Lecture by the President, entitled “Slovenia and the World”
Ljubljana, 6.6.2012 | speech
Lecture by Dr Danilo Türk, President of the Republic of Slovenia, entitled “Slovenia and the World”, organised by the Club of Former Slovenian Ambassadors, in cooperation with the International Center for Promotion of Enterprises
Ljubljana, 6 June 2012
There comes a time for reflection and thought. The twentieth anniversary of Slovene diplomacy is such a time. The moment is ripe for a reflection on Slovenia's foreign policy and, more broadly, about Slovenia's view of the world. The current international developments require careful thinking and mature decisions. We need reflection and debate as a basis for policy making. And, quite naturally, a reflection of this kind must start with a "nutshell assessment" of the path travelled so far.
The first two decades of Slovenia's foreign policy have offered rich opportunities to learn and gain important experience. They were rightly described - in a recently published book by the columnist Saša Vidmajer - as the period of "growing up". The question is whether our young independent state has learned its lessons already and whether its foreign policy has reached maturity?
One could say that the question formulated this way is too academic. In the life of a state there is no moment for delays or excuse of immaturity. Decisions have to be made from day one. In the real world the foreign policy of a state has to be mature from the beginning. Obviously, what remains to be seen is whether the decisions taken are of adequate quality and whether they make up an adequate foreign policy profile of the state. It must also be understood that foreign policy is not the kingdom of freedom: it is to a large extent determined by the international situation and the needs of the state. Furthermore, it is not independent; it is a sub system of a wider state system and has to serve the entire system well. Based on these fundamental realities of foreign policy of a state we can analyse the evolution of Slovenia's foreign policy, which has passed through four phases.
1. Four phases of Slovenia's foreign policy
Slovenia has come into existence
in the circumstances of tectonic changes in the wake of the cold war. The collapse of the former communist world had led to a fundamental geopolitical change. However, this change was accompanied by fear. The dissolution of former Yugoslavia, which had been a factor of stability throughout the larger part of the cold war, was a major cause of that fear. Consequently, the emergence of Slovenia out of the process of the dissolution of the former Yugoslav federation was, at least initially, not welcomed. Slovenia was, at that time, perceived as "an inconvenient state"
. We had to work hard to prove that independent Slovenia was a responsible state, a factor of international security and stability and, above all, a successful state. That effort dominated Slovenia's foreign policy in the first five years of its existence. Slovenia had to distance itself from the violence of former Yugoslavia and establish its own sovereignty in foreign policy. These tasks were successfully accomplished. In five years Slovenia was ready to assume a higher foreign policy profile. Slovenia's election to the UN Security Council in 1997 was a significant diplomatic success and marked the beginning of a new phase.
The second phase
took seven years (1997 - 2004) and required Slovenia's "passing of tests"
. In the Security Council we were extraorinarily successful. Slovenia was also able to make significant progress in its relations with its immediate neighbours. In the European framework it demonstrated success in fullfilling the criteria for membership in the European Union and NATO, completed by 2004. Fulfilling these criteria required strong focus. Slovenia showed that, like most other candidate countries, it was capable of focusing on its strategic priorities. However, in proving this it lost some of its perspective of the world, a quality much needed in the foreign policy of a sovereign state.
