Romania plays key role for NATO on eastern flank

  • Mihai Turcanu
  • 30.10.2017 11:31

Romania’s membership of NATO is the direct result of centuries-old fears of Russia’s expansionism. Due to the country’s location in Russia’s path to one of its strategic objectives, the Dardanelles Straits, Romania’s level of commitment to the Alliance is directly proportional to the danger of its geopolitical reality it has always been exposed to. This approach has paid off and, mainly due to the firm backing it currently enjoys from its Western allies, Romania is facing the Russian threat from a relatively secure position. Other less-active Eastern European countries need to follow Bucharest’s resolve to become true NATO allies.

On 9 October, a 4000-strong NATO Multinational Brigade located was inaugurated in Craiova. It was the latest achievement for Romania, perfectly portraying its overall conduct and strategy as a NATO member, which is to provide as much added value as possible to ensure adequate support from the Alliance, should the need for that arise. Even before formally joining the alliance, Bucharest was already cooperating closely with NATO on a number of issues - in Yugoslavia or in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Since joining NATO in 2004, Romanian troops served in several NATO and non-NATO led missions, including Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, KFOR (Kosovo), ALTHEA (Bosnia), Operation Iraqi Freedom, Active Endeavor and Black Sea Naval Force (BLACKSEAFOR). More, despite Russia’s threats and protests, since 2016 Romania hosts the 800-million US Aegis ballistic missile defence system that comes with a permanent US military base and represents a long-term US security guarantee for the country.


Romania’s fears became reality with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in 2014.


After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and despite Kremlin’s solemn renunciation of its imperialist past, Bucharest saw the Russian Army take an active part in the 1992 Transnistria War on its borders, confirming Romania’s fears about Russia’s intent to reassert its dominance in Eastern Europe. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the risk perceived in Bucharest was that amid the chaos caused by the transition of power in Ukraine, the war in Donbass, and the annexation of Crimea, Russian tanks would not stop until they reached the Danube delta, thereby occupying the whole region historically known as Novorossiya. This idea was entertained by Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin. Such scenario, in which Ukraine would have disappeared as a buffer region between Romania and Russia, caused great concerns in Romania. Therefore, in August 2014, the Romanian president called for NATO and the EU to “act on par with the Russian Federation” and supply weaponry to Ukraine.


The level of commitment from NATO, shows Romania’s growing importance on the south-eastern flank of the Alliance.


Bucharest was a main backer of the Readiness Action Plan (RAP), which resulted in a threefold increase of NATO’s response force up to a division level, with a Spearhead Force capable of responding within days to a hybrid aggression against any member of the Alliance; the RAP provided also for the establishment of NATO multinational command and control facilities in the territory of its eastern members. For Romania, the concrete results of this initiative were the establishment of a NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU), and a Multinational Division Southeast (MND SE), which became fully operational in June 2017. The overall tone of the RAP, however substantial, was perceived in Romania as directed primarily toward containing the Russian threat in the Baltic States, which, at that time, and due to their ethnic composition, were seen as a more likely target for Russian hybrid warfare tactics.


At the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw, Romania pushed for a more active NATO involvement in the Black Sea region, and the so-called Tailored Forward Presence (mirroring the Enhanced Forward Presence set-up for the NATO’s north-eastern flank) was established in order to reassure the Allies in this region. Under this new initiative, a Combined Joint Enhanced Training Initiative (CJET) to cover land, air and maritime domains was created, the Craiova Task Force was inaugurated, as well as four British Typhoon aircrafts deployed at the Mihail Kogălniceanu airbase. These developments were accompanied, in July 2017, by Sea Breeze 2017 - the most ambitious NATO naval drills to date.

Aforementioned measures were backed by the tightening political transatlantic bond between the US and Romania. At the first meeting between Klaus Iohannis and Donald Trump, the US leader for the first time officially expressed the US commitment to Article 5 of the NATO charter, while Iohannis joined Trump’s persistent calls for the NATO Allies to spend 2% of their GDP on defence.

Romania is in a far better position today to face the threat from the east than at any time in the last two centuries. 


The level of commitment from NATO Allies indicates clearly that Romania would not stand alone in the face of a potential Russian aggression. These measures of reassurance, coupled with a sustained economic growth, a successful fight against high-level corruption, and a military modernization program under which Romania is set to meet its defence spending commitments, combine to place Romania in a far better position today to face the threat from the east than at any time in the last two centuries.      

Countries like Romania and Poland are much more active when it comes to the Eastern flank than other Eastern European NATO members such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary or Bulgaria. Bulgaria, whose politicians maintain close ties with Russia, is generally reluctant towards implementing similar deterrence measures against the Kremlin’s policies. Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians allocate for their defence well bellow the 2% of the GDP required despite their historical experiences and healthy economies. Other former socialist countries can take lessons from Poland’s and Romania’s resolve to act as true NATO allies when it comes to standing at the forefront of Europe’s defence against Russian geopolitical ambitions.


About author: Mihai Turcanu


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