Addressing German Energy Security Through Public Diplomacy: The Need for German Engagement with Baltic Sea Islands – Theebika Shanmugarasa

Over the course of history, Germany’s relationship with the Baltic Sea region has oscillated between support and collaboration on one hand, and hesitancy and reluctance on the other. While Nordic states have long recognized the need for transnational cooperation with Baltic States and islands on common interests such as economics, energy, transport and defense, Germany’s policies towards this region have lagged behind for various reasons – reasons that are best understood in historic, geographical and political terms. Given the growing strategic importance of the Baltic Sea Region for Germany, it has become more crucial than ever for Germany to more fully engage the region through public diplomacy initiatives, with Baltic islands emerging as a prime target audience.

The unification of Germany in the aftermath of the Cold War in 1990 gave rise to an emerging major European power, politically and economically. In his paper on ‘German policy toward Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 1991 as an element of the Baltic Sea region-building,’ Kamil Markiewicz explains how the shift in geographical location of Germany, i.e. the creation of another German coastal region Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, raised the unified state’s attention to cooperation with other littoral states in the areas of energy, ecology and security.

Despite this, a security and economic logic driven Eastern policy (Ostpolitik) appears to have prolonged the presence of the ‘Moscow factor’, prevalent in German policies towards the Baltic Sea region during the Second World War. In his chapter on ‘Germany’s Security Policy in the Baltic Sea Region,’ Axel Krohn, a security policy expert and former Senior Advisor to the Council of the Baltic Sea States, incorporates the Russo-German relationship as one of the six factors that amount to German non-policy in the Baltic Sea region. Germany’s preoccupation with NATO enlargement and the extension of the EU is described as another factor that hindered Baltic Sea cooperation so as not to aggravate relations with Russia. Although the current German chancellor, Angela Merkel, does not seek out close personal ties with Russia’s political leaders, she has continued to pursue this Ostpolitik.

To this end, regional cooperation seems to be undermined by concepts of national self-interest and power politics. An argument could be made, however, that it is actually in Germany’s best self-interest to further its integration in the Baltic Sea region through public diplomacy initiatives aimed at island communities. Primarily, this could help Germany diversify its energy resources, focus on alternative energy projects on Baltic islands, and become less dependent on Russian oil imports. Recognized by the European Union (EU) in its Energy Security Strategy, “prosperity and security hinges on a stable and abundant supply of energy” (European Energy Security Strategy, 28 May 2014) –a sentiment that holds particularly true for Germany, which along with Italy, constitutes the largest recipients of Russia’s gas exports.

Partly due to an awareness of this dependence and partly due to the aim of protecting the climate and environment, the German government has proposed “aggressively expanding its renewable energy use with the purpose of making green energy 60% of the country’s final energy consumption by 2050” (Carrera, 26 September 2013). The passing of the Renewable Energy Sources Act 2012 (Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz – EEG) further serves to encourage the development of sustainable energy, the protection of the environment and the decrease of energy supply costs.

In admitting the need to reduce energy dependence, Germany cannot ignore the ever increasing importance of the Baltic Sea region in energy security and diplomacy. Russia’s oil and gas projects of the new millennium, which aim to bypass Ukraine and Belarus, have pushed the significance of the Baltic Sea region, as a link between export and import countries, to the forefront: the 1,224 kilometers-long Nord Stream pipeline links Russia’s Baltic Sea coast near Vyborg with Germany’s Baltic Sea coast of Lubmin, near Greifswald serves as one such example. These projects present opportunities for the Baltic Sea regions to shed the passive role taken on in the past and to exert their influence, as Russia will have to engage with the Baltic Sea region on issues, such as environment protection, in order to keep export revenues flowing into Moscow.

Arguably, German energy security has already shifted its focus on the Baltic Sea region, using public diplomacy and an array of networks, which provide a platform for multilateral activities between Baltic Sea States and other subnational actors within a cooperative security framework. Intergovernmental forums, such as The Council Of The Baltic Sea States Secretariat’ (CBSS), which promotes regional intergovernmental cooperation, and the Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC), which brings together regional authorities below the national level, provide a platform for transnational cooperation and a voice for subnational groups on issues of energy security and defense.

