28 March 2019

Celebrating / Romania- 15 years in the great North Atlantic family

Ştefan Oprea

Image source: Mediafax

After decades of communism, Romania wanted a better, free and prosperous future for its citizens, and the membership to NATO and the European Union were major objectives on the way to the future that it wanted. The accession to NATO was the security agreement that Romania needed to build a new society, aware that prosperity and freedom are based on our security. This time, the NATO membership has been volunteered, unlike the one forced into the Warsaw Treaty, and if on this anniversary, the initial goals are met, it is the merit of all. But if not, the Romanian Army has no fault. The remembrance of those who gave their lives to fulfil missions in theatres of operations must be respected.

Despite studies showing that collective defence alliances are being disbanded shortly after threats against them disappear, NATO has proven remarkably resilient and continues to exist precisely because it has managed to reassess its goals and strategies, given the realities security environment in the 21st century.

Focusing on the future and identifying responses to emerging needs, as the world changes, make NATO the alliance that can identify global trends and military implications in the coming decades.

The secret of this success was not "miraculous geriatric treatment," but the Alliance's ability to keep up with the new challenges, considering that when the world changes, NATO must change.

During the past seven decades, NATO has served as a foundation for Western security, and this year's anniversary will be an opportunity to explore the future, but also to analyze domestic issues that should not be ignored (political cohesion, defence spending, military capabilities, energy security, IT security, corruption, etc.)

With the anniversary of the Alliance on April 4, 2019, many allies will mark the 10th, 15th and 20th anniversaries since joining the Alliance, an opportunity to reflect on decades of transatlantic cooperation and NATO's role in protecting the freedom of its citizens. Romania is among the member countries that is celebrating, on April 4, 15 years of membership in the great Trans-Atlantic family.

The beginning of Romania's accession to NATO coincides with the events of 1989, when the Romanian Army, as well as the entire Romanian society, began a vast process of transformation that included complex adaptations, reforms and modernizations meant to ensure, on one hand, fulfilling the country's defence role and, on the other hand, the promotion of national interests, given international community's efforts to build a new extensive and stable security environment

Signing the Partnership for Peace with NATO (January 26, 1994) and the Strategic Partnership with the United States (July 11, 1997) has significantly influenced the reorganization process, thus marking the start of an action to synchronize the activities and measures carried out in the Romanian Armed Forces with those within NATO.

The submission of the ratification instruments on 29th of March 2004, meant Romania's accession to NATO. Thus, since 2nd of April, our country becomes an integral part of the Western world under the security guarantees enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

The accession gave Romania a new strategic profile in Alliance's decision-making process and has involved assuming responsibilities, along with developing new processes at a political, diplomatic and military level.

From that moment on, the transformation of the Romanian Army must be associated with the transformation of the North Atlantic Alliance.

As this process is not an actual purpose, but the proper response to the evolution of the security environment, NATO's transformation and the commitments Romania made internationally, the real situation has shown that the planning and funding efforts have suffered enough syncope in meeting the new requirements. The most obvious example is how defence resources have been used to provide structures forces capable of meeting the national requirements and NATO commitments also.

The commitment Romania assumed when accessing NATO, represented the planning and use, until 2008, of 2.38% of GDP for defence. Unfortunately, this commitment, which would have ensured the fulfilment of the range of objectives assumed, has never been fulfilled. As if it were not enough, the financial crisis affected all economic areas and, inevitably, with significant consequences in the field of defence and security as well. 

As for Romania, because it did not allocate the assumed resources, has generated significant risks by intensifying the deviation from the transformation trajectory of the Romanian Armed Forces, postponing the purchase of the planned equipment for that period and, implicitly, accumulating considerable arrears on the invoices.

However, although the army, as a whole, faces an strong need for resources, Romania's participation in the operations theatres, within the framework of the obligations towards the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, remained a main and constant concern.

The partnership with the US has led to significant contributions with troops, equipment and assistance, all these years, in places like the Balkans, Iraq or Afghanistan, showing our allies that Romania is a country they can count on, and that it did not use only the benefits of the global security alliance, but we have contributed significantly to it.

At the NATO level, the critical momentum on military spending was reached in 2012, after the Libyan operation, when the analyses made across the Alliance has revealed weakness across the alliance and that sharing the tasks across the collective defence in NATO is actually unbalanced. 

Even if Europe was under the pressure of a budgetary austerity, taking away its national security and allied responsibility was not an option. In order for the Alliance to remain the most effective military alliance in modern history, Allies must respect their commitments against transatlantic security.

In such a context, stopping the defence spending decline becomes stringent.

It is worth noticing the effort made by the Romanian political decision-makers afterwards to reconsider the defence budgets, finally creating the conditions for the implementation of the defence strategy.

Without insisting on budget’s implementation methods, on the main costs types in the years following the accession and, especially, across the financial crisis, it should be remembered that, after the signing the Defence Cooperation Agreement (framework for joint military missions), in 2011, the United States and Romania issued the "Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century between the United States of America and Romania".

The following years have been a period of unprecedented involvement in the transformation process at national and allied level, in important areas of interest, which aimed at strengthening the transatlantic security, anti-missile defence system, energy security and, last but not least, the military intelligence. Thus, Romania participates in major multinational and capabilities development projects, organizes and hosts important NATO events, all being the acknowledgment of our country's strategic relevance, the contribution to the achievement of NATO objectives, and the creation of a good neighborly climate in the geographical area we are part of.

Benefiting from the efforts recognition, determination and the way we acted in theatres of operations, the political decision to complete operational commitments within the Alliance, Romania gains esteem, admiration and, above all, recognition among the members of the Alliance.

