05 July 2019

NATO, EU and regional security initiatives in Black Sea’s area

Stefan Danila

Black Sea’s region or Wider Black Sea’s Region is not an administrative entity, nor the name of a regional organization. These names that have geopolitical significances are referring a Europe’s South-East area, different from Balkans’ zone, which includes Black Sea’s riverside states, but also the landlocked ones, having a history, interests and ambitions strongly influenced by area’s evolutions.

Image source: Mediafax

All these states have to deal with common challenges and threats, face the same economic, social and security issues, though, sometimes, having antagonistic identities. Black Sea’s association with this area is being used in order to be easily identified on the map, especially by relevant actors across the international system, wherefore world’s seas are important for their security strategies.
Black Sea’s relevance for international relations’ analysis has increased after the Russian Federation invaded the Crimean Peninsula, in February-March 2014. And this force movement was not determined by oil and gas resources discovered offshore, both in riparian states’ Economic Exclusive Zones or in international waters’ submarine plateau. It was rather the result of an action Putin saw as circumstance intervention to support a popular decision, however, being something necessary for him to secure his South Europe naval capacity, given the Ukrainian context which was unpleasant for the Russians, due to an anti-rusophone Euromaidan revolution. 

Russia’s actions, which broke not only the international right, but also its own commitments, whose nationalism increased after the winter Olympic Games, in Sochi, has raised fear and concerns among the neighborly states. East’s tendencies were never, during history, hopeful and trustable, although the Pan-Orthodoxism, the constraint against Ottoman’s expansion or the Bolshevik internationalism propaganda constantly tried to strive for “brotherhood” and “older brother’s friendship”.
Some of these countries, including Romania, managed to find trustable protection by joining NATO and the European Union, although they may not have accomplished all the criteria imposed by standards that were completely opposed to a former communist bloc’s ideology and behavior. This was the best solution for stepping out of Russia's economic and political domination. Fear may have been the greatest impulse for the NATO and EU’s accession and this might also be the reason why every effort was cooled down after both accessions were formalized and were not continued with the same enthusiasm towards real integration. The early 2014 events have confirmed Romania’s good decisions, made in the mid-1990s, materialized in 2004, respectively 2007. But a new challenge was coming after 2017.

NATO and Black Sea’s Region
NATO was concerned with Russia’s challenging actions, blamed Moscow's aggressive behavior and adopted support and reassurance measures in behalf of the allied solidarity, required by Eastern European states, since April 2014, consolidate by North Atlantic Council’s decisions at heads of state and government level, in Newport, Wales, in September, the same year. Poland and Baltic States’ pressures to get more allied support have led to a real competition between Alliance's eastern border’s Northern and Southern states. Calling Romania, together with Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, as the most vulnerable states to Russia’s threat was our representatives’ victory in Alliance’s structures. Afterwards, the measures established through the NATO Action Plan (RAP) have been diversified and strengthened to achieve NATO's credible deterrence position.

Before 2014, NATO’s operations were, first of all, based on member states’ forces, according to the allied planning process, as force packs, with different steady readiness, able to act and interfere from ten days to six months. Actions in Crimea determined this approach’s revision and the establishment of a much easier, faster and more efficient force structure. The Reaction Force Package has been enhanced with a new, "spearhead” structure, called VJTF (Very High Readiness Joint Task Force), capable of being notified and deployed in a very short time (two days). Besides these, there are the forces already subordinated to the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, such the air surveillance and early warning group (NAEW - NATO Airborne Early Warning) and the air defense and anti-ballistic missiles. However, these forces should supplement and support national forces, those who would be the first to enter a battle, should use supported states’ facilities such as HNS (Host Nation Support), if an allied structure would take the lead, respectively one of the Combined Joint Forces Command/ CJFC. In order to ease these actions shortly, starting with 2015, in the new member states, there were created NATO Forces Integration Units (NFIUs), which do not have yet infrastructure and equipment to match the VJTF forces.

Although the enabling element was Black Sea’s aggression, Alliance’s measures are in line with each state’s vulnerability rate against a threat that might start an aggressive action, as well as with the ability to influence each state’s political leaders.

US has allocated more funds for activities in Eastern Europe, both for strengthening an extended (in the north) or adapted (in the south) presence, whose well-planned rotation could be a permanent presence. They are building new facilities, which are not long term (over 25 years), but nor US’s military bases, with some exceptions, are no longer developing long-term facilities. Moreover, there are planned multiple exercises to upkeep deployed forces’ readiness level, but, at the same time, support Eastern States’ armed forces to reach the allied standards and integrate all forces into a possible joint mission.  

Concurrently, the allied states have adopted a sanctions and restrictions package against Russia, even if some are this way, directly or indirectly, economically affected.  

European Union’s dis(interest)on Black Sea’s region

The European Union, which in more and more concerned with reaching Lisbon Treaty’s goal, on having common defense and security policy, seems to have, now, after the Russian aggression, the necessary stimulus to hasten the integration processes in defence. Russia’s aggression has highlighted Europeans’ insecurity. The Union has already showed its effective military reaction incapacity in crisis situations, both in Libya and Mali, but especially in Syria. The European Battlegroups have proved to be only bureaucratic entities, with insufficient commitments, almost non-existent command tools and a rather unreliable member states' real commitment. Union’s Western and Central Core’s immediate objectives, before Euromaidan, were focused on North and Central Africa, and for its eastern zone, the strategic emergence seemed to be encouraged by Western Balkan states’ pro-European evolution, including by solving the Kosovar problem.

