Center for Strategic Decision Research


The Security of Central Europe

His Excellency Emil Constantinescu
President of Romania


Seventy years ago, an American journalist, a witness to the Bolshevik revolution, wrote a book about the ten days that shook the world. Those ten days opened the way to a division of Europe that appeared for a long time to be irreversible: a fracture between liberty and repression, between democracy and the egalitarian delusion of communism.

A series of events in 1997, too recent to enable us to grasp their true historical dimension, may warrant a description of the period of time over which they occurred as "the ten days that stabilized Europe": May 21, Kiev--the historic reconciliation between Poland and Ukraine; May 25, Bucharest--the historic reconciliation between Romania and Hungary; May 27, Paris--the signing of the Founding Act between the North Atlantic Alliance and the Russian Federation; May 28, the Hague--52 heads of state and government commemorated the Marshall Plan and outlined the future structure of an undivided continent; May 28 and 29, Sintra--a privileged relationship was established between NATO and Ukraine; May 31, Kiev--the treaty between Ukraine and the Russian Federation was signed; June 2, Constantza--the treaty between Romania and Ukraine was signed.

It may seem paradoxical that the dynamics and obvious acceleration of peaceful solutions to the division of Europe have been to a considerable extent the work of a military-political organization: the North Atlantic Alliance. An old Latin dictum, si vis pacem, para bellum, says that if you want peace, prepare for war. At no time has this phrase been more credible than during the past five decades, when peace was safeguarded thanks to the existence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Far from being a mere coalition built around increasingly sophisticated weaponry, NATO was conceived and has continued to develop to this day as an alliance built around a set of values.

What values are these? And for what reason were they deemed important enough to justify an extensive display of power, energy, and intelligence in order to protect them?

The values NATO is built on are representative of democracy, political pluralism, freedom of business initiative, protection of human rights, tolerance, and the right to dissent. The aggregate of these values has defined Western civilization for a long time. These values can and must become today the shared assets of Europe as a whole because they are, together and individually, the only values that measure up to the dignity of the human being. Communism, while it ruled over the countries of Central Europe for five decades, was at the opposite pole, a form of domination, not one of existence; it was an instrument designed to obliterate values, not to encourage them.

The fracture between the far west of Europe and its central zone is of recent date, and it actually interrupted a long record of European development that, particularly after World War I, had begun to exhibit a growing unity. The fracture was of a political nature, and was perceived as a strategic frontier between a Europe consistently attached to democratic values and another Europe whose political class vehemently denied those values.

The peace arrangements after World War II apportioned the countries of Central Europe according to the great victors' wishes, with little regard to the countries' participation in one camp or another or to their contribution to victory. With that peace came the assignation of their status as belonging to one of the two poles of the post-war order. For some of those states the assignation went as far as incorporation into the Soviet Union or a refusal to separate them from the multinational states to which they already belonged.

The smaller states in Western and Northern Europe, Austria in the central part of the continent, and Greece in its southern part, were able to benefit from the values and democratic attitude of the United States, France, Britain, and, later, Germany; but the other states of Central Europe were placed under a much more dramatic influence: the Communist authority. In that process, Prague was not only a pivot of resistance to foreign occupation but also the symbol of peaceful liberation from the Communist rule. Prague is now a symbol of regional identity. That is why I feel that any analysis of Central Europe's security outlook, such as the one we are engaged in today, cannot possibly find a more appropriate venue.

The end of the Cold War gave an historic chance to the Central European states to choose for themselves their own national security system. This choice was limited, however, by each state's military capability and by its defense potential. For those states that acquired their independence in the past few years and for those that once belonged to the Warsaw Pact, that potential, and the national defense culture in particular, was distorted, over a span of at least two generations, by the nations' dependence on the Communist military bloc.


For that reason, as early as 1990, the strategic priorities of the Central European states were both to modernize their armed forces (most often starting with the restoration of their national identity) and to seek support from NATO, the only credible collective-defense institution, in order to obtain a security umbrella that had formerly been offered only at the cost of subordinating their sovereignty, independence, and even their national identity.

The natural way in which the countries of Central Europe recovered, without exception, their democratic traditions after 1990 proved that the above-mentioned fracture had not been a structural one. The way in which the states once hidden behind the Iron Curtain perceived the North Atlantic Alliance's enlargement message also proved that the estrangement between the two Europes had been nothing but a temporary setback.

