13 January 2020

The Defense and Security Monitor Live: “America first!” The first effects of the meeting between presidents Trump and Kim, the new foreign and security policy of the United States today, in an edition with former Foreign Affairs Minister Cristian Diaconescu.

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

The Defense and Security Monitor Live: “America first!” The first effects of the meeting between presidents Trump and Kim, the new foreign and security policy of the United States today, in an edition with former Foreign Affairs Minister Cristian Diaconescu.

MODERATORGood morning. My name is Indira Crasnea, this is the first edition of The Defense and Security Monitor Live, we are talking about America First, about the new foreign and defense policy of the United Stated and, obviously, about the meeting between Presidents Trump and Kim. Our guest for this first edition is Mr. Cristian Diaconescu, former Foreign Minister, welcome here on this literally very hot day.

Mr. Ambassador, we find ourselves now after a top-level meeting which, until recently, seemed impossible, but it still took place, the meeting between presidents Trump and Kim. Which will be its first effects? Because at surface level, it seems that it finished with some kind of a gentleman’s agreement and about that. And that maybe President Kim will be received at the White House, some day.

Cristian Diaconescu: And probably this thing will have some kind of a significance. I would like to begin by wishing you good luck on this first edition, and I think that your approach is extremely useful, and it needs to be seen by a large number of people, because indeed, we are talking about a number of aspects which are extremely important and significant for all of us, they are not only subject for the media or for academic discussions.

Indeed, the meeting between the two heads of state would have seemed absurd maybe even one month ago. We are talking about North Korea, a state which self-highlighted itself as being extremely aggressive, bordered not only rhetorically but also militarily from any minimal partnership either regionally or internationally. In recent times, talks started from a very complex moment when it seemed that relations between North Korea and the rest of the world, not only the United States, reached a climax.

Why? Firstly, because they managed, after about ten years, to develop a very dangerous nuclear proliferation project, constructing ballistic missiles which could transport a nuclear load to their targets. Among the targets, as the Korean propaganda showed without any hesitation, were of course South Korea – with whom they have an armistice, but no effective treaty to end the war – Japan or the Guam Island, which is under the sovereignty of the United States.

Attempts of cooperation between American and North Korean Presidents also took place in the past. Bill Clinton had a first attempt in this regard around 2000, when the Republican part of the Congress blocked his project. George W. Bush tried to restart the dialogue, but, and here we need to specify something that could be significant, angered by the lack of cooperation and availability of the North Korean side, George W. Bush ended an agreement with North Korea similar to the Iranian nuclear agreement.

From that point onward, feeling that it is free from any international restraints, regardless of the successive economic sanctions it received, North Korea went on with developing its nuclear program. Of course, the situation is as complex as it can get, the American presence in the region is obvious, is wanted and requested by both South Korea and Japan, on one side through almost 25,000 soldiers in South Korea and more than 30,000 soldiers in Japan. At certain intervals, they held military drills. I’m saying held, because following this top-level discussion, the American President promised that these drills will stop. On the other side, North Korea, through its head of state, committed to a number of steps it must take to completely denuclearize itself.

 We should not forget the region’s top players from this algorithm, especially China, which is North Korea’s main partner, and equally the Russian Federation, which is very interested about events on its eastern border. For the moment, to simplify things, we have a top level discussion, within the new philosophy of the American administration, which we will detail later. Of course, between nuclear war, aggression, violence in the Korean Peninsula and the at least partial unblocking through dialogue between former declared enemies for 70 years, North Korea and the United States, as minimal as the diplomatic approach is it is of course preferred. For the moment, the international community is watching how the other regional players will position themselves, especially regarding a system to verify how these measures are applied and implicitly to take steps to diminish economic sanctions towards North Korea, with no other UN structures such as the International Atomic Energy Agency involved, despite being the institution globally warranted to check on such agreements.

Other states in the region obviously salute this approach for peace and against war, as there is no previous substantial political and diplomatic dialogue which would involve a package of agreements weighted against a system of checks and balances which is functional in every negotiation, and also taking into account the sensibility of the subject and the personalities of those who reached this agreement.

MODERATORCan we think that we will witness in the near future a diminished presence or maybe an American withdrawal from its traditional interest points throughout the world?