While cooperation of this sort is commendable, more active engagement in the Baltic Sea region is needed by Germany if it wants to attain its ambitious goals on alternative energy sources and reduced energy dependence. Aligned to its own goals of successful alternative energy projects are those of the Baltic islands. Cooperation on these would encourage more regional integration and unity, which in turn would protect energy security for all the parties involved.

The Swedish island Gotland, the largest Baltic Sea island, provides a good example. Like Germany, it has set itself ambitious targets, aiming to have a fully climate-neutral (100% renewable energy balance), efficient and economic energy supply by 2025, which also contributes to sustainable growth and the development of local business (Vision 2025, adopted by the Regional Council). The island relies on reaching its goals through the renewable energy sources potential that wind, biomass, and solar energy provide (European Islands Network on Energy & Environment: Gotland, Sweden, 2009).

Outlined in the ‘Sustainable Energy Action plan for Gotland’, the mentioned targets are to be implemented through an action plan that is coordinated by the Regional board. This board supports the local advisory board, which consists of representatives from the regional administration, the county administration, university and regional energy stakeholders –a case in point for subnational cooperation, but also multilevel governance since the action plan has been developed within the framework of the EU project Isle Pact.

Gotland’s Municipality is also a signatory to a partnership declaration with the European Commission, which incorporates it as one of the 100 Renewable Energy Communities, outlined in the Campaign for Take-off (ManagEnergy, European Commission, 8 March 2016). The partnership declaration outlines Gotland’s objective “to have a 100% renewable energy balance by 2025 and to work towards the realization of a sustainable society”. Since Germany has aspirations to increase its share of renewable energy, which fall under the EU’s 2020 Energy Strategy, the supranational platform seems to provide mutually beneficial opportunities for cooperation between Germany and islands like Gotland.

While the Energy Action Plan for Gotland focuses on development of local businesses, foreign firms have seized the opportunity to collaborate on local energy projects. Smart Grid Gotland, prides itself as the ‘smartest electricity network in the world’ currently under development and led by the local energy company GEAB, together with Vattenfall, ABB, Energimyndigheten, Svenska Kraftnät, Schneider Electric and KTH. The project uses modern technology to integrate large quantities of renewable energy sources into the grid, while improving cost efficiency and preserving quality –a business model and philosophy that will certainly appeal to German businesses. German energy companies such as Enercon should seize the opportunity to collaborate on local projects, which will pave the way for regional cooperation and sharing of best practices on alternative energy sources.

This could further lead to academic collaboration. Germany’s focus on research and development as well as innovation within the area, means it would benefit from engaging with Gotland University, which specialises in ecologically sustainable development, and the role which energy consumption holds in it, offering courses on wind power-related subjects. This includes studies on the development of wind power from a social science perspective, planned anchoring processes for offshore wind power as well as planning and acceptance for wind power.

Despite these evident benefits of focusing Germany’s energy security strategy on Baltic islands, traditional hesitancy in fostering bilateral relations with the Baltic Sea states puts into question the likelihood of more active future cooperation. While Germany has preferred addressing ‘soft security’ issues within the framework of multilateral structures, such as within CBSS, it has –despite participation –opposed far-reaching institutionalization of the CBSS due to its fear of regionalization within the region, which favors the ‘Nordic’ integration model. Rather than viewing this as a threat, Germany could take an example of Nordic countries’ engagement with Baltic islands, which equally benefit the parties involved.

Regardless of these past reluctances, current atmosphere in the international relations systems requires Germany to proactively engage Baltic islands in its energy security ambitions and projects on alternative energy sources. Incidents such as the Ukraine crisis and the Russo-Georgian war demonstrate the unpredictability of Russian behavior and risks of energy dependency on Russia and the consequent threat to energy security for importing states. Decreasing oil prices and its predicted impact on global stability further reaffirm the need for sustainable energy and security of energy supply. Moreover investment and regional cooperation in alternative forms of energy with an eye toward sustainability are critical in addressing climate related security concerns for all parties involved.

