Inbox: A Black Sea Agenda for the Biden Administration

The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) is underway in the Black Sea during exercise Sea Breeze 2020, July 25, 2020. Sea Breeze is an annual exercise designed to enhance interoperability among participating nations and strengthen regional security. The exercise began in 1997, bringing Black Sea nations together to train and operate with NATO members to build interoperability and increase capability
The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) is underway in the Black Sea during exercise Sea Breeze 2020, July 25, 2020. Sea Breeze is an annual exercise designed to enhance interoperability among participating nations and strengthen regional security. The exercise began in 1997, bringing Black Sea nations together to train and operate with NATO members to build interoperability and increase capability

The next U.S. administration should focus on where it can make the most difference in advancing its transatlantic priorities. The Black Sea is a great candidate.

Inbox is a CEPA series on priorities for the next administration – and its allies.

The Biden administration has stated it will reaffirm U.S. commitments to the transatlantic relationship as a major foreign policy pillar in an era of strategic competition. But even within the transatlantic agenda, there will be competing demands on the Biden team’s time and finite resources. That’s why the next administration should focus on key hotspots where it can most efficiently make a meaningful difference. One such hotspot is the Black Sea.

Engaging in the Black Sea region would advance several core goals of the administration: restoring U.S. leadership and cooperation with allies; promoting democratic principles; defending U.S. security interests particularly against Russia, and boosting U.S. economic clout abroad to counter China. To that end, below is an agenda the next administration should adopt to both advance U.S. interests and benefit partners on the ground.

The United States must make its presence felt in the Black Sea Region, restoring U.S. political leadership and cooperation with core allies and partners. The wider Black Sea region is an important chessboard upon which the 21st century’s geopolitical competition is playing out. With Russia building up its military and consolidating strategic corridors, and China deepening ties through trade and investments, it is critical for the U.S. to increase its political presence. The Biden team should start by conducting more senior-level visits and setting up speaking engagements, especially in countries with occupied territories such as Ukraine and Georgia. The administration should also prioritize involving the U.S. in different regional peace initiatives, such as the German-led mediation efforts between Greece and Turkey, the Minsk process, or the Crimean Platform.

The U.S. should double down on democracy, and in doing so support regional allies and partners. The U.S. needs to back democratic forces facing challenges in the Black Sea region. For instance, as a far-right party moves into the parliament in Romania, the U.S. should deepen its strategic partnership with the country bilaterally and through NATO. With regards to Turkey, the U.S. should reengage with Ankara, begin to rebuild trust, and confirm Turkey’s strategic role in the Alliance, while continuing to demand that Turkey live up to NATO’s core values. In Georgia, a key NATO partner, the administration should more vocally support a democratic resolution to post-electoral political instabilities. To make the most of Biden’s planned Summit of Democracies, the administration should invite key regional countries, such as Ukraine, and include civil society partners from the region too.

The U.S. should defend critical transatlantic security interests, leveraging NATO to enhance Black Sea defense. NATO has made outstanding progress in strengthening deterrence and defense in the last few years, particularly in the Baltic Sea. The next U.S. administration should build on this momentum, but in the Black Sea, which has been comparably under-prioritized. This will require maintaining a firm position on Russia’s obligations under international law, continuing NATO’s dual-track approach to Russia, and enhancing the alliance’s military posture in the region. In concert with regional allies, the U.S. should invest in air and missile defense capabilities, increased exercises, cyber tools, unmanned systems, situational awareness and early warning systems, and other technologies that can counter hybrid threats and electronic warfare. To push back on Russia, the U.S. must also build trust with key regional partners. With respect to Ukraine, Washington should uphold a strong U.S. position on the war in the Donbas and renew security assistance to Ukraine, as outlined in the NDAA. On Georgia, the U.S. should champion an alternative to a stalled Membership Action Plan (MAP), offering a new tailored political plan for Georgia to join NATO.

The U.S. should boost its investment in the region to promote stability and push back on Chinese and Russian economic influence. By better aligning U.S. economic agencies with national security priorities, the next administration can curate a more strategic, predictable pipeline for U.S. investors in the Black Sea region. Opening a Black Sea Finance Center, similar to the Caspian Finance Center in Turkey, would allow multiple agencies to coordinate on much-needed transportation, energy, and communication infrastructure projects. The U.S. can also incentivize the private sector by providing regional governments with technical assistance for engaging American businesses. To further this work, the administration should continue the Development Finance Corporation (DFC)’s current activities, and in addition, encourage the opening of a new DFC office in Tbilisi. Biden should extend U.S. commitments to the Three Seas Initiative (3SI), clearly signaling that there is bipartisan consensus on this matter. His team should seize on the next 3SI summit in Sofia to engage more Black Sea countries in regional development projects. Finally, the U.S. should continue to support strategic development in the South Caucuses, including through the Transcaspian Gas Pipeline and other new energy transport routes to help Europe reduce energy dependency on Russia.

Focused U.S. engagement in the Black Sea will not only support core regional allies and partners, it will directly serve American interests.

(This article was developed in concert with CEPA’s Black Sea Working Group.)

December 16, 2020