Romania: The Case For Romania’s Accession To NATO

Last Updated: 17 May 2002
Article by Mark A. Meyer

Introduction

In November 2002, the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will meet in Prague to decide upon expanding the alliance to include as many as seven new member states — Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. By far, the largest and most significant country under consideration is Romania. If the decision regarding Romania were based purely on geography or upon its military prowess, it would be a "no-brainer." But the criteria for membership involves economic issues and the all important question of whether Romania sufficiently shares Western values of freedom and democracy so that member states would be willing to go to war to protect Romania were it attacked. In particular, questions have been raised concerning official corruption, the continued presence of Securitate officers in some sensitive government positions, the lack of a fair restitution regime for the victims of communist property confiscations, and the xenophobic manifestations of the extreme right and its adoration of Marshal Antonescu, the wartime leader of Romania.

Few observers doubt that the people of Romania share western values of democracy and freedom — the issue is whether such shared values have been adequately expressed in government policies over the past decade. President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase are striving to demonstrate Romania’s commitment to those shared values and to meet every issue head on before November. But even if the Romanian government falls a bit short in satisfying every element required of it, Romania should be admitted to NATO. The alliance would benefit strategically from Romania’s accession, and the reforms sought by the West would occur more rapidly if Romania were part of the western pact. Indeed, setting Romania adrift outside the structures of the western democracies will not promote positive change in the country — it may set them back — while firmly embracing Romania in the arms of NATO will facilitate more immediate and positive change. This embrace should be based upon firm understandings as to exactly what is required of Romania with timely benchmarks to encourage reform – accession conditioned upon actual performance.

Romania’s Strategic Importance

There are geographic and military reasons to admit Romania and Bulgaria to NATO. These have deepened in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, with the intendant need to build wide coalitions against terrorism. Of the various candidate countries, Romania is certainly the most able to effectively contribute to NATO’s objectives through its significant military forces — which continue to demonstrate their ability and willingness to engage in peacekeeping and peace-building operations. Romania is on the front-line of conflicts in Southeastern Europe, not only territorially, but also with troops. Romania participates in SFOR and KFOR with around 300 military personnel. Romania has contributed to the stability of Kosovo and Macedonia through an active role in NATO’s "Amber Fox" mission in Macedonia, in the first Kosovo elections, and in reducing tensions in Southern Serbia. Romania is also participating in the multinational peacekeeping force in Afghanistan and has placed an infantry battalion of 400 soldiers and a unit of 46 specialists in anti-nuclear, anti-chemical, and anti-bacteriological warfare at the disposal of the U.S. Enduring Freedom command.

Geographically, Romania and Bulgaria provide a strategic coherence to NATO by linking Central Europe with Greece and Turkey in the South, and thereby creating an area of stability and security in Southeast Europe. Their accession to NATO would reduce the area’s potential for conflict and give impetus to European integration. Extending NATO through Romania and Bulgaria would also stem the flow of organized crime and terrorist activities coming from Central Asia and the Caucasus into Europe by strengthening border patrols and other activities already underway at the Regional Center against Trans-border Crime in Bucharest. Romania’s accession to NATO would also provide the alliance with a reliable springboard for air, land, and maritime traffic to Central Asia through its airport and port facilities, which have already proven their utility in the US–led campaign in Afghanistan.

Military reform in Romania has resulted in downsizing the military by 50% since 1989, increased defense spending, and a reduced reliance upon conscripts creating a more professional army. A Status of Forces Agreement between Romania and the US was signed on October 30, 2001, providing the legal framework for the transit of US forces through Romania, and granting air corridors, landing rights, transit facilities and intelligence to US and NATO forces.

Romania has no conflicts with any other country. Both Greece and Turkey actively support Romania’s admission into NATO because, in their view, NATO requires a southern dimension in order for the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace to be complete. Succinctly put, on the strategic level, there is little debate — NATO would be enhanced by Romania’s accession.

