What next? – 20 years of US-Romania strategic partnership

Antonia Colibasanu 
Ioana Matei
Mircea Geoana

Editor Alina Inayeh

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the US-Romania strategic partnership. Over the past two decades Romanian-American relations have evolved spectacularly, with strong ties forged in the military cooperation and, albeit modest, intensification of economic cooperation. Against the background of the Partnership, the Ukrainian crisis led to an increased importance of NATO’s Eastern flank for the US and an intensification of military activity in the Black Sea area, which rendered the Partnership even more importance and Romania a more strategic role.

The partnership with the US ultimately served Romania’s strategic goal: security against the potential greater risks in the longer run. It also served the US strategic purpose in the wider Central and Eastern European region – to anchor the region and, lately, to create a containment line against Russia. At the end of the Cold War no European country, Romania included, would have agreed to a new containment line, when international organizations were perceived as more important than nation states and borders were considered futile in the powerful globalization trend. The invasion of Georgia in 2008 and annexation of Crimea in 2014 dramatically impacted the regional and trans-Atlantic landscape and changed the regional security threats and responses.

Current Status
Romanian Defense Minister recently visited the US and met with the Secretary of Defense James Mattis and with major companies in the defense industry. Romania is one of the few countries to have announced an increase in its defense spending to 2% of its GDP by 2018, and the current visit was in relation to that. Earlier, in May, the Romanian president Klaus Iohannis visited the US President Donald Trump. The visit was symbolic but strategically important for both countries. For Romania, it communicated clearly that, while other alliances may be indecisive from the US point of view, the relation with Romania is not. For the US, as Romania’s Constanta has become a major hub for the US military hosting the Black Sea Area Support Team, it was important that the American public see the president of a country hosting American troops.

Two months later, the US Army announced new investments of between USD 25 to 100 million to be made in the modernization of the Mihail Kogalniceanu military base in Constanta. The designed construction projects aim at building a new railway, a multimodal terminal, a new control center, several buildings and storage facilities, fuel storage facilities, and a new platform for cargo airplanes. The contract should be awarded by the end of September 2017, and constructions finished by 2020.

While cooperation in the defense sector has been the most important dimension of the Romanian-US partnership, cooperation in the business sector has been less visible and generally weaker. Investment coming from the US is lower than that from Germany or France.[1] However, there is an increased preoccupation for stronger economic ties between the two countries. In October 2017, Romania is hosting a delegation of about 150 American companies with a potential interest in the country, which clearly indicates the current bilateral relations are set to grow. More than current events, the geopolitical landscape requires US – Romanian relations to evolve.

Key moments of the Romania – United States Strategic Partnership
Since its launch, the Romania-United States Strategic Partnership has been an important framework for the consolidation of bilateral relations in key domains: strategy and military, regional security, economy, unconventional risks (such as terrorism, drug traffic, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cyber defense and energy security). In 2001, the opening of the FBI Bureau in Romania marked the two countries enhancing bilateral cooperation in fighting  unconventional risks such as terrorism.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Romania showed its solidarity and supported the “war on terror”, and has been among the first countries to join the international coalition against terrorism led by the United States. Romania’s military contribution in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq received international recognition. Through these efforts, along with the continuation of the economic reform, in an international environment which was being reshaped by the terrorist threats, Romania gained the United States’ support for joining NATO.

During the NATO Summit in Prague, in November 2002, Romania was invited to begin accession talks. Two days after, the American president, George W. Bush came to Bucharest with a welcoming message, cheerfully received by tens of thousands of people gathered to hear his speech. “Should any danger threaten Romania, should any nation threaten Romania, the United States of America and NATO will be by your side.” Two years later, Romania formally became a member of the Alliance, along with Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia, an enlargement seen as “unfriendly” and threatening from Moscow.

