(This feature essay, written in August 2016, was published in the Romanian edition of Foreign Policy magazine (Foreign Policy Romania, FPR), No.53, January/March 2017. Read the original Romanian version here.)
A new national identity dimension, a new national project. By Gabriel Elefteriu
Part I: An Atlantic identity for Romania
ouching on the Black Sea, Romanians were situated for centuries at the crossroads of three distinct empires and cultures – Russian, Ottoman and Habsburg. A powerful wave of French civilisational influence, not unlike that experienced earlier by Russia, added to Romania’s cultural and political mix beginning from the first half of the 19th century, while the arrival of a Hohenzollern king in the 1860s added a direct link with Germany. As such, Romania’s national identity is strongly anchored in and shaped by an exclusively-continental European experience and outlook. The full relationship and connection with the West (particularly France and Germany), suspended for forty years spent in the Communist wilderness, only resumed in the 1990s. The Anglo-American opening is of a still more recent vintage, bound up with NATO politics and, from the late 2000s, with an explicit Romanian presidential vision for a “Washington-London-Bucharest axis.”
For all the quick progress in Romanian-American relations in recent years, these remain overwhelmingly dominated by defence and security issues. The “strategic partnership” is narrow in scope and utilitarian, with the utility factor skewed much – and inevitably – in America’s favour. This arguably amounts, in security terms, to a US “protectorate” over Romania. But it is an artificial, external addition to the country’s traditional, Euro-centric perspective — not a full, natural and structural shift, a new dimension in its national strategic identity. There has been no wider embrace of the Atlantic partnership, and its potential as a building block for a more comprehensive relationship with America and Britain does not seem to find much recognition in Bucharest.
The Pull Factor: Embracing America as a Means to Enhance Security
Romania’s fundamental security and political calculus is still almost exclusively dominated by European factors. Bucharest continues to play the same, age-old game, attempting to balance among European forces and to muddle through the security challenges of Eastern Europe careful not to ruffle too many feathers – except, it seems, Russian ones. Romania’s bet is currently on Brussels’s grand European federative project, and consequently on its twin Franco-German lead. This is especially true after Brexit. Quite apart from the politics of the refugee crisis, the problem lies in Paris’s (explicit) and Berlin’s (latent) interest in reconciling with Moscow, which bears directly on Romania’s national security, as it does on Poland’s. More widely, a new political fault line has opened within the EU, between the old West and the new East, or the so-called ‘new Europe’.
As uncomfortable as it is to admit it, we have seen this kind of European dynamics at work before — most recently in the run-up to the Second World War. We are back, for an indefinite period of time, to classic European power politics, which is not good news for weak countries like Romania located at geopolitical crossroads. But there is a new element in the mix, this time: a direct American alliance and presence in Eastern Europe. The question is: how can this be used to ensure that history does not repeat itself in this part of the world.
There is really only one way: to strongly anchor America in the region. A meaningful and solid US military and political presence will help limit Romania’s exposure to geopolitical risks arising from European great power maneuvers. In this context, any European attempts at initiating favourable policies towards Russia for Western gain, behind Romania’s back or even against its interests, will be more difficult to accomplish. Conversely, stronger American backing will allow Bucharest to play a more prominent role in East European diplomacy.
For all this to become possible, the US must be much more deeply invested in Romania — not just in a material sense, but, crucially, in a political and moral sense. Fact-based strategic calculation goes a long way, but policy decisions and particularly long-term policy are also — or even more — influenced by subjective factors: perceptions, awareness and understanding of the local situation and dynamics, personal relationships, notions of moral responsibility and so on. Very little of this can be developed only within the scope of official frameworks for institutional contact, and even less of it when there is no vision to begin with, for expanding the scope of the relationship between its current functional parameters.
Admittedly, this would be an unprecedented departure for Romanian policy: the country has rarely thought in strategic terms much outside its East-European box, and never beyond Paris and Berlin. Developing this sort of close relationship — much beyond the current “partnership” — with extra-continental America (and the United Kingdom) is not just a break with tradition but also a leap of imagination. It would effectively involve developing a new, Atlantic dimension for Romania’s strategic identity – a structural shift, a new paradigm.
