NATO Enlargement: The Case for Romania

By Captain Marke R. Shelley and Lieutenant Commander John P. Norris, U.S. Naval Reserve

The current front-runners for NATO membership are Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, largely because they led the way to the end the Warsaw Pact and Russian hegemony. They also are more Westernized than many of their former Soviet-bloc neighbors, and they benefit from geographical proximity to other NATO members.

These countries also have special relationships with the West. The Czech Republic boasts such great writers as Vaclav Havel and Milan Kundera, and its capital city—Prague—is the most popular vacation spot in Europe. Hungary always will be remembered as the country that started the Warsaw Pact's escape to freedom, simply by opening its borders. Poland has a charismatic leader, Lech Walesa, the Solidarity movement, and a large expatriate community in the United States. Poland's historically tragic location, between two frequently aggressive world powers, also cannot help but evoke sympathy.

But membership in NATO should be based on sober analysis, which includes a clear view of what each member would bring to the alliance. For example, would Hungary's armed forces add to NATO's military muscle, or would they prove to be a drag on scarce resources? Is the Czech Republic's geography of strategic importance?

When all factors are considered, Romania compares very favorably to the applicant nations. In fact, its primary drawback is simply a lack of visibility. Romania has no large expatriate community in any NATO country, and its history is unfamiliar to most Westerners. NATO planners should become more familiar with Romania, because this remote, largely forgotten, and—to some—vaguely sinister nation in the Transylvanian Alps is the most logical choice for addition to NATO.

Consideration for NATO membership should begin with a review of NATO's reason for being. NATO was created after World War II to:

  • Contain the Soviets.
  • Support fledgling democracies.
  • Check conflict between Germany and its neighbors.

The reasons for NATO's creation in 1949 remain valid today. Nevertheless, given the significant erosion of Russian armed forces and the current political context, an invasion of Central Europe from the East is no longer a realistic threat. This means that NATO's primary raison d’être has shifted toward being Europe's most powerful agent for political stability.

The greatest cause for concern in Europe today is the backsliding of former Warsaw Pact counties into non-democratic, non-capitalist nations. To be sure, it would be a nice gesture—and easy politics—to reward with NATO membership countries that appear to be safely on the road to democracy and free markets. But it makes more sense to use NATO membership to shore up the nations that are not yet there. It could be disastrous to fall into the historical trap of splitting Europe into Western haves and Eastern have-nots.

As Romania's exiled monarch, King Michael, wrote in a statement on NATO expansion, "The purpose of this process is to solve the problems of the continent and to wipe out the splits of the past. Romania cannot be left out from such structures without the risk of a disaster for the whole of Europe."

Making Romania an early addition to the membership rolls of NATO would establish a stabilizing presence further east than Poland, in a geographically critical region. It also would provide a significant economic boost to a country struggling to overcome decades of socialist stagnation.

Romania's economic difficulties revolve around the fact that its heavy industry was worked to death in the later stages of the communist era. By late 1994, only 2% of Romania's heavy industry had been purchased by Western interests, because most of the infrastructure was out-of-date and exhausted.

This has delayed Romania's economic recovery, but the country is beginning to make a stunning comeback. According to 1995 economic figures, growth in industrial production was 9.4%, up from 3.3% in 1991. The GDP increased by 6.9%, compared to 3.4% in 1994 and 1.0% in 1993. The percentage of GDP generated by the private sector has steadily increased from 32% in 1993 and 35% in 1994 to 45% in 1995. NATO membership will complement this economic growth and greatly encourage Western investment. It also will bring a dynamic and effective military organization into the NATO force.

Romania, along with Poland (whose membership seems assured), effectively would seal off Middle Europe from any Eastern threat. Only 100 kilometers of the rugged Carpathian mountains separate these two large countries, which would provide a barrier across the narrow waist of Central Europe.

Western politicians frequently state that NATO is not interested in drawing lines of demarcation across Europe. This is unsettling to the people of Central and Eastern Europe, who are nervous about historical threats from the East. This anxiety is exacerbated by inflammatory rhetoric in Russia and by the presence of the 60,000 troops of Russia's 14th Army just across Romania's northeastern border, in Moldova. Even though the prospect of a large-scale invasion has almost vanished, it still is a real threat in the minds of Central and Eastern Europeans.

Adding Romania and Poland to NATO will provide a safe haven for the smaller nations of Central Europe, who could then apply for membership at an unhurried pace. Protected from outside influence by NATO's new forward citadel, the remaining nations should feel genuine security in a stabilized region.

Limiting initial NATO membership to Poland and Romania potentially limits the negative impact on Russian politics while also providing for security concerns of the smaller Central European states. Secretary Christopher has voiced the concern that Eastern Europe may become isolated from the rapidly Westernizing bloc of Central European countries. This proposal provides balance by including one Central European country and one Eastern European country in a prudent first wave of NATO enlargement. In addition, as the only Balkan country with no historical claim to areas of the former Yugoslavia, Romania would provide a sphere of influence for NATO in this troubled region.

Although rarely mentioned in discussions of NATO expansion, Poland and Romania are the only former Warsaw Pact countries that provide full joint packages of army, navy and air force. Blessed with seacoasts, they have that convenient link through maritime forces with other NATO nations. Similarly, only Poland and Romania retain sizable military forces capable of immediate operations in the field. This represents a genuine benefit for NATO that other applicants cannot match.