The first political document for the strategic partnership was adopted at the highest level, in Washington, in September 2011. The Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century between Romania and the United States advanced the bilateral relations to a new level and it was signed at the same time with the Agreement between Romania and the United States on the Deployment of the United States Ballistic Missile Defense System in Romania. The Joint declaration contained the elements where the strategic, military and economic exchanges would be consolidated and identified key areas for a strengthened and broader collaboration. Among them: the US missile defense system; disarmament, nonproliferation and arms control; combating terrorism; cooperation within NATO; regional cooperation and stability; trade and investment; energy security; science and technology; education, research and people-to-people contacts. The two countries also committed to supporting democracy and the rule of law, human rights and good governance “in the region, in the countries of the Eastern Partnership: Republic of Armenia, Republic of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, and to spur reform and strengthen democracy in those countries”.

A Romanian-American Task Force was created to monitor the implementation of the Declaration. The group holds annual meetings on the status of the Strategic Partnership and, in time, it has created sectorial working groups to deal with the most important issues. At this moment, according to the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are five sectorial work groups on: consular issues (including visas); economic and commercial issues; education, science, research, innovation, technology and culture; cyber security; and energy security.

The last meeting of the Task Force took place in September 2016 and ended with a joint declaration on the status of the strategic partnership. The document summarizes the accomplishments and the commitments for the future:

→ Romania has set a powerful example in promoting democracy, rule of law and good governance and in pursuing transformative progress in areas such as law enforcement, accountable governance, and anti-corruption. Both countries are committed to continue cooperation, promote joint development and technical assistance to the Republic of Moldova, the Western Balkans, and elsewhere.
→ regarding security cooperation, “the two partners will build upon successes such as completing the Missile Defense site in Deveselu, and work together and in NATO to ensure swift and full implementation of the Warsaw Summit commitments by 2017 – notably by establishing the Romanian-led multinational brigade and the strengthened Alliance air and maritime presence in the Black Sea region.”
→ the two parties will continue to cooperate in the fight against terrorism and to promote cybersecurity
→ Regarding energy security, the Unites States and Romania “remain committed to a more transparent, predictable, integrated, diverse, and competitive regional energy market”. They agreed to give particular attention to the realization of gas connectors between Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria, and between Romania and the Republic of Moldova as well as to accelerate the development of Black Sea off-shore reserves.
→ In terms of economic cooperation, the two parties are committed to work together on meaningful business climate reforms through the Romanian Action Plan for Good Economic Governance. The priorities are mutual trade and investment missions, programs designed to support small businesses, young entrepreneurs, and start-up innovation communities. Moreover, there is a stated support for “an ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement between the United States and the EU”
→ Regarding education, the United States will further develop the U.S.-Romania Fulbright program, emphasizing closer cooperation in research and innovation.
→ The two parties also state that they are “committed to full implementation of the security enhancement measures under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program legislation” and will work toward the admission of Romania to this Program.

The Core: Military Cooperation
Current status:
Military cooperation is a vital part of the Strategic Partnership. It started even before 1997 and has been synced with Romania’s application for NATO membership. After the anticommunist revolution, the new leaders in Bucharest identified NATO as the only organization able to ensure the stability and security of the new European democracies. While the political dialogue with NATO leaders was ongoing, in 1993, the Mil-to-Mil (military-to-military) cooperation program was initiated to deal with defense cooperation between Romania and the United States. It was the first such cooperation Romania ever had with a NATO member state. A year later, Romania became the first state from Central and Eastern Europe to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace, which opened the door for military cooperation in some missions of the Alliance. A week after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Romanian Parliament adopted a decision that authorized the country’s participation in the fight against terrorism as a NATO ally. Therefore, Romanian forces joined the US-led operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. A year after Romania’s accession to NATO, the Agreement Regarding the Activities of United States Forces on the Territory of Romania was signed – even before the Strategic Partnership gained the basis of a bilateral political document. The agreement set the framework for a complex military cooperation. The US forces were authorized to access and use facilities such as the Kogalniceanu Air Base and Cincu Training Rage and to conduct maneuvers in certain perimeters. The document acknowledges that “the presence of United States forces contributes to strengthening the security and stability of Romania and the region”.

