A pandemic does not offer ideal conditions for a national security rethink. But despite the timing, Romania’s new National Defense Strategy (NDS) is a necessary reaffirmation of the country’s central role in strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defense posture in the Black Sea region — an often-neglected area of U.S. and European strategic thinking. Romania’s foreign and security policy have long had three pillars: EU membership, NATO membership, and its strategic partnership with the United States. The sharper, more articulate, and updated strategic approach of the new NDS provides coherence and consistency with NATO’s efforts to enhance its posture along the Eastern Flank. The emphasis on “integrated” management of multidimensional risks and threats also signals that future efforts to strengthen regional security will require building capabilities at the national and alliance levels alongside a comprehensive regional strategy.

In Romania, the NDS must be released six months after presidential elections. Approved by Parliament on June 30, the 2020-2024 NDS met this timeline following President Klaus Iohannis’s reelection in November.

The new NDS provides a clearer and more detailed assessment of the changing security environment facing Romania. It considers wider geopolitical trends like great power competition, the undermining of international norms in the Black Sea region, and security concerns specific to Romania. Russia’s military buildup and aggressive actions in the Black Sea region, its refined use of so-called “hybrid” tools, and the deteriorating security environment in NATO’s eastern neighborhood and the Western Balkans are among the reasons why the Black Sea region is strategically significant to Romania and the greater transatlantic community. The noticeable change in tone — which sparked reactions from the Russian side — was articulated in firm yet nuanced language describing Russia’s destabilizing actions in the Black Sea region. The NDS now brings Romania’s strategic priorities into closer alignment with NATO recommendations for securing its eastern periphery since the 2014 Wales Summit.

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Based on the concept of extended national security, encompassing the military, political, economic, societal, and environmental domains, and on efforts to consolidate national resilience, the NDS also identifies multidimensional threats which spill over into EU and NATO security concerns. These include risks stemming from emerging technologies, 5G networks, and AI. China is not mentioned explicitly.

In conventional defense and security, Romania has long been a reliable U.S. ally and an emerging regional hub for NATO in the Black Sea region. The country met the targeted 2% defense-spending guideline in 2017, has invested in modernizing its equipment, and hosts U.S. and NATO efforts to increase its naval presence, improve mission command, and facilitate regional cooperation with allies and partners.

The NDS makes concrete commitments to maintain the defense spending threshold until 2027, including allocating a minimum of 20% of the budget for acquisitions and at least 2% for research, development, and innovation. Meeting Romania’s obligations in EU defense initiatives like the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and supporting the NATO-EU cooperation agenda match its commitments to strengthen European integration in defense. The NDS also aims to deepen the security dimension of the strategic partnership with the U.S., including by increasing the U.S. presence in Romania. In this respect, Romania will be essential to raising the strategic priority of the Black Sea region across the transatlantic alliance and implementing a ‘One Flank’ approach to NATO’s Eastern Flank. Deepening strategic partnerships with regional partners — especially Ukraine and Georgia on naval cooperation and intelligence-sharing — will move the Alliance towards enhancing regional security.

In line with NATO thinking, the NDS also suggests a whole-of-society approach to security, with a more integrated and coordinated inter-institutional effort to meet strategic objectives, and further civilian-military and public-private partnerships. A Strategic Reflection Group will provide the Romanian President with expertise on evolving threats and security environment, an initiative mirroring NATO’s own reflection process.

It remains to be seen how Romania will fare in delivering on long-stalled projects which are key to building resilience. While developing portions of road and rail infrastructure with dual-use potential have been works-in-progress for years, some energy security issues remain unsettled, including shareholder negotiations in the Black Sea strategic offshore installation. U.S. and West European investments in Romania’s economic development, particularly in transportation and energy networks, will be central both to national and regional security, while the Three Seas Initiative — aimed to improve road and rail infrastructure — and enhancing the Danube River’s military transport capacity will aid military mobility.

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Europe's Edge
CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America.
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