Romania’s National Security Dilemma

Miercuri, 7 septembrie 2005, 0:00

The Regional Dilemma
Elation at the fall of communism in Eastern Europe has obscured in the west the persistent character of history in the east. As George Santayana in his work, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905, wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

” Romanians, having been tossed about by geopolitical forces for over 2,000 years, have no problem remembering the lessons of history and planning effectively to avoid repeating their blunders. Romania’s past affords it with a view of the present that sees pessimism and pragmatism as the same thing.

Romanians have grappled with both a quandary and a dilemma in resolving their national security interests. The first was the question of how best to balance Romania’s participation in the European institutional bulwarks of NATO and the EU for protection from future foreign interference, with Romania’s historic geo-strategic inclination to fashion alliances with remote powers.

The question of upon which power Romania should place its greatest reliance, although never in doubt, was decided by recent events that have put in question the extent of the reliability of European institutions, and put Romania’s main focus on the United States.

But the dilemma for Romania is how to deal with its greatest national security threats -- the mischievous influences in the region that endanger Romania’s potential prosperity; particularly when the guarantors of its sovereignty have, at best, a secondary interest in Romania and the region in general.

The extent of Romania’s own role in securing regional stability and how to fashion this task in cooperation with its neighbors is the dilemma that it has yet to resolve.

A History Not to Be Repeated
History has not been too kind to the Romanians.

Although the end of World War I and the collapse of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires created a new and greatly enlarged Romania, the nation was soon caught between a belligerent Soviet Union in the east that coveted the return of Bessarabia (now the Republic of Moldova) and a fascist Germany that coveted Romania’s oil and demanded its fealty.

To protect itself, Romania sought and obtained military and political alliances with France and Great Britain, which at the time appeared to be its most rational strategy and one that Romania had successfully pursued in World War I.

When World War II broke out, Romania declared its neutrality but supported Poland by facilitating the transit of the National Bank treasure and granting asylum to the Polish president and government. The defeats suffered by France and Great Britain in 1940 created a precarious situation for Romania.

The Soviet government applied article 3 of the secret protocol in the von Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of August 23, 1939, and forced Romania by ultimatum notes of June 26 and 28, 1940 to cede not only Bessarabia, but also Northern Bukovina and the Hertza land (the latter two had never belonged to Russia).

Under the Vienna Dictate of August 30, 1940, Germany and Italy gave to Hungary the north-eastern part of Transylvania, where the majority population was Romanian. Following German directed Romanian-Bulgarian talks in Craiova, a treaty was signed on September 7, 1940, under which the south of Dobrudja (the Quadrilateral) went to Bulgaria.
The dismemberment of Romania in the summer of 1940 led to the abdication of King Carol II in favor of his son Mihai I and to Ion Antonescu's take-over of the government. In the hope of getting back the territories lost in 1940, Antonescu participated, side by side with Germany, in the war against the Soviet Union (1941-1944).

The defeats suffered by the Axis powers led after 1942 to enhanced attempts by Antonescu's regime to take Romania out of the alliance with Germany. On August 23, 1944, Marshal Ion Antonescu was arrested under orders from King Mihai I.

A new government, made up of military men and technocrats, declared war on Germany and Romania brought her whole economic and military potential into the alliance with the United Nations until the end of World War II in Europe.

Despite the human and economic efforts Romania made for the cause of the United Nations for nine months, the Peace Treaty of Paris denied Romania co-belligerent status and forced her to pay huge war reparations. However, the Treaty did provide for the return of north-eastern Transylvania to Romania while Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina (now in Ukraine) stayed annexed to the USSR.
The Soviet Union, devastated by the German invasion, was intent upon including Romania as part of a buffer zone protecting it from any future invasions launched from Western Europe. Soviet troops were stationed on the territory of Romania and the country was abandoned by the West.

The government was forcibly taken over by Russian-backed communists who had theretofore been only a tiny political party. Other political parties were banned and their members were persecuted and arrested; King Mihai I was forced to abdicate and a people's republic was proclaimed on December 30, 1947.

A single-party dictatorship was established supported by the omnipotent and omnipresent surveillance and repression of the Romanian people, and linked to the Soviet economy creating generations of poverty.

It is therefore not difficult to understand that in the 15 years since the fall of communism, Romania has pursued a consistent foreign policy driven by the primordial fear that Russia remained the dominant power of the region, coupled with an initial anxiety concerning Germany. But two things comforted Romania: NATO accession and membership in the European Union.