The security landscape of the region sharply changed in 2014, when Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea – an action deemed as a violation of international law. This has alerted countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic states to a potential Russian aggression as a major regional security risk. They asked for reassurance from NATO and the US against this threat. In response, at the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw, member states agreed on a strengthened military presence in the eastern and south-eastern areas of the Alliance. NATO is already developing a forward presence in the Black Sea region, comprising of land, sea and air capabilities. The land forces are built around a Romanian-led multinational brigade, which has the mission to coordinate multinational training.

Romania also hosts the US ballistic missile defense system at the Deveselu Air Base, which became operational in May 2016. It is a core capability of the NATO missile defence architecture, the first of its kind, designed to detect, track, engage, and destroy ballistic missiles in flight outside the atmosphere. Despite repeated reassurances from US and Romanian officials that the shield is meant to protect European allies from rockets shot by countries such as Iran and North Korea, Russia claims that it is in fact its nuclear arsenal that is the target of the system. Moscow is ever more aggravated by the show of force in the former communist countries, very close to Russian borders, and by the increasing number of military drills in the region, including in the strategically important Black Sea, where NATO considers increasing patrols. This year, Romania and Bulgaria have hosted the largest multinational military drills in the region, with more than 25.000 troops taking part in the US Army-led Saber Guardian 17 exercise.

How it can be strengthened
Cooperation in the military field has worked beautifully at the operational level, and helped Romanian military gather new skills and abilities, and modernize their defense systems. After two decades this could be taken to the next level, where cooperation could help increase the strategic analysis and planning capabilities of Romania’s military, through transfer of both knowledge and procedures. To this end:

  • US Department of Defense and its Romanian counterpart should cooperate to transfer and respectively absorb the knowledge behind the design and implementation of a multiannual planning instrument similar to the Quadrannial Defense Review;
  • Romania should draft its 2030 White Chart of Defense outlining major goals and steps needed to achieve them, in order to outline its strategy and streamline its operations;
  • The relation of trust created between Romanian and American soldiers in operation theaters, as well as that between graduates of military and intelligence schools should be built upon. Romania should be assisted in the creation of a structure similar to Veteran Affairs;
  • Following the model of cooperation with Alabama, Romania’s collaboration with National Guards should be expanded to other American states.

The Necessary: Economic Cooperation
Current status
Trade and investment constitute the second pillar of the Romania-United States Strategic Partnership, yet at times trade and military cooperation overlap. Romania, just as other countries in the region, is investing in increasing its military capabilities, pursuing a strategy of reinforcement in the face of Russia’s potential aggressive actions. Most recently, the ministerial delegation to the US in September met American defense companies and discussed ways to enhance both defense cooperation and business.

The economic dimension of the Romania-United States Strategic Partnership has always lagged behind the political and defense dimensions. Yet the promise of a better economic cooperation worked as an incentive for Romania to create a more attractive and transparent business environment. The full economic potential of the collaboration is far from being reached. Both the current American Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm and American managers have constantly renewed their request for more a transparent, predictable, and stable Romanian economic policy which would open the door for more investment.

How it can be strengthened

  • Romanian government should create an inter-department agency dedicated to increasing American investment in the country. A good starting point would be an inventory of investment projects of American companies with a presence already established in Romania;
  • Both governments should cooperate to promote investment opportunities in Romania within the US, beyond the classical actions in New York and Washington, DC;
  • The Business Action Plan between Government of Romania and Department of Commerce should be reactivated;
  • The Coalition for Development should become an affiliate to the US Business Roundtable. An invitation to this end has already been extended by the latter.

The Ignored: Political and Academic Cooperation
Current status
In the lead up to its NATO accession Romania has built excellent political relations with all branches of government and across the aisle in the United States, which helped ease the way to membership but also promote a new image of a country recovering after 40 years of communism. The momentum was lost once membership was granted, and the political dimension of the partnership lost its effervescence. This affected Romania’s image with the American public and impacted the expansion of the Partnership to areas other than military. In the same vein, Romania has not yet taken full benefit of the vibrant US academic life, despite the ever growing number of Romanian graduates of American universities.

