17 April 2019

Interview with the American general Charles Wald: The United States is one hundred percent committed to Romania

Mircea Olteanu

The US remains one hundred percent committed to NATO, and Romania must speak up as equal partner, says Charles Wald, former commander of the US Command in Europe, in an interview for MEDIAFAX and Defence Monitor.

The former American commander talked in an interview for MEDIAFAX and the Defence and Security Monitor (DSM) about Romania’s role across NATO and the Black Sea Region, and he underlined the firmness of US’s commitments against European allies’ defence, despite the political rhetoric from Washington and also has explained how Russia uses the energy resources exports as political tools.

General Wald stated that our country is on NATO’s defensive front line and has called on Romania to speak up as equal partner across the Trans-Atlantic alliance.

We are presenting you the full interview with General Charles Wald:

MEFIAFAX: There are great concerns about the US commitments against the European defence, but also pressures over the European allies on their military budgets increase. Are we witnessing a transatlantic crisis? How can transatlantic cooperation survive, or even grow, given security’s dynamic changes?

Charles Wald: As for the first question, the US commitments to NATO, I would say the answer is: absolutely not. We are totally committed to NATO. You live in a country of politics, we live in a country of politics. Political rhetoric, sometimes, does not reflect reality, so, I would say that we (the US) are as committed now as we ever have been to NATO. Ironically, the rhetoric sounds like we are, maybe, becoming a little bit weakened in supporting NATO, but that’s mostly rhetoric.  I think the intention of our president is to make sure that everybody is aware of the commitments of the nations that are part of NATO.

As you pointed out, Romania is spending 2% of their GDP on defence, which is part of the criteria. But, in reality, we have a trilateral government. We have the Supreme Court, the Congress and the Senate, and then an executive branch. Our government, ironically, I think Winston Churchill actually said it once, the United States always makes things right after trying all the possibilities. So, we have kind of a messy process getting there.

The bottom line, again, is the United States is one hundred percent committed to NATO, therefore we are one hundred percent committed to Romania. We will be here. As I told some of your colleagues before, articles five says an attack on one is an attack on all, we all know that. If article 5 gets triggered, it means you get the full force of the United States military, here, in Romania. Hence, I think the big thing is for the Romanians to continue to tell the United States that we value NATO as well, but the answer is we are absolutely committed to you and NATO.

MEDIAFAX: This is how democracy works, it is messy, but it works.

Charles Wald: Like Churchill said, it is very messy, but the other alternatives are not very good. So, that’s part of being fair, but everybody gets and opinion, some speak louder than others, but ultimately is the right thing to do.

MEDIAFAX: What is the impact of the new drivers in Europe (radical nationalism, populism, Russia) over the future of Black Sea area security?

Charles Wald: That is a very good question. I think that the security here in the region- the Black Sea is a prominent physical area of contention, with Crimea, the Kerch Strait, the Montreux convention on Dardanelles (strait), the geographical location- Romania is on the front line on the defence of NATO. There is no doubt about it. You are on the front line.  And this region here, that you kind of alluded to just one minute ago, not just the Black Sea, but all of the Aegean Sea, the East of the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey, the Middle East, Egypt, North Africa, those are all significant areas that are experiencing some challenges and turmoil.

There are also some positive things there, energy in the East of Mediterranean Sea, energy in Romania, potential shale in Romania. We have talked about a bit in the last panel. But energy plays an important role, even today, in the global security apparatus. The United States have been committed to the Middle East since 1947 based on oil, but also to Israel; energy security in Western Europe, with the issue of Russia being able to manipulate some of the politics here because of their management of most of the natural gas.

There are also the new pipelines, the new discoveries of oil and gas in the Mediterranean Sea, deep water oil and gas, Egypt having now access to energy of the Southern Mediterranean Sea, Israel, potentially becoming independent energy wise. Those are huge issues that are going to shift the geopolitics. But all in all, when you get down on the bottom line, the idea is, again, that democracies should join up, that is the most important thing for all of us. That’s why we have media, you have the right to say what you want. I am actually really encouraged to see the dynamic here in Romania, the positive vibe I get here, the energetic dynamic young population and a beautiful city. I am really encouraged. You Romanians should be really encouraged for who you are as a country. This is an impressive country and you are a big part of NATO.

MEDIAFAX: What measures should be taken to ensure the energy security in East Europe?

Charles Wald: That is a good question, we have actually talked a bit earlier. Some have to do with diversity, some have to do with the access to your own energy resources, so you don’t have to depend on somebody else to use you as a political tool, as we have talked about Russia. Russia uses energy as a political tool, there is no doubt about it. Why do they do that? Because they can. Why can they? Because other countries do not have energy. So, you need to have access to other resources. We’ve talked about Eastern Mediterranean, NLG (natural liquefied gas), your own organic energy shale oil in Romania, and you need to take away that leverage that countries, in this case Russia, have over you geopolitics, based on the fact that you cannot survive without energy. So, you need to get different resources, and we, in the US, are interested in that as well, but this dynamic of the Eastern Mediterranean discoveries is going to change the world.

MEDIAFAX: What role could Romania play as stability pillar in Eastern Europe and as a bridge within the transatlantic alliance?

Charles Wald: What is have seen, and I am not an expert in this, I have been in Romania five or six times in my life, I like Romania a lot, I like both the country, the history, the location and the people, but I think Romania needs to continue to develop their own confidence and how important you are both to the region and to NATO. Romania’s voice needs to be heard, you need to tell America how important it is for you to be in the Alliance and for us to be bilaterally connected. I think is time for you to speak up as an equal partner of NATO.

 I think the questions you have thought of are insightful, I think you are thinking on the right things, I think we, America, have a dynamic and, sometimes, fractionalized political system, and you have something similar. Democracies are messy sometimes, but I would continue to move forward with the education of your people, a strong legal government, there is always corruption in places, I think you are working on that hard. And, also, I think you should look towards some of your allies in Europe, but I think you should look to the United States as well, to articulate the way you see things strategically, particularly regionally, because you are a leader here.

Mircea Olteanu: Thank you for the interview!

Charles Wald: Thank you!

Charles Wald has participated at the DSM conference that took place Tuesday, entitled “Transatlantic security bridges over increasing security vision gaps- Romania’s perspective”.

General Wald has a significant experience in both military and business ventures and is a highly-regarded subject matter expert in aircraft and weapons procurement and deployment; counterterrorism; national energy and international security policy. During his distinguished career, he served as Deputy Commander, Headquarters U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, responsible for all U.S. forces operating across 91 countries throughout Europe, Africa, Russia, parts of Asia and Middle East, and most of the Atlantic Ocean. Prior to that, he served as the U.S. Air Force deputy chief of staff for air and space operations at the Pentagon. Wald has received major military awards and decorations, including the Defence Distinguished Service Medal, the Defence Superior Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He is a graduate of North Dakota State University and received a master’s degree in international relations from Troy University. He has also completed coursework at Harvard University and the National War College.