Center for Strategic Decision Research

Ambassador Sorin Ducaru

Ambassador Sorin Ducaru
Permanent Representative of Romania on the North Atlantic Council

Achieving Security and Prosperity in the Balkans and
Black Sea Region

I am going to jump directly into our theme from the perspective of a country that is in the neighborhood of both the western Balkans and the Black Sea region. I am hesitant to say on the “frontier” or to use the word “border” because, from my country’s perspective, we should avoid creating new dividing lines and rather embrace a bridge-building perspective. It is true that there is a big difference between the Balkans, which have a NATO-EU integration perspective, and the Black Sea region, where a more coherent and structured approach is needed. But I will start by saying that we should view both regions as part of a larger Europe, a family whose particular characteristics have to be taken into consideration.

I would like to mention something ironic about these characteristics. In the Balkans, the east-west paradigm has been turned upside down, because the eastern Balkans are more integrated into EU and NATO than the Western Balkans, which is in contrast to the old logic which implied that the West is more advanced and is the point of attraction vis-à-vis the east.

Romania faced a dilemma in the 1990s because it is more associated with the Balkans than with central Europe. Andrei Pleşu, our foreign minister at the time and someone I respect a lot, tried to solve our dilemma in terms of geo-political definition with his witty attitude while suggesting that we are “the Scandinavians of the Balkans.” My point, as it was my minister’s point, is that everything is relative in our world, and we need to take into account this relativity when we want to address the big picture. And we also need to stress the unifying concept, the fact that these regions are part of a family and part of Europe.


Now I would like to briefly focus on some concrete aspects of the Balkans and subsequently dwell on the Black Sea area. One thing I want to mention is that there are, in my opinion, two main dangers and a dilemma related to the integration process of the western Balkans.

One danger is the risk of excessive delay in the integration process for these countries and losing the momentum of public opinion. The other is a risk that both NATO and EU countries worry about, which is the risk of premature accession. The dilemma is how to bridge the gap between these two risks. Based on the experience we had during the North Atlantic Council’s trips in the Balkan region, I would like to emphasize four important points that could possibly bridge the gap:

First, it is important that the process of integration set forward by the EU and NATO contain very explicit and clear points regarding benchmarks for preparation and criteria for accession, because our partners in the region have the perception that there is not enough clarity. Sometimes it is not enough for us to lay out what to do but also how to do it. For the Balkans, I believe that this second element—how to do it—should be even more explicit than for other regions, even though this makes the process a little bit more intrusive.

Second, these “what/how-to-do” benchmarks should have short-term, achievable goals at every step, so that the politicians in these countries can show their citizens that progress is being made and then move on.

Third, the transparency of the process should be maximized, because countries compare their situations with each other. If they see that other countries are advancing because they fulfilled the necessary conditions, this can act as positive reinforcement for them.

Fourth and last, let me remind you how NATO made its most recent decision on the Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Bosnia/Herzegovina. The reform benchmarks were contained within MAP rather than conditions to enter the MAP process-a conditionality from within, meant to set benchmarks for the MAP process itself. So NATO and the EU should be as imaginative and flexible as possible in using the instruments designed to support reform and preparation for accession.

Of course, despite all of their differences, the overarching project of all countries in the Balkans is integration, no matter how far along they are on the chart.


On the EU side, we have a number of instruments like the partnerships instrument and the Black Sea Synergy. On the NATO side, we also have some very clear instruments, like the individual partnerships under PfP, the specific distinct partnership with Ukraine and Georgia, and the NATO-Russia Council. However, I think we need to keep in mind NATO’s new thinking, the new Strategic Concept, and the kind of high profile that this new debate has given to partnerships in general. We also need to keep in mind the report of the Group of experts headed by Madeleine Albright which indicates that we can use more of the synergy between these instruments, more of the flexibilities, without necessarily regionalizing NATO’s approach towards its partners. Without a regional policy, NATO offers an element of flexibility like the 28+N format of debate and discussions, which can be determined by regional or functional arguments. The report also highlights the importance of keeping the option of enlargement open to countries that are willing and prepared to join NATO. It also encourages as much political debate with partners in the region as possible. These are some of the strong points that are worth following particularly in our approach towards the Black Sea region.

I am now going to make one last point about NATO and the Black Sea. NATO has been talking about the Black Sea region since the Istanbul summit in 2004, and it is prepared to support efforts and actions based on regional initiatives. So regional ownership is the key element and, frankly, it is the important ingredient that countries in the region—Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria—want. Given this point of view, countries in the Black Sea region must take responsibility to show that regional ownership at work. One example would be to have Turkey’s Black Sea Synergy initiative, which is offered for cooperation to all riparian Black Sea countries, as a value added to a NATO initiative, for example to the Maritime situational awareness project developed within the framework of NATO’s Active Endeavor Operation in the Mediterranean Sea. This would mean gathering information on maritime traffic in the Black Sea and coupling it with the bigger picture that NATO has on maritime traffic and thus enhance our overall situational awareness from which we all could benefit. It is just an example.

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