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How to Live in an Increasingly Uncertain World

How should we think of ‘defence and security’ from a Christian perspective? During the State of Europe Forum 2019 in Bucharest, professor Silviu Rogobete explained that the threats we are facing in our digital age are not only those from outside our national borders.

Besides the idea of a common heritage, I think that the next important issue today, unfortunately in a sense, is the idea of defense and security. 

We wish it would be something to continue to celebrate, the Ode of Joy, the cultural heritage that we have, or the beauty of multiplicity in unity in the European Union. I am trying to imagine that if we had to hold such a forum right after the end of the Cold War, in the early 90s, those of us who were quite mature even in those days, age wise, we remember the euphoria, the celebrations we had. We thought: Wow, we are free, we are together. The whole world is together. The end of history was eluded already. We are one eventually. So, the good side won and the bad side lost. And we are going to live happily ever after in peace. Even the United Nations were so excited that we had the 1993 gathering reunion in Vienna with the declaration, a sort of upgrading of the Declaration of Human Rights with some unbelievable universal declarations and some unbelievable new points being put together. So it was a time of celebration we thought was going to last. It didn’t last too much. 

Major sociologists in 1991, such as Anthony Giddens, a philosopher of sociology, came with this coin and said: ‘We’ll witness the violent return of the repressed’. And he made reference to religion. He said: ‘don’t be so happy because we will witness at some point the violent return of the repressed’. It was exactly 10 years before 9/11. In his book, he speaks about shattering glass and imploding steel. When I saw 2001 live on our TVs, I was just shivering. It is unbelievable how astute this prediction was from Anthony Giddens in 1991. 

The world cannot stay at peace for too long unfortunately. And even more unfortunate is that what triggered the tensions in our world was directly connected with religiosity and religion. We’ve tried for too long to hide it; to put it under the carpet and as Anthony Giddens hinted, it had to come back and to hit us back into the face. So from that time onwards, the world is different. We live in a very uncertain world. From that point onwards, the world became increasingly sophisticated and increasingly uncertain. And it’s already platitude to say that the only certainty is uncertainty. 

And the question is: What do we do? How do we cohabitate? How can we build meaningful lives? Because at the end of the day, that is the purpose of our existence. As individuals, we want to have meaningful lives, that’s all we want: life that has meaning, life that has some sort of direction, some sort of way of orienting ourselves in ways in which we’ll live a fulfilled life. And at the end of the day, the major goal of any political endeavour has to be this: building an environment in which the human beings should flourish. And if there is a point in having a European Union, such an unbelievable construct, an attempt to put together such an unbelievable effort of uniting so many nations, so many cultures, so many traditions, this is the goal that has to stay at the very beginning and at the very top: building meaningful lives, creating space in which people can become who they want to become and who they should become. And obviously that is being threatened massively by our very uncertain world. And that raises extremely complicated issues related to our security and defense. That’s why I think it’s unfortunate that we have to deal with this. 

So what do we do? What we have here as a description is that we live in an unpredictable world with unpredictable neighbours and unpredictable allies. Somebody said in our days, in the age of uncertainty, your enemy’s enemy is not necessarily your ally. So we have allies that would come up, stand up and tweet and say that the greatest enemy is the European Union. Obviously this is shocking. It came from the current resident of the White House. So obviously, there are words. We have neighbours that are extremely volatile. We have a very aggressive eastern neighbour who showed the whole world, without saying much, without tweeting anything, that they are capable of breaking international law. What do we do in these kinds of contexts? We see Ukraine and Russia… So how can we find this safe environment? 

How can we create an environment and protect an environment in which the human being could flourish? We can take this issue in many directions. We can look emotionally at the whole thing; we can look institutionally; we can look in terms of institutional architectures; we can look in terms of legality. And I think every approach has its own reason and its own validity. I am not dismissing any of them, they are all as important as each one and yet, we need to be able to distinguish between being very emotional about what’s going on, between reacting to tweets and looking at facts. I know that this is only a ten minute intervention, so I can’t cover the whole thing. Maybe through the discussions we’ll cover more, but what I can put to your attention here is one very important thing related to our most important ally: the United States. The relationship between the United States and the European Union and our countries, but particularly the European Union at this stage. Yes, we may be competitors in some ways, but if you look at the numbers, if you look at the real facts, you will see that facts put us in a way much safer context than just listening to words or reading tweets, even if they come from the top of the United States level. Because if you look at facts, then you see that there is a very powerful infrastructure of support and cooperation between the EU and the US. More than that, every little number shows you that the US has shown bigger, stronger, and much more powerful commitment to the security of the EU than before. I have a full book here with numbers…I don’t want to go to boring things, but I reassure you that there are networks, that there are institutional architectures and facts that will tell you that the US is not considering the EU as a sort of enemy, as the tweet went. To the opposite, the US is very aware that an unstable and insecure EU means an unstable and insecure US. And the other way around: we have to accept that it’s totally the other way around as well. 