I can confidently state that the process of NATO enlargement is not proceeding from west to east but rather from east to west, founded on the free and well-informed choice of the Central European states themselves. Perhaps surprisingly, the fastest and most enthusiastic response to the initiative to open the Alliance did not come primarily from the countries situated on the former fault line, but rather from those farthest east: Romania and the Baltic States.


Romanian society does not regard accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a form of protection against a threat, but rather as a way to regain an identity that was unjustly denied to it for five decades. For us, NATO is not a shelter but a community based on shared values, now recovered.

Romania has inherited a complex security position not so much because of the Soviet Communist influence, from which it was relatively independent, but rather because of the irrational autarchy to which our country was reduced by the domestic brand of Communism. Even though the Romanian military culture was protected, starting in the sixties, from the Soviet imprint, it did not incorporate the expertise acquired in the West over all those years. Also, after 1990, Romania no longer had a collective security arrangement. That is why it has become imperative for our armed forces to be modernized and for the state to accede to NATO.

Military modernization has proved to be the reform taking place most quickly in Romania. Our national military traditions and values, which have remained largely unadulterated even during the Communist years, have made access to the Western military culture easier; Western military processes have been immediately absorbed throughout the military hierarchy. Over a period of only a few years, armed forces reform has produced a radical change in both command and control structures and the configuration of combat units. Once condemned to isolation, the Romanian military's international vocation has been successfully expressed since 1991 in their participation in international peacekeeping and crisis-management missions in Europe, Africa, and the Gulf.


Probably the most amazing aspect of the NATO enlargement process is the fact that, even before they could be certain of membership, most candidate countries in Central Europe met almost all the basic targets set by the organization. If NATO was only a military institution, these countries would have been able to meet those objectives only once they were inside the Alliance. But the wish to join NATO has brought about the emergence of a security system that, in other times, only the Alliance could have provided. The Central European Initiative, the Central European Free Trade Agreement, the Poland-Ukraine Treaty, the Romania-Hungary Treaty, and the Romania-Ukraine Treaty have created a joint political fabric covering an area even wider than the one traditionally described as Central Europe. This web of agreements and treaties, which was not masterminded by a single command center, demonstrates that a whole chapter in international-relations strategic thinking has come to an end. I believe that, seven years after the collapse of totalitarianism, Central Europe is able to send its own message to the world: the new name for security is prosperity.


It is not empires and their armies that are our enemies today, but rather underdevelopment, corruption, unlawful financial markets, drug and arms trafficking, organized crime, and terrorism. But even beyond the imperfections of the economic and social changes in Central Europe, and beyond the difficulties inherent in change, experience has brought with it a common store of wisdom that can actually enrich the Alliance itself. What I mean to say is that I am aware of everything that NATO can offer to us, but I am also persuaded that our presence inside the Alliance will enhance the organization not only in terms of quantity but, in equal measure, in terms of quality.

Central Europe's geographic and strategic space, confined between countries with an imperial history--France and Germany to the west, Russia to the east, Turkey and Italy to the south--is filled with states that have small-or medium-sized areas and populations ranging between 2 million and 40 million. Throughout history, the importance of the Central European peoples was gauged primarily by the yardstick of Great Power perceptions and interests.

The defense potential of these states is now being reevaluated. As long as military strategy was dominated by the concept of possessing and controlling territories, attention was focused on the Continental countries that acted as a bridge or, at times, a buffer between the great rivals. The globalization of strategic interests has now shifted attention to the areas that have access to the seas--with Central Europe's direct access to the Baltic, the Adriatic, and the Black Seas assuming great importance. That access can only be ensured through the simultaneous accession to NATO of Poland, Slovenia, and Romania.

Because of its sea access, the Danube-Black Sea transport system has acquired special significance, particularly in light of the newly discovered, huge resources of oil and gas in the Caspian basin. By using that system, NATO could connect to a new source of energy that may be even larger than that in the Gulf, a point of major importance since the continued intensive exploitation of the North Sea deposits may cause their gradual depletion.

NATO could also benefit from having Poland and Romania provide a north-to-south axis linking the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea while avoiding tense situations and promoting a cooperative relationship with the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, and Russia. Development of the Alliance along a west-to-east axis covering Slovenia, Hungary, and Romania could play a stabilizing role in the Balkan region by putting to use the good relations that Romania enjoys with Bulgaria and Serbia.

The simultaneous integration of Romania and Slovenia would strengthen NATO's southern flank, obviously the one most exposed. In the medium and long term, threats to collective security that the Alliance will most likely have to face will come especially from the southeast and south, from an arc of crisis comprising the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, the Gulf area, and North Africa. The proliferation of arms trafficking, militant fundamentalism, and crime and drugs largely originates from that direction.

