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Defense Express Jun. 2016EN

George Visan  |  06/14/2016

Organization: Defense Express (Ukraine):

Journalist: Igor Fedik

ROEC expert: George Viṣan

Date: June 14, 2016

Igor Fedik: What is the Romanian vision of the security system in Eastern Europe?

George Viṣan: The Romanian vision concerning the Eastern European security system has very much to do with the situation before the war in Ukraine: respect for national sovereignty, respect for international borders, respect for international norms and the UN Charter, and the resolution of disputes and conflicts through diplomatic dialogue and international law. Furthermore, Romania sees Euro-Atlantic integration as the main security linchpin of Eastern Europe.

Igor Fedik: Is NATO enough in today’s circumstances or there should be additional regional unions (like Baltic – Black sea union, which is being widely discussed in Poland)?

George Viṣan: NATO membership is one of the key features of Romania’s security, the other being the strategic partnership with the United States. However, Bucharest relies now more on its relationship with Washington in terms of security and defense policy than on NATO per se. In the past 20 years, Romania manifested little interest in regional security arrangements. At present, Romania works with Poland for obtaining a NATO presence on the Eastern flank. Romania also works with Turkey in the Black Sea. Ankara is Bucharest’s main regional strategic partner. Besides the project of a NATO fleet in the Black Sea, Romania is not involved in any regional security and defense project inside the Alliance.

Igor Fedik: How Romania sees NATO’s deterrence on its Eastern Flank? Does it correspond to the risks and threats in the region?

George Viṣan: There is clearly a need of increasing NATO’s posture on the Eastern Flank. The United States acknowledged that there are significant gaps in terms of alliance presence in the East when, at the start of 2016, it announced that it will increase four times the budget for the European Reassurance Initiative. Romania would like to see a permanent NATO presence on the Eastern flank. However, what will most likely happen after the Warsaw summit, will be an increase in the non-permanent presence of US and allied forces. I think that the bulk of NATO presence on Eastern Flank will be drawn from Romania and Poland with reinforcements coming on a rotational basis from the US and other allies.

Igor Fedik: What is the sense of Romania’s request for permanent NATO’s naval presence in the Black Sea? Will it secure the country and the region? Are there any risks for that?

George Viṣan: The purpose of Romania’s request for a NATO naval presence in the region is to deter Russia’s assertiveness and to restore the regional military balance. The takeover of Crimea and the creation of an anti-access and area denial bubble (A2/AD) in the Black Sea is considered a threat to the region’s security.

Igor Fedik: Did Russian military aggression in Ukraine have the impact on the security and military policy of the Romania? (For instance, in Ukraine and in Poland it had.)

George Viṣan: The war between Russia and Ukraine has had a direct and immediate impact on Romania’s defense and security. Firstly, it highlighted the fragility of the international system. For the first time in more than 60 years, borders in Europe could be changed through force of arms. Secondly, it showed the importance of investing in defense. Due to the economic crisis, between 2010 and 2014 Romania allocated around 1% of its GDP for defense expenditure and, in practice, it spent even less. This meant that few acquisitions could be made and very few training exercises could be organized. After the Ukrainian crisis, defense spending is gradually increasing although it is still under 2% of GD and the number of military exercises, both national and international, grew exponentially – there were 400 military exercises in 2015 alone. Only in 2017 will Romania spend 2% of its GDP on defense and after that, hopefully, defense expenditure will hover around that number for the next 10 years.

Thirdly, the war in Ukraine showed Russia’s aggressive and mischief potential close to Romania’s border – in Moldova. It would have been contrary to Romania’s interest if Russia interfered in Moldova, simultaneously with its military adventure in Ukraine.

Finally, the war in Ukraine showed Romania’s importance of belonging to a strong alliance system and having close security and defense partnership with the United States. Without these elements, Romania would be in a far more difficult situation than it is today, given Russia’s belligerency.

Igor Fedik: Do Romania and Ukraine have to develop much closer military and military-technical cooperation in current circumstances? Will it be efficient?

George Viṣan: In the current regional and international context, Romania and Ukraine should intensify their military cooperation. However, I cannot say what will happen in the near and medium term given the idiosyncrasies of the bilateral relations. Ukraine and Romania haven’t enjoyed a very close bilateral relations after the dissolution of the USSR. The Black Sea delimitation dispute showed how conflict prone was the bilateral relationship in diplomatic terms before 2014. Another salient bilateral issue was respect for the rights of the Romanian minority in Ukraine. Also, Romania’s accession to NATO and EU may have been wrongly perceived in Kiev.

After 2014, there was a gradual détente between Romania and Ukraine, but I would not call today’s relationship a close one. There is evidently room for improvement and Russia’s aggressiveness is an argument for increased cooperation in terms of security and defense policy, but I think there is still some residual distrust between Kiev and Bucharest that needs to be overcome.

If you are referring to military acquisitions, I don’t see any relevant military technical cooperation in the short and medium term between Bucharest and Kiev. Romania is a part of NATO and, consequently, most of its military acquisitions will be from the members of this block. On the other hand, both countries could benefit from military exchanges. My guess is that Romanian military planners will be very interested in their Ukrainian counterparts’ experience in Donbas.

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