21 June 2019

Interview with General Joseph Ralston: Romania is a stability island that has a critical role for NATO’s South-Eastern flank

Mircea Olteanu

Romania is an island of stability in the Black Sea region given that Russia develops a series of destabilizing activities in the area, stated American general (r) Joseph W. Ralston, NATO’s former high-rank official, in an interview for MEDIAFAX.

Image source: Mediafax

In the interview for MEDIAFAX, at the international conference “Black Sea and Balkans Security Forum”, Ralston, who is the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR) of the Allied Command Operations (ACO), one of NATO’s two strategic commands, talked also about Washington’s strong commitments to European countries’ security, mentioning also the transatlantic tensions regarding NATO’s request for the 2% from GDP for defence.

Another important topic he approached was the Romanian Armed Forces’ modernization, the former NATO official stating that Romania has made a lot of progresses in the past 15 years, since its accession to NATO.

We are presenting you the entire interview, bellow:

Mediafax: There are growing concerns about US commitment to European defense and the pressure on our European allies to increase their military budget. How could transatlantic cooperation survive or even thrive in the context of these issues?

Joseph W. Ralston: First of all, the Trump administration's national security strategy makes it very clear that Europeans’ defense is a vital interest of the United States; the word vital is very important we don't use the word vital very often. Secondly, every president in my professional lifetime has encouraged the Europeans to spend more for their defense. President Trump, perhaps, was more clear than others and less diplomatic than others, but nevertheless the message has not changed, it's always been that way and the Europeans have responded: eight nations now are in excess of the 2%, two-thirds have a plan to get to 2 % by 2020, Romania being one of those. So I think things are fine, and I do not see that as a crisis of any kind between the United States and the rest of the NATO allies, far from it, I think they're very united.

 Mediafax: How is the Black Sea and Balkans security future influenced by new insecurities drivers in Europe, such as growing populism and radical nationalism, a more aggressive Russia propaganda?

Joseph W. Ralston: I think that, in order to put that into context, I have to talk about Romania for a moment and your location on the map. 20 years ago, 25 years ago, the problem was in the Balkans, it was Bosnia in 1995, when NATO went in 1999 it was Kosovo, we did that, so things to the west, we didn't worry that much about the Black Sea and things to the east changed dramatically by today. I mean, you look at what has happened with Russian troops going into Georgia, you look at Crimea in 2014, you look at what's gone on and the unrest in Ukraine, with Russians supporting the separatists in Ukraine, you look at the Russians firing on the Ukrainian ships last November and the Kerch strait, all those are very destabilizing activities to the east of Romania and Romania is very stable, it is an island of stability here, and it's critically important to NATO and the south eastern flank of NATO that we have a strong NATO ally, which we have in Romania,

Mediafax: Any recommendations for Romania to better fulfill this role as a pillar of stability in Eastern Europe and also in Black Sea’s region?

Joseph W. Ralston: Romania has made great progresses over the last 15 years that you have been a member of NATO, in terms of modernizing your troops, in terms of training your troops. Modernization never goes as quickly as we wanted to, it always takes longer, but you are on the right path, the trend lines are correct, your modernization with the F-16 is a very, very big step forward and I'm very pleased with the progress that the Romanian military has made in the 15 years that you've been a member of NATO.