12 June 2019

Black Sea area’s states’ in(security) needs a solution

Stefan Danila

Joining the new technologies and adapting to new battlefields are definitely novel challenges the world is facing today and the importance of states’ own defence capacity, to be trustable and discouraging, is urgent. There are many questions seeking for an answer, like what are our available resources, how much support can Romania receive, from who and why and so on. Can Romania use also the solutions our allies in North-East Europe found? If yes, which would be the conditions?

Image source: Mediafax

The Black Sea was not that well-known outside Europe before Crimea’s annexation and invasion by the Russian Federation, at the end of February and beginning of March 2014. Only the gas resources, not as important as those in the Caspian Sea though, were getting some attention. It is an absurdity for Bucharest to say such thing, however, once entering any official US, Australia, Japan or even West of Europe office we can see that map’s center is no longer Romania and the Black Sea becomes smaller and smaller as the distance grows.

Crimea’s invasion was emotional, especially coming after Ukraine’s Euromaidan victory, but its duration and intensity was not perceived the same by everyone.

Bringing down the MG-17 Malaysian passenger plane brought this area in the spotlight again, especially that there were many Dutch citizens in it.

The collapse of the Soviet Union left many unsolved conflicts between the former Soviet republics, which were afterwards transformed into frozen conflicts. After 2008, these conflicts reemerged, some of them “solved” through violent actions which no one expected to happen now, in those places.

States close to the Black Sea, which were part of the socialist bloc, but not the Soviet Union, were the states to have the most precarious infrastructure in the whole European space. Although the dominant ideologies have changed, the (scarce) infrastructure started to be significantly disvalued due to governances’ lack of vision and effectiveness during time.

War’s shadow, insecurity and uncertainty have created the migration of labor force, an economic blocking and political breaches. Projects like the highways belt around the Black Sea have become only illusions, alike any other sincere and stable cooperation that would hardly happen in the area.

The air transport in the Black Sea area was significantly affected after 17th of July 2014. EUROCONTROL has recommended the air operators to avoid flying over the conflict areas in East of Ukraine, after the breaking of the MH-17 Malaysian plane. Because of the shuffling routes, there were recorded economic loses that have reached impressive values, not mentioning those determined by avoiding to fly over Crimea, an area controlled by Ukraine and recognized by EU, but also by the Russian Federation, after peninsula’s annexation.

The maritime transport is also affected by uncertainty, but also the massive military presence and the many exercises aiming at showing off these forces.

The tense diplomatic relations are blocking the common infrastructure projects, necessary for riverside or proxy states’ citizens. The infrastructure the Russian Federation built in Crimea is only creating artificial connections with the dominant state, this way isolating the peninsula.

Developing highway, railway or energy systems communications between Romania and Moldova got affected by an incoherent management and planning of the internal resources, highlighting the unfortunate influence provoked by Moscow over Moldova’s political leadership, which goes from following the European democracy to the vassalage relation with Russia.

Blocking the above mentioned projects upkeeps the “terminus” character of states’ infrastructure that are in the area and mostly Romania. Being able to resist to any perturbation that could come from affecting some critical infrastructure, is way more difficult to be done. Regardless of how many integration speeds the EU is proposing, the critical infrastructure systems in terms of energy and transports should be a priority. Also, they should not neglect the influence of any conflict over the social life, hence of the critical infrastructure.

The grey zones, unsafety and uncertainty will produce damages also for Union’s states’ economies that may now be considered as stable.

Hence, how states in this region see their own security is definitely affected by Russia’s aggressiveness. The presence of the American troops and the allied exercises aim at diminishing fear, cooling down the population in order to get back to a positive idea over their own security. But many of these states do not need only security in terms of military presence, they need more.

If we take a look at the main commercial routes from the Middle Ages, that were dodging Romania’s current territory, we realize that the area was actually less important back then. Defended, yet isolated by the Danube and the Carpathians, it has the smallest transport infrastructure of all times, and the effective one is way too inferior.

The decent resources we have for a modest living, a model passed down from generation to generation, could not stimulate the development of our own infrastructure. On the other hand, natural obstacles, distances, but also resources’ medium of even inferior quality have drawn the attention of the big powers in the area to actually build it on their own.