I can give you some examples of what would be some frameworks of cooperation. For instance, we have the European Deterrence Initiative: it is a new initiative in terms of the label, but these are things that are continually relabelled to adapt to new contexts. It is a framework in which the cooperation between the US and the EU is taking shape, and it’s very strong. It’s being done under another framework, another cooperation called Atlantic Resolve and it has the core mission to build and enhance deterrence in the region. It has lots of concrete aspects, from any kind of the military and army aspects, to the cyber.

The new strategic environment is changing so much and is becoming so fluid. It’s completely volatile. It moves up in the sky, in the clouds. And if we say clouds, then we do talk about clouds in terms of clouds in the sky, but also iCloud. Each one of us in this room has an identity, don’t we? And some of us have many other identities up there somewhere in the clouds. Are we aware of that? Do we realize that actually through everything that we do through these machines, we are projecting ourselves out into space. It is not somewhere that it is volatile and disappears. People can collect it. People can create our profiles up there in the sky.

The most read article in The Guardian in 2018 was that of a lady, a journalist, who said that she exercised her EU right to receive information, in which you can ask for the companies that hold your private information, your private data, to be given to you in print. So this lady who was active on Tinder asked from the company to have her profile, all the information they had about her, in print. How many pages do you think she got? 800 pages. And she said ‘I am not a sexual addict, I am not a mad woman, I am not a crazy woman, I was just playing around on Tinder’. And they had even deleted messages, a chapter called deleted messages. So you think you do things here, that they are just your playground and that you can do whatever because it is volatile. No, imagine those things in the hands of the wrong people. And it’s your profile, it’s your identity, so there is a war. 

Somebody said that the difference between the exterior and the interior is disappearing. When we talk about cyber, physical borders don’t count. The interior and the exterior are not different anymore. Who is the enemy? I don’t know. Inside the city walls, outside the city walls. Who is the soldier? Yes, we have the soldiers, we have the ministry of defense. We have the hardware of defense, but we also have to be aware that we are ourselves potential soldiers, willing or unwilling. Everything that we do with these machines, whatever, could be used, could create potential for either conflict or peace, for either war or good relations. So in terms of cyber, there are lots of very powerful cooperation programs. And then on top of the EDI, you have the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, and the European Centre of Excellence for countering hybrid threats in Helsinki, Finland. A high-level dialogue on cyber security is continuous between the US and EU. 

I can also give you some figures of how the budgets not only doubled in the last two years for defense for Europe from the US, but it went four times more than before. So tweets are one thing, facts are very different. So I would say two things: the relationships that we have with our strong partners, are strong and solid despite of the talks and the rhetoric. The other thing is that we are ourselves engaged in a conflict that is of a very different nature. So questions of security and defense could not be left in the hands of the professionals anymore only. They should be respected, they should be supported. Governments should put their money into defense and security in the old classic ways. But at the same time, today we need to increase awareness of the fact that we are all potentially soldiers. We are all responsible citizens and if we use smarter and smarter machines, it’s a huge challenge for ourselves to become smarter and smarter users. That’s why my plea would be for building an intelligent society, a society that knows how to look after itself, and a society that knows its values, its norms, its standing and its identity. These are crucial issues. And a society that knows that we have potential. We have, in a sense, a much stronger leverage against the competitors in terms of the international arena. If we come from a state, liberal in terms of democracy, with freedoms, with rights, with protections, with rule of law, on the medium and long term, we are for sure more successful. That’s the lesson of history that we have from the 20thcentury: that any regime that seemed to be very powerful and competitive but that is illiberal, that doesn’t respect the human being, that doesn’t respect the foundational human rights, they may be more efficient economically up to a point but they lose in the long run. The more the citizens taste freedom and taste values and free living, the more they will be prone to reject any form of totalitarianism.

Professor Silviu Rogobete

University of Timisoara (Romania)

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