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Is Romania on the verge of war?

Published at: 13-01-2020

Posted on: January 13th, 2020 by RaduC No Comments

The recent events in the Middle East that led to an escalation of tensions between the US and Iran had some otherwise respectable analysts jump to rash conclusions about Romania’s possible involvement in the conflict. I am intrigued that these concerns did not emerge when the Romanian military became engaged in war zones, such as Afghanistan or Iraq, where some of them paid the ultimate price or were severely wounded.

Ironically, the concerns surfaced only now, a great opportunity for anti-American or worse, isolationist rhetoric. The opinions that I am referring to consider that NATO’s anti-missile defense system fron Deveselu is an invitation to Iran to launch an attack on Romania.

As the chart on the left published by Newsweek shows, Iran does have ballistic missiles capable to reach Romania. But what are we talking about? A strike on a European NATO member because of a system that intercepts incoming missiles meant to defend the whole of Europe? As the Iranian leaders put it, Iran’s areas of interest actually lie in the Middle East where shorter distances increase the chances of hitting the target and decrease intercept time. Not to mention that its thirst for regional power is directed as you may guess towards areas in its proximity. Moreover, the obvious de-escalation between Iran and the US, as if pre-arranged to allow all parties to “save face”, shows once more how reckless the speculations about an extended war in Europe have been.

If we add to these concerns the statements according to which Romanian leaders should have slapped the Americans on the wrist when they decided to kill the Iranian general or that they failed to distance themselves from their actions, I believe that some clarifications are in order to bring us all back to Earth.

I would put the comments by the aforementioned analysts in the category of the “we want the kind of foreign investors who do not repatriate their profits” type of innocent nonsense. There will always be enough “experts” to chastize investors for the very reason of having the nerve to look for a return on investment directly related to the risks they have taken. According to theory, Romania has every right to be the recipient of funds, capital, know-how and security and the only winner. It is extremely naïve to put it mildly. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  And it is a no brainer that sound and lasting business deals are the win-win type.

Leaving economics aside, security strategies are many times also judged in transactional terms, though most of the time money is not the only “currency” to be used. When it comes to trading in security, Romania needs to tread carefully given that its security options are limited.

Any country on a military alliance border is exposed to more risks than a country lying in its geographical center, lined by other allied states. This is even more significant when we consider that the equipment of the Romanian army is still outdated. General Alexandru Grumaz, a guest of this blog, estimated that 70 percent of Romania’s military equipment dates back to the Soviet era.

In the light of all this, a defense system without support from a strong and determined partner would be worth as much as a country growing without foreign capital. Nada. Its advocates have either a hidden agenda or are plain ignorant.

For a country with no resources and riddled with weaknesses, to have a trustworthy and determined security sponsor, a partner to rely on, is as important as having strong foreign investors, economic partners on your side. The fact is that the only country that took on the role of security partner for Romania was the United States.

On the Eastern geopolitical front with significant impact on Romania, the great European powers seem rather hesitant and more prone to hide outrageous developments under the rug for the sake of economic benefits related to either energy supply, or access to large markets. True, it takes considerably longer to reach the West than Poland or Romania, although, as already seen, from the US to Germany the Internet can work miracles, if need be. But maybe, at the end of the day politicians in the said countries simply reflect their voters’ openness to military solidarity.

A survey conducted by the YouGov British market research institute shows that if Romania was attacked only 32% of the Germans and French would be convinced that their countries should use military force to support it, with around one third not knowing. Yes, the remainder is against … By comparison, 40% of Americans would support Romania while 42% did not know. It follows that only 18% are against.

In the light of the above, Romania has only one security option and in the absence of alternatives it has to metaphorically put all its eggs in one basket. Should the basket fall, all the eggs will break. To prevent that from happening, you need great diplomacy, wisdom and, yes, compromise that maximizes the win-win situation between the two partners. Let us be realistic (know our place, as some would say), Romania cannot possible talk with a world power, such as the United States, as equal partners, all the more as, whether we like it or not, our need for security exceeds their need of us. Insofar as a missile defense system, similar to the one in Deveselu, is a vital military asset, it would have been set up, with or without Romania.

Our willingness to host it and take the related risks is part of the win-win type of a deal that makes sense to exist. Childish stubbornness and scolding the Americans for their decisions in the Middle East would not change their course of action and would bring no benefits to the partnership. Like in any partnership, not everything that the other one does is to your liking, but at the end of the day the fundamentals of the relationship must be preserved against the fleeting moments of restraint and disagreement.

However strongly we agree or disagree with president Trump and his decisions, Romania does not have either now or going forward a credible alternative to the US military partnership. Claiming otherwise is not merely unrealistic, but downright dangerous.

Just briefly about the “tragic turn for the worse” in the historically privileged relationship that Romania had with Iran as early as the Ceausescu regime. It is a deja-vu because the same reasons were used for having Romania distance itself from the NATO attack on Serbia, another traditional friend, some years back. The president’s courage at the time to stand with NATO was later an essential argument for Romania’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Some of us ignore to the day the fact that deceiving or wavering positions only spelled trouble in the past.

And those who think that every now and then we should flex our muscles to our partner over the pond, I ask:

What should be first on the agenda: the US strike on Iran or Romania’s right to veto the buyers of Exxon’s Black Sea operations?

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