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“Security, too serious to leave it to the generals”

Published at: 29-09-2017

Posted on: September 29th, 2017 by RaduC No Comments

This week, after quite a while, I have again a distinguished guest with whom I intend to address the ever topical subject for Romania: security and its vulnerabilities at the crossroads of the great geostrategic interests. And one of the most knowledgeable speakers on this subject is Professor Dan Dungaciu, Director of the Political Sciences and International Relations Institute of the Romanian Academy. The many topics we approached together, as well as the quality of answers convinced me to post the interview in two sequels. You have today the first part of the discussion.

RC: Professor, thank you for accepting my invitation. Romania is a first line of defense country for NATO. How serious are the threats the country is facing?

DD: Romania is a first line of defense and it will continue to be so for a significant amount of time. For a generation at least we will be the East of the West. And this position should normally be translated into security, economic policies and even into a regional political and why not, cultural vision because Romania is basically surrounded by Romanians along the eastern border. So if you take responsibility for your geographic position, you must start building. The army of a Central European country is one thing and the army on the European outskirts is completely another.

RC: Have we taken responsibility for this position? Are we aware of this position?

DD: That is a good question. I cannot see any responsibility taken in terms of the economy, culture, identity or politics so as to give rise to a project.

RC: What do you think causes this lack of responsibility? To me things are too obvious to ignore.

DD: I am not sure if that is clear beyond all rhetoric. We, the Europeans and the Romanians, experience something that has not happened before in our recent history. For the first time since we joined the EU and NATO we have to consider these institutions based on the assumption that there is not going to be another enlargement to the east. Moving the Euro-Atlantic border eastwards stopped. This is a fact, a reality. And that was not the initial thinking.

RC: So we deluded ourselves that we would not remain a first line of defense country….

DD: And wishful thinking … It wasn`t until 2004 that the first book on the Black Sea was published. The west did not have a clear picture in their mind of what the Black Sea meant, it did not actually exist.  The Black Sea did not have its own Fernand Braudel who turned the Mediterranean into an „historical actor” which made the Western world keenly aware of its existence.

The Black Sea did not have such a writer. The only author of European renown was Gheorghe Bratianu, who published books on the Black Sea in 1940 – 1941 but due to the war neither in sufficient copies nor in a proper translation. And after 1990, when they could have been republished, his opinions on the USSR, on Russia that is, were too harsh, far too radical. So the Black Sea did not find an author to put it in the foreground after 1990, either. 2004 saw a book written by an American writer which very clearly demonstrated that once the political and the military border advanced, research and investments were advanced as well.

RC: So going back to the initial question, it would result that one of the risks the country is facing is that we just recently became aware that we would continue to remain a first line of defense country.

DD: And we did not wish for it. We got away from facts whereas the end of the enlargement was the assumption we should have accepted a long time ago. In 2006, Romania proposed, through Germany, the famous Black Sea Synergy, which failed after 2008, in the aftermath of the Russo-Georgian war when in some respect the Black Sea closed up. A small war that rocked the world, but which showed that the West would not go to war to defend the Black Sea. That was the clearest signal. In 2009 we started to have a European construction, the Eastern Partnership which was no longer aimed at enlargement, was not aimed at incorporating those states into the Euro-Atlantic area, and therefore, did not intend to shift the border.

RC: By comparison, would the West enter a war for the Black Sea today?

DD: I think that now they are even less likely to enter a war for the Black Sea. Because what happened after 2009 was a freeze, namely – let us get intoxicated on illusions. It was an ironic situation. When the Eastern Partnership was set up in 2009 to include the six states in the immediate neighborhood, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, which overlapped with what the Russians called “the near abroad”, at the Black Sea, they reached what the Russians considered a red line. It was not a red line for us. For us it was just a typical enlargement of the West, a belief in Fukuyama`s theory whereby the liberal democracy was the end of history and therefore it was natural that as globalization took hold everybody had to become a liberal democrat.

The Russians saw that the west was getting closer. They said „What is going on here? Brussels says that the partnership is not about integration, but our embassies in those countries report that integration is the only thing they talk about. What are you trying to pull here?”

