Latvia’s secretary of state for defence, Janis Garisons, spoke to New Europe on the sidelines of the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum 2017. In an exclusive interview, Garison talked about the current challenges related to security and terrorism in Europe.
What do you think needs to be done in order to fight terrorism and radicalism in Europe?
The key issue is how we can limit the spread of radicalism. Certainly, social media have been used, not only to recruit, but also in other parallel activities.
Therefore, the issue of strategic communication is relevant on both sides. We have in Riga an important centre of excellence on this matter, they conducted research and they actually discovered that propaganda made by IS [Islamic State] and other radical movements is much more effective than any state propaganda.
The result is that these movements are able to “create” easily very devote and fanatic militants. On an international level, we participate to most of the international operations: we took part in the Atalanta mission and we are also in Mali and Iraq trying to do our part to fight terrorism.
After various attacks, do you think we should do more to protect our airports, train stations, ports, metro etc.?
From our experience, building walls around airports won’t work. Instead, you have to support more the intelligence share of information in order to prevent attacks a lot before it happens. Terrorism is not something new.
Therefore, I think even with the share of data on passengers or other security measures I don’t think we will be able to protect each airport.
Intelligence cooperation in Europe is considered key to fighting terrorism. How do you view this?
There is always the possibility to work together in a more efficient way, we know that data sharing is probably not the most efficient and advanced area of cooperation inside the EU. A lot can still be done.
How can we fight terrorism outside of Europe, like in Iraq or Syria?
There is always this debate about the fact that we can go in one place and fix every crisis or conflict.
I think that our resources are limited and we have to be very careful about what we do. Sometimes you can achieve better result through humanitarian aid aimed at limiting the causes of poverty.
But, of course, when there is the need you have sometimes to deploy forces.
On an EU level, co you think we should invest more on defence?
Yes. This year we allocated 1.7% of our GDP for defence while next year we will reach 2%. This is an important step to boost our defence capabilities and also to be in line with our commitments to Nato. We have to be aware that Europe has to take care more at our own defence, everybody knows that currently US is taking care to more than 70% of Nato capabilities. Therefore, everything that is happening around Europe indicates that we have to be more capable of defending ourselves and not only against terrorism.
How should we work on an international level?
Every mission has to be carefully evaluated because we spent a lot of resources in Afghanistan and the experience showed us that if we go for a nation building strategy, we might need 10-15 years or even more. For this reason, the situation should be evaluated together with the results we want to achieve in the operation.
What country do you think we should focus on?
Basically Syria and Iraq are linked, and I think you can’t really differentiate the refugee crisis with other challenges. My fear for the future is that we might need to deploy forces also in Libya because of some developments.
Do you think there is a link between immigration and terrorism?
The whole process is interconnected. We have seen some examples in Europe with terrorists coming to the EU through immigration routes.
Another problem will be if the international coalition might succeed in Iraq and Syria, in this case there might be an influx of foreign fighters returning to Europe.