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Aurescu : the geographical area around Romania is increasingly more vulnerable to ballistic missile threats


State Secretary for Strategic Affairs with Romania's Foreign Ministry (MAE) Bogdan Aurescu told AGERPRES in an interview on Wednesday that the geographical area around Romania is increasingly more vulnerable to ballistic missile threats, and the missile defence shield at Deveselu, southern Romania, is strictly a defensive system not designed against anyone particularly. 

In the interview, Aurescu also talks about the reasons behind the decision to deploy to Romania the missile defence shield, saying that this is confirmation of the substantial value of the strategic partnership between Romania and the United States of America. At the same time, he explains the role of Romania as a security provider in its geographical area, voicing concern over the danger of a new prolonged conflict breaking out in the Black Sea region.

AGERPRES: How much is the merit of the Romanian diplomacy and how much weighed the country's geostrategic position in the decision to deploy the ballistic missile shield at Deveselu? 

Bogdan Aurescu: The decision to deploy to Romania parts of the US ballistic missile system in Europe came naturally as a result of the Strategic Partnership between the US and Romania, which has reached a high level of excellence in the political and military areas, and it also means the strategic position of Romania in its region being acknowledged. 

As you know, the Strategic Partnership between the US and Romania was initially launched in 1997 and renewed in 2011 under a Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century Between the United States of America and Romania. In December 2005, Romania and the US started implementing an agreement on the activities of US troops stationed on Romania's soil. Romania is thus a strategic partner of high value to the US and a trustworthy ally inside NATO. 

The deployment decision is a confirmation of the substantial value of the partnership and of the important part played by Romania inside the North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Romania has proved political will and diplomatically supported the efforts to develop the new strategic project with the US. At the same time, the project entails Romania taking part in the US ballistic missile defence system developed by the United States European Phased Adaptive Approach (US EPAA), as well as Romania taking part in the development of NATO ballistic missile defence capabilities. 

The Agreement on the deployment of the US ballistic missile defence system in Romania, signed on September 13, 2011, in Washington, and which I negotiated as head of the Romanian negotiating team, is the first legal document that mentions the strategic partnership with the US. It is a juridical transliteration of Romania's commitment to the US EPAA. The implementation of the agreement continued at a quick pace and on July 29, 2014, a legal framework was completed for its implementation. Thus, conditions are set in place to commission in 2015 the missile defence facility at the Deveselu military base. 

At the same time, the geographical area around Romania is increasingly more vulnerable to ballistic missile threats coming from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. In such context, strategically speaking, Romania is in the best position to house terrestrial interceptors that are part of the southern component of the US EPAA. The progress with the commissioning of the Deveselu base was introduced to the NATO Summit in Wales, September 4-5, 2014. The aspects of the talks at the summit regarding the ballistic missile defence project, as mentioned in the final declaration, unequivocally highlights the determination of the NATO allies to continue the implementation of this project of major relevance to Romania, with Romania's actual contribution through the Deveselu base being expressly recognised. 

AGERPRES: To what extent can the Deveselu system offer protection against a threat coming from the East? 

Bogdan Aurescu: Both US EPAA and the NATO ballistic missile defence capability to be included in the US EPAA are meant to offer protection against potential threats coming from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. At the same time, US EPAA and also the NATO ballistic missile defence system are strictly defensive systems not designed against anyone in particular. It defends against ballistic missile attacks. The bilateral agreement between Romania and the US explicitly mentions the fact that the system will be used only for self-defence purposes, in compliance with the UN Charter. 

It is a known fact that because of the latest political and technological developments, the risks related to possible short and medium-range missile threats have increased. There are both states and non-state players that possess or can get such military technologies, and Romania, in its capacity as NATO member, is bound to act by observing Article 5 in the Washington Treaty, which enshrines the principle of collective defence when a member of the alliance is subjected to an armed attack. 
Consequently, the commissioning of the missile defence system as soon as possible will strengthen national security, both directly, by offering protection to the entire national territory, and indirectly, as the system is meant as a deterrent able to diminish the risks of ballistic missile attacks. 

AGERPRES: What does Romania's status as a security provider in the region, practically, mean? 

Bogdan Aurescu: After ten years of being a NATO member, Romania knows that one of its priorities should be to fully capitalise on this statute by bringing its important contribution to the Alliance's evolution. In the ten years since joining, Romania has won the respect of its Allies, through its conceptual and military contributions to the projects, missions and NATO operations in which it got involved, a position that was basically facilitated by the exemplary work and devotion of our soldiers, but also due to the impressive trust investment made by the entire Romanian society without exception. 

2014 has brought major events with great impact on the European security climate. The crisis in Ukraine, Russia's actions and, in a broader sense, the security threats that appeared along the NATO and EU borders represent, obviously, more reason for concern for the member states of the two organizations. That's why, in its capacity as both an EU and NATO member state, Romania insisted, consistently, along the years, that the two organizations should approach the challenges and threats that come from the [EU's] Vicinity. 

Besides reiterating the important Transatlantic connection and the Allied solidarity, on the occasion of the NATO Summit in Great Britain in September 2014, Romania insisted, repeatedly, on the importance of the relations with the Alliance's partners, especially in the context of the bothersome security developments on the eastern border of the North Atlantic Alliance. The natural attention granted to the countries in the eastern vicinity of NATO and in the Black Sea region, in the Western Balkans, must be doubled by substantial back up for positive developments, including as a modality to prevent new crisis situations. 