Yet without this step, the American alliance will always remain an unnatural construct which rests only on formal treaty obligations that leave ample room for maneuver at regional actors’ expense if that comes to be in Washington’s interest. This has already happened elsewhere in the region in recent years, when the US scaled down its missile defence plans in Poland, under the Obama administration. Great powers will always prioritise their interests, when push comes to shove, but that calculation can be materially affected, in time, by the nature of the relationship they have with local allies. It is crucial that Romania does not fall again into the trap of taking its allies and security for granted, particularly while its own military is so extraordinarily weak.
To sum up, there is a clear strategic rationale for Romania to see the US strongly anchored and influential in the region. This is an unmissable opportunity to reconfigure the balance of power and influence in Eastern Europe and to thus break the historical cycle of European great power deals made at the expense of smaller states. But it is an important undertaking that has to be far-reaching and comprehensive: it is effectively about developing an Atlantic identity for Romania’s national security. For that to succeed, it must be embedded into an even wider vision.
A cultural project
This should more than a new strategic concept: it should be a cultural and knowledge-transfer project. It is best understood as a wider effort to inject Anglo-American values and models into Romanian society and political culture, not unlike the great French cultural imports of the 19th century. Back then, a quasi-byzantine local establishment with Ottoman and Slavic inflexions (indeed, the Cyrillic alphabet was in official use as late as the 1850s) made the leap toward Western-style institutions in the space of a single generation. Although a great many Eastern idiosyncrasies were never erased, Romanian political life became recognisably European – and all of this was driven by the “special relationship” that developed with France through myriad contacts, personal relationships and cultural transfers. That process led naturally to powerful, ‘brotherhood’ ties between newly-Francophone Romania and the French State, which eventually translated into crucial support for Romania in its darkest hour of need during the First World War, and carried on to ever closer links into the inter-war period.
The Atlantic project can potentially work today in much the same way the “French opening” worked in the 1800s, but, naturally, taking account of 21st century realities. It would aim to transform the worldview and public practices of Romanian policy-makers and ultimately the country as a whole. Romanian society in general and the policy-making community in particular suffer from an inward-looking, rigid and timorous mindset — arguably rooted in old habits inherited from the Communist era. This suppresses innovation and rewards risk-aversion, perpetuating the internal dysfunction of the national policy-making apparatus. Opaque, unaccountable and unchallenged, the latter trudges forward seemingly aimlessly, or at best locked in sterile pursuits. Additionally, with few independent experts and with no independent and politically-relevant think-tanks or advocacy groups to offer alternative ideas and press seriously for changes in policy, no wonder little gets done.
None of this has seen much improvement in over a quarter-century of ever-closer re-engagement with European culture and values in a free, democratic, post-Communist setting at home. The expected ‘Europeanisation’ of Romania has never really happened except in select areas (such as parts of the corporate sector or private enterprise) and in superficial ways; EU’s development models and inspirational pull have run out of steam. This does not at all mean the European path is wrong, but it does indicate that it is not enough. Romania needs to broaden its horizons beyond Europe and reach out to the Anglo-American world for new models, ideas and perspectives to apply back home. For Romania, 21st century “Atlantic” can be the new 19th century “French”.
The truth is that we are already half way there. A majority of young Romanians, addicted to the Internet, grow up in a largely English-speaking digital milieu. British and American cultural exports, whether films, games or music, dominate by far the foreign-language entertainment market. And for all their anger at the “perfidious” Brits with their anti-EU antics and anti-immigrant press, Romanians are in awe of British parliamentary conduct and more of them aspire every year to move to the UK to work or study (although Brexit might make that more difficult). Indeed, this is the clinching argument, looking forward: an increasingly large number of Romania’s best and brightest young people are educated in Britain and the US, and some of them are returning home; today’s “new 1848-ers” (a popular term for the generation who established the modern Romanian state in the 19th century) are not Francophiles. The next generation – and quite a few of those now in their 30s and 40s – has to a large extent an Anglophone outlook, often even Anglophile, and most importantly a global outlook. The stage is already set for a great Atlantic opening.
But what would this mean?
