The Global Security Forum (GLOBSEC) was founded in Bratislava in 2005, five years before Slovakia’s NATO and EU membership. This forum was aimed at securing Slovakia’s place in the West, said Robert Vass, chairman of the Slovak Atlantic Commission.
Over the years GLOBSEC’s prestige has almost matched that of the conferences in Brussels and Munich.
This year’s GLOBSEC is interesting because it was attended by some 500 leading politicians, diplomats, foreign policy and national security experts from 40 countries. Last but not least, this was Europe’s final political event before the NATO summit in Chicago this May. In other words, GLOBSEC 2012 was the final opportunity for politicians and experts to discuss the Chicago summit agenda.
The presidents of Slovakia, Slovenia, and Croatia used this opportunity to present their views on Europe’s future and cooperation with NATO. Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico noted that his country sees its NATO membership not only as a protection against the enemy, but also as an opportunity to make its own contribution to this military and political alliance – which is precisely what this country is doing. He said NATO could be enhanced by increasing its membership, and that Slovakia’s experience shows that expanding NATO will be a complicated process, but that it will prove a useful experience.
There were lots of Central and Eastern Europe’s defense and foreign ministers with their retinues who took part in various panel discussions in Bratislava. Zsolt Nemeth, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Hungary, made an interesting presentation entitled “From Prague to Chicago and Further.” He said the Western Balkans were a project still to be completed by NATO, that Macedonia and Montenegro had to join the Alliance, and that this would enhance it. Nemeth added that the Nabucco or other South Stream pipeline projects remained to be implemented to prevent Russia from becoming Europe’s sole gas-supplying monopolist.
The absence of Ukrainian political leaders in Bratislava was glaringly apparent, considering official Kyiv’s attempts to present Ukraine as a strong [European] country; also considering that the Ukrainian side should be interested in hearing what the other sides had to say on a broad range of matters, including current problems and post-crisis management. Had Ukraine attended GLOBSEC 2012, the rest of Europe would have seen Ukraine headed in the European direction, and Peter Burian, the State Secretary of the Foreign Ministry of the Slovak Republic, wouldn’t have said that Ukraine must choose its place in Europe, where and with whom it wants to integrate; that it must seriously consider its stand and that then Europe will welcome its choice.
Alexander Vershbow, Deputy Secretary General of NATO, and Vice Admiral Carol Pottinger took part in the panel “Smart Enough? NATO’s Response to the Fiscal Crisis.” They stressed the need to achieve more by taking smaller steps, considering military budget restrictions. Vershbow said the crisis in Europe should be used to keep Europe’s doors open and encourage Ukraine’s European integration process.
All those present agreed that the military resources of the member countries should be pooled, so they could be made understandable and practical…
Owing to GLOBSEC 2012 organizers, The Day could interview Alexander Vershbow and Carol Pottinger, the first female commander of an American warship.
Carol M. POTTENGER:
I am sure there are more capabilities Ukraine will bring
In your opinion, what capabilities does NATO lack to cope with the current and future challenges?
“We’ve talked about a little bit in a panel earlier in my work with the NATO Defense Planning Process we’ve identified those shortfall areas that we consider priorities. Now that specific list is still classified, but what I can tell you I think will be of no surprise. You’re going to find things that have to do with cyber defense capability, missile defense, and certainly came by special forces. That’s you know four or five examples of the types of capability whether it’s article five or a smaller contingency operations or even kind of terrorism capabilities, those are the types of capabilities that we know we are going to need for that future security environment.”
What needs to be done in order to encourage the nations to put more in the development of the capabilities that are lacking?
“It’s not my role to tell the nations to put more money. What we do is present the shortfalls to the nations and we’ll present some courses of action, we call them some options, and how to fund them, whether on a national level, multinational or even common funding with NATO money. And then the nations will discuss it. And we’ll have multilateral meetings and bilateral meetings. What we hope, obviously, and you heard that in the discussions, is that Smart Defense is not meant to offer an opportunity to reduce defense budget, we’re trying to help nations to use their defense investment more effectively and more efficiently, so that’s truly a point of Smart Defense.”