I shall return to the question of balance between the needed focus and perspective later. Suffice it to say that, in the third phase
, in the years immediately following the admission to the EU and NATO, like most other new members, Slovenia re-discovered the need for a broader perspective as an important requirement of its foreign policy. This discovery was gradual and was closely connected with a larger foreign policy projects in the third period (2004-2008) of the evolution of Slovenia's foreign policy. The projects such as the presidency of the OSCE in 2005, the membership in the Board of Governors of IAEA in 2006-07 and the presidency of the EU in 2008 brought a variety of questions which Slovenia's decision makers and diplomats had to address. Slovenia's performance in these bodies was generally considered as good. Nevertheless, Slovenia was at that time not yet able to raise its political and diplomatic profile to a significantly higher level. It was a decent performance, but with few original ideas or extraordinary achievements. The same can be said about Slovenia's participation in various groups of like minded states such as the Human Security Network, the 3 G group etc. They offer useful experience but there is still scope for improving quality and raising profile. Therefore, the third period can be described as a period of "timid advancement"
The period since Slovenia's EU presidency (2008) is the fourth phase
in the evolution of its foreign policy. It is ongoing and cannot yet be described in clear and simple terms. So let me call it "the time of new opportunities"
. This period has from its start coincided with the world financial and economic crisis, which has opened serious questions for all. This coincidence underlines the importance of the current situation as an opportunity for rethinking and reforming. The experience of the first three years of the latest, fourth phase, offers some encouragement. Important progress was made in the relations with all four immediate neighbours. The arbitration agreement on the border dispute with Croatia (2010) opened a new chapter in the relations between the two neighbours. The quality of political relations with Italy has improved, in particular after the visit of the presidents of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia in Trieste on 13 July 2010. Our relations with Austria are improving at a steady pace while the relations with Hungary are traditionally very good. At a symbolic level, the high quality of political relations between Slovenia and its four immediate neighbours was demonstrated on 24 June 2011 by the participation of the presidents of Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, at the official celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Slovenia's independence. Today Slovenia is not only at peace, but also at ease with its neighbours, a significant achievement given the tortured history of this part of Europe. The remaining open questions, notably those related to the issues of minorities, should be easier to address now. Moreover, good understanding with its neighbours contributes to the international standing of any state and offers an opportunity for new initiatives. In this period Slovenia also opened new opportunities by becoming a member of OECD (2010) and by serving as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
2. Two Axioms
Before any suggestion concerning the future is made, it is useful to restate the obvious: Foreign policy vitally depends on the situation at home. At present, Slovenia must improve its domestic situation - both economic and political - as a matter of priority. We have to put our own house in order. Only a successful state enjoys the prestige necessary for meaningful foreign policy initiatives. There is no doubt in my mind that Slovenia is able to ensure its fiscal consolidation and to put its economy on the path of growth and development to a new, higher level. The sooner this is achieved, the better.
The second axiom relates to diplomacy as a basic tool of foreign policy. It is necessary to adjust the diplomatic service to the needs of the time and fine-tune its tasks, including some of the basic ones, such as the economic diplomacy, to adequately serve the needs of the state.
3. Perspective and Focus: Key Questions for the Future
3a. Geopolitics is Local
Paraphrasing Tip O'Neill, an American political giant, who famously remarked that "all politics is local", one could add that significant aspects of geopolitics are also local. Geopolitics is not only the province of great powers, but also has a fundamental bearing on the foreign policy of smaller states.
From the geopolitical point of view Slovenia is characterized by its triple identity: Slovenia is at the same time a Balkan, Central European and Mediterranean state. Some of the foreign policy tasks resulting from this very basic circumstance are obvious. Slovenia is active in the Balkans and in particular in the area of former Yugoslavia. It has developed very good political and economic relations with all the states in this area, has initiated collective activities like the "Brdo process" and is persistently advocating further steps towards full EU membership for all the countries in the area. This way Slovenia has proved to be a constructive and valuable player, assisting in the international efforts for political stability and greater prosperity in the Balkans. Recent appointments of two Slovenian diplomats as EU representatives in Priština and in Podgorica reaffirmed the international recognition of Slovenia's role in the area. However, we need to be realistic. Some of the problems in the region, notably the status of Kosovo, the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the dispute between Macedonia and Greece over the name of the former will require a sustained and coordinated effort of the entire international community. Slovenia does not hold an illusion of its independent role in addressing these issues. Here, a subtle and internationally coordinated approach is called for.
In its Central European identity Slovenia has to develop a higher profile. While our cooperation with Višegrad countries has been generally very good, there is still room for more - e.g. in the context of EU strategies in the Danubian area, in the EU Eastern neighbourhood policy and above all in the coordination of the new EU members in Central Europe especially in regard to the maintenance of the EU cohesion funding.
