Iohannis’ White House visit was reassuring for those Eastern European NATO countries that feel threatened by Russia. For the Western European leaders, the message sent by President Trump was that they must meet the 2% of GDP annual payment for defense requirements. An implied message was that the European leaders should stop cozying up to Russia and remember America kept peace and fostered prosperity on the continent for more than seven decades, while Russia has threatened Europe in the past and is now trying to divide it.
By Nicholas Dima l June 20, 2017
In 2014 Romania elected a new president and many people were hoping for a break with the long period of murky transition from its past as a captive nation in Eastern Europe under Soviet domination to an independent nation. But the enthusiasm was short-lived. President Klaus Iohannis wanted to consolidate Romania’s relations with the European Union and to fight domestic corruption.
However, even if Iohannis had the best intentions, he found himself enmeshed in an already corrupt system surrounded by individuals whose interests were to stay in power and get rich at any price. The former secret police and party apparatchiks have remained the gatekeepers for any change.
As for the people, most Romanians have become wary about globalization and the evolution of the EU and about the Russian infiltration of the continent. Consequently, while many Romanians continued to admire America, some started to doubt Washington’s policy. Romania’s importance to the United States, both strategically as a NATO ally and bilaterally as a partner, and economically for its resources and potential, prompted the invitation of Iohannis to the White House.
Of all the problems confronting Europe under the new U.S. administration, most concerning are Russia’s cozying up to Western Europe, America’s commitment to NATO, and President Trump’s perceived relationship with Putin’s Russia.
These problems worry the Eastern Europeans. Romania, for example, has been subject to Russian invasions and abuses for over two centuries and its eastern province, currently the Republic of Moldova, is still under Russian control.
Nevertheless, there are increasingly more people questioning the attitude of their government in economics and foreign policy. Many Romanians even question the blind submission of their country to Western and American interests.
Meanwhile, the Russians are using the dissatisfaction of the people to influence Eastern European politics. So far, Moscow has succeeded, especially in Hungary, and is now encroaching upon and threatening Romania. Confronted by an ever-hostile Russia and without real friends, Romania has turned again to the United States.
With this background, on June 9 Donald Trump hosted Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis at the White House. It was the first Eastern European leader received by the new American president.
The visit was very well-covered by the Romanian news agencies and to a lesser degree by the American media, but largely ignored by Western Europe. The event represented a boost to Romania’s prestige and to the legitimacy of its leadership. During the visit, President Trump reiterated America’s commitment to the Atlantic Alliance, to Romania, and to Eastern Europe. The two presidents also discussed the need to fight international terrorism, to continue to combat corruption, and to strengthen NATO.
Following President Trump’s insistence that Alliance members should increase their financial contributions, Iohannis promised to increase Romania’s military spending to over two percent of its GDP. He also emphasized that Romania is the most pro-American country in the European Union and asked Trump to help the Republic of Moldova with its pro-Western efforts. He praised Romania and stressed the importance of further developing bilateral relations.
For Bucharest, the event was a publicity coup. For Washington, it was an opportunity to clarify certain controversial declarations previously made about NATO. For example, asked at the joint press conference by a journalist whether he thought the United States should act under Article 5, if any Alliance countries were attacked, President Trump answered without hesitation: “I am committing the United States to Article 5 and certainly we are there to protect.” Previously, at a NATO meeting in Brussels, he was vague on this issue and actually lambasted the Alliance members for not spending enough money on defense.
Iohannis’ visit was reassuring for those Eastern European NATO countries that feel threatened by Russia. For the Western European leaders, the message sent by President Trump was that they must meet the 2% of GDP standard annual payment for defense requirements. An implied message was that the European leaders should stop cozying up to Russia and remember America kept peace and fostered prosperity on the continent for more than seven decades, while Russia has threatened Europe in the past and is now trying to divide it. At least one book, as well as a number of articles published recently point to Moscow’s hostility.
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. He currently lectures and is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the online-conservative-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.