Again, the best parallel to use is the original (re)fashioning of modern Romanian society and institutions in the French image, at the dawn of the modern Romanian state. That was not an organised process with a national strategy behind it, but it was driven by people with a clear vision for Romania’s need to modernise, and a strong will to steer the country in that direction. Similarly, today, building an Atlantic identity for Romania is about forging a vision of what that means, and pushing for the adoption in practice of some of those traits.
There are three elements to this vision: ethics and values; institutional models; standards and best practices. There is much to learn from the Anglo-American experience across these three areas – in addition to what continental Europe can teach – bearing in mind that these two countries did build two of the most successful societies in history. Indeed, it was their success particularly under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that ultimately brought Communism down and led to the liberation of countries like Romania.
Ethics and values
In the realm of ethics and values, often dismissed in the ever-materialistic Eastern Europe as secondary in importance, the Atlantic project can act as a lens focusing on arguably the two key principles that underpin much of British and American societies, respectively. The first is “fairness,” in the case of the UK in particular. This is what enables a culture of compromise and moderation that rejects extreme views and behaviour and rewards dialogue and debate.
The second is “individualism”, which at first glance is an abomination to the traditionalist, collectivist mindset prevalent in East European countries. To Romanians, American-style individualism evokes visions of callous disregard for one’s fellow human beings, of amorality and godless pursuit of material gain in a kind of a spiritual vacuum. Indeed, individualism is one of the main features of America that repels Romanians – but that is because precisely because of a lack of a domestic intellectual debate on classic-liberal principles underpinning individualism.
American (and British conservative) individualism stems from Enlightenment ideas about reason, responsibility and individual choice, which in turn were a reaction to religious dogma, political absolutism and popular superstitions of the early modern age. But the unifying concept was freedom – the individual’s freedom to make decisions, to reason, to be different, to be free from oppression or various forms of genuine abuse etc. Today there are new forms of dogmas (i.e. fashionable ideologies, such as egalitarianism or identity politics), of absolutism (opaque and corrupt “security states”), of superstition (prejudice, stereotypes, urban myths) which are suppressing the genuine, authentic notion of “freedom” in Romania (and not only). The country’s fundamental problem is one of morale and mentality, and the solution to that has everything to do with the notion of individual freedom.
There is an important debate to be had, therefore, about how some of these views can be usefully adopted in a Romanian context. Look close enough and you will realise that Romanian society is already calling for change precisely along these lines. Many Romanians lament the absence of individual responsibility as a value across society; and they also lament its opposite: the hiding behind anonymous, collective responsibility, which is instinctive to so many people. This is just another way of calling for individual responsibility, a cornerstone of Anglo-American social values.
Additionally, the welfare culture, of something-for-nothing, is widely recognised in Romania as a chronic problem left over from Communist times; the implicit Romanian aspiration in relation to this, is to individual opportunity and to the ethics of individual merit through hard work. This only echoes a deep Atlantic-side instinct: in the face of the anti-American and anti-British discourse affecting the Romanian public space, it is often forgotten that in an Anglo-American context the culture of individualism is inseparable from that of hard work.
Furthermore, the culture of petty, everyday corruption and graft at all levels, of poor standards and cutting corners, is rightly seen as a plague upon Romania. Yet there is only one, proven antidote to that: free competition – which cannot be separated from the ethics of individualism – where the best prosper and the average or mediocre lose if they do not really try to do better and improve their services, products or behaviour. Competition, in turn, is the essential by-product of individualism.
Finally, the “amoral” individualism of Anglo-American origin, with its emphasis on individual rights – as opposed to group or collective rights – is the absolute antithesis of multiculturalism, of neo-marxist minority-rights movements and of the political correctness doctrine, all of which are designed precisely to limit individual freedom in favour of group entitlements. These are not Anglo-American ideas, but European ideologies stemming from French, German and Italian thinking – and particularly from the Frankfurt School – which have in the meantime (and particularly since the ‘60s and ‘70s) spread throughout the West. This should give people pause to think about what is perception and what is reality in their comparative view of America and Europe.