Slovenia's Mediterranean identity has been the least developed in the country's foreign policy. Hitherto, the initiatives have been few and not as successful as hoped for. The current effort to establish an EU strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian areas seems more promising. Slovenia should participate in this initiative as actively as possible.
Even a cursory look at the geopolitical realities shows the vital importance of the EU for Slovenia. Hence the question, whether the country should consider closer consultations with other EU members for the purpose of having its voice better heard within the EU. Is the future status of Croatia as an EU member making it possible to innovate? By way of hypothesis one could visualise a process of closer consultations among Italy, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia in the context of the EU decision-making. Many of the legitimate ineterest of these countries overlap and their coordinated approach towards issues on the agenda of the EU would add an interesting dimension to EU policy making, in particular in the coming years, which will decide the future identity of the EU.
3b. Uncertain Future of the European Union
Throughout the first three phases of development of Slovenia's foreign policy, the EU represented a firm point of reference. The EU was initially the object of great longing and later the space in which Slovenia believed to have found its ultimate self-realization. But as William Shakespeare once wrote "Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May", the European Union looks shaken today, its future seems uncertain and its decline no longer inconceivable. For Slovenia these changes represent a considerable challenge. Obviously, Slovenia is fully committed to the EU, but the future of the EU depends to a large extent on factors completely outside Slovenia's influence - such as the situation in Greece or the unpredictability of global financial markets. European Union will require strong efforts for the strengthening of its structure and its legitimacy.
In the meantime, the efforts to build a common foreign and security policy should not stop. The Union has to establish a clearer hierarchy of priorities. Slovenia should be active and work to support the following main strategic priorities: (1) Expansion of economic and political cooperation with the countries of Eastern Partnership and Russia; (2) Further enlargement of the EU, in particular in the Balkans, where progress with some (for example Montenegro) can be quite rapid, and (3) Resumption of genuine negotiations of membership status of Turkey in the EU. It is understood that success of EU's priorities depends, to a significant extent, on the quality of transatlantic cooperation and on the EU-US coordination.
As already stated, the EU is facing fundamental challenges today and the way these challenges are met will decide the Union's fate. Slovenia should therefore take an active part in discussions of these challenges and try to help in finding real solutions. Some of the basic challenges have an immediate bearing, in particular the question of what constitutes an appropriate combination of measures intended to restart growth at the time of fiscal consolidation. In matters like these Slovenia can make a contribution by resolving its own problems. Success at home will be vital for a meaningful role Slovenia could play in the EU.
An even more fundamental and difficult problem to be addressed by the EU is its growing democratic deficit, which is slowly turning into a problem of legitimacy of its entire decision-making. Increasingly, EU decisions are driven by the whims of financial markets and are taken by technocrats rather than by electorates. But let us not forget: the basic values, which constitute the foundation of the EU are human rights and democracy. If human dignity of EU citizens is further threatened by the centres of financial power and if elected governments are not able to preserve the democratic nature of decision making for development, major upheavals could take place. This is a development the EU has to avoid. The responsibility of the elected bodies - parliaments and governments - is at its historic high. There is no refuge into the comforts of the past. The solutions, which have worked in the past, will not tell us what lies ahead. The current crisis will require new solutions.
3c. Working with Great Powers
Ever since Slovenia overcame the image of an "inconvenient state" in early 1990s it has worked well with the two great powers active in Europe: the United States and Russia. Slovenia considers that an active US presence in Europe is fundamental to European security. The developments following the dissolution of Yugoslavia have once again confirmed that. US commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo continues to be vital for stability and peace in the region. US commitment to further enlargement of NATO and the EU continues to be a viable asset in the process of formation of EU's policy. A genuine partnership between the US and Russia - a realistic possibility in our era - would go a long way towards the establishment of a durable strategic stability and peace in this part of the world as well as globally. Slovenia supports such a vision, which gained a comprehensive, if still fairly general expression at the NATO-Russia summit in Lisbon at the end of 2010. At the bilateral level of our ralations with the Unites States we need expansion of our economic cooperation including American investments in Slovenia.
