“NATO naval group at the Black Sea will be in line with international law”

Bogdan Aurescu, former Romanian Foreign Minister, says allies are concerned about Russia boosting its military capabilities at the Black Sea  Photo: MAE
Bogdan Aurescu, former Romanian Foreign Minister, says allies are concerned about Russia boosting its military capabilities at the Black Sea Photo: MAE

NATO should keep a close eye on security challenges at the Black Sea amid Russian military build-up in the area, former Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu highlighted in an interview to BalkanDefense.

Note : Bogdan Aurescu is the former minister of foreign affairs of Romania. Opinions expressed here can be attributed solely to the author and do not engage the institution which he belongs to.

 

  • What shall we expect, in broad lines, from next NATO’s Summit to be held in Poland, especially from the perspective of an adequate answer to Russia’s growing assertiveness?

The security environment in Europe and around it has been profoundly and adversely impacted by Russia’s assertiveness, unpredictable conduct of international affairs and breach of international law. In my view, first and foremost, NATO Warsaw Summit must reconfirm the firm commitment, in practical, concrete terms, of the Alliance to article V of the Washington Treaty, which is ensuring effectively our collective defense. This is a strategic objective and a matter of credibility for our Alliance to efficiently demonstrate that it is always ready to stand by each and every one of its members. We are 28 for 28.

The NATO Warsaw Summit shall confirm NATO’s capacity to adapt rapidly to a changing security environment, both on the Eastern and on the Southern flank. The long-term adaptation of the Alliance will thus be reflected in strengthening and modernizing its defence and deterrence posture.

NATO Summit will also reconfirm the validity of its open doors policy in projecting stability and security. Accession of Montenegro to NATO, which Romania supported and I engaged personally, as Minister, will demonstrate the positive effect of sharing democratic values across our transatlantic community. In this context, NATO’s partnership policy also remains essential so that partners like Ukraine, Republic of Moldova and Georgia may choose their own path without outside pressure. I have worked hard, as Minister, for this purpose, including through concrete initiatives.

  • What is Romania’s position to be tabled at Warsaw NATO Summit in July?

Romania firmly supports the full implementation of the NATO Wales Summit decisions, especially the Readiness Action Plan, while strongly highlighting the need for NATO’s long term adaptation and consolidation of collective defense and deterrence. Such objectives need bold decisions to ensure a robust forward Allied presence on the territory of Eastern Allies especially to deter security challenges in the area.

I also believe that reconfirming the transatlantic link as the keystone of European security is of highest importance. Closely associated with this objective remains the need for a more equitable burden sharing within the Alliance. That is why Romania resolutely supports the Defence Spending Pledge adopted in Wales and took the necessary political decisions to ensure a defense budget of 2% of GDP by 2017.

Given the developments in our vicinity, NATO should closely monitor the challenges in the Black Sea region, an important component of Euro-Atlantic security. Last year in May I have proposed for NATO to perform an analysis of the strategic importance of the Black Sea for the Allied security, and it is ongoing within NATO. Development of NATO capabilities, particularly missile defence and declaration of NATO Ballistic Missile Defence initial operational capability remain high on the agenda. Consolidation of NATO – EU strategic relations also ranks high among our priorities – in November I have forwarded concrete proposals in this respect for the considerations of the allies.

Romania also stands firm in its commitments to Allied missions. Our contribution to Afghanistan more than tripled per NATO request from 200 soldiers pledged initially to 650 soldiers deployed under the Resolute Support Mission. Our engagement is fully in line with the Alliance’s global efforts, placing us among the top Allied contributors to the stabilization effort in Afghanistan.

  • Has such a proposal been coordinated with allies across the Eastern flanks? (The Baltics, for instance, said they would coordinate to table a unitary position at the summit)

On November 4, 2015, Romania hosted an important meeting of the heads of states in Central and Eastern Europe. The Bucharest format, respectively, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia issued a joint declaration on “Allied Solidarity and Shared Responsibility” that highlights the positions of those states with regard to the upcoming NATO Summit in Warsaw.

Such coordination efforts are performed under the objective to consolidate NATO’s unity and solidarity and to help – to quote the joint declaration – “shaping the Allied strategic response to the long term security threats and risks we jointly face in the East”.

  • Has Bucharest so far received any feedback as concerns its proposal to set up a permanent NATO naval group at the Black Sea? Do other allies endorse this proposal?

As far as I know, we have engaged with other Allies and NATO in the context of developing a forward Allied presence in our region. Part of this effort is the creation of a multinational Allied naval partnership and cooperation framework at the Black Sea.

Demarches are continuing in order to shape this naval cooperation framework that will be in line with international law, including the Montreux Convention. I hope that there will be more good news on the way to the NATO Warsaw Summit in this regard.

  • Speaking of the Black Sea, Russia has been beefing up military presence in Crimea, with new military divisions to be set up across the opposite shore of the Russian territory. Are allies considering a unitary answer to this military build-up Russia has been carrying out?

We remain concerned of Russia’s activities aimed at the consolidation of its military presence in our area, in the Black Sea, as well as along NATO’s Eastern Flank, including using such military presence to project force towards Eastern Mediterranean Sea and Syria to pursue certain political goals.

Once again, the stability and security of the Black Sea region remains essential. Allied measures provided for by the Readiness Action Plan, the establishment of command and control structures, the establishment of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, as well as other measures of long-term adaptation envisage reassurance of Allies on the Eastern Flank and deterrence of risk and threat factors.