Moreover, the establishment of the HUMINT Excellence Centre, NATO Deployable Communications and Information Module (NATO CIS Module - DCM "E") and the participation in the NATO Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC, Papa - Hungary), confirms our country's position within the Alliance.

The crisis in Ukraine in 2014 determines NATO to reconsider its military strategic posture in defence and deterrence, and the NATO Summit in Wales from the same year was a milestone in reaffirming the commitments to collective defence.

The following period, considered Alliance’s most difficult period in the recent history, coincided with the NATO process of reaffirming the capacity to deter an increasing threat from Russia, while maintaining forces in Afghanistan, and without being military involved, alongside the international coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

NATO's decisions taken at the Wales Summit, to implement the Readiness Action Plan (RAP), have proved that allies can mobilize in order to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Among the decisions impacting on Romania's security there is also the establishment of the NATO Force Integration Units - NFIU, the South East Multinational Division Command (MND-SE HQ) in Bucharest, and, not least, the affiliation to the NATO's Framework Nations Concept.

The NATO training activities, a subject discussed since 2013 at the level of the Allied Command Transformation, is becoming concrete after the events in Ukraine and thus, national, bilateral and high visibility exercises will be implemented across NATO’s Plans and, the participation of land, air and maritime forces, is validating their interoperability within the Alliance, the NATO Response Force (NRF, VJTF), and are maintaining a high military response level for our armed forces. As a NATO member state, Romania is actively involved in planning the summits agendas, to make sure that allied decisions respect the national security and defence objectives, meanwhile, by contributing to the national defence planning process, is contributing at filling the Alliance's capabilities gaps.

Thus, in 2015, there were created the necessary conditions for important acquisitions of equipment and, since then, the process of modernization of the Romanian Army has taken shape.

The acquisition, at various stages of development, of F-16 Fighting Falcon, Patriot anti-missile defence System, the surface-to-air Missile Defence Systems with long range of action, multifunctional corvettes, attack and transport helicopters, High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), C4I systems with ISTAR integration capabilities, the PIRANHA V armored fighting vehicle and other types of equipment, shows Romania's determination to strengthen its national defence system, at the same time achieving interoperability with allied forces. Moreover, conditioning them on the creation of partnerships with the national defence industry shows the magnitude, but also seriosity, of these projects approach.

At the same time, at Deveselu, through Romanian-US bilateral co-operation, a defence capability against ballistic missiles was completed as part of the Aegis Ashore Missile Defence Facility and, following the final declaration at the NATO Summit in Warsaw 2016), becomes part of the NATO Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system.

A result of the same cooperation, the Defence Cooperation Agreement (2015) allows the common use of national military capabilities, such as the air bases at Mihail Kogalniceanu and Campia Turzii, the training facilities in the Cincu, Babadag and Smârdan.

All of these, along with the current recruitment system, the modernization of the training process, the increase of the role of modelling and simulation in the training process, etc., shows that in the Romanian Army, by adopting viable solutions, important steps have been made in the field of training and instructing the human resources.

Without claiming that I have attained all the elements and criteria of a complete analysis, I want to add to this image of efforts and achievements a notable result confirming the effort to reconfigure Romania's posture in NATO.

It is about the fact that the Romanian Army has made a significant contribution to the exchange of data and information within the Alliance through the participation of personnel and military intelligence capabilities in NATO operations and in supporting the decisions of the North Atlantic Council and the Military Committee NATO, which provided it a place in the top five contributors of the NATO Military Intelligence Military Intelligence Division in 2008-2012 and a well-earned first place in 2013.

All these were evidences that after years of lack of interest in defence issues, under-funding, skepticism about the usefulness of the armed forces and where national security meant only the fight against terrorists outside the borders and the protection of their own critical infrastructure against cyber-attacks or natural disasters, the situation has fundamentally changed.

It was 2017, when Romania also engaged with 2% of GDP for defence spending. At the end of the year, Romania was the NATO member state that invested most money, from its military budget, for its modernization and endowment.

The Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg's annual report, "NATO: Right for the Future" (March 14, 2019), shows that NATO is responding to the current challenges, continues to modernize and invest in the future.

According to the same report, Romania, 15 years after joining NATO, is among the countries that have continued to increase their contributions and defence spending. Even if it missed this target for two consecutive years, spending around 1.9% of GDP, Romania was the third NATO ally in 2018 which invested most of its military budget for its defence capabilities development.

Mentioned several times in this report, our country remains among the top 3 NATO allies in terms of the percentage of defence budget invested for military equipment. With the 8th defence budget of the Alliance and the 34% spent on developing its military capabilities, Romania, in 2018, ranked first in this chapter. Besides the financial dimension, the report refers to the strategic contributions mentioned above: the establishment of the South East Multinational Brigade South East - MN BDE SE, in Craiova, the participation of our country in the NATO’s forward presence along the entire eastern flank including the Black Sea and the organization of allied military exercises. Last but not least, the report mentions the involvement in NATO's military missions, Romania standing on the fifth place in allied nations contributing to Afghanistan with the 693 participating troops (participation that will increase in 2019).

In conclusion, at the 15th anniversary of the North Atlantic Alliance, the human losses, a tribute to our participation in NATO missions, and the increase in the military budget, are significant costs for our country. But if we look at their benefits, generated by the significant investments made by NATO and the US in the modernization of the defence infrastructure, and that Romania has the strongest security guarantee from a robust Alliance, we can definitely accept that these costs, have proven useful.

Romania's membership to NATO is the best thing that could have happened to our country during the contemporary period. The NATO security umbrella, as well as the transformation of Romania from a  security consumer into a security provider, allows a sovereign and independent development in a full democracy.