Shared Values: Stable Democracy

On the political level, questions have been raised concerning Romania’s commitment to the shared values of NATO member states. While some of these concerns are without merit and some are, indeed, valid, none of them should be used to prevent Romania’s accession. Instead, in those limited areas of legitimate concern, meaningful changes can be fostered by NATO members clarifying the specific actions that the Romanians need to make and conditioning Romania’s immediate accession upon future compliance.

Romania has a politically stable democracy. It has been that way since 1990. Although it is still maturing politically, Romania nevertheless enjoys a robust national dialogue, and fair and free elections. It is a pluralistic democracy in which Romanians are free to speak their mind; to assemble and petition their government; to chose from a plethora of free press promoting all sorts of ideas and from broadcast media from all over the world channeling views on all subjects. Romanians may worship as they please, and the treatment of ethnic minorities is a model for other countries in the region.

Too much Romanian blood was spilled in the defense of democracy as a Western ally in both World War I and World War II, to now doubt Romania’s commitment to freedom.1 Although in 1989, Romania was a dismal place darkened by a despair spawned by fifty years of a Stalinist-style communism, freedom was always in the hearts of its people. Guiding Romania in its transition to freedom after 1989 meant coping with a national heritage of resignation and suspicion that burdened the process of democratization. Nevertheless, while much of the rest of Southeast Europe reeled through deadly turmoil in the 1990's and too many of its leaders fought democracy rather than promoted it, Romania chose the course of democracy over authoritarian rule. This fact should in itself be proof of the value placed upon freedom and democracy by the people of Romania.

Remaining Issues

The legacies of Romania’s misrule under Nicolae Ceausescu prompt most of the other concerns expressed regarding Romania’s NATO accession. The government is addressing these matters and will, undoubtedly, succeed in correcting some, but not necessarily all problems before November. The five major areas of concern are as follows:

Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism: Romania is neither predominantly xenophobic nor anti-Semitic. It has elements of both such aberrations, but some NATO members have these problems in greater abundance. Nevertheless, the government passed an ordinance that bans anti-Semitism and all of its related symbols, resulting in the removal of monuments to the wartime military leader, Marshal Antonescu, erected by some localities and extremist political parties. The ordinance bans any commemorations of war criminals.

There is an additional concern surrounding the ascendancy of Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the ultra-nationalist who scored an upset in the 2000 Presidential election by garnering a third of the vote.

Yet, no one is suggesting that France does not share the same values as the rest of NATO because Jean-Marie Le Pen scored a similar upset last month in its presidential elections. Both men rode a wave of discontent over official corruption, establishment politics, and local issues that were manifested by a large turnout of "protest votes." Since the election in Romania, however, Tudor’s popularity has slipped dramatically in the polls and even his own party is seeking to create a less radical face for the 2004 elections.

Former Securitate Members: Following Romania’s 1989 revolution, former Securitate officers did not all disappear. Senator Sergiu Nicolaescu, head of the Commission for Defense and National Security of the Romanian Senate, said that in 1990, the Romanian Intelligence Service sent the American secret services a "list with the former Securitate employees." The list included names of thousands of former officers that worked undercover and as party activists. Nicolaescu reported that this list includes persons still active in all political parties, members of Parliament, and some major businessmen and members of former governments. Can they be trusted with NATO secrets? Romania's Supreme Council for National Defense has announced plans to establish screening procedures to vet individuals who will have access to sensitive NATO information. The purpose of this process is to identify former members of the Securitate and exclude them from obtaining such information.

Official Corruption: Sadly, official corruption in Romania is endemic and systemic. It has gotten progressively worse year by year. Up until a month ago, each Romanian government since 1990 did little more than provide lip service to the problem, while bribery, graft and other forms of corruption grew unchallenged. While official corruption is a serious problem in several NATO member countries, those nations at least have some prosecutorial and judicial checks and balances in place that work. The Romanian government has now created a special anti-corruption prosecutor and special police units that are to begin operations in September; the government has proposed increased financial disclosure rules for Romanian parliamentarians, introduced governmental conflict of interest legislation, and pledged to pass a new code of ethics for civil servants, introduce new party financing laws and ratify a number of international anti-corruption conventions. These are all significant actions — but they are not enough to effectively tackle official corruption.