As far as Romania is concerned, supporting its eastern partners, especially the Republic of Moldova, was a special topic at the high-level meeting in Wales. Following Romania's demarches, the allied heads of state and government have reiterated their support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the eastern partners (Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan), while also offering concrete support for strenghtening the defense capabilities of these countries in the current security context. The fact that the Republic of Moldova was included in two important allied initiatives launched during the summit - The Partnership Inter-operability Initiative and the Defence and Related Security Capacity Building Initiative - represents a success for our country. 

In what regards the extended Black Sea area, it remains a complicated region that presents both security risks, as well as cooperation opportunities. Romania's efforts are directed toward minimising risks and maximising opportunities. In this context, it is of note that, independently of the decisions taken at the NATO summit, American President Barack Obama has announced the creation of a naval partnership initiative in the Black Sea, together with Romania and Bulgaria, that basically envisages running joint exercises and training. This emphasizes the US commitment to security in the Black Sea, an important component of the Euro-Atlantic security, but is also an expression of the Romanian-US Strategic Partnership. 

Being in the near vicinity of NATO, it's natural that the Black Sea region benefits from an increased attention from the Alliance. Following Romania's demarches, the Black Sea area is mentioned in the Summit's Final Declaration, adopted and assumed by all Allied heads of state and government, as an important dimension of Euro-Atlantic security affected by the destabilising actions of the Russian Federation. It is a consolidated position of NATO in regards to the perception of the relevancy of the Black Sea for NATO security, a progress in relation with what has been settled at the previous Summits. The issues of the Black Sea must be looked at also in relation with NATO's Maritime Strategy that was also approved by the Summit and that emphasizes the necessity of Allied forces becoming more efficient and robust in exercising maritime missions. 

At the same time, fields like energy security or the response to asymmetrical security challenges offer the possibility of an increased involvement on the part of NATO, for the mutual benefit of the states in the region and of the Alliance. It is necessary that NATO comes to meet the wish of the partners in the region and approach such cooperation opportunities. 

For these reasons, Romania will act as a regional driver in what concerns the implementation of the decisions after the NATO Summit in Great Britain, in partnership with the US and the other Allies, for ensuring the stability of the extended Black Sea region and for the support of eastern partners. If Romania's security is stronger the region's security is stronger. 

AGERPRES: Would not Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, which have frozen conflicts, become vulnerabilities to the European Union, in case the two states become member states? 

Bogdan Aurescu: Our efforts are directed exactly towards solving these conflicts. We start from a fundamental principle - supporting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the partner states of the Eastern Neighbourhood. 

Any attentive observer can note parallels between the genesis of the Transnistrian conflict, a quarter of a century ago, and the tragic evolutions of Crimea and then in the east of Ukraine, this year. We see the same scenario - with differences of dynamics and, obviously, of players, except for the Russian Federation - put into practice for similar purposes: blocking the sovereign right to decide freely on the destiny and the strategic path of the country. 

A dynamic of cooperation and of a closer relation with the European Union has consolidated in the region over the past years: the signing of the Association Agreements by the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine is the clear expression of these evolutions. 

The benefits coming in this context for the citizens, for the companies in these states become increasingly more perceptible. We are talking about the freedom to travel, already obtained in the case of the Republic of Moldova, increased economic opportunities, such as the access to the European market, transformations that will aim at the relation between state and the citizens. 

These changes do not pass unnoticed in Transnistria. For that matter, we have confirmations in respect with the interest of the inhabitants of Transnistria and of the companies in the region in benefiting from these advantages, of implicitly getting connected to these processes taking place over the entire Republic of Moldova. 

There are arguments determining me to place your question in another perspective: the closeness to Europe in particular, through the benefits it generates, can contribute to getting the two sides of the Nistru River to an understanding and, on these grounds, to finding a solution to the Transnistrian problem. 

In the case of Ukraine, we can say we still haven't got an actual prolonged conflict in all its standard parameters. But the situation in the field includes some elements that can indicate developments in this direction. The constant challenges aimed at the authorities of Kiev losing control over Donbas region are such signals. Same as in the case of the other situations that led to existing prolonged conflicts, the inclusive dialogue and the political solutions have no alternative. That is why, in the case of the situation in the east of Ukraine, too, the continuation of the efforts for identifying and agreeing a political solution is very important. 

We are thus concerned with the danger of a new prolonged conflict being created in the Black Sea region. 

Moreover, the signals related to the increasingly more frequent use of the concept of Novorossiya and the attempts to transform this theoretical construction in reality are meant to make us firmer in maintaining that, based on the lessons learned from the Transnistrian conflict, we must make efforts to avoid the replication of this scenario in the east of Ukraine. 

As important remain the consistency and the will to implement the political understandings, be it in their preliminary form, by all relevant actors. Same as the name they bear, the prolonged conflicts don't represent an end in themselves, but an instrument built on lack of predictability and on lines of division. And their stake is represented by the opposite of the nucleus the EU project is built on - a set of common democratic values.