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Major General (Ret.) Jeronim Bazo, Director of RACVIAC: „We Shall Continue to Vigorously Support the Process of Euroatlantic Integration in the Region“
Last November, RACVIAC said goodbye to its former director Haydar Berk and welcomed its new director, Major general (Ret.) Jeronim Bazo from Albania. General Bazo began his military career after graduating from Skanderbeg Military Academy in 1985. He performed the duty of the Chief of the General Staff of the Albanian Armed Forces from 2013 to 2016. He is a graduate of the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies and the United States Army War College. He wishes to apply his rich experience in RACVIAC and shared his thoughts and plans with CROMIL.
You performed the duty of the Chief of the General Staff of the Albania Armed Forces. What were the most important lessons you learnt at your previous job and how do you plan on implementing them at this job?
I have 35 years of military career behind me. During that time, I performed various duties, including that of the Chief of the General Staff, which was an honour and a privilege. During my military career, I personally followed and shaped Albania’s journey to NATO and I may call myself a big advocate of Euroatlantic initiatives. I believe that this segment of my work and experience will help RACVIAC support the integration processes of its member countries more vigorously.
What have you recognized as RACVIAC’s best qualities?
RACVIAC’S biggest value lies in the fact that it is an organization founded in the region for the region. It exclusively deals with matters that are of importance for the countries in the region. We listen to their needs, acknowledge their demands and define and harmonize our programme in accordance with that while keeping an eye on the security environment. It is important to emphasize that for the past two decades, RACVIAC has served as platform for dialogue and the exchange of thoughts, information, experiences and lessons learnt. It directly promotes co-operation and contributes to the development of trust and security among its member countries. In that respect, we have conducted over 400 activities with more than 1500 participants so far.
One of RACVIAC’s main missions is to foster co-operation among the nations in South-East Europe. How would you assess the situation in the region?
In the last twenty years, we have developed from our initial task related to arms control verification and implementation. The member countries’ priorities have changed drastically; most of those countries are on a secure path to attaining Euroatlantic integration. However, this part of Europe is still plagued by some unresolved issues from the past; it struggles with corruption, unemployment, weak economic development, brain drain, etc. Likewise, South-east Europe has been and will always be a zone of various political and economic interests and influences, which affects the relations among individual countries.
One of the region’s growing problems is the large influx of refugees as well as the threat of terrorism. How can RACVIAC help solve this problem?
Illegal immigration is a modern-day security phenomenon. It is connected to cross-border organized crime, smuggling, human trafficking and terrorism. Lately, a particular security challenge has been the return and reintegration of foreign fighters who have fought for ISIL and their family members to their parent country. However, without neglecting the matter of security, we must not lose sight of the necessity of providing humane care to refugees. These are all big problems that no country can deal with on its own, without regional/international support and co-operation. In the last few years, RACVIAC has actively dealt with the matters of counterterrorism, extremism and migrations. Once a year, RACVIAC and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation organize a conference on security challenges in Europe which gathers officials from countries in the region as well the representatives of regional and international NGOs and the media. Since 2015, we have been carrying out activities related to the implementation of UN’s Resolution 2178. Our goal is to develop a strategy for the rehabilitation and reintegration of foreign fighters.
Cybercrime is emerging as a new threat to the security not only in the region, but in the entire world. What is RACVIAC doing to counter the problem?
Cybercrime is a central topic of all security strategies because it is an entirely new form of warfare and today’s fastest growing security challenge. It poses a potentially enormous threat because our lives are increasingly playing out on the internet and an increasing amount of personal data is being stored in digital format. Criminals abuse modern technologies such as the internet in illegal trafficking of drugs and weapons as well as other criminal transactions.
RACVIAC recognized the need for better education, the strengthening of co-operation in combating cybercrime and the exchange of information a long time ago. In 2010, we began conducting activities related to cybercrime. In 2016, we published a study on the development of a society resistant to cyberattacks. Together with the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency we have been conducting the training of investigators / non-technical staff who fight against terrorism-related cybercrime and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
RACVIAC collaborates with other international organizations, such as the UN, NATO and the EU. Could you describe some of the projects that you are developing with them?
For the past two years, we have been collaborating with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on activities related to the fight against corruption, counterterrorism and the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We closely collaborate with the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC), a regional initiative under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on activities related to small arms, light weapons, physical safety and the disposal of weapon supplies.
As far as the collaboration with NATO is concerned, I want to single out the training of the instructors for the integration of gender perspective as one of our most successful projects. We have been recognized as the regional centre for the training on the integration of gender perspective by conducting this NATO-certified course for several years.
We are currently collaborating with the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) on the protection of critical infrastructure and cyber safety. Last month, we intensified our talks with the European Security and Defence College. Soon, we will become a part of their network of members and partners and arrange collaboration on a joint project.
RACVIAC’s unique quality is that it has a great number of associate member countries and observer countries outside of South-East Europe. How can these help promote peace and security in the region?
Associate members support RACVIAC financially and/or with their personnel. For example, Austria and Hungary have their representatives in RACVIAC who support the execution of our activities, while Germany has been financially supporting our activities related to arms control, cyber safety and the integration of gender perspective for the last few years. Aside from that, most associate members support RACVIAC by sending their lecturers and experts in certain topics to conferences, seminars, etc., which they help arrange and organize.
Individual observer countries, such as the United States of America, also actively support some of our projects. One of the best examples is the Counter-Weapons of Mass Destruction Network, which was started in 2015 with the objective to develop national strategies and action plans for combating NBC weapons. Eight South-east European countries are involved with the project and most of them have developed and adopted a national strategy on this matter.
Which activities do you plan on conducting this year?
We plan on conducting 15 activities this year. Just like in previous years, these will include several arms control-related activities, a crisis management workshop, a training of the instructors for the integration of gender perspective, the annual meeting of parliamentary boards for defence and security, a cyber-security course, an anti-corruption workshop, a conference on security challenges in Europe, etc.
How will RACVIAC continue to develop?
RACVIAC regularly tracks changes not only in the regional, but also in the international security environment. We plan and adjust our action programme in accordance with that, while taking into account the needs and demands of our member countries. We shall continue to vigorously support the process of Euroatlantic integration in the region as that is one of our primary objectives. Also, we shall continue to address contemporary security challenges and threats.
While supporting the transformation of RACVIAC into an academically-oriented and educational organization, we intend on conducting more permanent and more comprehensive activities through which we shall attain a more measurable dimension of our contribution to the safety and stability in South-east Europe.
What would you like to achieve in your term?
My main objective for my three-year term is to strengthen RACVIAC’s relationship and collaboration with similar international organizations and institutions so that we could follow trends as successfully as possible. This will allow us to support Euroatlantic processes as well as to invigorate security and stability in the region more strongly.
Interview by IVA GUGO
Photo by MLADEN ČOBANOVIĆ
Translation by IVA GUGO