As regards institutional models, Britain and America remain, each in its own way, the two leading exemplars of democratic set-up and governance – irrespective of their policy failures and occasionally-wayward internal politics. Britain, with its parliamentary system and strong European heritage, holds particular relevance for Romania. Both the Romanian executive and legislative branches stand to benefit from a deeper understanding of how the same nominal duties are discharged by their corresponding branches in the UK. Britain offers sterling examples in four areas in particular: the role of the Civil Service; shadow government scrutiny; parliamentary committee work; independent bodies and inquiries.
The British Civil Service is a model for separating politics and political responsibility from the purely administrative aspect of governing; in a Romanian context, this can be an antidote to ‘politicisation’. The Civil Service maintains a fierce independence from political influence, on principle but also because it understands that this independence represents is main source of power both in relation to the society at large (public opinion), and in relation to the body politic. There is an important lesson in this for the would-be “reformists” of Romania: their high-flown ideals for how the State apparatus/bureaucracy should look like – “depoliticisation”, professionalism, meritocracy, total eradication of corruption and so on – cannot be achieved à la Robespierre, that is, imposed more or less in a forceful manner „justified” by the purity of their „higher principles”. Rather, the main vehicle for change should come in the form of a new „proposal”, a new „settlement” offered to the bureaucrats populating this system, a deal that would alter the way they see and calculate their own personal and institutional interests. This is a complex discussion, which should be initiated as soon as possible, and pegged to the model of the UK Civil Service as the gold standard. The latter will never be replicated in a country like Romania – and not just Romania – but it is the principles that matter.
The way shadow government works in the UK – as instituted through constitutional provisions, and parliamentary procedure and convention – offers crucial lessons for improving the role and effectiveness of the Opposition in the Romanian Parliament. This is not just about the public-political element of it – with its two roles: scrutinising government activity, and representing the political interests of the rest of the country – but also about the professional-political aspect: preparing the opposition party for government. There is in this something which, true enough, is specific to the United Kingdom (they do not have this in America): the fact that the government – meaning, in a Romanian context, the equivalent of ministers, secretaries and undersecretaries of state – can only be drawn from the ranks of the elected Members of Parliament (excepting a small number of positions which can also be occupied by the unelected members of the House of Lords). This system is beneficial not only on democratic-moral grounds (it ensures that key political decisions are not left to unelected people), but also on democratic-professional grounds (it is a sure way to force political parties to actually care about the professional competency and talent of their leading members, rather than promote non-entities, because they would know that the party’s performance in government would depend on those people rather than on “specialists” drawn from outside the party after winning an election).
Similarly, the scrutiny, inquiry and advisory function performed by UK parliamentary committees adds an essential layer of accountability to government action, as well as a welcome input into the public debate on particular policy issues. Additionally, these committees represent the principal, institutional link between parliament and subject-matter experts from outside the public sector. There is huge room for improvement in the work of Romanian parliamentary committees, and much can be learned from how the Westminster Parliament operates.
Finally, the role of independent bodies – often, the equivalent of Romanian “state agencies” – and independent inquiries in British public life is worthy of close examination in Romania as well. A wide range of important “State” tasks that carry significant political weight, from major reviews of key policies (such as the review into the counter-terrorism legislation in 2011) or running vast public bodies (such as the Charity Commission or the BBC) to major inquiries such as the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War, are purposefully taken out of the Government’s hands and given to independents. In fairness, this particular model is more difficult to adopt in a country like Romania which lacks the large number of high-profile public figures respected for their integrity, talent and independence that the UK Government can call upon to lead various public inquiries or bodies. But the scale and complexity of the issues at hand is also different, and the British example – or at least the principles underpinning it – remains valid in Romania’s case.
There is no suggestion that any of these British models could simply be “transplanted” into the Romanian system. But they can constitute the basis for reform once the principles they embody, and the way they function, are better understood in Romania. This can best happen by facilitating direct contact with UK politicians and civil servants directly involved in the British political system (and by specialist research on the Romanian side on the model of the London-based Institute for Government). In the end, an Atlantic identity for Romania must absolutely include a “new-look” parliamentary and executive system functioning, increasingly more, along British and American democratic principles – maintaining, where no Anglo-American model can apply, positive elements of Romanian specificity.
