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European Leaders Endorse Call to Reactivate the Cooperative Airspace Initiative

0 4 Jul 16. NATO is beset by challenges. The south of the alliance faces state collapse and civil war in the Middle East and North Africa as well as a widespread terrorist threat, whilst the east faces a militarily abrasive Russia and a simmering conflict in Ukraine. Against such a backdrop decisions made at the upcoming Warsaw Summit are of vital importance, with a refocusing on effective deterrence, territorial defence, and reassurance measures taking precedence.bear2

These measures may be necessary but they must be twinned with a parallel dialogue track, particularly as concerns Russia. The current confrontation has been characterised by a significant increase in military activity by both sides, resulting in a large number of aerial and naval encounters between their respective armed forces. Just as concerning is the ongoing action-reaction cycle of military exercises. Whilst this was and continues to be asymmetric, with Russian exercises of a much larger scale, this is a dangerous dynamic that carries a serious risk of misinterpretation. Recently declassified materials on the Soviet misinterpretation of NATO’s Able Archer exercise in 1983, during which the Soviet Union began to implement procedures to repel an imminent NATO attack, stand as a stark warning of the dangers of opacity.
The European Leadership Network (ELN) has been consistent in its argument that this confrontation must be better managed, both through a reassessment of those Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs) currently in place and through the development of new mechanisms.
The ELN has called for the resumption of dialogue through the NATO-Russia Council and welcomes the April 2016 Ambassadorial meeting.  Further to this the ELN-sponsored Task Force on Cooperation in Greater Europe proposed a NATO-Russia Memorandum of Understanding in an effort to institute a multilateral framework within which to manage encounters between the two sides. This would institute uniform communication channels that would allow NATO and Russian military aircraft and naval vessels to operate in a better regulated and thus safer environment, diluting the risk of misinterpretation and escalation.
The ELN has also called for a reassessment of the CSBMs contained in the OSCE’s Vienna Document, in particular the need to better enforce the provisions on the pre-notification and observation of large-scale military exercises. Disregard of these provisions is a particularly destabilising factor of the current confrontation.  The ELN has argued that this should be accompanied by restraint in the forward deployments by both sides and in the nuclear sphere. These measures, combined with better dialogue on military doctrines, could form the foundation of a more stable military equilibrium in Europe.
It is in this spirit that we are acting to endorse the proposal of another NATO-Russia CSBM, namely the need for reconstitution of the Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI).
We agree with the June 2016 ELN policy brief that the suspension of the NATO-Russia Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI) alongside other cooperative functions of the NATO-Russia Council in April 2014 has had a decidedly negative impact on air safety.
Instituted in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the CAI was intended to provide increased transparency, early notification of suspicious air activities (including loss of communications with civilian aircraft), and rapid coordination and joint responses to security incidents in European airspace. This was to be achieved through real-time exchange of radar tracks and a shared picture of air traffic, dedicated lines of communication, and commonly agreed procedures for notification and coordination of suspicious air activities. Crucially these exchanges were not only between NATO and Russia but also between military and civilian air traffic controllers.
Such a mechanism is sorely needed in a period where on two occasions Russian aircraft have forced evasive manoeuvres from civilian airliners, with many more similar incidents exhibiting dangerous characteristics.
The ELN policy brief argues it is a simple measure to reactivate the software and hardware through which the CAI operates, what is required is a political commitment to make it work. We agree.
Whilst this may not be possible while the CAI remains under the remit of the NRC, it may be possible to remove the CAI from the auspices of the Council and institute it as a stand-alone measure. This will not be an easy political process and many legitimate security concerns will need to be addressed, however it is imperative to begin a reassessment of the CAI in order to protect civilian life.
The NATO-Russia confrontation dynamic remains volatile. In the current climate it is not difficult to envisage a fatal incident being interpreted as a deliberate, hostile action undertaken by ‘the other’, thus requiring an appropriate response. Once this dynamic is in place it is very difficult to defuse the situation, with political leaders drawn into rounds of successive and self-perpetuating escalation. It is thus crucial that political leaders take all possible precautions to minimise risk and the scope for misunderstanding.
It is for this reason that we endorse the ELN’s proposal to reappraise and relaunch the Cooperative Airspace Initiative.
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