What are your expectations from the Chicago Summit in this context?
“In this context, I think, at this point it appears that Smart Defense will be one of the items that is talked about in Chicago. Obviously, things can change. There’re still several weeks before the summit occurs. But we think that that will probably occur and with that agreement of heads of state and government on implementing Smart Defense will go forward with this practical projects and will also go forward with conceptual development of trying to change NATO’s minds and how NATO and nations approach capability development and look at multinational opportunities as a first way to go, rather than perhaps the last options, but that’s again kind of a thrust of this effort.”
Europe is developing its own defense strategy. Is it helpful for NATO, Transatlantic dimension in meeting today’s and new challenges?
“I think it does. I mean we often say in my business there’s only one set of forces. The nations only have one set of forces. So, whether they are doing a NATO mission or an EU mission, we want those forces to be as capable as possible, so if the EU and if EDA are working on initiatives and projects that make those forces more capable, then that’s absolutely a good thing. What we have to make sure is that we are not doing the same effort, that we are not duplicating effort. And as I said earlier, we work very hard to make sure that the Smart Defense projects do not duplicate, rather they complement each other. That’s the language that we like to use. And so we work at staff levels between our teams and the EDA and EU teams to make sure that they complement each other and bring more capability across the forces.”
What do you think about the Ukrainian capability? Can it complement NATO’s forces?
“I think absolutely. No question, Ukraine already is doing so. I think that you have forces in Afghanistan, if I’m not mistaken. I think they served in Iraq. And so, absolutely, I am sure there are more capabilities Ukraine will bring whether in a partner status, whether in whatever the future might hold.”
Will anything of this kind be discussed at the Chicago Summit?
“Not for Ukraine specifically, but really what the heads of state and government will see is, as you know, a high-level document. Underneath that at some point will be the staff papers that talk about all of these projects and all these nations. But they won’t be presented in Chicago. They are actually for the staff to continue to work on. So whether in the future Ukraine can participate in some of those projects, that would be great, you know. That’s up to the nations to decide if they can invite partners to participate.”
Is it easy for you as a woman to work in the surrounding of men who usually think that military affairs are not for women?
“It’s easy, because I have had such wonderful bosses that have opened so many doors for me and made opportunities available for me to contribute and to make a difference and that’s what we come to work every day to do, we just want to try and do a good job and help those who work for us to succeed as well. So, I would say that there are certainly some bumps in the road, but 99.9 percent that’s been a lot of fun and very rewarding.”
Does the fact that you are a woman help you to resolve some problems at work or approve some decisions?
“I’ll tell you what I think about that. I think that everyone comes to being a leader from their experience. So, yes, I’m a woman, so of course, being a woman tends to affect how I might approach decisions or how I might approach a mission. But it’s no different than, say, you being from your country, or someone from another nation, or another race or whatever the background may be. And bring all of those opinions and perspectives together and you get a stronger result. So that’s really what I believe. I believe it’s about talent, it’s about letting everyone do the best that they can and make their contribution.”
Why did you decide to work in the Navy?
“I don’t know if you can print this, but I have a third cousin who went to the US Naval Academy. I was only 16-17 years old when I met him and I thought he was just the coolest thing I’d ever met. And I thought, maybe I should join the Navies. So that’s why I decided the Navy at the beginning (chuckling). Lots of things have happened since then that have kept me in.”
You are kind of satisfied with your jobs, aren’t you?
“I’ve been extremely fortunate and very satisfied with all of my jobs, whether commanding ships at sea, or commanding a strike group, or commanding a Navy expeditionary forces, and now I’m getting to work with NATO. So, it’s very rewarding and challenging. But it helps me to grow every day to be a better person, a better leader.”