As the newly established focus on Baltic islands indicates, subnational actors play a more significant role in energy security and sustainability than they are credited for. If Germany is to fully appreciate this importance of the Baltic islands, the same logic should be applied to its own internal subnational actors. Northern regions of Germany have traditionally favored more cooperation with the Baltic states. The existing twinning arrangements and consequent relations between individual German towns and districts with those of the Baltic states should also be exploited for the purpose of cooperation on sustainable energy and energy security. Using transnational cooperation of subnational communities, Baltic islands should work together with perhaps, initially the German coastal regions along the Russian pipelines, which could then foment greater regional cooperation.

As states, regions and communities realize the scarcity of the natural resources available, sustainability will play an ever growing role not only in Baltic islands such as Gotland, but also for big economic powers like Germany. Regional cooperation at a subnational level is therefore essential to learn from each other and work together to achieve sustainable energy supply and safeguard energy security.

Author: Theebika Shanmugarasa is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center on Island Diplomacy. She is also a Community Engagement Specialist at the Baltic Islands Society.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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Islands: At the Forefront of Baltic Security in the 21st Century – Derek Bolton

In recent years, foreign policy experts have been reminded of the strategic importance of the Baltic Sea region. Faced with a severe deterioration in NATO-Russia relations, the NBP9 states – the Nordic Five (i.e., Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), the Baltic Three (i.e., Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), and Poland – have been forced to reconsider their political, economic, and strategic relations with other states around the world. Those with the most at stake in Russian relations with the West are responding to this development, including the United States, Russia, and the European Union. But, their efforts have been largely shrouded from public view.

Part of the problem is that the major stakeholders have little incentive to be transparent about their policy approaches. Over the last year, the rise of Daesh (i.e., ISIS) has displaced public interest in Russian intervention in Eastern Europe and the Caucus. And, the recent attacks in Paris have only added fuel to the fire.

Nevertheless, the Baltic Three have publicly warned world leaders against overlooking the shift in Russia’s relations with its neighbors. As Estonian President Thomas Hendrik Ilves noted, they do so at their collective peril, “I would say that I think we all concerned about this sort of falling behind or some kind of development in which we stop paying attention to Crimea, or we even forgive the annexation because of the newer threats. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Of course, the Baltic Three are not alone. Victoria Nuland, U.S. Assistant Secretary for the State Department Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs recently stated, “Even as we focus on ISIL, we must not forget that barely two years ago, almost one million Ukrainians …demand that their government give them what we have: human dignity, democracy, clean government, justice… Now we have to help Ukraine see it through. We must maintain pressure on Russia and its separatist proxies to complete the unfinished commitments of Minsk.” And, the Ministers of Defense from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland signed on to a joint op-ed on Nordic defense cooperation that was published in the Oslo daily Aftenposten in August. In that post, they argued,

“The Russian aggression against the Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea are violations of international law and other international agreements. Russia’s conduct represents the gravest challenge to European security. As a consequence, the security situation in the Nordic countries’ adjacent areas has become significantly worsened during the past year…. we must be prepared to face possible crises or incidents”

It is important to note that such calls from world leaders do not only stem from concerns about further Russian intervention in Ukraine. Consider the Aftenposten OpEd. It portrays Ukraine as a potential indicator for Russian aggression in other states, including those on the Baltic Sea. And, this is stoking debate over Russian relations among foreign policy experts across the region. For example, Wilhelm Unge of Säpo recently claimed, “Russia is the biggest intelligence agent in Sweden … they are interested in really everything — political, economic, technical and military information… It is one of the few countries that has the very broad intelligence interest in Sweden.”

Of course, Baltic Sea residents have quite a few reasons to be concerned. For example there was the incursion into the waters off Stockholm by a foreign submarine, widely believed to be Russian. And, some claim that Eston Kohver, a convicted Estonian spy in Russia, was in fact kidnapped on Estonian soil. Although he was swapped for convicted Russian spy Aleksei Dressen, that prisoner exchange did little to allay fears in Tallinn.

