Alfred Thayer Mahan argued in his well known work The Influence of Sea Power upon History that control of the seas is important for the security and prosperity of a nation. He also argued that in order for a state to be a considered a great power it must have a powerful navy capable of keeping the sea lanes open and under its control. My article deals with the first assertion made by the famous naval historian and theorist and its relevance for Romania. As to the second assertion this is largely irrelevant to Romania as it is not in a position to be a great power. However it has a degree of relevance when it comes to the praxis of great powers in using sea power in order to achieve various political ends. In this latter case Romania has a lot to learn from great powers, especially because it shares a maritime space with Russia, a former great power with ambitions to become one once again.
Historically the Romanian Navy was not large but it played an instrumental part in the creation of the modern Romanian state. By maintaining a presence on the shores of the Black Sea as well as patrolling and policing the Danube River, a strategic and economically important European waterway, it maintained the sovereignty and independence of the state. Today the navy is at a crossroads. Most of its ships are either outdated or are able to meet only the minimum operational requirements of NATO. There is an ambitious modernization program under way which if followed through will lead to the development of a modern navy by 2025. However this program will involve a serious financial effort (a navy today is quite expansive to maintain) as well as a strong political commitment from the Romanian government.
From a political point of view a modern and capable navy will be an asset for Romania. Nowadays Romania has a political and legal dispute regarding its maritime space with one of its neighbors, namely Ukraine. One part of the dispute is centered upon the division between the two states of the continental shelf – an important issue for both countries as it has strong strategic and economic implications. The second part of the dispute deals with the building of a canal on the Danube by Ukraine in order to ensure easier access of ships and goods to and from Odessa. In both situations Ukraine has proved to be quite assertive using a strategy of the fait accompli in order to promote its interests. Romania preferred diplomatic and legal means to defend its interests; however it would have fared better had it possessed a stronger navy. This does not mean that Ukraine has a stronger navy, but if Romania had had a more capable navy as well as the will to use it, that could have deterred Ukraine from adopting certain courses of actions. By simply showing the flag in the zones under dispute Romania would have sent a strong message to Kiev and may have helped solve some of the outstanding issues between the two states faster.
In the future the need for a capable and stronger navy will grow for Romania. This prediction is based on the following facts: western involvement in the Black Sea region is growing, and Romania as a part of NATO and EU will be required to get involved and take part in the effort; the presence of US troops in Eastern Europe (Romania and Bulgaria) will allow for more freedom of action in relation to Russia for the countries of this region. Furthermore as a member of the EU Romania will have to secure its borders in order to prevent illegal trafficking and counter band – this will include its maritime borders as well – hence more activity for the navy. Romania has become a net security provider in the last years consequently the navy should be able to project power in other regions of the world most likely the Eastern Mediterranean (already involved as a part of NATO’s Active Endeavour mission) and the Persian Gulf. It is likely that the navy will assume the duties of transporting Romanian forces to the theaters of operation and will have to develop amphibious capabilities. Securing the sea lanes will be important from an economic point of view – Constanta is the largest port on the Black Sea and keeps growing and developing, while the issue of energy security means that Romania must protect its offshore oil rigs and the future transport routes for energy supply.
A stronger navy will require indeed lots of investments indeed. But given the current security configuration in the Black Sea region as well as at a global level such, an investment will likely be necessary and productive in terms of politics and security. A modern navy is not luxury good in the case of Romania – is a necessity.