CRISTIAN DIACONESCU: If we are to fully believe President Trump’ statement, who starting from his presidential campaign announced that he would reposition America closer to its national interests rather than to what they refer as “overstretch” – meaning extending American presence in a large number of complicated spots throughout the world – there might such signals. But now the situation is as complex as it can get. We can take a handful of zones and study how such a policy could be implemented, and not only announced.

Let’s take Syria, for example, just this year, one week after the United States announced that it will withdraw from the coalitions in Syria a chemical attack took place, civilians were once again gruesomely targeted by their own Government, by President Bashar al-Assad. It is an incontestable reality. Which obliged the United States to a counter reaction, to send a signal different from disengagement.

If we look at the situation in Ukraine we will see that there is practically no evolution there of implementing the agreements reached by the Normandy group, the so-called Minsk agreements, regarding a détente of situation. More than that, the United State is seriously contemplating whether to supplement the Ukrainian army with military equipment.

If we refer to the consequences of withdrawing from the TPP negotiations or from the Paris Agreement, we will see that the actions of Washington have, maybe for the first time in its history, isolated the United States in relations with its traditional partners, creating tensions and even a vacuum at one point, with the obvious temptation of it being filled by either China or the Russian Federation, if we’re talking about strategic, economic or commercial problems.

We see the fact that the United States requested the G7 or, worryingly how it’s called today the G6+1, to welcome back the Russian Federation, a request which was categorically denied by other members of the group. These are developments which require, in my opinion, for to Washington at least take into account in its major decisions the extremely complicated contexts in which the United States is expected to intervene as the most powerful nation in the world, and that the balance for those who are hit at one point and cannot defend themselves must be restored through American involvement.

So I think that, as a matter of principle, President Trump will remain consistent with the idea of withdrawing the protection of American interests as much as possible within its borders. On the other hand, the international situation, as it stands, will continue to require an active foreign presence of the United States. It remains to be seen how they are going to balance and accommodate these two areas of interest.

MODERATORBut still, can we expect the United States to reposition itself in Europe politically and economically, let’s say in the medium term?

CRISTIAN DIACONESCU: Yes, that would be the case if we were to at least take into account the European signals. So as you know, recently Chancellor Merkel said that “We need to take the world’s protection into our hands”. Shaping within the European Union, and I am convinced that Romania’s presidency of the EU council will have this subject very high on its agenda, is an own defensive system of the EU named PESCO for the moment, consisting of 25 states. There are 17 European defense projects currently discussed.

But the American defense umbrella is still recognized as the main guarantor of stability at European level. Of course, there are differences of perception. If Central and Western Europe, especially after the latest electoral developments in Austria, Italy, Germany or France is showing an upsurge of a pronounced populism and euroscepticism, without explicitly tipping the balance of preferences towards the United States, countries on the Eastern and Central-Eastern flank such as Poland, the Baltic states and even Romania insist that American presence should as coherent as possible on every political, diplomatic and military level.

If we are to talk only about Romania and Romania’s interests alone from my modest perspective, American presence, at least for the following ten years, is absolutely necessary and from this point of view Bucharest needs to be as clear and cooperative as possible in conducting security projects together with the United States, of course without neglecting its European partners. I would bring one argument for this: the United States together with England, Canada have at this moment the main capacity to not only determine political decisions in favor of the security situation in NATO concerning the Black Sea, but also the possibility to implement them, because it is not easy to operationalize a deterring military presence at distance.  So form this point of view the withdrawal, even as an idea, of the United States in the region could pose vulnerabilities for Romania.

Of course, going more towards Central Europe we will see that the eastern risks are perceived with a more relaxing attitude, we will see that concerns regarding energy, terrorism, refugees are without doubt more significant for the European citizen in Western or Central Europe. Of course that this change in ranks modifies not only the perception but implicitly the pressures on politicians to make certain decisions in one field or another. But, if we are to discuss strictly on Romania national interest, if we are to see that clearly there cannot be any security in Central Europe if things are not sorted out at its borders, the American military political presence, I repeat, also in partnership with NATO, represents in my opinion a maximum priority project.

Moderator“NATO is fantastic, but it helps Europe more than it helps us”, said President Trump. Will the United States rethink their position in NATO? Even though NATO is, in the first place, the United States.

