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STRATEGIC EQUILIBRIUM IN THE BLACK SEA REGION IN THE CONTEXT... Strategic equilibrium in the Black Sea region in the context of the challenges facing the European security architecture. Could NATO have a role in the Black Sea region? * Dragomir Zakov On July 8, 2016, the Heads of State and Government of NATO Member States met in Warsaw where they made a number of strategic political and military decisions aimed at strengthening the security along the Eastern and the Southern periphery of the North Atlantic Alliance. Later on, on October 26-27, 2016, the NATO Defense Ministers rendered an account of the degree to which the objectives set at the Warsaw meeting had been attained. They also re-confirmed the Allies’ preparedness to respond unanimously to the threats emanating from the East and the South. A number of political and military analyzers tend to refer to the decisions taken at the Warsaw Summit as being the most important ones in NATO’s history after the end of the Cold War period. These historic decisions had been taken on the basis of the proceedings of the 2014 NATO Wales Summit and had, among other things, also approved the NATO Readiness Action Plan. The principal objective of this plan is aimed at strengthening the defense and the defense capabilities of the most vulnerable NATO states. NATO’s Warsaw Summit reaffirmed that the Alliance’s key mission is going to remain unchanged, meaning that the North Atlantic Alliance should be preserved, in the future, too, as a unique community of freedom, peace, security and shared values. The Warsaw Summit also re-confirmed the Alliance’s commitment to carry out effectively its three principal tasks, namely collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security, as set out in NATO’s strategic concept. As pointed out in the final Warsaw press release, NATO’s actions have been prompted by the changes that have occurred in the security environment, along with the resulting new environment of insecurity and instability in the Alliance’s peripheries and further afield. Currently, NATO is faced up with a number of challenges arising both in the East, and in the South; they also come from government and non-government entities, from terrorism, cyber attacks, and hybrid threats. Russia’s aggressive actions, including the Russian provocative military maneuvers along NATO’s borders, together with this country’s desire to gain its political objectives by means of threat and coercion, cause regional instability and constitute a serious challenge to the North Atlantic Alliance. The deteriorated security environment in North Africa and the Middle East, which generates huge migrant- and refugee-flows, is also considered to be a serious challenge. Terrorism, personified by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has already reached an unprecedented intensity level and is already spreading across Europe. This is perceived as an imminent threat to both our countries, as well as to the international community. As a result of the increasingly growing Russian military capabilities, the security environment in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea has also deteriorated * This article reflects the personal views of the author alone. It does not in any way mirror or deal with any Bulgarian position on this topic or with any position of the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs DIPLOMACY 18/2016 143

STRATEGIC EQUILIBRIUM IN THE BLACK SEA REGION IN THE CONTEXT... seriously. At Warsaw, the NATO states decided to deploy, on a rotational basis, four multinational battalion battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The presence of the United States, Germany, Great Britain, and Canada – in their capacity of framework nations, at the front line is expected to give clear signals about the preservation of the robust Euro-Atlantic bond. As regards the South-Eastern periphery of NATO, a decision was made that an adapted presence should be worked out for the front line. In addition, the strategic significance of the Black Sea was further reaffirmed and the need to enhance the dialogue and advance the cooperation with Georgia and Ukraine was particularly stressed. It will not be too exaggerated to say that the Black Sea policy could be used as a barometer of NATO’s capability to find answers to some fundamental questions, such as the future of the European and the Euro-Atlantic security architecture, the future of the European project and the relations with Russia, as well as dealing with the challenges involving globalization and hybrid actions as an approach employed in international relations. There is no doubt that, as a littoral state, Bulgaria has a pivotal interest in the sustainable and foreseeable future of the Black Sea region. NATO’s adaptation to the new security challenges requires, in the first place, a clear definition of the imminent threats to the Black Sea region, along with a formulation of the relevant measures needed to address and respond to these threats. This is going to provide an answer to the question as to what extent the NATO Member States have managed to lay the foundations of new and sustainable security architecture in this region. From a political perspective, the major threats to the security in the Black Sea region derive from the criss-crossing of varied geopolitical interests at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, and also between Central Asia and the Middle East. During the Cold War, all Black Sea countries, except Turkey, used to be Warsaw Treaty signatories. In the wake of the Cold War period, however, a delicate geopolitical balance managed to be achieved in this region. On one hand, Bulgaria and Romania became NATO and EU Member States, while, on the other hand, Russia – as a regional power and initiator of the Eurasian Union, has been striving to expand its influence over this country’s “immediate neighborhood”, chiefly over the post-Soviet states. In their attempts to embark upon the road of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, some of these states, Georgia and Ukraine in particular, have become an object of intensified Russian pressure. Over the past few years, this delicate geopolitical balance has been significantly tilted as a result of the already existing and the new challenges, but, first and foremost, because of some flagrant violations of the principles underpinning the European security system and the international legal order. Russia’s aggressive actions, including this country’s pro-active military maneuvering along NATO’s periphery, coupled with Moscow’s desire to attain its political objectives by leveling threats and using power, have caused instability in the region. Such actions pose a serious challenge to the North Atlantic Alliance and jeopardize the Alliance’s principle objective to support a Europe whole, free, and at peace. Notwithstanding the fact that, over the past few years, the „annexation” of Crimea is considered to have been the main event in the security area, this event is only indicative of some processes that have begun a long time ago and demonstrates Russia’s ambition to win recognition as a global geopolitical power. On a strategic document level, this can be seen in the Russian Military Doctrine, as well as in this country’s National Security Doctrine. The 144 ДИПЛОМАЦИЯ 18/2016