April 7, 2015
The President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, has recently proposed the creation of a common army in charge of defending the EU in case of external aggression. Unfortunately, chances for the success of such a project are rather slim. Governments of member states have jealously guarded their prerogatives of framing foreign policy and keeping national military forces under their command. The creation of an EU army, on the other hand, would probably deal a mortal blow to NATO – an outcome to which American politicians and top military brass are strongly opposed.
Still, for a few states like Romania, NATO membership has become toxic lately. I was in favour of NATO membership for my country during the 1990’s, when the implosion of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact had created a security vacuum in our region. A host of terrorist organisations had taken advantage of this situation in order to raise money for their operations in the Middle East and supply their members with weapons not only from Romania, but also Bulgaria, Moldova and so on. Moreover, NATO’s focus during the nineties was still the security of the European continent, and Romania was (and still is) too weak a state to be able to defend itself in case of external aggression. During the 1997 Madrid conference, however, the American president and Great Britain decided to oppose Romania’s bid to join the organization and admitted only the countries of the Visegrad group.
By the time Romania was accepted into NATO in 2003, the US-led war on terror was in full swing and NATO had radically changed its nature, having become a global rather than a regional military and political alliance. Consequently, older EU members like France and Germany refused to take part in military operations outside the European continent, as this was not what they had originally signed up for. The Americans’ call for troops for Afghanistan and Iraq was only too eagerly answered, however, by new NATO members like Poland and Romania. These countries’ politicians also lobbied Washington assiduously for maintaining the North-Atlantic alliance engaged in Europe.
In truth, NATO’s eastward expansion started backfiring on its newest members as early as 2008. By 2013, following the Ukraine coup, the American policymakers’ propensity to contain and provoke Russia exacerbated an already poor security situation on Romania’s eastern border. The Western involvement in Ukraine is thus contrary to the best interests of Romanians, whose security situation is more fragile than ever as a result. On top of that, Romania has a few hundred thousand ethnic Romanians living in Ukraine whom it is not allowed to protect from the draft organised by Kiev authorities.
Since 2001, the Chinese together with the Russians and four other states from Central Asia have created in Shanghai their own military and security organisation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO has recently announced that it has modified its charter to allow for the admission of new members from Eurasia.
The current mega-shifts in geopolitics make the SCO more attractive an alliance for countries like Romania, and possibly even Bulgaria or Greece. The European Commission should therefore not oppose a potential change in military alliances by Romania. In fact, Romania’s geostrategic and national interest would be better protected by membership in the SCO, than by its dangerous position as a NATO frontline state in the current tug-of-war between USA and Russia over Ukraine.
For Romania, maintaining normal neighbourly relations with Russia is far more important than for any other EU member state. As a member of the SCO, the current military threat posed by Russia on the eastern border would disappear, enabling the Romanian government to also protect the rights of the ethnic Romanian minority from Ukraine.
As matters now stand in terms of military alliances, however, neither Romania’s national interest nor the EU’s core economic interests are being safeguarded. Clearly, Russia’s potential expansionist tendencies in the region could more effectively be prevented not by an enhanced NATO military presence in Poland, Romania and the Baltic states (which serves only to increase tensions), but by China’s likely refusal to back such policies within the SCO in order not to alienate the EU, its biggest trading partner.Florian Pantazi