The cost-benefit ratio should receive more attention when we consider integrating new countries into the NATO defense architecture. Limiting the number of new member countries simplifies the process and lessens the expense. Nevertheless, these considerations very rarely are mentioned publicly. Seldom does one read of the size and capabilities of potential members armed forces. The Polish military is downsizing to 250,000 while the Romanian armed forces expect to remain at 190,000. This is significant, when compared to Hungary's 60,000 men under arms.

But quantity often is not as important as quality. In this area, Romania gives away nothing to its competitors. Romania has the only army of all the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe that is considered fully field-capable, and continues to dedicate scarce resources to maintaining an effective force. Immediately following the revolution and establishment of a democratic government, the Romanian military aggressively sought combined field operations with Western nations, at sea and ashore. They enthusiastically participate in Partnership for Peace (PfP) opportunities and continually pursue bilateral field exercises, offering access to their own operating areas and facilities such as in Exercise Cooperative Key 96. They are redesigning their military, in line with Western practices and standards. The Romanian military also is reorganizing its officer corps to mirror Western models, reestablishing the chaplain corps, restructuring the curriculum at their war college, expanding the noncommissioned officer program, and working on dozens of other similar initiatives.

Romanians, always have identified with the West and still fondly recall President Woodrow Wilson's support for the unification of the Romanian provinces into the modern Romanian nation following World War I. They were the first to join the Partnership for Peace and were the third ex-Soviet-bloc member, after Poland and Hungary, to exchange sensitive military data with the United States.

In keeping with this record of support for Western initiatives, Romania immediately embraced the Joint Contact Team Program, which operated out of Headquarters, U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.

By August 1994, the Romanian program was recognized as the best, most active, and most dynamic of all 13 programs involved. The Romanians dedicated more people and assets than any other host country and thus were seeing the best results. However, they had tired of the introductory approach used in the early stages, and were clamoring for a more dynamic use of the program.

The Romanian military leadership refined focus areas for each service component, aimed at providing substantive results and enhancing interoperability through multiple-event programs. Of particular importance was the preparation of their peacekeeping units with the intention of assuming U.N. tasking in the near term. This resource-intensive commitment was intended as a good-faith indication of their willingness to shoulder a significant burden, as the price of NATO membership. Romania was quick to deploy medical units to the Middle East during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as well as to Somalia. More recently, Romania deployed its peacekeeping force to Angola in 1995, and has sent an engineer battalion to Bosnia in 1996.

There continues to be an ever-increasing interest and support of the joint contact team program across broad sections of the Romanian Government. Former-President Iliescu openly acknowledged its value and the leader of the opposition, Petre Roman, was similarly supportive during the team's two briefs with him.

In the spirit of the joint contact team program, the Romanians have used the program to understand, evaluate, and apply lessons learned from the U.S. military to the restructuring of their own military along democratic lines. The U.S. military liaison team (MLT) has worked directly with the Romanian service chiefs, helping to set goals and priorities. As these focus areas gained better definition, programs in a variety of supporting areas were established and delegated to senior field-grade officers. Equipped with their piece of the action, these hard-charging, enthusiastic, and talented members of Romania's highly professional officer corps identified the best ways to build their particular programs, through the use of MLT sources.

Requests for MLT events grew quickly as knowledge and belief in the program broadened. During a normal quarterly planning cycle the MLT would receive 50-60 event requests, but this number rose to more than 150 requests by the spring of 1995. Based on this success, the U.S. military should expand the MLT program in Romania as a test case for all programs that showed similar vitality.

While the military works hard to prepare for NATO membership, Romania's civilian leadership has taken extraordinary steps toward full integration with the west. Former-President Ion Iliescu built general consensus among Romania's political parties, aimed at full integration with Western European and Euro-American economic and military institutions. He sponsored and regularly convened a council to examine Euro-American integration issues with all 16 major political parties participating. There is a striking lack of disagreement over the general goal of Western integration among these disparate groups. Romania's new leader, President Emil Constantinescu appears to be continuing along this path.

Romania is not problem-free, but it is improving steadily on several fronts. Romania's armed forces are among the best equipped and most highly motivated of all former Warsaw Pact countries, and they control territory of great geographic significance. Their political and military leaders are highly supportive of Western alignment and, indeed, see it as the difference between becoming a fully successful partner in Europe or suffering more years of backwater stagnation. In this instance, the leadership enjoys the full support of the public, which longs to be included in Western associations.

Until recently Romania has been held hostage to the most repressive brand of communism. Removed from Western European borders, buried for decades under Ceauscescu's tyranny, and lacking leaders popular in the West such as Poland's Walesa or the Czech Republic's Havel, Romania is easily forgotten in the West. Nevertheless, for sound military and political reasons, Romania deserves considerable attention during the deliberations on NATO membership.

Captain Shelley graduated from the Naval War College in 1987, and served as the Military Liaison Team Chief in Bucharest, Romania, from August 1994 through March 1995. He is the deputy commander for Harbor Defense Command 113 in Seattle, Washington.

Lieutenant Commander Norris served on active duty at the U.S. European Command from February 1985 through February 1987. He recently completed a five-year assignment with Naval Reserve Detachment 322, under the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, and at present is on a six-month assignment to the Western Sahara as part of a U.N. observer team.



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