And when the plot thickened, Armenia fell and withdrew from the Partnership, and then Ukraine, followed by the Republic of Moldova, mainly on account of its own wicked ways. And it was very clear, in 2014, that the West was unwilling to fight the Russian Federation which the latter is willing to do. Because the stake is almost existential for the Russian Federation in the area. It is not so for the West.

RC: At the end of the day, under these circumstances I would like to ask you, has our security level increased or not in the last 5 years?

DD: I think our security level, at least insofar the traditional threats are concerned, peaked with us joining NATO. It is beyond any doubt. We are currently benefiting from the strongest imaginable security arrangement and we could not have had something more effective. The price of the failure to join the EU and NATO is what states such as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova are now paying.

What happened however, after 2014 made us all understand that the intricacies of the military and security dimension are far more complicated, from the hybrid warfare all the way to cyber warfare, cyber security, so on and so forth. What happened was that our security was not in crisis, but its status, level and the types of threats and vulnerabilities started to change. We were not the only ones to experience that. The entire NATO organization felt that deep crisis after 2014, when everybody started to wonder what was happening or what could happen. So NATO, and also the EU, is rethinking its own strategies, not necessarily along the set military arrangements, but rather along the non-military issues.

There are several footnotes here. The trust in institutions is fundamental, however, and if it drops it will create a far more permeable setting to what we call cyber war. But this is a tier two war. In this sense at LARICS we talk about the geopolitics of mistrust. If there are areas where confidence in the establishment drops to dangerous levels, including due to increased corruption or incompetence, those countries become extremely vulnerable. You do not need to send in the army. Just send sufficiently smart and sly people in key positions, or around people in key positions who can have a devastating influence on that country`s situation.  No tanks, nor missiles, or other brute force devices are necessary.

RC: Correct. But let me point something out to you. Right now, everybody in Romania, including the CSAT [Supreme Council of Country Defense], talks about tanks, jets and ships. So at a time when the non-military component increasingly gains ground, there is a lot of talk here about the military component. So my question is: doesn`t national security have an economic component? Why is it stubbornly ignored by discussions about national security?

DD: I keep giving that example, even to some people in the institution you mentioned. The USSR collapsed without firing a gun despite being the most heavily armed country on earth at that time. But when you concentrate all your capabilities at the borders and lie in wait for your enemy, when you turn to look inside you`ll find that the entire construction has imploded. Under these circumstances, then, you can reach some common sense conclusions which NATO did after the collapse of the USSR. I believe, however, that the Russians who perfected their skills in the hybrid war, looking as well to what they believe happened at the time of the collapse! Conclusion: security is a far too serious a matter to leave it to the generals. If I am allowed to borrow a famous civilian adage…

So several dimensions were identified: economic, political, social, environmental. (Another Chernobyl in a certain area will create far bigger problems than a military attack.) All these things started to be debated, addressed, applied, including by NATO. And I believe that every security discussion, especially that we are the east of the West – please note, we are in the West, not a bridge that one crosses to go God knows where – should include these non-military issues which are extremely important: economic, political, social, ethnic clashes, religious. So these issues should be our concern.

It is a no-brainer that a financial collapse for various reasons could have devastating effects on a society, similar to what happened in the USSR. This is one of the fundamentals. But not the only one. The infrastructure. What does defending Romania implies? It means defending a state which functions based on a constitution, with a geography that looks like it does today, but if it lacks the infrastructure to connect the various regions in this country, the country called Romania is likely to implode in the medium or long term and unable to be made secure.

The increase over a certain threshold of regional economic and social gaps poses a security risk. The gaps may prove to be extremely complicated factors in properly managing the country. What does a lack of infrastructure mean? It means that over the medium and long term these disparities will only deepen.

RC: Agree. Don`t you think then, that infrastructure should be entered on the CSAT agenda? Even to deploy military equipment from place A to place B you need proper road infrastructure. I find that this is a topic of paramount importance for any country.

DD: It continues to puzzle me how we did not manage to build a highway that goes through Comarnic. In over 20 years! It is a puzzler. How come that so many politicians, ministers, presidents, prime-ministers failed to see the importance of this strategic project. Especially with the year 2018, that of the Great Unification in mind. Because if you take a look at the map of the highways scheduled for 2018, you can notice that there are no interconnections planned between the regions of the country.

