Major Issues in Romania’s Foreign Policy Răspunde

This article is the first in a series of articles that I will publish on this blog dealing with Romania’s foreign policy. In this article I will outline the major international issues Romania’s foreign policy has to deal with in the international system. I will provide a brief description of these major issues and I will comment them according to their relevance. The other articles in the series will deal with the new draft ten year foreign policy strategy which has just been published by the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with the cohesiveness and coherence of Romania’s foreign policy – with a major emphasis on the relations between the branches of the executive and internal political conflicts. The issues are divided according to their importance, relevance and urgency.

The alliance with the United States of America – represents the cornerstone of Romania’s foreign policy. It is a mutual beneficial relationship that has propelled Romania into NATO and has opened up bases, although not permanent, for the United States on the Black Sea. Lately the relationship has been a source of controversy in Romanian internal politics, with regard to its contribution in the war against terrorism. Moreover the prolonged deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan of Romania’s troops, with no end in site in the near future for both conflicts, puts tension on a generally beneficial relationship and has sparked controversy in Romanian politics.

NATO – represents the formal link between Romania, Western Europe and the United States of America, in terms of security. By joining NATO and becoming an important player in the alliance, despite its size and power, Romania proved that it can contribute to the overall security of the alliance and became a factor of stability in a region of Europe known for its political troubles. Moreover by becoming a member of NATO, it has extended the range of the alliance in a region which previously received little attention and was generally considered to be under the influence of Russian power: the Black Sea. As a result of Romania’s efforts and contribution the 2008 NATO summit will be held in Bucharest.

The Black Sea region has become since 2004 a focus of Romania’s foreign policy, however with mixed results. This region has become important in the last years because of its proximity to the Middle East and as an important link to the energy rich region of the Caucasus. Romania holds an important asset in the region, the port city of Constanta the only deep water on the Black Sea. However a coherent Black Sea policy is yet to be formulated and Romania is likely to face opposition from other states in the region such as Turkey and Russia who have their own vested interests.

Russia remains a huge challenge for Romania’s foreign policy. A coherent policy regarding relations with the Russian Federation has yet to be formulated by the Romanian government. In the last years the relations between the two former Warsaw pact allies has steadily grown colder as the result of Romania’s joining NATO and becoming a US ally. Furthermore the establishing of American military bases on the Black Sea, albeit troops will be stationed on a rotational basis, has added fuel to the fire. Russian energy policy has also been criticized quite vocally by president Traian Basescu and Romania is struggling to push forward the Nabucco pipeline project which will bring the oil Caucasus to EU markets, bypassing thus Russian territory. Besides these two issues another point of contention between Russia and Romania is the resolution of the internal conflict in the Republic of Moldova as well as the withdrawal of Russian forces from Transnistria, according to international treaties.

Relations with Ukraine represent another important issue in Romania’s foreign policy. The relationship has been dominated by two controversial Ukrainian projects as well as issues regarding minority rights. The first and most important issue is the delimitation of the continental shelf and of the exclusive economic zones of
Romania and Ukraine in the Black Sea
, an issue which revolves around the establishment of the arcane fact whether the Serpent’s Island, a former piece of Romanian territory, is just a rock or an island. Despite the scholastic nature of the argument, this island or rock is a key strategic point in the Black Sea, as it can extend or seriously limit access to key energy resources located offshore. Also the island can be used as a strategic point from which one can survey navigation coming from Romania’s shores. A second major point of conflict between the two states represents the building by Ukraine of a canal on the Danube – Bastroe, which Romanian authorities have opposed on the grounds that it poses a threat to the delicate ecosystem of the Danube Delta. Actually the canal is seen by Romanian authorities as a possible threat to its control of the lower Danube as well as an economic challenge to its canal, built further upstream, which links Danube and the Black Sea, and ensures the transports of goods from the Rhine to the Black Sea region. Romania’s relations with the Ukraine have been tensed by the way in which both states choose to resolve the disputes between them: the former prefers diplomatic engagement and settlement through various international organizations, while the latter prefers a policy of the fait accompli.

George VIŞAN

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