How it can be strengthened

  • Romania’s temporary membership to the Security Council (2019-2020) should be the basis for consultations on global themes, both in Washington and in New York;
  • Romania should get involved in regional and global projects supported by the US (Community of Democracies, Open Government Partnership);
  • The two countries should cooperate to build and help implement anti-corruption programs in the region and beyond, at both government and non-government levels;
  • A Trust Fund with the contribution of Romania and other allied states should be created on cyber-defense of civilian infrastructures and countering of Russian propaganda;
  • US and Romania should seek to cooperate closer in the Middle East, in the context of the fight against ISIS and Iran’s ambiguity. Cooperation should aim to the creation of a Marshall Plan for the Middle East;
  • Given Romania’s close ties to Israel, a trilateral dialog US-Romania-Israel could prove helpful in mapping the region and searching for long term approaches;
  • As Romania celebrates 100 years of its modern existence next year this could prove an excellent occasion for a more vigorous promotion of the country in the US. Various collaborations between institutions (Smithsonian Museum and Romanian National Art Museum, as an example) would only enhance this effort;
  • Second track consultations and dialogs should be sought and encouraged between Romanian and US think tanks and academia, on all of the issues above and on others where joint expertise would be beneficial;
  • Similarly, joint research projects between Romania and US universities should be encouraged, both politically and financially. Romanian graduates of American universities could be a great resource in igniting such cooperation. Ideally, similar cooperation could be built at high-school level;
  • American Universities should be encouraged and assisted in conducting courses, and better yet degree programs, in Romania.

Perspectives on the future 
The Strategic Partnership between Romania and the US is, together with that between the US and Poland, a pillar for the US strategy in Europe. As the containment line that the US is currently backing, taking a possible shape in the Intermarium concept, forms from the Baltic to the Black Sea and potentially spreading south to the Balkans, Romania becomes a central pillar on the Eastern front, together with Poland and Croatia. The US and Romania share the same strategic objective of maintaining stability in both the Black Sea area and in the Balkans. As the containment line evolves, Romania may become key to the United States not only in containing Russian influence, but also in managing relations with Turkey, given Turkish influence in the wider region and the good relation between the two countries. This poses greater responsibility to the strategic partnership and ultimately to Romania. At this new stage of the partnership not only stability is required from the country, but also a strong statehood. While cooperation on defense will continue, Romania will need to build itself up to support a multi-level dialog and joint action in different spheres and, possibly, various regions.

20 years into the Partnership, Romania has two choices: act by inertia, focusing almost exclusively on the military relation and rip off only the limited benefits of its geopolitical strategic importance, or build on this to expand the partnership to other domains, and extend the benefits to its economy, governance and society. Encouraging the latter, the US will have a partner that is not only a faithful and brave soldier, but also a good political ally, a resource in sharing lessons learned the hard way, and a hub of creativity and innovation.


[1]According to the website of the Romanian Embassy in Washington at the end of 2016, “the volume of trade between Romania and the United States reached USD 2677.2 million, out of which, USD 1963.1 million represented Romanian exports and USD 714.1 million represented imports of American goods to Romania.” Most exports consisted of computer and electronic products; transportation equipment; machinery. And the largest share of imports were computer and electronic products and electrical equipment. According to the same source, in 2016 United States were the 14th largest investor in Romania. A different statistics   of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Romania puts the US on the 11th position. Amcham claims its over 400 members have invested 20 million USD in Romania, creating 200.000 new jobs. Over the years, as the economic environment in Romania became more and more promising, many prominent US corporations invested in the country. Their main fields of interest were automotive industry, engineering industry, machinery and equipment, agriculture and food processing industry, information technology, energy, banking and finance.