The fall of the Iron Curtain and the rise of non–traditional security threats

An analysis regarding the security architecture in post–Cold War Europe

Seminar Paper, 2005

21 Pages, Grade: B+



1.) Introduction

2.) The End of the Cold War and the conceptual Development of an innovative Comprehension of Security Threat

3.) Organisational and institutional Adaptations vis-à-vis the post – Cold War Evolutions

4.) Security related Dilemmas in Europe

5.) Conclusion

6.) Bibliography // Webiography

7.) Appendix
7.1.) Translations:
7.2.) Additional Chapter:

1.) Introduction

The socio – political developments of the outgoing 1980s and beginning 1990s to the greatest extent in Europe initiated the rise of a new era, impacting various political, societal and economic levels drastically throughout the world. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, i.e. the drowning of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)[1] and its split into (semi–) independent states[2], the breakdown of East Germany (GDR) and its unification with the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)[3], and the turn up of the United States of America (USA) as the only liable superpower, the final act of the forty years lasting Cold War era found its cumulating closure. The paradigm of the West versus the East, of democracy versus communism was determined, and new patterns had and – since this redefinition appears to be an ongoing process – have to be rethought.

In terms of security, the school of the political scientist Barry Buzan[4] presented a structural cluster for the understanding of new evolving threats, resulting from the dissolution of the bipolarity with Russia and USA as having been oppositional poles of more or less equal strength. Apart from the military–related aspects that have dominated the thinking of conflict research throughout the period of the Cold War, this approach includes the means of politics, society, economy and environment as inter-relating and equally impacting issues of high importance for the analysis of security politika.

Such innovations were and are to be faced by the various inter–state Institutions that had partly been created because of the East – West confrontation. The new conceptualisation of the security agendas of the European Union (EU, former European Community [EC]), the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE, resulting from the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe [CSCE]) and the Western European Union (WEU), and their adoption vis-à-vis the unfamiliar situation of a broader spectrum of threats to deal with led to a transformation which comes into view as being to some degree successful, but partly inefficient, what, in turn, provokes or reinforces several problematic elements of international politics.

From a contemporary perspective, such dilemmas form part of the major issues these Institutions have to handle in the future in order to maintain their legitimisation. Predicaments like for example the co-relation between economic prosperity of northern industrialised countries and disastrous consequences of environmental pollution in underdeveloped southern states might have negative effects on socio-political developments that go far beyond the influential possibilities of traditional governmental structures and, subsequently, require the establishment of new forms of regime and co-operation.

The role of the United States as being a crucial, but controversially debated supporter of the European security, as well as the integration of the Russian region into the European political scenery arise as being of immense importance considering the stabilisation of Europe.

(See 7.2 Appendix / Additional Chapter)

This analysis strives to present the main issues which characterise the transformation of the European security system from the 1990s until today. Hereby, conceptual approaches regarding a theoretical framework of the newly either emerged or recognised threats are related to the actual agenda of the most important players, to say states and institutions, the like, without loosing the perspective for important non–official political actors such as non governmental organisations (NGOs) or (mega–) terrorists (to mention a positive and negative example), as well as economic influences. The aspects of the phenomenons of globalisation and the idea of a global governance will not be forgotten regarding the description and explanation of the present European security architecture.

2.) The End of the Cold War and the conceptual Development of an innovative Comprehension of Security Threat

Security related strategies during the Cold War era were to a great extent focussed on the balancing of military power by using measures of armed defence and the structural formation of deterrence and containment policies versus the ideological opposition, the possible option of using measures of mutual assured destruction (MAD), as well as the upholding of alliances against the enemy. The spiral of armament of nuclear arsenals on both sides, the East and the West, alike, led the world more than once into the tremendous fear of an atomic war with fatal consequences[5]. The traditionally negative (neo-) realistic[6] view, as having been the dominating theory of international relations throughout the Cold War epoch, of solving the problem of the anarchic character of international politics was determined to be reached by strengthening the own side basically in terms of military. Although having been aware of alternative security related issues, however, aspects apart from the previous mentioned force of armament were regarded as to be of lesser importance when facing a huge amount of army personnel and equipment on the other side of the front.

