regarding medical/hospital CBRN defence, were still unsolved during the following Olympiad in China and are expected to remain the same during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Perfection in counter-terrorism does not exist. Terrorists will always have the benefit of surprise and they will be always a few steps ahead their prosecutors. The solution is to minimize the distance between these competing interests in order to save as many lives as possible. It is impossible to train all doctors and nurses on how to deal with new threats. It is impossible to have all hospital ready and prepared to accept mass contaminated casualties. The idea is to train as many medical people as possible and to prepare as many hospitals as possible. The introduction of “Medical CBRN Defence” and/or “Terror Medicine” into medical school curricula might be the best solution, and one that will greatly advance the differential diagnosis capabilities of front line health professionals who might be involved in a real CBRN terrorism incident in a mega-polis environment.
The opinions and comments presented in the book represent the personal view of the authors and do not represent the official views of Balkan CHODs Conference, Asymmetric Threats Sub-Working Group nor the countries or any institution where the speakers are affiliated. All the rights of the articles and pictures in this book are reserved.
The common characteristics of states in the region are: inadequate efficiency among state institutions; insufficient economic stability; high percentage of unemployment, with particularly worrying unemployment rates among young people; low quality of citizens' lives; significant levels of organised crime; problems with corruption at all levels of government; symbiosis of large businesses and political stakeholders; and unresolved problems from the past. Interdependence and complexity of the aforementioned security challenges overwhelms the ability of single countries of the region to manage them effectively. Therefore, the need for the acceptance of a so called regional approach which minimizes or removes threats through cooperation and joint action, becomes even more necessary. By continuing these trends, the Balkans region will join the community of developed democratic states, whose relations are dominated by trust, good neighbourhood policy and cooperation. Looking globally, the European and regional security environment mostly depends on capabilities to positively direct political and security processes in this area. It seems that in spite of all efforts made so far, Balkan countries have to do much more in the field of protection from asymmetric threats than they do today.
Every state's attitude towards fighting terrorism, therefore Serbia's too can be regarded on several levels. The first level relates to the actual terrorist threat a particular state is facing, the second level refers to the state's capacity to oppose terrorism, and the third level is the public perception of terrorist threat, and the state organs' strategic determination towards fighting terrorism. When talking about the terrorist threat to Serbia, we must look at a wider picture that shows the problems of the whole southeast Europe region, which is an aggregate with regard to the issues of security. The fact that the same criminal and terrorist groups threaten all countries in this region with terrorism and organized crime is the key factor that links them into a single security network.
In the post Cold War era, the dimension of the threat and means of attack changed when compared with the Cold War era. The threat became unpredictable, unforeseeable and unclear. In the new geo-politic era, new threats such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, extremism or organized crime cause growing instabilities in the regions. Although significant progress has been obtained in terms of stability in the Balkans, it is still among areas of interest and should be analyzed within this regard, as some risks have the potential to become threats if neglected. The Balkans, which keeps its strategic status between the Middle East and Western Europe, faces organized crime, ethnic rivalries and extremism in different levels. Widespread unemployment, immature economy and governance challenges are the main factors having effects on the aforementioned sources of instability. In the changing dimension of asymmetric threats and asymmetric warfare, today's challenges require more awareness than before as they are becoming more complex.
Religion in itself is not the cause of any conflict. However, very often it is dragged into several conflicts and is used as a motif for concentrating and polarizing the communities in a war because of the force and the important sense of identity that a principle such as faith gives to people. Important actors and stakeholders drive the conflict and push one community against the other based on differences in their religious identity. Extremists are fighting to preserve their group identity and echo the way that they imagine or perceive religion themselves (or are led by false preachers of the same extreme interpretation of their religion). This cosmic fight between the forces of evil and good is current in religious conflicts and their violent actions allegedly represent the necessary responses to the threats of the criminal other—which is also a result of a value judgment of the extremist and not an objective result of evaluation.
The dissolution of former Yugoslavia occurred at a time when the United States envisaged their retreat from European affairs; the European Communities were just preparing to launch an ambitious project of political and monetary union, including a common foreign and security policy, while Russia was absorbed by its own transition to a post-Soviet status and grim economical challenges. The ethnic clashes that accompanied the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia still influences today the stability and security of the Balkans' societies, as they prepare to join NATO and the European Union. Ethnic extremism can indeed have a negative influence on the stability and security of the Balkans democratic societies as long as it is allowed to take the forefront of the political scene and overshadow the real issues of the peoples in the Balkans.
The Balkans host sufficiently strong organized criminal groups. Strong smuggling channels developed in the western Balkans that served to avoid the imposed embargo during past conflicts are still being intensely exploited by these organised crime groups. They have the tendency to combine several types of smuggled commodities when exploiting these channels. The criminal groups exploit developing economies, which require high infusions of capital, in order to launder money obtained from illegal activities. Since many organised crime groups have a large portfolio of crimes, the horizontal cooperation of different specialised units or agencies at the national level should be taken into consideration from the early stages of investigations. Law enforcement agencies should improve their logistical capacities and efficiently manage them so as to keep pace with the technical and logistical capacities of organised crime groups. The specialization and capacities for technical expertise of law enforcement agencies should be considered a priority and implemented through the proper management of human resources and adequate training programmes.
Regarding the Balkans, it's very important to stress a regional approach to the aim of the EU integration process as a tool against asymmetric treats. There are two points of view on the approach to the integration of the Balkans: the outside approach, which sees integration as a foreign political tool of the EU and standardization as the coin of enlargement policy; or a common perspective of a future for all Balkan countries with an open and clear declared wish of all countries in the region to become the members of the EU. If we put to one side all other potential asymmetric threats, economic development, investment and the maturity of preconditions for new foreign investments this could be an adequate way to ensure the stable development of the Balkan region.
When in 1995 members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult attacked Tokyo's subway system by releasing the nerve gas sarin, the world was shocked. It was the first usage of chemical warfare agents in a megapolis environment and a new shift in terrorism. Since then, and especially following the anthrax letters campaign accompanying the 9/11 incidents in the United States, the possibility of employment of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists of the future became more evident. In all CBRN plans, medical/hospital CBRN defence represents the weak link. State bodies tend to invest in operational aspects of CBRN operations while forgetting that medical consequences might last months or even years. On the other hand, the medical community in general is not very willing to be involved in such operations. A second problem is rooted within the administration attitude. If people in high places do not believe that new emerging threats pose a danger to the society, then it is extremely difficult to make a good plan. Problems identified during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens regarding medical/hospital CBRN defence remained unsolved during the next Olympiad in China and are expected to be there during the London 2012 Olympic Games.