Reassure Bucharest in the Black Sea
Standing at the border of the European Union and NATO, Romania is challenged not only by its internal weaknesses, many of which the country addresses successfully, but also by its proximity to and complicated relationship with Russia. A few years ago, Romania embarked on a bold anti-corruption effort that led not only to conviction of major corrupt politicians and dishonest businessmen, but also to consolidation of anti-corruption institutions and processes. It is a genuine success story, but the actions taken to clean the political and business environment in the country are not going unchallenged by those they are aimed against, and it remains critical that anti-corruption institutional and political forces further prevail. This internal dynamic is complicated by security threats posed by Russia directly and openly to Romania, and to the Black Sea region. The country is target not only for the hard security threat the militarization of Russian controlled territories in Ukraine and Moldova and of the Black Sea represents, but also for Russia’s propaganda, which has reached new highs in the recent months.
It is this complicated context that made many in Romania follow the U.S. electoral campaign with serious concern, as a number of the positions expressed during the campaign go against Romania’s national interest, as well as that of the other countries lying on NATO’s Eastern flank or in the Black Sea region. Romania’s first expectation is for the new U.S. president to address these concerns, and to clarify the U.S. position and standing vis-à-vis Russia, and stemming from this its future relationship with its partners and involvement in the region. The United States plays an important role in enhancing the security in and around the Black Sea, both in direct partnership with littoral countries and within NATO, a role Romania and Europe need the United States to continue playing, as the military and political balance in the region would be seriously affected if Washington chooses to do otherwise, with serious reverberations on European security in general. In his first 100 days in office, the President should reiterate a transactional approach to Russia, one that translates in cooperation on those issues where cooperation is possible, while holding Russia responsible for its wrongdoings on others. Simply maintaining sanctions on Russia will send the best message to Europe and, implicitly, to Romania, as would not changing the number and importance of U.S. troops and personnel based in Romania, and not altering the future of joint exercises and trainings.
It is not only in the field of security and relations with Russia that Romania seeks clarification from the President of the United States, but also in regards to the future of the bilateral relations. As Romania’s strategic partner, the United States has been traditionally supportive of the country’s effort to build the rule of law, a support Romanian forces pushing this effort further need to know they can still rely on. The U.S. electoral campaign gave plenty of fuel to Russian informational war that targets political and social life in Romania, aiming to at least create enough confusion to delay and complicate further reforms if not reverse them. So unequivocal statements and actions are needed to clear the air. A corrupt Romania may make a great line in campaign speeches, but would make an unreliable partner, and it is in U.S. interest to maintain its functional partnerships.
Given its geographic position and history, Romania’s security and further progress is strongly connected to the region, where the balance between geopolitical powers remains fragile, and societies remain divided between past and future. It is this part of the world, hence, that perhaps most badly needs and expects a strong message from the new president that the U.S. presence and military, economic, and moral standing in the region will remain unaltered. Otherwise, the narrative of a weak and fading West with nothing to offer may well prevail in the region, directly affecting Romania’s security, complicating its further progress and further weakening a sickened Europe.
Photo credit: Juan Leal