NATO will not respond in the same manner to Russian provocations. Sharing democratic values, the Allies have always believed in transparency and partnership. However, it is important for NATO to demonstrate that its commitment under article V of the Washington Treaty remains sacrosanct.

  • Romania now plays a direct and active role in what will be NATO-led antimissile defensive system. How important is this for, first, Romania’s national security and then regional security?

I was privileged to be Romania’s chief negotiator of the Ballistic Missile Defense Agreement between Romania and the United States, concluded in 2011. As such, let me confirm that deployment of the first Aegis Ashore missile defense facility in the Deveselu Military Base under the U.S. European Phased Adaptive Approach (US EPAA) represents a bilateral strategic project for Romania and the United States, actually the first objective of the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century Between the United States of America and Romania, also concluded in 2011 and which I have also negotiated on behalf of Romania.

The Aegis Ashore missile defence facility, which was completed in December 2015, will be soon transferred to the NATO Ballistic Missile Defence (NATO BMD). This project contributes to the defense of the United States, of Romania and of NATO European Allies and enhances regional stability. It also reflects a superior engagement of the United States for European security.

Allow me to quote from the recent U.S. – Romania Joint Statement on the Technical Capability of the Aegis Ashore Site at Deveselu Military Base, Romania, adopted on December 18, 2015: “Delivery of this capability signals a significant increase in ballistic missile defense capability and defensive coverage for southern and central NATO Europe against short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats emanating from outside the Euro-Atlantic Area.  Reaching today’s achievement is indicative of the close cooperation between the United States and Romania and the two countries’ shared commitment to regional stability and security.  This announcement underlines the breadth and depth of our strategic partnership in this 135th year of our bilateral relations.

At the same time, following the most recent political and technological developments, the risk posed by short and medium range missiles has increased. Both state and non-state actors may acquire such missile technologies. Therefore the US EPAA and NATO BMD will protect Allies and will deter such risks.

  • Despite assurances received from Washington and Bucharest, Russia still claims the system is aimed against it. What are, again, those juridical and technical arguments that prove the system is purely defensive and not set up to deter Russia?

Previous NATO Summit declarations, such as from Lisbon (2010) and Chicago (2012), provided for the cooperation between NATO and Russia on missile defence. However, Russia chose to suspend such cooperation in October 2013, long before the suspension of NATO-Russia practical cooperation in April 2014, following the illegal annexation of Crimea. Russia has declined all our proposals for transparency and cooperation on ballistic missile defence, including two NATO-Russia Centers and a NATO-Russia Transparency Regime.

The NATO BMD represents a defensive capability: it is not aimed at anyone and is being built against threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. There are legal and technical arguments that clearly reinforce the fact that the system is not against Russia.

On the legal side, the Ballistic Missile Defence Agreement between Romania and the United States clearly provides that the nature of the missile defence system deployed in Romania is exclusively defensive, and its use will be in accordance with international law, with the provisions of the UN Charter, for legitimate self-defense. Furthermore, the Agreement stipulates that the interceptors are non-nuclear and that they cannot be replaced with other type of interceptors.

From a technical point of view, the SM3 Block IB interceptors deployed at the Aegis Ashore Romania are designed only for defensive purposes, do not have offensive features and cannot be transformed to get offensive attack capabilities. They are designed exclusively to counter a ballistic missile attack through intercept and destruction by kinetic energy (kill by impact).

The speed of the interceptors cannot impact the Russian sophisticated ballistic missiles. Furthermore, both Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland cannot be used to shoot down Russia’s sophisticated long-range land- and sea-based ballistic missiles as geography and physics make it impossible.  In addition, the number of the interceptors, 24, cannot affect in any way Russia’s strategic deterrence capability.

  • Shall we expect the Republic of Moldova, now undergoing a severe political crisis, to be turned into a genuine geopolitical battle front amid the same efforts deployed by Russia to reassert its influence?

The Republic of Moldova has turned the corner, after a rough year (2015) and a – what we might call – “winter of internal discontent”.

Now reforms have resumed, based on a clear road-map; work is ongoing towards reaching a new financing agreement with the IMF. Of course, a lot still needs to be done.

Speaking of geopolitical battles or spheres of influence, I believe countries should not be passive actors and their choices should be respected. I do believe in the merits of: clarity – once a strategic choice is made; consistency – in what it is done to reach the goals set; determination – to overcome difficulties on the road. In the case of the Republic of Moldova, the choice was made and reaffirmed by the Governments over the past years – the European option.

Romania has always said to its neighbor that consistency and determination are key to success on that path. It is still the case now – Republic of Moldova needs to rebuild a credible and positive track record on the reforms and on the European agenda.

These reforms are first and foremost in the Republic of Moldova’s interest, and not for someone else’s (like EU’s) sake. They are essential for the resilience against internal or external threats. Every inch along this road is one inch away from those “geopolitical battlefields”.

  • A Romanian analyst (Dan Dungaciu) warned the Balkans risk turning into a Russian-Turkish condominium if ignored by the West. What do you think are the Western Balkans’ perspective in terms of full Euro-Atlantic integration and how is Romania positioned from this perspective?

The future of the Balkans resides in European and Euro-Atlantic integration. NATO’s open doors policy continues to remain one of the most successful policies of the Alliance that facilitates long-term democratic transformation and reform in aspirant countries. It also reflects the capacity of the Alliance to adapt itself.

The invitation of Montenegro in December 2015, which Romania and I personally supported including by leading a group of Allied foreign ministers to Podgorica last July, clearly demonstrates the viability of this policy. Support for Bosnia and Herzegovina and for Macedonia remains important so that those countries can follow their Euro-Atlantic path and join the Alliance.