With regard to Germany, so long as it was integrated into both structures, so long as Germany spoke and acted through multinational institutions, Romania felt that Germany was contained. To be sure, the extent of German investment in Romania has been significant and supportive. Russia is another story.

With the collapse of communism, Moscow is no longer the core of an aggressive power. But Russia is also not a nation that is content with its diminished position in the world. In the past few years, it has become increasingly hostile towards the resolution of a number of conflicts on its borders with its former Soviet Republics.

Its discontent has also spilled over into relations with other neighboring states. Three months ago, the head of Russian intelligence, accused the US and Britain of covertly using political groups to try to destabilize and destroy Russia. Although the reversal in Moscow's tone over the past few months is unsettling to Romanians, it is not unexpected.

Romania’s hope was that Russia would pass the point of no return before it considered shifting policies. At the moment, it is simply unclear whether that point has been reached. But the continued Russian troop presence in Transdniestria and its economic and political domination of neighboring Moldova for the past fourteen years eliminates all illusions as to Russia’s intentions in the Balkans.

Its continued involvement in other regional frozen conflicts and its current row with Poland leave Romanians apprehensive. When French and Dutch voters recently rejected the proposed European constitution, upending the notion that a European state was about to emerge, Romania’s balanced geopolitical focus tilted in such a way as to create a distinctive inclination towards the United States.

A stalled or fragmented Europe, coupled with an increasingly hostile Russia, is Romania’s worst nightmare. Of course, Europe is not close to break up and Moscow has not launched a new Cold War, but Romanians are people who comprehend their geopolitical position better than most. They have learned from history and so they are busily re-charting the course of their security through Washington.

The World Through the Eyes of Romanians
To see the world through the eyes of Romanians, is to understand why over one hundred and thirty thousand Romanians wept in a rain-soaked Revolution Square to celebrate the nation’s entry into NATO when they heard US President George W. Bush tell them that Romania need never again fear foreign domination; that America was its ally and was prepared to send its troops to protect its democracy.

Those words are the fundamental reason for Romania’s exhaustive efforts to enter NATO. But Franco-German policy and Anglo-American policy concerning Iraq soon paralyzed NATO, which requires consensual decision-making, and the institution is having trouble recovering. The US commitment is firm, but the NATO process is a bit less certain now.

The French and Dutch votes compounded Romania’s predicament.

Romania stood to gain two benefits from the European Union: membership in an extremely prosperous and successful economic entity, and the creation of a transnational European state that would permanently contain nationalism with its simmering ethnic-blood right that can be its ugly underbelly, and protect Romania from perceived Russian hegemony.

Romanians thought that the EU might be a permanent solution to both problems.

Whatever comes out of the French and Dutch repudiation of the EU constitution, it will not be a robust solution that will systematically suppress Europe's multi-nationalisms. After all, the French and Dutch votes were votes for French and Dutch nationalism. And in any competition of nationalisms, Romanians know they will lose.

The Russians have not returned to Central Europe, but the mood in Moscow is angry. NATO hasn’t collapsed, but it is less effective. The European Union remains the center of gravity of Europe, but it is not likely to evolve into a political and military entity.

And there is a recognition in Romania that its geopolitical situation has deteriorated, and that it will not improve much either for some time to come. The events in Europe, the damage to NATO, and Russia’s bellicosity have shaken Romania’s geopolitical plan for security and driven Romanian leaders closer to Washington on security matters.

The Washington-Bucharest Axis
Even in the early nineties, Romanian foreign policy, particularly beginning with Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu, was geared towards the development of a multifaceted alliance with the United States that would compliment Romania’s European commitment. Recent developments have placed a larger importance on Romania’s relationship with the United States for its security.

In the circumstances, it is no wonder that President Traian Basescu has called for closer ties with the US and Britain, and shied away from deeper involvements with France and Germany.

To augment its efforts, Romania conducted what appears will be a successful campaign to get a US military base situated in the country. Romania has offered its airbase at Kogalniceanu near the Black Sea and also a shooting range in nearby Babadag. U.S.

troops used the Kogalniceanu airbase in southeastern Romania as a hub to send equipment and 7,000 combat troops into Iraq during the early stages of the 2003 Iraq War, and temporarily kept up to 3,500 American troops there.