Moreover, Finland and Sweden have repeatedly complained of Russian fighter jet incursions into their airspace. For Finland, anxiety over these incursions are heightened by military drills along its border and the assertion of former Putin assistant Andrei Illarionov that the Russian President would, in an ideal world, like to reclaim Finland. Although regional experts largely agree that military intervention is unlikely, many in Helsinki continue to fret land purchases along their border with Russia, and close to military installations, by Russian citizens.

Whether or not these concerns are founded remains open to debate. But, they are fueling major shifts in the Nordic defense posture. In the event of a crisis, Nordic defense initiatives will need to focus on the islands of the Baltic Sea region. This was made evident during widely reported Russian war games that appeared to simulate the invasion of Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. In these war games, the islands of Gotland, Åland and Bornholm seemed to feature prominently. And, analysts have concluded, “If carried out successfully, control of those territories would make it all but impossible for NATO allies to reinforce the Baltic states.”

To help explain why, let us turn to Ari Shapiro. In an early 2015 piece with Keir Giles of Chatham House, he noted, “Northern Europe is a complicated chess board and Gotland is a crucial square. Just to the east of this island are the Baltic states – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania… the United States and the Baltics are NATO members. That military alliance says an attack on one member is an attack on all. But Sweden is not part of NATO, which means the island of Gotland isn’t either. And whoever controls Gotland has the Baltics in their crosshairs.”

While Shapiro puts the emphasis on Gotland, Åland is of equally strategic importance. As Kimie Hara writes, “The islands’ proximity to the Swedish mainland creates an obvious danger for Sweden from a military bases in the hands of a hostile power. The Islands hold the key to control of the Gulf of Bothnia, and their demilitarization and neutralization has significance for the security of not only Sweden, but also the region.”

It is perhaps not surprising then that we have already seen a shift in defence strategy across the region. For his part, Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö has called for a reappraisal of defense policy vis-à-vis Åland, claiming that Russia still does not recognize the region’s neutral status. Meanwhile, Sweden has begun to station troops on Gotland and recruiting home-guard volunteers after a 10-year hiatus. This has been coupled with further investment in naval capabilities that will be stationed out of Gotland. There are even discussions between the Nordic states of jointly purchasing a missile defense system on the island.

As Baltic islands continue to grow in importance and play a greater feature in foreign affairs and Nordic defense, it will be in the national interests of the major stakeholders in Russian relations with the West to engage local communities across the Baltic Sea. This includes investing in subnational initiatives led by subnational organizations that target sub-national identities. Fostering regional integration and ensuring voices in the Baltic Sea region are not only understood, but also represented, in foreign policy is more important now than arguably any time during the Cold War.

Derek Bolton is the Managing Director of the Baltic Islands Society. He is also a Young Leader at Pacific Forum CSIS and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center on Island Security. Prior to pursing a PhD at the University of Bath, he served as a Research Associate at Global Co Lab Network, where he worked to foster greater international cooperation on Science and Technology (S&T) between Americans and Europeans.

Commentaries and responses on the Islands Society Blog represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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The Case for Embracing Subnational Identities in Public Diplomacy – Derek Bolton

Without falling into the perils of academic debate, it is safe to say that identity is central to foreign affairs and engagement. Yet, public diplomacy (PD) initiatives often fail to embrace subnational identities. This creates disconnects and gaps between PD and the populations of target audiences. If we want to create sincere and compelling narratives, we need to do a better job at developing an adequate appreciation, understanding and incorporation of local identity.

In order to comprehend the current state of affairs it helps to reiterate the basic principles behind the field. U.S. Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel stated, “Public diplomacy is a conversation. It’s people talking to people – it’s not governments talking to people.” However, contemporary approaches to PD are often undermined by their seeming insistence towards focusing on national initiatives led by national organizations that target audiences based on their national identity. Instead, what is needed are subnational initiatives led by subnational organizations that target subnational identities. And nowhere is this more so then in the Baltic Sea region.

