Warsaw Security Forum 2022
On October 5 and 6 the Warsaw Security Forum took place. This year, the conference - dedicated to transnational cooperation and security in central and Eastern Europe - focused on the war in Ukraine. Some of our EPS students were amongst the volunteers. Here, Paulina and Silke reflect on the panels and their experience.
Warsaw the Memory of War
On the 5th and 6th of October 2022, we had the pleasure of attending the Warsaw Security Forum. The forum, dedicated to transatlantic cooperation and common security challenges, is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe. Unexpectedly, the central theme of this year’s edition was the war in Ukraine, and how Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization should respond to Russia’s aggression.
The role of Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, has emerged as a powerful platform to discuss and reflect on the war in Ukraine. The very fact that the Forum took place here is symbolic. Not only is the city three hours away from the Ukrainian border; the city is full of reminders of the war. Warsaw is covered with Ukrainian flags, and toilet paper with Putin's head on it has replaced Oscypek as the most popular souvenir for tourists. In addition, the modern streets and skyscrapers are a constant reminder of the destruction brought by World War II. Even for those unfamiliar with this history, it is impossible to miss the war memorials and plaques throughout the city. The remembrance of the histories of the German and Russian occupations traumatizes the people of Poland. Today, the country is one of Ukraine's most open and closest allies.
In order to organize this year's Warsaw Security Forum, the Casimir Pulaski Foundation relied on the help of more than 70 volunteers. Alongside five other students of the EPS Programme, we were part of the team of volunteers who helped to organize the forum. The volunteers were assigned diverse tasks ranging from welcoming the speakers at the airport to overseeing bilateral meetings, and sometimes hunting down VIPs wandering around in the crowded Hilton hotel.
Silke: I was part of the social media team. Although, in the beginning, the communication and planning process were somewhat chaotic, our team also had a plenitude of autonomy to act independently. We were responsible for gathering and selecting quotes and pictures and for publishing the tweets. Working in the media team had two major advantages. Firstly, it taught me useful skills for the future. Social media plays an important role in many professional career paths in the world, and having the opportunity to learn this skill at a big event like the Warsaw Security Forum can only be an enriching experience. Secondly, our team had the freedom to determine our own schedule, which allowed me to attend most of the panels and get a good idea of what the Forum was actually about.
Paulina: I was part of the team that supervised the bilateral meetings that were held in a more private part of the venue, where ministers, diplomats and other relevant authorities met for more intimate discussions. It was truly exciting to get so close to such important politicians and to experience first-hand how such meetings are held and how challenging it can be for everyone involved in the process of the meetings. Despite the minimal role you play, you know that as a volunteer, your presence is quite important to the success of the event.
There is no doubt that the central topic of this year’s panels was the war in Ukraine, and how NATO and the European Union should react to Russia’s aggression. Kira Rudik, Ukrainian Member of Parliament, said that, "the Warsaw Security Forum gathered Ukraine's allies for two days of discussions, side meetings and panels. I have not heard anyone say that we should think about peace, or that we are concerned that Ukraine may not win the war." She is not wrong. With speakers from central and eastern European states, the UK, and the US, the Warsaw Security Forum was attended by Ukraine’s biggest supporters. Unfortunately, gathering like-minded people can lead to discussions in which there is little debate about what position the EU and NATO should take. Instead, the lack of disagreement encouraged some speakers to adopt strong language, portraying the war in Ukraine as a struggle between good and evil, or between “the civilised world and a terrorist state.” While strong rhetoric is understandable given the context and location of the forum, it prevented some panelists from having in-depth discussions on sensitive issues. It is fully comprehensible that the topic is emotionally charged. Still, our expectation of this forum was that concrete solutions would be mentioned and that justified criticism of the current EU policy would be debated more.
So what were the main takeaways from two days of panels and discussions among politicians, experts, and activists? We know it is impossible to try to capture the messages of 200 speakers in 100 different sessions without making a great abstraction of the complex issues that were discussed and resorting to the generalizations and bold statements we just criticized. Yet, some of the statements were a recurrent theme and really captured the spirit of the Forum. That is why we dare to share four of them with you:
1. Something that stuck with us the most was a statement from the former Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičiu. He said: “Of course, Ukraine must win, but that also means Russia must lose. And the fact that some still hesitate and are afraid that Russia will lose too badly explains the resistance to support Ukraine sufficiently. We must understand that the Kremlin will not change unless it painfully loses.” He captured the popular sentiment present in western and southern EU member states. Even though the discourse on ‘offering Russia an elegant way out’ has largely disappeared, the fear to escalate and humiliate Russia is still very present in some parts of the EU.
2. There will be a price to be paid by the citizens. Energy prices are soaring throughout the EU, leading to discontent in member states. In September, around 70,000 protesters took to the streets of Prague to demand a new gas deal with Russia and to end sanctions over the war in Ukraine. Against this backdrop, Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, insisted on the need for “a very broad democratic debate. I am afraid we are focusing too narrowly on problems like energy prices and inflation. We have to have a broader view of what is causing this.”
3. Support for Ukraine as an investment in European stability. Many of the speakers warned that the EU and NATO should not succumb to fatigue over the war in Ukraine. In her speech, Olena Zelenska, First Lady of Ukraine, said that our “support for Ukraine today is not only a significant assistance to us, but also a strategic investment in the security and stability of the region, Europe and the world as a whole.”
4. Nuclear threat: the nuclear war cannot be won and should not be fought. Of course, when attending a security forum, debate on nuclear deterrence is inevitable. Baiba Braže, Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy at NATO said that while the threats are taken seriously, “Russia itself has declared at the European Security Council in January that the nuclear war cannot be won and should not be fought.” According to Sibylle Bauer, the Director of Studies, Armament and Disarmament at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a realistic pathway to disarmament in the longer term “may be nuclear weapons becoming a liability, because of either their cost, technological vulnerabilities in connection to cyber attacks, terrorism or the different spans of emerging technologies.”
Why such Forums Matter
One could now argue that such forums where security policy is debated only concern people who work in this field or are interested in it. Yet this is not entirely accurate. First of all, security is not limited to military defense; it is also an important factor in democratic and climate governance. Secondly, security in Europe is a matter of concern to all of us. The invasion of Ukraine, in particular, not only shakes our European security and peaceful order but also clearly shows how fragile and vulnerable our value system within the EU is. Every citizen should be aware of this and can contribute to the preservation of our European internal security, even if it is only small actions, such as tackling fake news on social media networks.
A war so close to the borders of the EU also affects us and has far-reaching humanitarian, economic, financial and political consequences. With rising gas and food prices, ongoing sanctions against Russia and fear of the conflict spreading to Eastern European countries, our solidarity and patience are being tested, and we are facing an enormous challenge as a society. As citizens of the European Community, it is up to all of us to work for the security of our system so that we can continue to enjoy the privileges of democratic governance in the region.