Union’s Northern and Southern states’ different objectives, even in terms of Russia, have caused a reactionary reaction against Moscow’s growing danger, with some states being seemingly affected by those decisions that were not matching their particular interests in bilateral relations with the Russian Federation. Thus, France had to abandon helicopter carrier’s sale, Mistral, Germany was forced to conceive and negotiate a direct gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, so criticized by its allies, and Italy had to secretly play its own interests, in particularly those related to gas and oil pipelines.

EU's integration negotiations failure with Turkey (as Turkey was requesting!), given Turkish social life’s accelerated Islamization, was, considering the Syrian disputes, close to degenerating into a clear relations cooling. The failed putsch against Erdogan, back in July 2016, was the drop that filled the glass. And Erdogan hit where they could hardly counteract: supporting migration, stimulating a wave of refugees from Syria to reach the continent, with explicit direction, "towards Merkel"! European values, based on following human’s rights, on humanitarian support and respect for all beliefs, are now vulnerabilities, according to revived right-wing’s movements.
A hazardous referendum, on a major subject, yet not enough analyzed, has started the European construction abandonment process, the abandonment of an important balance factor, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. This is happening while British people’s social life started to be quite affected by the Muslim minority.

Despite all of these, after getting over the Greece crisis, once Trump took the power, Europeans were facing other challenges.  If at the end of 2014, the European Council was determined to establish a more independent European defence industry, US new president's attitude was going confirm this decision, but not just that. Blaming and denouncing Europeans’ important treaties, from the Paris Climate Accord to the nuclear treaty with Iran, plus taxes’ negotiation for EU products in key areas, has led to transatlantic relations’ solidity distrust, as well as a closer estimation of their own problems. Mutual complaints, for various reasons, US’s pressures to increase the defence funding (states’ or Alliance’s?), dialogues with heads of states, known to be antidemocratic, for a long time, are making the transatlantic relationship increasingly difficult. However, Eastern European states hopes are also heading over the ocean. At least, in terms of security. 

Western chiefs of states’ new policies and strategies, which aim at cohesion and convergence, however are launching multi-circle or speeds integration constructions, with new segregations, before getting all member states integrated in Schengen, are revealing a construction that has many vulnerabilities.

The idea of ​​a European army was again discussed by French Republic’s President, not by one of Eastern countries’ leaders, who fear the Russian aggression. Because Eastern people do not trust the European defense capability. Or they do not believe the Germans would fight against the Russians, for Poland or Romania. And their perspective gets confirmed by studies and polls. The joint statement, adopted by the informal European Council, in Sibiu, in 27 format, should bring back our optimism, but we should also wait for the new European Commission’s elections and creation results.

Regional initiatives in Black Sea’s Region

Before the Crimea annexation, there were some military cooperation initiatives between riverside states, like Operation Black Sea Harmony (OBSH), initiated by Turkey, according to UN’s resolutions, aiming at terrorism and asymmetrical threats combat, however, cancelled since 2014’s spring.

This is how “Bucharest 9” initiatives emerged, about security cooperation, or the “Three Seas Initiatives”, more focused on economic cooperation. US’s involvement in these projects is critical. Without a new Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe, to match the context, these states may enter the grey zone, and West’s influences and interests would meet with Russia and Turkey’s ones, and repeat some history scenes we would have not imagined ten years ago.

A new small Triple Entente, created by the Eastern states, without US and Western Europe, is doomed to failure. The Poland, Romania, Turkey trilateral is already a chimera. Black Sea neighborhoods’ interests are difficult to approach, even if almost all of them are aware of a possible security gap, have poor infrastructure (unattractive for the Chinese One Road, One belt initiative), economies are uncompetitive, the investments are insubstantial, the labor force is in a continuous migration towards West, resources are mainly exported unwrought, unprocessed, and justice does not seem to be society’s solid component. Education and public policies are, however, quite differently approached, with few common elements between these riverside states. Furthermore, the newly discovered dispute resources can hardly be avoided, even if the NATO and EU membership could be a guarantor for great neighborhood relations.

Given this situation, just before the last European Parliamentary elections, organized following national parties’ criteria, the Black Sea Region is far from find its bearings. Riverside states’ cooperation is impossible without having Russia and Turkey at the table. Ukraine would hardly accept, in the near future, the loss of its territories ahead Russia. Georgia ties all its hopes on following the same pathway as Romania and Bulgaria, respectively, on joining NATO and the European Union. Romania wants to count on the European decisions, but would not want to bother the US strategic partner. Yet, the decisions to buy US military technology are not determined by the need to have same technique as the partner. The US did not saw it necessary to defend the Deveselu Base with Patriot missiles, nor the M. Kogalniceanu one. Nor are they determined by getting new guarantees from US (the 21st century strategic partnership is a declaratory one, made through a statement, in September 2011, however not strengthened on White House’s lawn, in June 2017). The only thing that matters seems to be the political support for one political (party?) leader or another.

However, because important states with a maritime security approach might also be interested in the Black Sea, at least because the Russian Black Sea Fleet is here, Black Sea area’s security is largely disputed, both at an institutional level, through analyzes following Chatham House’s rules, but also in public conferences and debates, such as those recently organized by the Defense and Security Monitor.

We cannot but hope that, besides discussions, we will also witness a more concrete, superior approach of region’s security issue.

Translated by Andreea Soare