RC: Transilvania, on the other hand, will be better and better connected to Hungary.

DD: Perfectly connected to Hungary, perfectly unconnected to the rest of the country. If you lack an extremely concrete vision, since government funding is approved based on that, then you ask yourself why people fail to see the obvious. Not to mention the gaps which grow on account of the missing infrastructure. Development comes on the highway…

RC: Talking about gaps, the most important highway to me is the one supposed to link Transilvania and Moldova, even the historic Moldova. Not even the one going through the Olt Valley or the Prahova Valley.

DD: I absolutely agree. Because benefiting most from an economic boost will be Moldova. Moldova looks worse now than it did 10 years ago, due to depopulation… And it could have been worse. Do you know what Romania`s chance was? The failure of the Republic of Moldova and of Ukraine. The situation where some regions in Romania would have been drawn into other types of economy was avoided. Normally, the border areas with the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine will enter other economic circuits if the national one does not work.

RC: Are you afraid that the historic regions will spin out by a centrifuge effect?

DD: A spin out to areas with a different way to do politics, other ways to do business, another vision on the economy. Because a rapprochement to the West would not be a problem, but we are surrounded to the north and east by areas which are different. Only people who have not lived there cannot tell the difference.

RC: But the gaps in Romania are growing..

DD: They are and continue to do so mathematically, and then they will become embedded into people`s minds and give rise to theories that we already see emerging – explanations using history and genetics to account for geographic facts or infrastructure-related facts. Going back to infrastructure, putting it on the CSAT agenda would carry a huge symbolic meaning. But it does not give the president a tool to step in. He cannot build highways using the military. Putting it on the CSAT agenda will raise the alert level, the visibility, but it would not be a solution to implementation. It would be a very important warning, which politicians need to take to heart in order to follow it up with measures.

If politicians are not acutely aware of the fact that one of the most urgent security challenges of Romania is a lack of infrastructure, that is very serious. And if at some point the internal rifts run deeper that what connects us, the war is lost. If the fundamental, essential, primary bonds within a community are torn apart then it is very hard to build anything. And Romania`s big crisis, the precipice it is headed at full speed without anybody steering the wheel, is this: that, at some point, the internal rift is so deep that not even the facts as those discussed here will be considered.

RC: And yet, a whole country is shouting at the top of its lungs, just as we are doing here: we need infrastructure. And yet you were saying earlier that there are people who do not realize its importance. Is this incompetence or premeditation?

DD: The impact is the same.

RC: Agreed. But to treat the problem you need the right diagnosis.

DD: That is the main issue. The technical explanation may as well be: Romania has committed to more than it can chew, it started several highway segments, corruption is rampart, endemic and they could not be completed. So if Romania handles better its resources, if there is less corruption, projects will succeed. The other type of arguments will make their way, too. I do not think that these types of arguments will not appear because some things are very difficult to explain and that feeds into the conspiracy theories. That is very risky, of course.

Alright, Romania is corrupt, it lacked a proper logistic thinking, it bit off more than it could chew, it did not complete some European corridors that it was supposed to build, but I doubt that this lack of strategic vision can be explained solely by that.

And again, this is not just about the Comarnic highway, this is first and foremost about Moldova. That is the major problem. That is where they bailed out. It is unacceptable to give up on that region by abandoning major infrastructure projects which could have drawn that region into a development centered on Romania. We keep complaining about labor shortages when both the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine have Romanian populations which can be used. Thinking strategically…

RC: I take it that you are referring to the historic Moldova, because what you are saying goes for the entire area east of the Carpathians.

DD: Exactly, unfortunately Moldova to the east of the Prut River does not act as a shop window for the Republic of Moldova. This is what Romania should have done following the accession to the Euro-Atlantic area. You should be able to see a clear difference as you leave Romania for Ukraine or the Republic of Moldova. In fact, the run-down border, the roads, which are also in poor condition, and a number of other things suggest that there is no point in coming over here because there is no difference. That is a problem! What message does Romania, as a member of the Euro-Atlantic area want to send to the other side? Why don`t we understand that we, as members of Europe and NATO, are the shop window of the west for these states?

This is a strategic thinking and a vision problem. And hopefully it will not backfire when we least expect it.

(to be continued in a week)

Have a nice weekend!

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