History has shown the Romanians that faraway powers cannot project military strength at a distance, but US forces permanently on the ground in Romania, even in small numbers, combined with NATO treaty commitments, are not a bad substitute for the security that it cannot find elsewhere in Europe.

Romania has some of its best military contingents, such as its famed Red Scorpions, operating along side US troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and US soldiers from the US Dragons unit in Afghanistan are now under the command of a Romanian battalion from Craiova. In the United Nations Security Council, it has crafted a balanced diplomatic strategy, but one that articulates a pro-American policy.

And in what had to be at the behest of the US administration, Romania has just forgiven $2 billion of Iraqi debt -- amounting to 80% of its claims – which it can ill afford economically, but which may be money well spent politically.

Indeed, Romania has engineered so effective a pro-American policy, that the US administration readily characterizes Romania as one of America’s best allies in Europe.

Having made itself useful to the United States, even to the sometime consternation of the French, the Germans and the Russians, Romania has obtained a modern security blanket that could not have existed in 1940, but can go a long way today in securing the nation’s defense. But the US-Romanian relationship will not, in and of itself, make Romania or the Balkans safe from all forms of mischief.

This requires much more work. The national security dilemma for Romania now is not the balance between European-based institutional protections or a US-based alliance, but in how it will take the rewards of its successful geo-strategic diplomacy and turn them into successful regional leadership.

Protecting the Balkans from Further Mischief
The main external security threats to Romania today are not of a military nature (with the exception of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism). They arise from the financial and social consequences of regional mischief that foments xenophobia and nationalist separatism.

Much of the problem, though certainly not all of it, springs from Russian interference in the region and the pernicious influence of the Russian-based mafia.

To counteract this security threat, Russia must be mollified -- somehow. The problem is that Russia now has its back up. And while the interests of the United States in this matter coincide with those of Romania, they do so only at a secondary level. The Russians, however, are fighting for what they perceive as their fundamental national interests.

So are the Romanians -- but in the end, they have minimal influence to bring to bear. The United States is far away. The Russians are next door. The US may protect Romania from invasion, but not from regional mischief which affects its prosperity and could affect its stability.

Romania must protect itself from such turmoil by taking a regional leadership role – which is precisely what the US hopes the Romanians will do.

The dilemma for Romania is how to gain the confidence of its neighbors so that it can take a leading role in finding conciliatory solutions with Russia. Two developments would be significant for the security of Romania.

First, the long-simmering dispute regarding Transdniestria must be ended in a democratic fashion, and Russian troops must leave Moldova, as is Russia’s obligation by treaty and by international law. Second, the new Ukrainian government must be strengthened, and its disputes with Romania should be settled.

Moldova has finally concluded that its best friend in the region really is Romania, which has led to a Romanian diplomatic initiative raising the Transdniestrian problem in dialogue with western leaders every chance it gets. Ukraine’s addition to such dialogue has been tremendously helpful in underscoring to Russia that its presence in Moldova must come to an end soon.

Were Romania to improve its relationship with Ukraine, the entire region would benefit enormously. Romania is, indeed, supportive of the new Ukrainian leadership.

It has redoubled its efforts to resolve the environmentally appalling actions of Ukraine in the Bistroe Channel and, possibly, the lawsuit begun against Ukraine in the International Court at the Hague over the control of the continental shelf in the Black Sea.

In April of this year, the Presidents of Ukraine and Romania created a high-level commission to resolve outstanding Ukrainian-Romanian issues, including the Danube - Black Sea Canal, and also to find a joint solution to the Transdniestrian conflict. They also signed a political declaration which sets forth their commitment to improve the relationship between Kiev and Bucharest.
No one disputes that it is in the best interests of both Ukraine and Romania to settle their differences quickly and concentrate on the much larger and mutually shared national security threats they face together in the region.

It is not always easy for neighbors who have been quibbling for a long time about a lot of things to step back and see that their common concerns far outweigh their disputes. Both countries see themselves as the leader in the region – Ukraine because of its 50 million people and Romania because of its impending EU accession and its membership in NATO.

Both nations need to come to terms with the fact that the other has a set of unique attributes that propels it to regional leadership too. If France and Germany can work together harmoniously after hundreds of years of acrimony, then certainly Romania and Ukraine can find a way to do so and focus together on how to resolve the stability and security issues they face in the region.

The article “Romania’s National Security Dilemma" was published based upon approval of:
Rubin Meyer Doru & Trandafir

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