Romania's Black Sea Agenda -- and America's Interests

Romania's Black Sea Agenda -- and America's Interests

Why has Romania taken such an interest in the Black Sea at a time when so many of our partners seem more concerned with the Middle East or the Balkans?

Why has Romania taken such an interest in the Black Sea at a time when so many of our partners seem more concerned with the Middle East or the Balkans?

After 9/11, there was an embryonic debate about where the regional priorities of the West lay. This soon became a major strategic shift, as the areas of interest and opportunity have broadened past Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East to the "arc of instability" which reaches from Palestine through Iraq, the Caucasus, and into Central Asia. In particular, the region around the Black Sea has been, and should be, attracting interest now--given its strategic location.

Why is this region important to Western policymakers?

The first and most apparent reason is advancing democracy and consolidating stability in the broader Black sea region. Over the last decade, the Euro-Atlantic community has vastly expanded eastward: with three littoral countries as NATO members, and the expansion of EU to encompass Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 (and hopefully with Turkey soon to come), Western institutions and values reach the shores of the Black Sea.  But the process should not stop there.  The new historical circumstances, as well as the experience of successful democratic transformations in Eastern Europe demand all of us to reevaluate, thoroughly and wisely, the way we approach this region. 

Second is the geostrategic significance of the Black Sea/Caucasus/greater Middle East region to Western governments. This should first be recognized by Brussels.  The Southern Caucasus must be added into the "Wider European Neighborhood" policy from which the European Commission has so long excluded it.  Voices from important European capitals indicate that this will soon happen.  Once recognized, the issues upon which progress can be best made through international cooperation should be addressed: cross-border smuggling (of people, goods, and weapons); transnational organized crime; and, most important to our American friends, stemming the proliferation of WMD and their components and fighting terrorism.  Such cooperation is indeed possible, as evidenced by the success of the SECI (Southeast European Cooperative Initiative) Regional Center for Combating Transborder Crime, headquartered in Bucharest.  This initiative may serve as a model for a virtual GUUAM Center in the Caucasus region, located in Baku.

Third is energy. We know that the European Union has traditionally supported a northerly route, along the axis Berlin-Warsaw-Moscow, while the United States has pushed for a southerly path across Turkey to the Mediterranean.  We desire a "middle corridor" across the Black Sea, Romania, and the Balkans, a corridor not only for energy, but for trade and business of all kinds. While I recognize the limitations of full free trade agreements among countries which have differing relationships with the European Union, I want to make clear my support for regional cooperation on energy; the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), of which we are an enthusiastic part, is relatively under-utilized on this issue.

Forth, is its significance to Western relations with Russia. Despite the continuing discussion of the problem areas of Abkhazia and Transdnistria, there is a need to convince Russia that its traditional logic of maintaining a military presence - the logic of Kaliningrad - is an obsolete technique. We need to convince them that zero-sum logic politics don't apply here, especially in countries which have suffered for so long from being caught in between powers playing the great game of empire.  In sum, we need to use the NATO summit in Istanbul later this year to re-engage our Russian friends, to tell them that we have a common interest in the Black Sea, in the Caucasus, in Central Asia, in securing our common backyard as we focus on the great multi-generational project of modernizing the "greater Middle East."

What should be the new approach? 

For the next sequential stage an efficient coordination of policies and positions of wider democratic community's members is required towards the Black Sea region. As we are brought more fully into the Euro-Atlantic Community, therefore, we, especially in the "new" West, see the need to replicate the effort that was made first in Central Europe and then in southeast Europe in the lands across the Black Sea into Central Asia.  We have the obligation to encourage change in these societies. Last year's history in the Caucasus countries clearly confirms that we can work on an encouraging ground to uphold democracy in the area. The case of Georgia speaks for itself.

In the West's relations with the Caucasus, we, in Romania, want to be a springboard and not a barricade. And here, I think, that Romania will be in a position to positively influence developments in this region, expanding the zone of peace and prosperity from the Atlantic eastward across the continent.

In our vision, we see three critical directions for an action plan towards this goal.  Firstly, we need to concentrate on the security and military issues by supporting the strengthening of the respective countries' national institutions to respond to twenty-first century challenges and to become more interoperable with the European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.  Secondly, our attention must focus on further enhancing economic ties with the Western markets and enforcing the east-west corridors. These corridors have endless promise, and can indeed reach all the way to China, across the lands where the real tectonic plates of the world are - where the confluence of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism is found.  The last but not the least, we believe that further efforts to consolidate a strong and vibrant civil society in the countries from the Black Sea area remains instrumental to reaffirm the value of citizen participation in the democratic process and to reinforce a key set of institutions that lie at the nexus of state and society.


Mircea Dan Geoana is Foreign Minister of Romania.