Standards and best practices
In terms of standards and best practices in public (and private) life, closer contact with Anglo-American models can, in time, give rise to similar approaches in Romania as well. Again, the range of topics under this headline is vast, but a few point examples stand out. Firstly, one could think of British standards of parliamentary conduct, which are regulated both by statute and by convention. Then, there are standards for the sharing of public information by the government – distinct from statutory transparency requirements. This effectively reflects the government’s continuous and diligent effort to explain and clarify its actions, plans and policies to the public.
Thirdly, there is the policy-making process itself, with important differences in London and Washington, but with unique and very useful lessons overall for a country like Romania where policy-making is still rudimentary and basic. There are American and British models for the way the process is organised, the way people are selected, the way data and wider political and strategic considerations play into the mix, and – importantly – the way relations with stakeholders are handled.
Sound policy-making practices are at the heart of all successful democracies, and higher standards together with better practices in this area do not just improve policy output but also drive up standards in politics more widely. This is particularly true in the media, which in Romania is largely reduced to covering sensationalist stories and political scandals rather than substantive policy work – because the latter does not actually exist. This will always be a push-pull process, with discerning journalists and knowledgeable pundits required to keep the pressure up on the politicians; but the initial drive must come from within the policy-making community which needs to up its game. Engaging with Atlantic practices in this area is the best way to do so, not least because this space is more accessible linguistically and the Anglo-American approach is often far clearer and more pragmatic – hence, easier to grasp – than equivalent European models.
Part II: Atlantic Romania – the way forward
How can all this come to pass in Romania?
A Romania with an Atlantic identity is a new, unconventional, expansive vision bound to elicit much criticism and dismissive scepticism, and for good reasons. It goes against deep-seated political and cultural traditions. It does not have a natural constituency within the political establishment. Many will not see the need for it, and others will take it as an anti-EU project (even though it is complementary with it). Besides, because it cannot be fully transposed into a plan with clear, quantifiable targets, some will want to dismiss it as an empty concept and a fantasy. But this is to misunderstand what is being proposed here.
This is a vision that can provide the foundation for the famed “new national project” that Romanian society allegedly yearns for, after being rendered aimless by the achievement of its great post-Communist goals of joining NATO and the EU. A full-fledged, detailed “Atlantic strategy” cannot – and should not – be articulated, but a general “roadmap” is easier to set out.
First, there has to be buy-in from political party leaders in Bucharest, as well as key public opinion leaders, and a distinctly pro-Anglo-American lobby has to be established. The case for this Atlantic identity project must be made cogently and persuasively at home, but as much as possible outside Romania’s institutional framework. This cannot be perceived from the beginning as a government project, although the government is welcome to help along the way. State institutions will inevitably come to play a greater role in all this, in time, as links with the Atlantic grow to the point where they can lead to new formal relationships and arrangements. But the process must be kept away from Romanian government’s hands initially, lest it develops an unhealthy dependence on what is, ultimately, an unpredictable political establishment.
Second, a similar “Atlantic Romania” lobby must be established in London and Washington, drawing on the resources of the finest, ablest and most influential Romanians in the UK and US (there is no suggestion of including the present author in this group), who share this vision. The aim would be to grow Romania’s profile and influence in the policy-making communities in these two capital cities, laying the groundwork for eventually establishing a proper “special relationship” between them and Bucharest.
The UK and Brexit
Britain plays a key role in this due to its own “special relationship” with the US, which will become even stronger post-Brexit. Far from being the “catastrophic” event imagined by some commentators, Brexit, in fact, has placed the United Kingdom on a power-trajectory in relation to the rest of the European continent, in the medium-long term – regardless of the short-term wobbles. And this must be appreciated as an essential factor in Romania’s calculus for the coming years; the same is true for Eastern Europe in general. Brexit generates a new logic in British foreign policy – aimed at counter-balancing and/or encouraging the reform of the Franco-German Euro-federalist project – which shares some common ground with the viewpoints of several other governments in Romania’s part of the world.
Furthermore, leaving the EU will drive London to deepen its support for and involvement in NATO, especially as regards maintaining a solid, united, Allied front against Russia. This represents another area of shared strategic interests between Britain and East-European countries, as well as the United States – but not necessarily France and Germany. Paris and Berlin still support the common position of the Alliance, but they are doing this against their natural and historic tendencies and – especially in Angela Merkel’s case – against their own public opinion, the interests of the commercial and industrial sector, and those of a large section of the domestic political class. To restate a point made earlier, countries like Romania cannot afford to ground their long-term strategy in illusions; they must be clear-eyed about who they can rely on as regards the Russian threat. One solution to this dilemma – possibly the only viable one, long-term – is to embrace an “Atlantic strategy” as described in this paper.