CRISTIAN DIACONESCU : Even the American President, in his attributions, started to understand step by step a certain value system related to NATO and of course certain priorities. His request regarding the allocation of 2% of the GDP for defense seems to me as a very necessary signal and of course, you could make comments on it. Of course that 2% of Germany’s GDP for defense means as much as maybe all other members combined. There are also other contributions within the alliance, if only I were to remember how Romania took part willingly in coalitions together with the United States, in theatres of operation where many Romanian soldiers, some who even gave their lives on the frontlines, were not aware of the situations and the problems in the regions. But because they understood that it was a national command, they took part in it. They deserve all the respect possible for the honor they brought Romania.

 So from this point of view NATO must, of course, readapt to current security conditions. What we can say is that there will be a NATO summit in July, we can remind ourselves that at the Warsaw summit a decisions was taken to reverse an Obama Administration policy, of withdrawal from Europe towards Southeastern Asia in face of a categorically assertive policy, the annexation of Crimea and influencing the war in Easter Ukraine. It’s obvious that NATO was put in the situation of not only changing its contingency concept from deterrence and dialogue, but also to implement such a concept and redeploy in Europe, raising only US expenses if I’m not wrong from $800-900 million up $4 billion.

All this thanks to a political decision which at one point considered that American military presence in Europe will not be necessary anymore. Well overnight it became so necessary that serious funds had to be reinvested. This process is ongoing, balanced and coherent decisions will be made regarding the Black Sea basin and its security. States in area, especially Romania, say that the level of risk in the region is high enough to make a North-South balancing, between the Black and Baltic Seas, regarding these evolutions. Of course, this will need a political decision in the US Congress, the French National Assembly or the German Bundestag for consuming resources, funds and explaining to soldiers that these border states matter for their national security.

So the situation instead of simplifying becomes more complex, basically in the Black Sea basin there are no evolutions to encourage us with regards to a relaxation of security problems, and that combined with the fact that US presence is once again the top deterring factor in the region, I can’t see what type of policy the US could carry out within NATO other than that of being implicated, participating and contributing, especially as the United States covers abouy 70% of NATO’s diplomatic and military significance.

ModeratorYou were referring to Chancellor Merkel and the fact that Europe must take its defense into its own hands. EU policy in the area of defense was pushed onto the stage. PESCO means, after all, bigger opportunities for the specialized European industry. Is the EU capable of ensuring defense through its own means? And I mean to say without the umbrella of American security or with a more restricted umbrella.

CRISTIAN DIACONESCU : To simplify, at least in the short term I do not believe that Europe can fully take its security matter into its own hands, without American involvement.

But this must not discourage EU politicians from being contributive and cooperation. From this perspective, I want to remind that a few years back NATO took a decision regarding smart defense. Smart defense was something similar to what it aims to do now: states from the region concerned with the same categories of risks and threats harmonized their defense industry segments so that artillery was made in one state, submarines in another, radars in a third state and the three combined their arms in case of war. Of course that political interests of the strategic military industry and foreign influences kind of discouraged this this project, which practically did not become fully operational. And that’s if you were to be kind about it; nothing significant happened.

Secondly, and this is highlighted especially for our region by the American side: I have said it before and I repeat it because I do not see any public signals that it was understood – when the moment comes such as 2014, when a risk appeared for the region, its states try to obtain American support especially bilaterally, neglecting or avoiding regional projects. The defense industry would the best example from this point of view.

Because you see, we are insistently requesting politically that other, some even from outside Europe, come and preventively protect us as a kind of warning for potential aggressors, but we ourselves cannot put together a common fleet at the Black Sea. We do not manage to agree on cooperation in the region outside of decisions sent from NATO or Washington regarding at least the necessity of training armies together, but in a large scale manner, not only simple drills. We do not prepare together to respond first to eventual risks and threats in the region.

Or, from this point of view, the response of both the American side and of some European states is as clear as possible: you from the region of the Black Sea basin are requesting unilateral American intervention in case of a crisis, which even with regards to international rights, but especially as a precedent, is not a very appropriate act, because at one moment your rivals might also say that we intervened unilaterally because we were asked to, just like you did. And I remind here about discussions from an international rights standpoint about the situation in Kosovo and the situation in Crimea. From this point of view, the absence of substantial cooperation, not just a formal one for media shots between states in the region, meaning Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia is very unproductive for regional security and stability. Yes, I know that each of these states could say a lot of things, but I also know on the other hand that a responsible and mature politician will go over certain historical, cultural or economic contingencies regarding energy and, when it comes to defense, will set it as a priority on his agenda. So, beyond insisting to either request Europe or especially America to be present in the area, I think states in the region have a lot to do both politically and military.