The entirely different global-political scenery after the breakdown of European communism in the early 1990s required a clear rethinking of European security. The geopolitical division of the past forty or so years had disappeared, boundaries were to a stronger degree permeable, and the stabilisation of Europe as the utmost priority to be targeted demanded a broader spectrum of patterns of collaboration. Besides the military-related aspects (hard security), the expansion of an inter-relation of various societal, economic, environmental and political factors had to be taken into account when thinking about a valid security setting for Europe, including various soft security issues.

With regards to the theoretical understanding of this concept that has been developed mainly by Barry Buzan and the Copenhagen School in the early 1990s, the following classification is of importance: Societal security is to a large extent related to the core values a society identifies as having immanent; this includes matters of culture, education, and ethnicity, on sub-state, state and inter-state niveau. Economic aspects cover issues of state budgets, economic strength and inter-dependencies. Terms of environmental security imply natural and man made catastrophes, and, as a very substantial part, the access to resources of any kind needed. Finally, as far as political security is concerned, in this concept both, domestic and foreign affairs in connection with all the previously listed issues are intimated.

To put a practical view on the intra-state level, politico-societal matters like inter-ethnic conflicts, the huge gap between rich and poor, an un(der)developed democratic understanding and thinking, and a great rate of criminality such as drug edict and trafficking, the trade with human beings, be it for reasons of forced prostitution or other forms of contemporary slavery, or the illegal deal with small arms and light weapons[7] up to stocks of nuclear material, has immense effects on political and economic sectors, the like. Criminality and corruption, for example, intrude the political structures within a state, which consequently diminishes its fundamentally democratic character. The growth of economic prosperity often co-relates with environmental problems such as pollution due to the release of so-called greenhouse gases[8], the exploitation of natural resources leading to soil erosion, flooding, deforestation and desertification, and further damages to the environment. Moreover, these harms have in turn a great impact on the societies and the economies.

The above mentioned inter-relations of the several sections form just a minimal example and serve only to scratch the surface of the entire complex.

However, by transferring this picture on the European inter-state niveau, and with regards to global politics, one might consider various of these problems as being or leading to threats against Europe as such: A lack of economic strength and employment provokes migration of people from one state to another, legally and illegally, which, subsequently, provides various dangers for the target state, its societies, economy and environment. Accidents regarding the latter named sector do often cross boarders, as the explosion of the nuclear power station in Tschernobyl in 1985 impressively demonstrated; large parts of Europe were affected due to radioactive contamination of food, rain and soil, having a further impact on the economic systems of several states. Internationally organised criminal groups threaten the legal structures of European states across boarders by dealing with weapons of any kind, human beings, drugs, finances, and often by providing corruptive structures penetrating state orders.

Furthermore, post – Cold War Europe had and has to handle conflicts, based on ethnicity, as well as its enlarged flanks: The southern coastal areas of the Mediterranean are threatened mainly by illegal immigration from North Africa and internationally organised terrorist groups, whereas the northern European countries are impacted by eastwards originated threats: Instability of former Soviet Union (SU) states, in particular Russia (however, even that Russia might still have the capacities to attack Europe in any case, it appears of not having the intention to do so), migratory problems, and criminal organisations intruding the West.

The arise of a pattern to identify the co-relating character of the various sectors being affected by threats that increased with the fall of the Iron Curtain opened a better comprehension of the diverse hard and soft issues which have to be constantly put on Europe’s security agenda in order to stabilise the region as a whole. The enormous extent which is allowed to be embraced by such a structural understanding of the new evolved threats on European security allows a more efficient counter–policy by the states and the installed trans-national institutions. In order to increase such an effectiveness, both, states and co-operative regimes had and contemporarily still have to consequently reform their patterns with increasing distance to an ethnocentric concept of security to deal with the enlarged European scene.

3.) Organisational and institutional Adaptations vis-à-vis the post – Cold War Evolutions

The effects of globalisation provoked and enforced an increasing interconnectedness between the various security-related fields. Hereby, the phenomenon of globalisation as such might be considered as being partly product of and catalyst for this evolutionary process. Innovative patterns of inclusion of possibly all the aspects of such a broad spectrum and the recognition of the prospect of various forms of threats interacting and, in some cases, even multiplying each other regarding their outcome, strive for answering to the developments that emerged or became reinforced with the end of the conflict of capitalism versus communism.