In this context, for Romania’s Atlantic project London is the ideal gateway to Washington where a truly effective new national lobby is difficult to set up. The road to the Beltway passes through the Westminster bubble.
A third means of realising the goals set out in this paper involves private and public projects for “extended” knowledge-transfer that can be set up and pursued in a sustained fashion, if linked to the higher rationale of an Atlantic vision. This means bringing first-class British and American experts and practitioners over to Romania and running hands-on tutorials on policy-making and other aspects of democratic politics and governance.
It also means greater dissemination of this type of knowledge in the Romanian media, and updating local academic programmes on social sciences and public affairs to reflect more of the Anglo-American models in this regard. There is vast scope for Atlantic input into the non-governmental space as well, particularly in the area of research think-tanks. Likewise, knowledge-transfer in business (particularly in entrepreneurship), entertainment and media industries can yield material benefits if properly and carefully organised and managed, including with state input where that can make an important difference.
Bit by bit, a small trickle of such initiatives can, in time, turn into a wide range of programmes that in turn create innumerable ties between Romania and people and organisations in Britain and America. Through this flurry of activity, minds can be changed, new ideas developed and new opportunities discovered. The advantages of promoting this approach under this “Atlantic identity” concept are that it provides, on the one hand, a unifying purpose to what otherwise would be haphazard initiatives; and on the other hand, it provides a higher strategic rationale: that of aligning Romania, on all levels and as much as possible, with the Anglo-American world.
Fourth, in a climate of increasing Atlantic-Romanian ties and mutual confidence, more substantive economic, political and military projects can be launched. These can range from private Anglo-American investments, financing and technology-transfer in key industries, to state-backed military-industrial cooperation – for example through defence procurement offset deals – and closer political and diplomatic coordination.
But the overarching requirement is a permanent advocacy of the “ethics and values” element of the Atlantic vision, in the Romanian public space. This will help start shaking up traditionalist mindsets, challenge outdated ideas, and create an intellectual atmosphere favourable to a great new opening to the Atlantic world. When they broke free of Communism, Romanians immediately turned to “Europe,” embracing it in the almost desperate hope that it will give them everything Socialism could not, and much more. But there is a world beyond Europe, too.
Gabriel Elefteriu is National Security Research Fellow at a think tank in London. He has previously worked in business intelligence and defence analysis, and he graduated from the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. The opinions expressed in this article are strictly personal.
Addendum / Additional note by the editor of Foreign Policy Romania
A fragile balance
After reading the original essay, in August 2016 we asked the author for a few extra thoughts. “In a wider sense, Romania could play the role of a trusted adviser to the US Department of State, contributing to the creation of a more stable and less tense NATO-Russia relationship – but without any compromise to the general balance of security”, Gabriel Elefteriu explained.
FPR: Your essay states that history could repeat itself in Eastern Europe. How would that happen? What could Russia impose on Romania – or Poland? A “Finlandisation” is no longer possible. On the other hand, Russia is substantially present in Romania’s economy – often with intriguing effects.
Gabriel Elefteriu: A repetition of history would mean, as I have suggested, a new form of “appeasement” between France and/or Germany, and Russia – against the interests of the buffer-states which form the “Eastern flank” of NATO, including Romania. The result could easily be a shift in the balance of power in the region, from a political point of view – namely an increase of Russian influence throughout this whole area. The net effect – which will not be immediate, but will become apparent in time – is difficult to assess with precision.
In the most limited scenario, we would see an (extremely) rapid erosion of the political pro-Euro-Atlantic political forces extant within the countries belonging to the Eastern flank, in the face of what would clearly be perceived as a Russian geopolitical success. The result: practically, an annulment of much of the progress registered by these countries over the last 20 years. And great changes in political dynamics never fail to engage even larger forces from the economic sector and so on.
