09 May 2019

EDITORIAL Arnold Dupuy | Supporting Europe’s Eastern Anchors

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Less than two years from now, Russia will complete the $10 billion Nord Stream II gas pipeline to northern Germany, a project that threatens to undermine NATO and drive a wedge between America's European allies before the first gas is delivered. For the U.S., the imperative is clear: confront Russia's divide-and-conquer energy strategy or face abandoning NATO’s enlargement policy in Eastern Europe or even the unravelling of the Alliance itself. This initiative will require consistent effort and engagement with the Eastern European states, to include promoting energy-sector investment, technology transfers, collective cyber-security engagement and greater governmental interaction. It will be neither cheap nor easy.

Image source: Mediafax

When looking at Eastern Europe from a broad security perspective, two nations exist as natural anchors -- Poland and Romania. No countries in the region have the land mass, population, strategic location, and infrastructure to support NATO in the event of a crisis, hence their reference as 'anchors'. Both countries maintain a presence on strategic bodies of water; Poland in the north on the Baltic Sea, to the south, Romania on the Black Sea. Both countries are NATO members, and host U.S. forces on their territories, notably missile defense sites. Additionally, Poland and Romania are only a handful of NATO members that meet the commitment to allocate 2% of their gross domestic product to defense as stipulated in the Wales Summit of 2014. 

Poland is increasingly under pressure with the prospect of Nord Stream II. The gas pipeline will complement the existing Nord Stream, which passes under the Baltic Sea and provides Russian gas directly to Germany, bypassing Poland, the Baltic States and Ukraine, denying them easily accessible gas supplies and transit fees and leaving them at the mercy of Moscow's vicissitudes. Warsaw is wary of Russian air and naval activity in the Baltic, not to mention the Kaliningrad enclave, nestled between Poland and Lithuania, and which houses a formidable arsenal of arms and troops, to include tactical nuclear weapons.

Romania exists in a difficult region. The Russian annexation of Crimea places Kremlin forces near Romania's coast, and the armed incursion in Ukraine's Donbass, as well as the more recent naval confrontation between Moscow and Kyiv on the Sea of Azov, is provocative to Bucharest.  Romania has been on alert for the last 25 years with a frozen conflict (Transnistria) in its client state of Moldova, so with the current events in Crimea, Bucharest is contending with another Kremlin-inspired ethnic stalemate on its border. Finally, there is the proposed Turk Stream gas pipeline, Nord Stream's Black Sea counterpart, whereby Russian gas circumvents Ukraine from the south, and which could undermine the U.S.-supported Southern Gas Corridor.

As affordable, accessible energy is one of the foundations of state viability and social well-being, what is evident is energy, in this case natural gas, being used once again as a geo-political tool by the Kremlin. Nord Stream II’s supporters claim it is purely a business venture, though this could not be further from the truth; Nord Stream II embodies Moscow’s attempt to undermine the Eastern European states and strengthen its hand vis-à-vis the Western European powers, many of which are also heavily dependent on Russian gas. Moreover, Nord Stream II will create a greater dependence on Russian gas, which will weaken the European Union’s stated policy of increasing source diversity.

There are legal and diplomatic efforts to halt Nord Stream II, mostly from the European Union’s eastern members, but also from the U.S.; for instance there was President Trump’s sharp criticism of the pipeline at the NATO summit in Brussels in 2018, and the recently adopted bipartisan (and non-binding) HR 1035, which comes down in opposition to Nord Stream II. These efforts may be too little too late. Germany supports the project, prompting concerns from Eastern Europeans that a Berlin-dominated EU is unwilling to confront Russia, and incapable of protecting their interests. Meanwhile, Nord Stream II’s construction continues unabated, prompting Warsaw and Bucharest to encourage the U.S. to fill the role of regional security guarantor.

The U.S. has demonstrated support for those countries on Europe's eastern periphery, particularly regarding the vulnerable energy security environment.  Moreover, this support has been consistent through both Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington. Nevertheless, the current levels of U.S. support, added to that from Brussels, have only marginally stabilized the region, particularly as Russian adventurism continues in what it considers its near abroad. This instability could undermine the progress of the last 25 years, with the potential for a divided Europe that poisoned the Continent's relations and stunted economic growth for nearly a half century. What can the U.S. do?  

At a minimum, advocate for greater diversification from non-Russian energy sources, this includes natural gas, as well as crude and refined products. Both Poland and Romania have sizeable shale reserves, so this should entail promoting increased domestic production, as well as the defeat of the Nord Stream II and Turk Stream projects. These efforts should also include dual-directional interconnectors, and a north-south oil and gas pipeline infrastructure from which to draw non-Russian gas. 

The U.S should also support energy infrastructure upgrades, to include enhanced storage capacity, grid modernization and cyber defense. Indeed, the cyber vulnerabilities on Eastern Europe’s energy infrastructure are significant there are far too many examples of Russian-attributed attacks on regional grids to be ignored. Critical attack vectors embedded in the local energy infrastructure include control systems that manage and monitor the region’s electric grids, as well as its fuels and natural gas storage and distribution network. A viable cyber security requires a robust, integrated defense in depth manned by experienced technicians. While there are certainly dedicated and professional Polish and Romanian cyber defenders, they cannot weather the storm alone. Enhanced U.S. support is needed at the cyber-energy nexus by way of joint exercises, student-faculty exchanges, sharing best practices and other cooperative efforts.

A key component to this U.S.-based engagement is supporting energy security, which will blunt the overwhelming Russian energy dominance, create greater competition and promote overall regional economic and political stability. An energy-secure Poland and Romania will help stabilize Eastern Europe and reinforce the smaller and more vulnerable neighbors. Finally, these countries are decidedly pro-U.S. in a critical region, and deserve continued and, in fact, increased support. Where Washington is the only reliable friend, the U.S. owes it to these stalwart allies.

*Arnold C. Dupuy is an adjunct professor at George Mason’s Schar School of Government and Policy and Virginia Tech’s School for Public and International Affairs. He is also the American partner of the University of Bucharest’s newly established Black Sea Initiative.