On the level above the national state, to say on the supranational or intergovernmental niveau[9], structures rose that, according to some scientists, might be considered to finally lead to a form of global governance[10].

Such institutional formations did not evolve after the Cold War – in opposite: many were created before or with its beginning –, but, however, they had to be restructured in accordance to the new global-political developments that had to be encountered.

Whereas, throughout the East – West confrontation, world politics were to a large extent implemented by realistic and (, later on, through the adoption of this theory of international relations to the political changes,) neo-realistic approaches that were occupied mainly with hard, to say military-related issues, organisations like the United Nations (UN), and in particular the trans-national institutions within (western) Europe developed organisational structures that followed alternative archetypes: Besides the discussions on armament and the spiral of nuclear militarisation, (neo-) liberal[11] and institutional ideas were considered, including (to a lesser degree than after the transformations of 1989 and onwards) soft security aspects and their solutions.


[1] See: Pollacco, C.: “European Integration. The Maltese Experience”, Malta (2004) / p. 100; FN 13: “On 21 December 1991 the USSR was replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) consisting of 11 of the 15 former republics of the Soviet Union.”

[2] After the dissolution of the SU, these states experienced their socio-political transition, [see: Owen, R.: “State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East”, London (2004); p.91:] “[...] that is an inevitable progress from authoritarianism and planned economies towards market democracies.”

[3] See e.g.: Görtemaker, Manfred: “Die demokratische Revolution in Osteuropa” in: “Informationen zur politischen Bildung” B. 245 (B 6897 F): “Internationale Beziehungen I: Der Ost – West Konflikt”; (2000)

[4] See: Buzan, B.: “People, States and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era”, London (1991)

[5] To remember an example is the Cuba Crisis of 1962. See e.g.: Görtemaker, M.: “Vom Kalten Krieg zur Ära der Entspannung” in: “Informationen zur politischen Bildung” B. 245 (B 6897 F) (2000) / p.27: “The Cuba Crisis sharpened the consciousness for the necessity of a policy of nuclear co-operation and the prevention of war for the safeguard of the survival of mankind” (à See: App. 7.1.1)

6 See: Zürn, Michael: “Realistische Schule” in: Nohlen, D.; R.-O. Schultze: “Lexikon der Politikwissenschaft: Theorien, Methoden, Begriffe”, München (2002) / p.778: “The realistic school, one of the main approaches in the theory of international relations, which regards power respectively the fight over the share of power as core, motivation and explanation of politics.” (à See: App. 7.1.2)

[7] See e.g.: “Small Arms and Light Weapons – The Response of the European Union”, European Commission (2001) / p. 5: “Small arms are cheap and readily available to those who wish to acquire them, legally or illegally. They are difficult to track, easily transferable from one conflict to another and frequently diverted to criminal activities. Their deadly effect and their damage to society is often felt long after the conflict they were originally acquired for is over.”

8 In particular Carbon Dioxin and Methane.

[9] Whether supranationality or intergovernmental forms of collaboration will be developed is depending on the intensity, the states forming part of such a regime are willing to give up their national sovereignty towards the organisation.

[10] The political scientist Ernst – Otto Czempiel, for example, analyses the developments to global governmental structures with regards to the transformation of the globe from a world of states to a societal world, which, in his transformalistic opinion, appears to be the utmost characteristic within globalisation processes. See: Czempiel, E.-O.: “Weltpolitik im Umbruch”, München (2002)

[11] See: Schiller, Theo: “Liberalismus” in Nohlen, D.; R.-O. Schultze: “Lexikon der Politikwissenschaft: Theorien, Methoden, Begriffe”, München (2002) / p.479: “Liberalism, one of the great political ideas of the last two to three centuries with main focus in the 19th century, which is related to the other great streams of ideology conservatism and socialism, but as well anarchism and fascism in terms of emergence, effect, interaction, tension, and replacement [...].” (à See: App. 7.1.3)

Excerpt out of 21 pages


The fall of the Iron Curtain and the rise of non–traditional security threats
An analysis regarding the security architecture in post–Cold War Europe
University of Malta  (University of Malta - Faculty of Arts / International Relations)
European Security and Defence II (IRL2095)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
496 KB
Iron, Curtain, European, Security, Defence
Quote paper
Dominik Kalweit (Author), 2005, The fall of the Iron Curtain and the rise of non–traditional security threats, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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