Diplomatic Pouch / September 22, 2016
By Larry Luxner
Washington is gearing up for its largest gathering of Central European officials and defense experts in recent memory.
The 2016 CEPA Forum, organized by the Center for European Policy Analysis — a D.C.-based nonprofit group — takes place Sept. 28-29 at the Willard InterContinental Hotel and the Meridian International Center.
About 500 people have registered for the two-day event, which also includes an invitation-only dinner Sept. 28 at the Hungarian Embassy to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. CEPA’s conference is co-sponsored by the Polish Embassy, the Visegrád Fund and the Institute of East-Central Europe, a Polish think tank based in Lublin.
“The stakes for this year’s conference are perhaps the highest they’ve ever been, given the rising dangers facing both sides of the Atlantic — from populism and terrorism at home to the dangers of military uncertainty abroad,” said Peter Doran, CEPA’s vice-president of analysis.
“This is the one time each year when Central Europe comes to Washington. We anticipate all Central European ambassadors will be there,” Doran told the Pouch. “Not since the early days of NATO’s expansion have so many Central European been gathered in Washington at the same time.”
More than 40 U.S. and foreign officials will speak at the CEPA Forum, including Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz; Hungarian Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Péter Szijártó; Jan Hamácek, chairman of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament, and Lukas Parizek, state secretary of the Slovak Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.
This year’s CEPA Forum also coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Visegrád Group, a bloc made up of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Known as the V4, this group has recently come under fire for opposing Germany’s liberal migration policies, and for angrily rejecting quotas established by the 28-member European Union for distributing the million-plus Syrian and other refugees who have fled their war-torn countries for the relative safety of Europe in recent years.
“Visegrád’s Silver Anniversary,” a panel moderated by CEPA Senior Vice President Edward Lucas, looks at what the future holds for the V4, to what extent the bloc has evolved into an active coordinating body among Central European states, and how has the V4 responded to the current uncertainty over Brexit and the EU’s long-term prospects.
Another panel attracting a great deal of interest, “Menace and Mischief: Containing Russia’s Threat to its Neighbors,” will be moderated by CEPA Senior Fellow Janusz Bugajski.
Coming only a few months after the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw, the panel features several leading military figures including Maj. Gen. Tim McGuire, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Europe; Janis Kazocins, national security advisor to the president of Latvia; Riho Terras, commander-in-chief of the Estonian Defense Forces and Michael Carpenter, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.
“What’s driving all this interest is an alignment of mounting security pressures, and a consensus that something needs to be done to make this part of the world safer and more secure,” Doran said. “The question on the agenda for the CEPA Forum is, how do we go about doing that? Given the nature of the Russian threat, a great deal of attention will be on Russia.”
A Sept. 29 panel explores the potential U.S. role in Europe’s emerging energy sector, with talks by Lithuanian Energy Minister Rokas Masiulis; Robin Dunnigan, deputy assistant secretary for energy diplomacy at the State Department, and Kristof Altusz, deputy state secretary at Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Two former heads of state — Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili and Poland’s Jan Krzysztof Bielecki — will speak at a discussion called “What Are We Fighting For? Democracy and Values,” while an off-the-record breakout panel on the event’s second day deals with “The War on Truth: Russian Disinformation and How to Combat it.”
Questions based on case studies and other material compiled from CEPA’s Information Warfare Initiative will be debated by Mikk Marran, director-general of Estonia’s Information Board; Thomas Kent, president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Urve Eslas, opinion editor at the Estonian daily newspaper Postimees; Michael Weiss, senior editor of The Daily Beast, and Mustafa Nayyem, a member of the Ukrainian parliament.
“Until recently, many people have debated whether this is important at all, or just a continuation of Soviet-style propaganda,” said Donald Jensen, an adjunct senior fellow at CEPA who will be moderating that panel. “The controversy over the alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and [Hillary] Clinton’s emails shows that this is a threat to Western security and democratic institutions that requires an effective policy response.”