The Visegrad Group and intelligence

The Visegrad Group and intelligence

Light and shadow

07/2018  | Reading time: 10 minutes

In the last few years, the European Union member states have witnessed an increase in the number of terrorist attacks, notably France, Belgium, and Germany. The “success” of such attacks has further highlighted the “failure” of coordination and interoperability, which includes sharing information, between national authorities and EUROPOL, and this has increased the need to re-evaluate and reform the way EU countries cooperate and intelligence is shared. The aim of the following analysis is to discuss the idea of fostering intelligence cooperation among regional groups, in particular among the Visegrad Group’s countries.

The main argument of the article is based on the principle that “the more people with whom secrets are shared, the less likely they can be protected” – that is why states tend to engage in bilateral relations when it comes to intelligence cooperation, or, in case of multilateral relations, they try to maintain cooperation with as few countries as possible. This principle shows that regional intelligence cooperation might be in a way more easily implemented.

Unfortunately, however, while conducting research on the V4 and intelligence cooperation as part of the partnership between the Antall József Knowledge Centre and the University of Glasgow, it emerged that there is no model of multinational (intelligence) cooperation that resembles the Visegrad Four’s or that might help the Group establish one based on common characteristics. Because of this literature gap, the next section of this article will cover the factors that hamper the ability of analysing the Visegrad Group’s model of cooperation in intelligence illustrating some of the distinctive features of the Visegrad Group’s system as well as the status of the present literature on multinational intelligence cooperation in more detail.

The leaders of the V4 countries at the opening ceremony of the Hungarian Presidency
Source: Wikipedia

The Visegrad Group’s cooperation as a regional/multinational model of cooperation is an under-researched topic. This might be in part explained by the fact that the Visegrad Group represents a unique model of cooperation that makes its study particularly challenging. At the same time, even more challenging is the study of the Visegrad countries’ intelligence cooperation (bilateral and multilateral) as the characterising feature of secrecy of intelligence tends to hinder research in this field. First of all, the V4’s cooperation is difficult to analyse as the Group’s cooperation in general does not have equivalent or similar models of multinational cooperation to be compared with. One distinctive feature of the Visegrad Four’s cooperation is that it consists of a cultural and political alliance which is not institutionalized in any manner and which does not bind the V4 to adopt a common view of issues, at least at the expenses of their interests.

The Visegrad Group cooperation started as the initiative of Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia (today Czech Republic and Slovakia) to integrate regionally in Europe at the beginning of the 1990s once they gained complete independence and bipolar system came to an end. Many have considered the Visegrad Group as an „ad hoc” kind of cooperation the Visegrad states pursued as a way to break free of the isolation in which they found themselves after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and as a way to achieve membership in the European Union (EU), which all Visegrad countries achieved in 2004, and in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which three Visegrad countries joined in 1999 (Slovakia in 2004).

In pursuing the aim of Western integration, the Visegrad states put aside historical grievances, and, in contrast to other kinds of multinational/regional cooperation that tend to have a permanent institutional structure (see EU or the African Union), they decided to concentrate on a looser approach that would have eased their cooperation: this approach entailed a less institutional structure and limited norms. This system of cooperation remains special and unique still today as it continues to lack a series of elements that other multinational organisations tend to have:

  • an organised structure;
  • fixed and written rules of cooperation;
  • official headquarters;
  • a strict agenda;
  • and lastly, more than one functioning organisation (the only established organisation is the International Visegrad Fund).

For what concerns more in particular the study and analysis of the Visegrad countries’ intelligence cooperation, this is hindered first of all by „the inherently secretive character of intelligence.” Indeed, the present literature often refers to principles such as intelligence sharing and intelligence cooperation as oxymorons for the way the concepts of “sharing” and “cooperation” go against the very nature of intelligence, which is secrecy. For this reason, the literature on intelligence and intelligence cooperation is limited, at least compared to its relevance to world’s security. Also, there is much criticism of multinational intelligence cooperation, which risks to create:

  • overlaps and duplications that might emerge between states and organisations and institutions (i.e. EU member states – EUROPOL);
  • divergent countries’ regulations on intelligence handling;
  • challenges to intelligence sharing among security agencies that compete with one another within states.

The concepts of “sharing” and “cooperation” go against the very nature of intelligence, which is secrecy
Source: Shutterstock

Academics and practitioners have discussed and speculated on how intelligence cooperation occurs, what the leading drivers are, and what the challenges to it might be, based on principles and ideas taken from International Relations’ and economic theories. Nonetheless, we are in lack of sophisticated models that might clarify intelligence cooperation furtherMost of the literature available has often addressed single episodes and case studies of countries engaging in intelligence cooperation (i.e. 9/11, estimates of Iraqi WMD); it has mostly discussed cooperation occurring within established intergovernmental institutions and organisations (i.e. EU, African Union); and, in the majority of the cases, it has focused on the analysis of US–UK intelligence cooperation and the respective intelligence cultures. Regarding regional/multinational intelligence cooperation, most of the present literature illustrates the cases of the EU and the African Union and discusses how states end up establishing intelligence cooperation within institutions around pre-existing regional economic communities.

However, the Visegrad countries’ cooperation occurs, on the contrary, within a regional and non-institutionalised framework which the literature has until today failed to study and address. At this time, the Visegrad Group has not established any kind of body or institution pooling and/or sharing information within the V4’s system, but in case it meant to in the future, it would lack relevant models to refer to. Even though the V4 does not engage in intelligence cooperation at the group level, it is likely that cooperation occurs, either bilaterally or multilaterally, among the Visegrad countries and between them and other non-V4 countries. In this sense, intelligence sharing might occur through different platforms such as the Club de Berne, the Counter Terrorism Group (CTG), the Central European Conference (CEC), different NATO fora (i.e. NATO special committee (AC/46)), EUROPOL, and INTERPOL.

In other words, the Visegrad Group represents a unique model of multinational cooperation which has not been seen before. This fact challenges the ability of determining the way intelligence cooperation might occur among the Visegrad countries and the way intelligence cooperation might be implemented and fostered within the group, as no appropriate model has been developed yet that might be applied to the case of the V4. As a consequence, in the absence of such a framework, it will be even more challenging for the V4 to develop a model of intelligence cooperation at the group level in case they decided to establish one in the future. In this sense, it would therefore be beneficial to foster research aimed at developing, or at least speculating about, models of multinational intelligence cooperation that might apply to the case of the Visegrad Group. Possibly, such models could also be used then by other countries that desire establishing (intelligence) regional cooperation similar to the V4’s one. Such models, as mentioned in the first part of this article, might make intelligence cooperation among EU member states either easier (because it involves fewer states) or possibly more effective. Yet, still, before starting any kind of study in this sense, research should aim at determining whether intelligence cooperation within a loosely tied regional group like the V4 might be feasible.

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