05 June 2020

A report to rebalance the Eastern Flank of NATO. The centre of gravity – Romania

Ştefan Oprea

A report made by the Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), the main research institute dedicated to the study of Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, based in Washington, asks NATO to adopt a common estimation of the threats and challenges in the most vulnerable sector of the Alliance, from the Arctic to the Caucasus.

Image source: Mediafax

The report called “One Flank, One Threat, One Presence: A Strategy for NATO’s Eastern Flank”, wrote by general-lieutenant (rt) Ben Hodges, Janusz Bugajski, colonel (rt) Ray Wojcik and Carsten Schmiedl, recommends the asymmetry elimination in approaching the threats and deterrence capabilities.  

The current approach, by which NATO  prioritized the Baltic Sea region by deploying an enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and a tailored Forward Presence (tFP) in the Black Sea Region, created a high incoherence level along the Eastern Flank after the military involvement of Russia in Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea, in 2014. This is the reason why General Ben Hodges, former Unites States Army Europe-USAREUR commander, together with the other authors, think that through this collaboration NATO has facilitated an aggressive Russian behaviour in the area, creating difficulties when it comes to establishing quick political and military reactions to deter these manifestations.

This report published in May continues the series of concerns that authors Ben Hodges and Jnusz Bugajski, this time together with Peter B. Doran, summarized in the papers “Strengthening NATO’s Eastern Flank: A Strategy for Baltic-Black Sea Coherence”, published in November 2019, and “Securing the Suwalki Corridor: Strategy, Statecraft, Deterrence and Defense”, published in July 2018.

The three theatres of operations, the Northern (Baltic Sea region), medial (the Suwalki corridor and Poland) and Southern (the Black Sea Region), the Eastern Flank of NATO stays one of the most vulnerable sectors of the Alliance, increasingly exposed to penetration, subversion and military actions by a revisionist Russia.

The three reports are highlighting the need for NATO to adopt a complex strategy against Russia, on long-term, through the unity and firmness of member states’ approaches on the nature of the threat and deterrence level, to be the base of the reaction to hybrid and cyber actions challenging the Alliance at its Eastern border.

Back to the topic of this analysis, the authors of the last report are underlining that NATO and the US give too little attention to the Russian threat in the Black Sea. After proving that this area became, lately, the base of Moscow’s power projection in the Mediterranean Sea, and this status must be defended through the use of force, the authors say that NATO primarily focused on the implementation of deterrence measures in the Baltic Sea, ignoring the Black Sea Region.

The revision of the current threats and developments, the authors say, involve approach modifications which would put the Black Sea back in the middle of the “geostrategic map” and Romania, as it is placed in the area, should take advantage of an enhanced presence of NATO, similar to the current one in the Baltic states and Poland.

From this point of view, the permanent efforts of Romania’s military and political decisional factors are being highlighted by this report of such a prestigious strategic research institute, therefore contributing to a better understanding and deepening of the security situation on the Eastern Flank of NATO.

It is already a fact that since Romania accessed NATO multiple processes to influence the security decisions of Romania have been materialized after the crisis in Ukraine. Alliance’s determination to reconsider the strategic military posture, for defence and deterrence, made possible for the decisions made at the NATO Summit from Wales to lead to the foundation of the NATO Forces Integration Unit and the Multinational Division SouthEast Headquarter (MND-SE HQ), in Bucharest. Then, similar allied decisions were made and that led to the emergence of the Multinational Brigade from Craiova. It is still not enough for the reality in the area, not mentioning the Baltic and Black Seas’ balance.

From this perspective, Romania shares the estimation presented in the report, which offers arguments for the national position, according to which keeping a complex security situation in these regions asks for the continuation of the Alliance’s posture adaptation process and also the implementation of the allied decisions on the Black Sea region. Furthermore, given that a Multinational South-East Unit Command, to belong to NATO’s command structure, is currently being built in Sibiu, Romania’s demand to US to increase the American military presence on our country’s territory is all the more logic.

