Romania at the Warsaw Summit – A Tale of Two Realities

Romania at the Warsaw Summit – A Tale of Two Realities

George Visan

Research Associate at ROEC

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George Visan

Bucharest, Romania

by George Visan, July 15, 2016

In Warsaw, president Klaus Iohannis triumphantly proclaimed during the final press conference that Romania achieved all of its objectives set before the summit. And on the face of it, he is right. Romania obtained what appears to be a strong allied presence on its territory – a multinational brigade, under its command, as part of NATO’s Multinational Division South East. Bulgarian, Polish and U.S. troops, along with Romanian soldiers will form this multinational brigade. NATO has updated Romania’s contingency plan as the country had asked. This effort will be backed by an intensified training initiative similar to the one that is already in place for the Baltic States and Poland. As concerns the Black Sea and the Russian military buildup in Crimea, Romania’s political and military evaluation of developments in the Black Sea has been approved by fellow member states. However, the alliance postponed the discussions about the development of a tailored air and naval response for the region. These are the main takeaways for Romania after the Warsaw Summit, hailed as a success for the member countries’ security and defense. Under more serious scrutiny, for Romania, the measures hardly qualify as a success.

The Multinational Division South East is at origin a Romanian project built upon the structure of the 1st Infantry Division Dacica. The multinational brigade will consist of two Romanian battalions, a reinforced American mechanized infantry battalion of around 1,000 men, a 400 men Bulgarian battalion and a Polish company with 200 soldiers. The U.S. contingent will be available from 2017 as part of a reinforcement of the European Reassurance Initiative and the deployment is based on a bilateral agreement between Bucharest and Washington, and not part of a wider Alliance effort.

If one compares the NATO multinational brigade deployed in Poland and the Baltic States to the similar unit deployed in Romania, there are some significant differences. First, there is no major Western European nation represented in the brigade. In the northern sector of the eastern flank, Great Britain and Germany are deploying troops alongside American and Canadian forces. Troops from Italy, France or Turkey should have been a part of the multinational brigade deployed in Romania. President Iohannis has stated that, currently, talks are being held with other member states for participation in the brigade, but no country has been mentioned explicitly.

Although France and Italy are part of NATO’s southern flank, they are unlikely to send military forces as they favor dialogue with Russia, rather than a strong deterrence posture. French president Francois Hollande characterized Russia during the NATO summit as a partner and urged dialogue with Moscow to settle the current crisis. Germany is unlikely to commit more forces to the security of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) as the use of the military in foreign policy is controversial and the public favors a softer approach to Russia. Turkey, despite being directly threatened by developments in Crimea, has lately had an ambivalent attitude towards Russia, with president Erdogan settling recently the dispute concerning the 2015 downing of the Russian strike fighter by the Turkish Air Force.

The differences between deployments on the northern and southern sectors of the eastern flank demonstrate different threat levels and priorities between alliance members as well as different capacity levels. The northern tip of the eastern flank shares a common threat analysis as well as a better diplomatic ability to harness the resources of NATO to its aid. Conversely, the countries on the southern tip of the flank do not share a common threat analysis – for example, Romania and Bulgaria are not on the same page when it comes to assessing the Russian threat in the Black Sea – and are far less capable of mobilizing Alliance resources for their security than their northern tip counterparts.

From a military standpoint, Romania gains little compared to Poland or the Baltics by hosting a multinational brigade on its territory. In the Black Sea region, the main threats come from Moscow’s growing air and sea power, backed by a capable A2/AD network. Furthermore, in contrast to its northern counterparts, Romania does not share a border with Russia, though it is vulnerable to potential amphibious incursions or assaults. Therefore, a strong land presence is of little value compared to a tailored force designed to deal with threats coming from three domains: air, naval and land.

The last point leads to what should have been the main achievement of the Warsaw Summit for Romania: the sanctioning of a naval task force made up of NATO member states and, possibly, partner nations from the Black Sea. Other member states would have been free to participate in the task force, limited only by the Montreux Convention which regulates the access of naval vessels of states outside the region. Such a task force was the main objective for Romania before the summit, but it was undercut by Bulgaria’s opposition to the project. Instead, Bucharest obtained the promise that a tailored air and naval response will be discussed in October, at the NATO defenses minister’s meeting. The approval of Bucharest’s analysis of the security environment in the Black Sea region has little meaning without a follow up military and political response.

Given the speed of Russia’s military build-up in the region, postponing a discussion about a possible NATO air and naval package for the Black Sea means that there is currently no consensus in the Alliance for such an initiative and, as a result, it does not represent a priority. Moreover, as time passes, the chances of creating a Black Sea NATO naval task force are going to be slimmer, because of different approaches on Russia of the Alliance members. If anything, the Warsaw Summit underscored the different threat perceptions of Western and Central and Eastern European member states. Even within the latter group, there are differing perspectives on how to deal with Russia, with Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary favoring dialogue with the Kremlin rather than a strong demonstration of political and military will. The longer it takes for Romania’s project to be discussed and sanctioned, the smaller the chances to be enacted.

The other aims achieved by Romania at Warsaw are difficult to evaluate. Updating Romania’s contingency plan is, in theory, a positive development, however, it is difficult to evaluate as this sort of planning is strictly classified. The intensified training initiative is a welcomed development as it strengthens the readiness of Romania’s armed forces and of other member and partner nations in the region. It may help forge a common understanding of the Russian threat in the south-eastern tip of NATO’s eastern flank.

Ultimately, Romania achieved little compared to Poland or the Baltic States when it comes to bolstering NATO’s position on the eastern flank. The increased allied presence on Romania’s territory is more a political consolation prize for the failure of getting allied support for its real project: a NATO naval task force in the Black Sea.

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