“In the current instability, there are also opportunities that we need to grasp and fulfill, and we are confident that as a result of the crisis confronting the region, we will have a renewed impetus for the democratic course and prosperity of the countries in the region, a more resilient and more resourceful transatlantic partnership and alliance, stronger bonds between the EU and U.S. on one side, and, of course, the Eastern European countries on the other side,” said Romanian Ambassador to the U.S. George Maior. Speaking during a discussion with the former President of the Romanian Senate and Foreign Minister Mircea Dan Geoană and the Head of the Romanian President’s Chancellery Sorin Dan Mihalache, Maior used these words to underscore the possibility of advancing the transatlantic partnership amidst crisis. The discussion, which focused on the challenges of instability in Eastern Europe, was hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and moderated by GMF Senior Vice President Ivan Vejvoda.
In the face of multiple challenges confronting the Black Sea region, the discussants highlighted Romania’s steadfast and unified commitment to the transatlantic relationship, the EU, and NATO. Speaking first to Romania’s NATO budget priorities, Ambassador Maior noted that Bucharest will increase its defense spending to 2% of GDP in the coming years. Moving next to the immediate region, Mihalache argued that addressing Russian pressures along NATO’s periphery and in the Black Sea region requires a holistic approach. He also argued that international and regional efforts should not “disassociate the future of Ukraine with the future of Moldova, and vice versa.” Engagement in both countries will remain important. And with the Black Sea region as a focal point of tension, Mihalache believes that a U.S. strategy to strengthen naval presence is also necessary for stability.
Turning to Europe more generally, Mihalache suggested that after Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the EU and NATO cannot simply return to a “business as usual” policy with Russia. “We cannot let major violation of international law go unchecked,” he stressed. Geoană doubled down on this point in calling Russia’s strategy a “gambit” and a “lose-lose” proposition. He stated that NATO must be “exceptionally clear that Article 5 is there and it is for real.” Economic and diplomatic levers must continue to put pressure on and demonstrate the failures of the Putin government. Geoană also indicated that the situation in Syria and Ukraine must be viewed through the same lens: the refugee crisis pouring into Europe from the Levant is directly linked with growing Russian influence in both Syria and Eastern Europe.
Turning to the upcoming NATO Summit in Warsaw, Mihalache indicated that we should “not look to Wales as a source of inspiration and energy. We should look to the Bucharest Summit as a source of lessons learned.” Moreover, “Warsaw should not only serve as a progress report, but as an ambitious and far-reaching NATO approach,” that should also focus on non-traditional threats.
Romania’s commitment to reform, as well as to the EU and NATO, has led Romania to create one of the strongest anticorruption campaigns in Europe; a model Mihalache believes should be exported to other countries in the region. Although he knows Romania has a long way to go before reaching living standards comparable to Germany, France, and the U.S., he believes it is a goal worth striving towards.