Our relations with the Russian Federation have been progressing steadily for the past two decades and have produced a high level of political and economic cooperation. Our cultural ties are also being strengthened. Slovenia supports all the practical measures for the strengthening of the EU-Russia partnership, including visa liberalization and other measures that will raise the level of human contacts and create a stronger human base for future cooperation. The European Union and Russia are natural partners. Both have much to gain from an improved cooperation. In a globalized world in which competition has become intense each of the two needs the other one more than ever before.
Slovenia, for its part, is a thoughtful member of the international community and is - as a sovereign state - interested in the strengthening of EU-Russia and US-Russia partnerships. It has hosted a successful US-Russia summit in 2001 and has made a contribution to the advancement of EU- Russia negotiations during its EU presidency in 2008. More recently, in 2011, we assisted in the process of discussion on the issues of missile defence in Europe. Slovenia should be prepared to play a helpful role in these large projects, obviously to the extent expected by the parties concerned and in accordance with Slovenia's EU and NATO commitments.
3d. Commitment to Multilateralism and Pursuit of Noble Causes
Multilateralism is a necessity of our time and an opportunity for all states. Small states in particular are interested in having their voice heard and their ideas tested. Multilateral institutions provide a framework for that - as well as a layer of protection of interests of small states. Skillful diplomacy and coalition making in the multilateral fora are valuable tools of foreign policy.
A country of the size and geographic location like Slovenia is almost predestined to take an active interest in humanitarian causes and humanitarian assistance, to be active in matters of human rights and to help in the evolution of international law.
Since the early days of our membership in the UN, human rights have been an important thematic priority: later on Slovenia has demonstrated the same commitment to human rights in the Council of Europe, in OSCE and in the EU. This commitment will remain a constant feature of our foreign policy. It is embeded in our constitutional system and in the system of values of our society. Slovenia considers the values of human rights as universal and is prepared for international cooperation in addressing all of the major thematic concerns as well as situation-specific problems of human rights in various parts of the world. We understand that such a commitment presupposes very good understanding of the issues at hand as well as the political and other dimension of situations affecting the realization of human rights. It also requires diplomatic skills and close cooperation with the non-governmental organizations active in the field of human rights. Human rights are not an academic concept - they require strong political commitment and persistent as well as realistic activities devoted to their actual realization.
Slovenia has also developed significant humanitarian activities. The work of the International Trust Fund for De-Mining is globally recognized and respected. The programme of assistance to disabled children, victims of the military conflict in Gaza (2009) is an example of focused and highly specialized humanitarian assistance that adds value to the efforts of the international community to alleviate the suffering of victims of armed conflicts in the Middle East. Slovenia will continue with activities of this nature.
We shall continue to strive for the strengthening of the authority of international law - through the implementation of its principles and norms and through its progressive development. We have assisted in the evolution of the principle of the responsibility to protect and will continue to take an active part in the efforts for its practical implementation.
4. In Conlusion: Open the Window to the World
Slovenia has reached a fork in the road and has to choose a path forward. Two options seem to be available: We can easily take a conservative view and concentrate on the most immediate tasks relating to the good neighbourliness, economic diplomacy and a role in the Balkans. On the other hand, Slovenia can choose a more ambitious path and lead the country towards (1) an active role in the formation of EUs foreign and security policy, (2) a more imaginative role in its relations with the great powers and (3) a higher profile in multilateral diplomacy, in particular with regard to human rights, humanitarian assistance and international law. Obviously, all these areas can be developed in greater detail. However, before any more detailed work is possible, we need a broad political agreement and a political decision. As always in politics, political will and a sense of a healthy ambition are critical in situations of choice.