It would be in Romania’s best interests if NATO set certain benchmarks that would ensure that the government’s laudable actions are followed by actual results. For example, special anti-corruption courts must be set up where the special prosecutor can bring his cases in order to avoid bringing them before the tainted court system that should, in fact, be the first target of the prosecutors actions. Guidelines for the appointment of unblemished and incorruptible persons to anti-corruption posts should be established to ensure public confidence in the process. Real financial disclosure, including the sources of wealth of government and judicial officials, will be a major stumbling block. Inquiring as to how a public figure managed to amass a fortune while working for government entities at government salaries, ought to test the true rigor of the new laws. As the United States Ambassador, Michael Guest, has bluntly stated, Romania’s failure to forcefully deal with widespread corruption in the economy and in government, threatens Romania’s accession to NATO.

Restitution:

The restitution regime in Romania is so thoroughly flawed as to raise doubts that Romania ever intended to honor Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights — which makes a property right a human right under international law. The argument that the original confiscations violated the victims’ human rights is impossible to refute, and the procedures adopted by Romania to rectify such violations appear to have perpetuated them. Here too, a benchmark should be set for Romania to revise its restitution laws so as to demonstrate its shared commitment to human rights. We commend the reader to the article entitled "Romania Asks H&R How To Improve Restitution" in The Romanian Digest™, February 2002 issue, Volume VII, No. II, found at our web site, , for additional details.

Economic Reform: Critics cite Romania’s current impoverished state as a reason why Romania might not be able to upgrade its military hardware as required by NATO. In fact, Romania has been upgrading and reforming its military equipment for quite a while. Its economy is also looking much brighter as a result of some extraordinary things, e.g., Romania today has the most IT specialists of any nation in Europe — Great Britain is second. The Romanian economy is growing — growth in GDP in 2001 reached 4.8 %; and the IMF projects that the Romanian economy will grow at the fastest pace in the region in 2002 — 4.6 %. Privatization may begin to speed up too. It would be foolish to consider Romania’s current state as a harbinger of the future. The nation is in transition — albeit longer and more painful than expected. The size of its population, its geographic location on the Black Sea and at the mouth of the Danube, its natural resources, and its highly talented people, all demonstrate a worthy economic future capable of supporting its NATO commitments.

Conclusion

Charlemagne’s column in The Economist of April 6, 2002, entitled "A Nastase Shock for NATO," suggests that while NATO has become more of a "political" institution than a military one, even on this score, Romania is a laggard. It noted that Romanian politics is, " . . . to a large extent, a competition between rival clans . . ." and that the country lagged behind other applicants because of its "fragile democracy" and its population which is ". . . by no means wedded to western civic values."

Charlemagne, you got it wrong. While he may be right about the rival clans of business interests that manipulate Romanian politics (as also happens in a few NATO-member countries), Romania has demonstrated that far from being a fragile democracy, it can weather changes in government and leadership quite well, and resist the regional winds of chaos that engulfed some of its neighbors in the 1990s.

While Charlemagne’s concerns may be misplaced, the concerns expressed by people like Ambassador Guest have merit. Indeed, Romania may not be able to adequately deal with issues like combating official corruption and instituting fair restitution by November. The government will need specificity as to what it must do to appropriately deal with the matters raised by member states. Besides clarifying current generalities, an unequivocal statement of what must occur in the way of real action on these matters would lessen internal opposition to changes that might otherwise be too difficult to implement quickly. Immediate accession predicated upon the future timely completion of specific benchmarks will hasten progress in Romania.

The reason that NATO membership is important to the people of Romania is the same reason why Romania’s accession is important to the alliance. NATO membership has become — rightly or wrongly — a statement of unity and acceptance. The people of Romania may be poor for the moment, but they are not the second-class citizens of Europe. Their history, their culture and their political institutions are as European as any other nationality, and the Romanian people have proven themselves worthy of NATO membership. Treat Romania as a partner and it will be a good and faithful ally.

1 Romania joined the allies in 1944 after deposing Hitler’s ally, Marshal Antonescu, in a coop.

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