The United States and Romania: Security Arrangements and Mutual Interests

The decision of the Obama administration to cancel the plan to install a U.S. anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic was a blow to East Europe. It was then that Bucharest rushed in to accept the same anti-missile shield on Romanian territory, which is intended to defend Europe and Israel against Iranian missile attack.

By Nicholas Dima | June 14, 2013

Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Basconschi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sign Ballistic Missile

Defense Agreement between US and Romania at the State Department September 13, 2011

(Photo: Paul Richards/AFP)

STRATFOR is a professional electronic publication that deals with geopolitical issues and global intelligence. Its founder and chairman, George Friedman, is well-informed and aware of contemporary Eastern European affairs. On May 29, 2013, he published an article entitled, “The Search for Belonging and Ballistic Missile Defense in Romania,” about Bucharest’s search for a solid post-communist anchor. From the start, Mr. Friedman states that “during the Cold War Romania confused all of us“… the country was “hostile and uncooperative with the Soviets“… yet Ceausescu ruled with “ruthless irrationality.” Now “Romania longs to be better integrated into the international system,” especially into the European Union and NATO. “No matter how flawed Europe is today,” writes Mr. Friedman, the Romanians want to belong to the West and they pin their hope on America.

In many ways Romania is no different than the other East European countries, the author writes, remembering his own parents in Hungary listening to Voice of America (VOA) in 1944 and hoping to be saved from both the Germans and the Soviets. Throughout the Cold War “Eastern Europeans listened to VOA and imagined liberation from the Soviets. When that liberation finally came in 1989, it was unclear whether and to what degree the Americans had precipitated the Soviet collapse.” Mr. Friedman underscores that “the concept of liberation is fixed, and despite all of their concern for the European Union, the United States remains the redeemer…” Eastern Europe, he adds, “is perhaps the last place in the world where the United States is still seen as noble and invincible,” stressing, however, that “power is complex and distorts even the best of wills…,” and America is no different.

In Mr. Friedman’s opinion, Romania is now somehow different and it encounters more difficulties in its Western orientation than other countries in the region. He suggests that the Romanian leaders should adopt a more realistic attitude and rely more on the country’s own possibilities to achieve stability and security rather than on seeking them from outside. In this regard, he claims that NATO is weak and the EU is flawed, thus, overreliance on them is risky. He also has doubts about basing in Romania the American anti-missile shield. Instead, he recommends better economic relations with American business companies. Indeed, Romania is looking for a quick political fix for its current problems, but Mr. Friedman’s suggestions are easier said than done. Socio-political development requires decades of disciplined and wise policies most of the time involving private businesses. Political agreements are quick arrangements, but they do not have the depth of solid multilateral relations. With an economy in disarray, in a state of social internal confusion, and unable to find its own way through the EU maze, the Romanian leaders opted for strong political relations with the United States.

As a Romanian-American who grew up listening to VOA, and then as a Voice of America editor, I feel compelled to offer a few additional clarifications. First, to paraphrase and juxtapose the former British Prime Minister Disraeli, no country has permanent friends, but only permanent interests – and America is no different. For fifty years, the Eastern European countries were abandoned to Moscow and to communism. In this regard, nobody ever revealed the real provisions of the Yalta agreements, nor why communism collapsed without firing a shot 50 years later. In fact, no one fully explained to the public either what was decided at the Malta meetings in 1989… Now, the Eastern Europeans are expected to be grateful for being “liberated,” but few Western leaders want to remember the communist atrocities and their consequences.

Alongside Poland and Ukraine, Romania was one of the most abused countries of Eastern Europe. Moscow’s troops invaded Romania no less than 12 times in recent history and the province of Bessarabia, most of it part of the newly created republic of Moldova, is still under Russian control. No wonder Romania does not trust the Kremlin and wants to belong to Europe. After such foreign abuses, Bucharest has very few options. The only choice is anchoring itself to the West and America represents Romania’s best hope.

There are problems, however, and Mr. Friedman is right in saying that Romania is somehow different. There were no communists to speak of in Romania before the Soviet occupation. According to official communist statistics there were less than 1,000 party members in 1944 and overwhelmingly those communists were non-Romanian ethnics. They sympathized with the USSR and turned with vengeance against the Romanian nation. For about ten years after the Soviet occupation, ethnic Romanians shunned the communist party and the secret police hoping for an American liberation. Only after the failed Hungarian revolution of 1956 and after witnessing the indifference of the West, did the ethnic Romanians begin to join the communist authorities. And most of those who did so did it for personal gains. However, the result of those early communist years was disastrous for the country. The formal cultural, economic and political elite were devastated and replaced by a class of opportunists. After the collapse of communism, the elite took over the political leadership of the country masquerading as social-democrats. And America and the West embraced them as true democrats. Then, with the blessing of various Western institutions and under their condoning eyes, this new political class pilfered and thus ruined the economy of the country by enriching themselves.

What moral model did America and the West offer for the remaking of Romania during the post-communist years? Where were the Nuremberg-like tribunals to expose and judge those guilty of murdering countless innocent people? And there is growing skepticism among Romanians about Washington’s attitude toward the former Romanian province of Bessarabia, now under Russian influence and control.

The social reality is sad in today’s Romania. There is indeed freedom and democracy, but people have found out that democracy without a strong economic foundation is an empty shell. While the average monthly salary for those who still have jobs is about 300 dollars, members of the former secret police and party hierarchy enjoy monthly pensions of thousands of dollars. It is true that Ceausescu’s regime was ruthless, but now many people say that at least they had jobs and security during those years.

I returned to Romania in 1990, after 22 years of exile, and thereafter have continued to visit periodically. Most of the time I was visiting as a VOA reporter and I had the opportunity to meet the new leaders as well as former political prisoners and many average citizens. Yes, Romanians had unrealistic expectations of the West, but for the most part they were let down again. While the West encouraged the process of democratization, it condoned the new political class and it turned a blind eye to their behavior and abuses. These new leaders would sell the country to anyone in order to remain in power and protect their ill-gotten gains. As for the people, they are increasingly becoming cynical. A few years ago, when I attended a meeting of a democratic party, a young man asked me if I still believed in the flag that I was wearing on the lapel of my coat; it was the American flag.

Romania is integrated now in the EU and NATO, but for security reasons and for their own interests the new leaders also want to link the country militarily to the United States. The decision of the Obama administration to cancel the plan to install a U.S. anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic was a blow to East Europe. It was then that Bucharest rushed in to accept the same anti-missile shield on Romanian territory, which is intended to defend Europe and Israel against Iranian missile attack. That decision enraged Moscow which reacted bitterly, especially in Moldova. Moscow’s reaction made some Romanians question what Bucharest gained from Washington for accepting the anti-missile shield on its territory?

Mr. Friedman concludes that “the United States spent the last half of the Cold War baffled by Romania, and Romania has spent the time since the fall of communism baffled by the United States.” And, he suggests that the United States and Romania focus on “cold calculations of national interests.” And here is the difficulty. In this time of need, Romania requires assistance and is pinning its hopes on America. It needs primarily economic help domestically and international support to address the old question of Bessarabia. However, America does not seem to understand, or refuses to understand, these real problems. The American policy toward Romania is seen through Washington’s security interests. The Romanian leaders lump together their personal interests with the needs of the country and that makes a dialogue between Washington and Bucharest difficult. In the end, the Romanian leaders risk to alienate themselves from the people and America risks losing one of its last friends in Eastern Europe.

Nicholas Dima, Ph.D., is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. (Refer to updated editions). He is currently a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.