Moderator: How is Romania perceived right now from Washington? You are a top connoisseur of the realities from both there and here.

Cristian Diaconescu: Firstly, from a political-diplomatic standpoint, Romania is, or at least was, because things are developing not only in the country, a partner as predictable as it can get. You see, the most complicated aspect in today’s world, due to the quick unfolding of everything including crises, is incertitude regarding the potential stance of one state or another. Romania was not hit by illiberalism. Romania was attached to the standards and values of the Western world in general, this including the perspective of the Strategic Partnership for Romanian defense. There was no political hurdle in Washington regarding our country. Cross-institutional cooperation, especially in defense, security, policy and diplomacy was, and think that it still is, impeccable. We never had, I can honestly tell you, a partner so sincere and close to Romania, not only in bilateral relations but also in the different negotiation and decisions areas in which the US was involved and Romania had interests, for example in NATO.

So, from this point of view, Romania would only have the responsibility to maintain these lines of relations with Washington. This project which guaranteed our security, not only because there aren’t any weapons fired on the streets, but because there were and always have been pressures and intents to meddle and make us vulnerable from the outside, almost like a necessary cynical logic for the functioning of international relations. The United States defended Romania, and Romania was actually defended during certain complicated periods, with Bucharest also cooperating, making itself available and understanding when, at least politically, Washington needed Bucharest.

The issue is as simple as it can get: those ruling Romania today have inherited relations which I would say are impeccable, and from this point of view they only have to maintain these relations intact. Of course, I’m going to be told American investment in Romania is not at the expected level. I am convinced that there is space for more, but here there are also terms from Romania which need be discussed. Yes, the Visa Waiver process, free passage to the United States is a matter which regards the Congress component and institutions handling internal security. Surely, there is work to be done there and there are certain decision which have a certain process, they cannot be taken very fast, even if we wish they were made yesterday.

But staying at the very significant level which regards us all, of guaranteeing security through a predictable, normal and coherent behavior, Bucharest can keep and promote these relations, almost without any additional effort.

ModeratorLast question. We have a fact, the term of the current US ambassador is coming to an end. A new name was already launched as his replacement. Do you see Mr. Adrian Zuckerman as a feasible solution?

Cristian Diaconescu: Firstly, I have to tell that, as an individual who spent some time in diplomacy, I find it a bit odd for us to announce in Bucharest the replacement of a diplomatic mission chief, regardless of the state. There is a procedure, the person designated will have to go through Congress committees, their agreement is requested, after that procedures happen and it is decent that the state who sends him to announce the new state ambassador. The receiving state has a number of obligations and responsibilities which function for about 2,500 – 3,000 years, I won’t go into details.

I repeat, on one hand there are functional relations between the United States and Romania. Military, cultural, social, economic ambassadors are already present in Romania, so these relations are stable, they function. Of course, the diplomatic representative can help, there is no way in which he can break them.

From this point of view, regardless of who will come to Bucharest, he will be welcomed in the first place, and secondly I am convinced that he will continue an already grounded policy line. The diplomatic representative conveys the state’s messages.

I have seen in the past this rhetoric in Bucharest, that the diplomatic representative, quote unquote, took the side of someone or another, especially in the judicial system or who knows where. Everything he says, especially in a very strict diplomacy, because the American one is strict due to being global, is done following a thorough assessment and verification. The talent a diplomat is more related to socializing in the environment he finds himself in, rather than the substance of the message he conveys.

So, regardless of who it will be, I can only wish him good luck and the only thing I think would be useful for us to wish is to be appointed to office as quickly as possible, to ensure continuity after the exceptional, very good and professional activity performed by Ambassador Klemm.

ModeratorSo a new ambassador does not mean a different type of bilateral relations?

Cristian Diaconescu: No, certainly not. A new ambassador means another voice in bilateral relations which, I repeat, is positive, diplomatically coherent and strategically necessary. I do not want to go into a negative rhetoric. I can say that, regardless of the stances of the American administration in other zones of the world, Romania will always stay its strategic partner. So the new ambassador will only send this type of message. If there will be any malfunction, it will be because of us.

Moderator: So the status quo will be maintained in these relations.

Cristian Diaconescu: Categorically.

Moderator: Thank you, we hope to have you again as a guest.