Romania's location at the point where geopolitical and strategic axes meet makes it the "knot" that can close the regional security network while providing fluent operational communications between the flanks of the Alliance.


It would be extremely disturbing if, as the result of political and strategic surgery, Central Europe were divided into states that are prepared for NATO membership and those that are unprepared. This would leave outside the Alliance not only one country or another, but the most precious asset that Central Europe can offer: the fundamentally common experience of change that is, ultimately, indivisible. The joint political fabric that I mentioned earlier would thus be destroyed, and the old divide would simply be replaced by a new one, a less militarized one, of course, but as material as the one that used to extend the Berlin Wall from the Baltic to the Adriatic. Replacing a dismantled curtain with a half-opened door is tantamount to trying to rebuild that curtain.

Increasing the complexities of geography, setting up new barriers, and thinking in terms of half-opened doors will undoubtedly present us with a risk that is hard to take. This risk is not linked to military strength, security, or stability but it is rather to assume once again that the values of democracy, pluralism, a free market system, and human rights are the exclusive property of a Western world that, in the long run, would prove less ambitious than the peoples of Central Europe had thought it to be for decades. These people found in themselves the power to put an end to the totalitarian regime using as a model the great family of western democracies, of which NATO is a symbol. Just like the other peoples of Central Europe, Romanians want to share with those democracies the experience they have acquired--of resistance and solidarity, victory over fear, and belief in the force of reason. We wish to become a NATO member because of the determination of Alliance member-states to serve as international guardians of democracy and freedom.


Since 1990, Romania's interest in guarding freedom and democracy has found concrete expression in political, diplomatic, and military undertakings. As a result of dynamic and consistent initiatives and actions, my country is now situated in a privileged position, at the crossroads of a complex system of political and economic initiatives. I refer here to the trilateral cooperation schemes among Poland, Ukraine, and Romania; Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova; Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece; and Romania, Hungary, and Austria. Moreover, Romania is a bridge between the provisions of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Agreement and the Central European Free Trade Agreement.

In the military sphere, considerable efforts have been made in order to adapt Romania's armed forces to the NATO requirements of interoperability and compatibility. Several cooperative programs have also been launched in the field of defense production with various companies from NATO member-states. Participation in joint exercises under Partnership for Peace, as well as actual involvement in IFOR and SFOR, shows that Romania has the capability to contribute directly to crisis-management and peacekeeping efforts.

Our wish to become a member of NATO is an act of political will in favor of peace and civilization, targets we are ready and willing to reach. I am confident that the predominant role that democratic values now play in NATO, as compared to its purely military dimension, will succeed, at the end of the day, in overcoming the reservations that the Great Power Russia may have towards NATO enlargement.


The reservations or fears that Russia has expressed concerning the integration of the Baltic States into the North Atlantic Alliance remind me of an experience we in Romania had in our domestic political scene. For seven years, the crypto-Communist structures that were in power in Romania after the fall of the totalitarian regime accused the democratic parties of harboring feelings of revenge, of intending to induce chaos and economic and social instability. The only practical way to prove that those accusations were false was through the actual coming to power of the democratic opposition, through free and fair elections. And, indeed, none of those early fears have come true.

I give this example because it can be applied to Eastern Europe. The first wave of NATO enlargement will not diminish the chances for integration of the Baltic States. And once an enlarged NATO becomes reality, Russia will find that its current fears are not justified and that, far from posing a threat, an enlarged Alliance will offer much improved opportunities for cooperation.


Belonging to NATO today can be considered an option of a state's domestic policy. But the issues such an option entails are not exclusively military. Countries are no longer faced today with the danger of foreign military occupation, but rather with the threat of being defeated economically. The great dangers are, and will continue to be, related to the stability of the financial and banking systems, to the stability of social relations, and to the level of corruption and organized crime. NATO membership stands as a firm option for a solid economy and a sound social system, able to support the integration effort without causing social crises.

Membership is also a shield against the potential danger of rising nationalist Communism, which has fed and continues to feed on real or imagined internal and external dangers.


Throughout history, European architecture has been built by wars. We now have the historic opportunity to freely shape this architecture, for the countries involved in this process are no longer marked by ideological segregation and are no longer held under the sway of military domination. Instead, they now freely share the aspiration to belong to a model of prosperity, dignity, and democracy. As Victor Hugo once said, there is something more powerful than any army, namely an idea whose time has come.


Top of page | Home | ©2003 Center for Strategic Decision Research