The main objective of the report is claiming that the Black Sea Region has a highly strategic and economic importance for Moscow than it has the Baltic region. The main arguments the authors highlight are: the 2008 war with Georgia, by which Moscow made permanent its troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and the Kerch Strait attack against the Ukrainian ships.

“Russia’s subversion, probing, and interventions along the Eastern Flank could develop into several outright conflicts along NATO’s Eastern Flank. It is for this reason that the Alliance needs to make preparations — whether to deter escalation, defuse an armed conflict, or defend against outright military confrontation”, says the report.

In these circumstances, the “One Flank, One Threat, One Presence: A Strategy for NATO’s Eastern Flank” offers the Alliance a series of recommendations regarding Romania, asking for the military consolidation of the Romania’s Army and the allied command structure on country’s territory.

Such a programme would underline the strategic importance of the Black Sea region for NATO and US’s security, diminishing the region’s vulnerabilities.

Some of the recommendations are:

- the development of the Common Operating Picture (COP) for the entire Black Sea region, in the land, air and maritime fields (additional to the existent one, mainly focused on maritime threats) for the maritime IRS system improvement. Along with the air, surface and underwater drones would provide intels from one source only and would give an early, relevant, accurate and predictive joint operational image;

-improve the rail and road infrastructure. Given this security and deterrence situation, the military mobility gains a special relevance to face the political and physical challenges and enhance army’s capacity to quickly and effectively move on the entire national territory. As a centre of gravity for the NATO deterrence in the Black Sea region, Romania could get funding through the Three Seas Initiative, from NATO to EU.

-improve capabilities. From the perspective of the allied command and control regional architecture, Romania’s proposal and the allied approval for the establishment of the Southeast Multinational Unit Command is already an answer. The US allocation of an important position within it (flag officer) would stimulate an increased interest for command’s capabilities development. According to the Baltic Maritime Component Command (BMCC), created by Germany, such a command should also be established in Constanta. Both would be then subjected to the NATO Maritime Command (MARCOM) in Northwood, Great Britain. From this perspective, gaining the NATO initiative in the Black Sea region could be a staged process to increase the C2 regional print, so that, by developing the capabilities for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR), it can turn into a regional coordination centre;

The maintenance of a permanent naval presence (operating within the limits set by the Montreux Convention), carried out by rotation throughout the year by non-coastal powers, should become a priority in the Black Sea region. As the Alliance's ships become more and more inadequate in relation to the size and freedom of action of the Russian Naval Forces in the region, it is necessary to set up a Black Sea Maritime Police Mission and equip small ships in the Romanian Military Fleet with Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) and modern missiles through NATO or US contributions;

strengthening the defence of the Western coast of the Black Sea, by developing and disposing in Romania some elements (unmanned maritime systems operated on the surface/underwater, anti-ship missiles, fight helicopters, drones, etc.) of the A2/AD (Anti-Access / Area Denial) NATO air ban system. This approach is a necessity and will respond to the similar Russian system, located in Crimea, where Moscow has developed a military stance that Romania and the North Atlantic Alliance perceive as aggressive and worrying;

• Romania's unique geographical position offers the advantage of getting and confirming information for early warning of Russia's future actions, which is why improving its own ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) capabilities is another thing to follow in the report. With such a position and with Romania's efforts to develop its own system, NATO, the EU and the USA will be interested in contributing to the development of this capability;

the cyber defence is, according to the report, another capability that needs to be developed, especially since Romania has a specialized workforce and a developed infrastructure.

Therefore, even if the report represents an overview of NATO's eastern area, Romania's nomination and careful documentation of the Romanian military realities proves the importance of our country in this area. According to the information and assessments presented in the report, although Romania could be considered rather a vulnerable country, especially due to the inadequate operation of military forces and old equipment, national efforts to mitigate the effects of this reality and the unique geographical position we have make our country particularly valuable and necessary for NATO's eastern flank defence.

Translated by Andreea Soare