The industrial facilities, mainly build by the socialist regime have quickly disappeared, most of them being destroyed by the bad post-revolution administration. Some of them were taken by Russian “investors” or branches belonging to some Russian companies. Some were closed shortly after being sold, especially in iron and steel field, others were used in the extreme, mostly in the oil refining domain, with no big investments in re-technologisation.

The oil currently coming from exploitation is important, however not enough to ensure an energetic independency, alike the natural gas. The Black Sea’s resources are a solution, but are asking for extraction technologies that we do not have at the moment and costs the Romanian state did not assume yet.

Wood industry, however with some exceptions, was reduced to timber production, although deforestations were really intense lately.

Coal ore exists, but coal is not a qualitative one and its mining is quite difficult. The density of the useful materials is reduced for the ferrous and non-ferrous ores, hence the extraction costs and the primary processing is not that attractive. Law’s provisions that are interpretable, endemic corruption and the public opinion’s manipulation have brought adventurous investors in the region or worse, disinterest and isolation.

Besides, we are now facing military actions’ threats, seen by many as a continuation of the actions already developed in Ukraine and Georgia.

The psychosis of an armed presence, which faked its membership until having the full control (the undiscovered “hybrid war”) sometimes provokes hysteria, even if they are well-meaning, aiming at warning about the new danger. These are happening concurrently with the lack of reaction from some officials or the hesitating measures on Romanian Armed Forces’ operational capacities reinforcement.

When the first decisions were made, April-May 2014, there were already signs of disequilibrium between the measures taken for the North-East area of the Alliance, comparing to the ones taken for the South-East area, especially for Black Sea’s riverside states, an area wherein the enabling event took place. We got from the initial intention, to become aware and accept a NATO military presence, to a competition between the “possible victims”, each of them trying to show off their “great vulnerability”, through different methods. The new scores, stimulated by well-meaning patriotic feelings have started to gain new aggressive, hard to control tendencies.

The will to have a stronger, more visible American presence is something normal when it comes from a regional power that has dominated this region for quite a long time. And a permanent presence could definitely ensure more security than a temporary (rotating) one. The NATO-Russia agreement, signed in 1997, became irrelevant given the Russian aggressive actions. However, the measures NATO took have tried to upkeep the availability of this agreement, for now cancelled. The sanctions EU, US and Canada have imposed to the Russian Federation do not affect this agreement directly. Furthermore, some EU states are reinforcing their economic cooperation with Russia, and Turkey is acquiring S-400 antidefense systems.

Besides all of the above, the American president, Donald Trump, with his extremely realistic approach in term of international relation, has unpredictable decisions. From conditioning the military presence in certain areas, to pressures for bigger investments in defence. We should bear in mind that president Trump did not refer to increasing the participation to common capabilities projects, but increasing the defence budgets and investments. It looks like a misunderstanding of the concept and the collective defence system, but also as a message to be subordinated to the big American weaponry producers.

On one hand, Romania would like to keep the appearances, to be attractive, eager for investments, however, on the other hand, it is aware of its fragile security against Russia’s aggressive attitude. The military presence could be a concern for some investors, but it is creating safety for their own citizens. For how long? What are the circumstances? It is hard to say. The American military acquisitions should match the new White House Administration’s requirements, though the reactions are not too visible.

Hence, starting from the idea that Romania’s economy needs great companies’ investments, to be globally relevant, that the regional security is threatened by Russia’s breach over the international treaties, that EU, that we are part of, is not able to ensure its own security and the European funds are not enough, well, it comes out that Romania needs more than a military presence. It needs economic support from a strategic partner.

An interesting theory of the “porcupine” strategy comes up with a solution. It is practicable? Is this what we actually need?

We can only go over it after understating Arnold C. Dupuy’s theory, an American professor, to have military expertise, who was astonished by the creation and consolidation of the Romanian modern state. Joining the new technologies and adapting to new battlefields are definitely new challenges the world is facing today and the importance of states' own defence capacity, to be trustable and discouraging is urgent. There are many questions seeking for an answer, like what are our available resources, how much support can Romania receive, from who and why and so on. Can the solutions our allies in North-East Europe found be used by Romania also? If yes, which would be the conditions?

Translated by Andreea Soare