Hopefully, relationship in the field of defense reform can get a new impulse
Mr. Vershbow, I have recently been to the new premises of the US Embassy in Kyiv, where I saw your photo in the gallery featuring outstanding Americans with Ukrainian origins. Could you tell us in detail about your Ukrainian roots?
“My grandparents came from different parts of Central and Eastern Europe. One of my four grandparents was born in Berdychiv. The other two were born in Vilnius. And one was born in Eastern Poland, in Lomza. So, they all met and married in the United States. They emigrated about 105 years ago.”
Would you like to pay visit to those places, specifically Berdychiv?
“I’d be curious if I had the opportunity, maybe after I retire, to visit Berdychiv. I’ve only been in the big cities in Ukraine, like Kyiv, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk.”
You have a vast experience of diplomatic work. You’ve been NATO’s ambassador to Russia. Current US Ambassador to Ukraine John Tefft resumes his office next year. Would you like to replace him?
“(Chuckling.) I’ll have to think about that, because having been an ambassador three times, I’m looking forward to my new job that I’ve only been in for two months. To work as an international public servant for NATO is a new challenge. So I’ll have to wait till the next ambassador before I can give you an answer to that question (chuckling).”
At the conference you spoke about NATO’s expectations from the Chicago Summit. What does NATO expect from Ukraine as the Alliance’s partner in this summit, where our country will be represented by President Yanukovych?
“Well, NATO very much appreciates the contribution that Ukraine is making and has made over the years to a variety of NATO operations. I think that Ukraine has participated in every NATO operation since the partnership was established in the 1990s. In some cases this contribution is small, but it’s still important both in military and political terms. Recently there’ve been discussions about the possibility of Ukraine contributing to the counter piracy mission of the coast of Somalia with one of its naval vessels. And that’s I think is an interesting subject that’s being discussed now in Brussels.
“So, I think that participation is a very important way of demonstrating Ukraine’s commitment to international peace and security, willingness to share the burdens of security and I think it contributes to the establishment of a wider Euro-Atlantic community. NATO also is interested in continuing to work with Ukraine in terms of its defense reforms, where I think there’s still a lot of work to be done. I think specifically now when the new defense administer and the new chief of defense there’s a hope that this relationship in the field of defense reform can get a new impulse. This discussion is underway of very possible visit by the North Atlantic Council to Ukraine and that would be an opportunity to give new impetus to the partnership. I think it’s always important just to say that even although the Ukrainian government has decided not to pursue membership in the Alliance, continuing to develop a strong partnership is no less important and I think it will be beneficial both for NATO and for Ukraine, and for Ukraine’s neighbors, big ones and small ones.”
The important NATO summit in Istanbul did not justify the expectations. It is known that NATO refused to give the membership action plan to Ukraine. Don’t you think the Alliance made a big mistake by doing so?
“Heads of state and government always make the right decisions (chuckling). I think that there was a clear recognition at the Bucharest Summit of support for the aspirations at that time of Ukraine for NATO membership and similarly for Georgia. And I think that opened the way for deepening of the partnership which is just as important today even without membership as the goal, as it was at the time of the Bucharest Summit.”
Can Ukraine’s participation in deployment of the European missile defense be on the agenda at this summit?
“There’s been a lot of speculation about that subject, but at the moment NATO is focusing on working out its own internal policies and commanding control structures for missile defense. And we have developed a policy on the partnership with other countries. The only exception so far is Russia with whom we are trying to develop cooperative relationship. So, this is something we could talk about in the future, but at the moment there’s no active consideration of Ukraine’s involvement in the missile defense project.”
Is the reason that Ukraine has nothing to offer?
“I think that there’s a shared interest on the part of all countries in Europe in countering the threat posed by the proliferation of the ballistic missiles. So, we certainly are interested in hearing constructive ideas from Ukraine. But, as I said, at the moment NATO is focusing primarily on its internal development of missile defense policy and structures. And the only third country we are engaging with is Russia.”