At worst, such an appeasement policy would present Russia with a major opportunity to intensify its undermining of Euro-Atlantic cohesion. What would now seem, for both Paris and Berlin, a “logical” step (the old argument of “choosing cooperation over confrontation”) would, in effect, open a Pandora’s box, and would initiate a complex set of events and unpredictable political decisions. It would practically be a cancelling – by voluntary choice – of the political equilibrium in the Euro-Atlantic space, which is already fragile.
Beyond this point, the future would be open to all possibilities, including as regards the integrity of NATO and the EU. As long as NATO and the EU exist (and these are the parameters of our discussion), there obviously cannot be any new Molotov-Ribbentrop pacts or “Finlandisations”; but we must remember that these sort of past agreements were merely expressions (the effects) of certain political dynamics (the cause).
At the same time, as I have said before, I agree that there is a need for a détente with Russia. Today, both sides, NATO and Russia, are caught in an escalatory spiral of threats and insecurity – a road with only one destination, and which must be stopped. But détente is not the same as appeasement, which represents a unilateral decision.
“Détente”, in the sense used by Nixon and Kissinger, means a structured process for negotiating a balanced way out from a highly charged and tense situation, a process which protects the basic interests of each party. It is a formula for the management of confrontation, not for a sudden exit from it. This is, in my opinion, where the Franco-German error lies: they operate under the illusion that a total elimination of the confrontation with Russia could one day be achieved, truly and permanently. But the optimal way forward can only take the form of a mature relationship with Russia – based on a clear acknowledgement of the realities and the mutual core interests – which alone would allow for a peaceful coexistence.
In this context, I do not see a fundamental problem in the fact that there are large Russian investments in important sectors of Romanian industry; the interest of both parties is to make these investments profitable, with the appropriate controls in place according to Romanian law and market mechanisms and regulations. On the contrary, economic ties can play a positive role in a positive and realistic agenda – in a détente framework – as regards Russia.
FPR: How much would Romania’s position within the EU be affected if it were to categorically oppose, counting on the American local presence, the conciliatory initiatives of France and Germany towards Russia?
Gabriel Elefteriu: At the moment, Romania is not in any position to unilaterally oppose anything or anyone. The local presence of the United States is merely the foundation on which a special political relationship with Washington and London should be built. Once Romania will be firmly engaged on such a course, its political weight will inevitably grow, which will allow it a greater room for manoeuvre as well as extra political options within the EU. We must not forget that the “EU” is not a community that is isolated from the rest of the world, but rather a political construct made up of states with multiple interests and concerns, which are in their turn affected by geopolitical forces beyond the world of Brussels. Moreover, as I have recently argued somewhere else (see the “Black Sea Syndrome”), Romania now has an opportunity to contribute to the formation of a coherent “Eastern bloc” within the EU – which, in combination with British-American support, could not only protect Bucharest from any adverse effects at EU level, but could also place Romania – for the first time – in a position of strength within the Union.
FPR: What sort of a more prominent role could Romania have, with American support, in Eastern European diplomacy? What interests would it have to promote or sustain regionally?
Gabriel Elefteriu: In an article for adevarul.ro from 8 August 2016, We must get over the “Black Sea Syndrome”. A new strategic concept is needed, I made the case that Romania’s interest lies in the consolidation of the Eastern flank, by coupling it to the flank’s “Northern group” (the Baltic states plus the Visegrad group). In order to achieve this, an immediate increase in Romania’s military capacity is absolutely required, with a focus on air and the land forces – and in this effort a substantial, efficiently negotiated American support would be invaluable. More broadly, Romania could play the role of a trustworthy “adviser” to the American State Department – if that special political relationship between Romania and the US becomes a reality – which would allow the construction of a stable and less tense NATO-Russia relation, but without any compromises in the general security balance.
FPR: Going back to Atlantic Romania, how should we start building our Atlantic identity?
Gabriel Elefteriu: By establishing a pro-Anglo-American lobby (note that we are not talking about Euro-Atlanticism, but about Atlanticism) in Bucharest, seconded by “satellites” in London and Washington. The Atlantic identity is merely a vision, not a strategy. The first step is, therefore, identifying those individuals who are willing to share that vision. And then, together, they will work out the best way to make it happen. – PM