During the Cold War, the Baltic Sea region was of great geopolitical significance. However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a drop-off in analytical attention. It was not until the last decade that the region re-emerged as one of great significance. This relates not only to its economic importance to the European economy, but also to growing concerns over regional peace and security. For these reasons, PD initiatives focused on the Baltic Sea region have reemerged as priorities for many.

To be effective, new initiatives must take seriously the need to incorporate local identities. This argument follows inline with the previous Northern Europe Initiative (NEI), whose focus was not merely on developing Baltic security in the traditional sense, but also in safeguarding individuals’ welfare. This required engaging organizations functioning on both a subnational and regional scale so as to achieve goals in, for example, energy, the environment, and public health.

Similarly, Melinda Crane writes that “Public diplomacy will be effective only if it is credible…and involves dialogue rather than preaching or propaganda.” Successful dialogue is contingent on initiatives that respect and appeal to local identities. What is required then are non-profits that, much like with the NEI, function on a subnational level and in an intimate relationship with local partners, engaging individuals on their own terms and not merely local elites or nationals of a particular state.

In this way, it becomes possible to have a dialogue that widely resonates with a target audience by ensuring not only a synergy between narrative and action but also by having a narrative that is built in coordination with the local population. By utilizing subnational non-profits it thus becomes possible to empower critical voices that might otherwise have been overlooked. This ensures that even peripheral communities are included in foreign affairs and cultural relations, forging more robust PD. Moreover these insights are vital to developing successful foreign policies.

Larger organizations pursuing top-down approaches from abroad are simply no longer well placed to be the driving force behind PD. As Matthew Wallin writes, “Governments and large corporations no longer monopolize the tools of messaging…They are often slow to react, slow to innovate, and lack the agility necessary to change at a rapid pace.”

Successful PD requires more than social media and digital campaigns, establishing media outlets, providing access to outside information (e.g. Tor), undertaking listening tours, or supplying humanitarian aid. Such initiatives lose all credibility, and can indeed be harmful, when there is a disconnect between their narrative and action, or when they fail to adequately understand the target audience. Moreover, these programs are often viewed with skepticism, as they are usually mouthpieces of governments, or are lost in the bevy of daily communications we are now bombarded with.

Meanwhile, non-profits more detached from the local level often find it difficult to fully grasp many local nuances vital to identity and engagement. The goal of PD is not merely to help others better understand your position and way of life, but to better understand theirs; their concerns, values, ideals and in general their identity. Successful PD thus requires not only listening but also understanding, again indicating the importance of appreciating local identities.

By placing an emphasis on understanding, organizations become much better placed to establish programs dedicated to empowerment and promoting shared values and ideals. Again working at the subnational level not only allows an organization to observe such overlap but they can also shift from a nationalist to a communal mindset, focusing on similarities among intra-regional communities. Consequently, in addition to finding similar values and ideals, it becomes important to recognize and build upon the fact that many sub-national groups experience similar problems, concerns, and ways of life.

Island communities serve as a case in point, providing a fruitful platform for generating understanding and cooperation between subnational groups. Rather than an organization that focuses on “Finns”, “Estonians”, or “Germans,” PD actors need to work with subnational organizations that provide platforms for cooperation and engagement between subunits of these nations – e.g. islanders. They need to find a way to connect South Carolinians, Louisianans, and Hawaiians with Gotlanders, Ålanders, and Baltic Germans. This not only helps to ensure their insights become part of the foreign policy debate, it also allows for regional integration at a subnational, communal, level. Moreover, initiatives focused on such inclusion will be beneficial to those seeking to develop more successful foreign policies in the region, as islands are now a focal point in Baltic security.

As the Baltic region continues to grow in importance, fostering regional integration and ensuring voices in the region are not only understood, but also represented, in foreign policy will be of ever more significance. These goals will be best achieved by supporting subnational think tanks well positioned to acknowledge and incorporate local identities, allowing for robust and successful PD. The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review already recognizes these insights on a global level. Now, we need there to be funding allocated to put these words into action across the Baltic Sea region.

Note: This article was originally published by the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California on October 7, 2015.