Valentin Naumescu, Contributors, 07 February 2024
Since the landing of the English-speaking Allies (US, UK, Canada) on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944, Europe’s freedom, democracy and security have been inconceivable without American commitment and security guarantees. The concept of the West had thus acquired, beyond vague cultural, intellectual and religious overtones, relativised in any case by national specificities, a very clear transatlantic strategic significance.
The establishment of NATO, with the signing of the North Atlantic Alliance Treaty in Washington on 4 April 1949, had become the “keystone”, the quintessence and brilliant expression of this brilliant idea – the Doctrine of Containment (Truman Doctrine), of “containing” the danger of Bolshevik expansion on the European continent, beyond what Stalin had already occupied in 1944-1945. North America and Western Europe formed the post-war Western ‘dream world’, defended by the unbeatable strength of the US Army and the firm political commitment of Washington Presidents and Congressmen, both Democrats and Republicans.
In retrospect, three times in the 20th century the United States rescued and liberated Europe (in whole or in part) from aggressors, dictators and empires – in 1917-1920, in 1944-1945 and in 1987-1990, the last time convincing Mikhail Gorbachev to give up what I.V. Stalin had achieved at the end of the Second World War, namely the division of Germany and Russian control of Eastern Europe. “The American ‘security umbrella’ over Europe thus guided free and democratic countries and peoples throughout the Cold War and later extended to Central Europe, from the ruins of the Berlin Wall to the Prut.
After 1989, we, the poor people who had been taken prisoners of Moscow, of the communist dictatorship and backwardness, behind the Iron Curtain for two generations in 1945, began to aspire to this prosperous and secure world. But for those of my generation (“Revolutionary Generation”), the third since the Red Army entered Eastern Europe, who grew up in Communism but studied after 1990 in the Western liberal paradigm, there is no clearer, firmer, better principle than the deep, indestructible, civilizational alliance between the U.S. and Europe. Our entire intellectual and academic formation rests on this foundation, and nothing, ever, will change it.
Between 1997 and 2007, in the space of only 10 years, the “miracle” happened – Romania signed the Strategic Partnership with the USA (1997), joined NATO (2004) and the European Union (2007). The ideal and the political project of our generation have thus been fulfilled, by taking advantage of a historic window of opportunity. It was everything we could have wished for in terms of anchoring post-communist Romania in the system of international relations.
At 53, I am too old to imagine a better, more natural, more natural formula for strategic alliance and political order than the transatlantic Western one, and too young not to notice and be interested (and concerned) by the observation that the political and ideological foundation of the transatlantic West may be cracking after the US presidential election on 5 November. The need for a Plan B is becoming increasingly clear, even as we cherish and still prefer to stick with Plan A.
For the first time since 1944, Europe could be left next year, de facto if not de jure at least, without American political commitment and security guarantees, just when Putin has it (aggression) more… Donald Trump publicly threatens that “Europe will have to fend for itself” and his entourage hints that it is not only a question of disinterest in helping Ukraine militarily, but even of the possibility of leaving NATO (an idea that was also toyed with in his first term) and negotiating a compromise agreement with the Kremlin dictator, supposedly to make peace in Ukraine quickly. We don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but it’s terribly stupid to overlap the two situations, the one in Russia and the one in American politics.
European officials in a growing number of countries say that Russia is likely to attack a NATO and EU member state, probably one on the Eastern flank, in a few years’ time, in which case American military intervention could no longer be counted on as a security guarantee. Of course, there is no certainty that this will happen. From speech to decision is a long road with many variables. Trump has been president in the White House before, NATO has not disbanded and US-Romanian bilateral relations have been very good. The man is “transactional”, they say, you give him, he gives you… Would this be enough reason not to worry? No, obviously not. The two mandates could be very different.
Alarms are now ringing everywhere, like in a thriller scene. Red lights are flashing on the control panel and generals, army chiefs and political leaders are rushing around with papers in hand, making statements the likes of which have not been heard in Europe for a long time. At NATO headquarters, in Germany, in Sweden, in the UK, in Finland, in the Baltic States, in Poland, etc., the military-political establishment is showing signs that something is not right, that if the big storm comes upon us there is no one and nothing to protect our democratic world. There is no panic, yet, but neither would we want it to come to that, when it usually becomes too late to do anything to avoid collapse. It’s as if everyone has been sleeping the long, naive sleep of complicit well-being and “peace” with Putin’s Russia until now, and suddenly woke up buoyant to the sound of sirens.
Finally, a lucid and responsible voice has given the wake-up call in Romania. It caused a bit of a stir, admittedly, as it was a total election year, with the governing parties wanting, as everywhere else in the world, satisfied and reassured voters, on the classic principle that nobody votes for someone who tells them they will call them to arms. Then, because no one wanted to say it, the Chief of Defence Staff himself said it, because he is not running for office anyway and is not asking for the people’s vote.
General Gheorghiță Vlad sounded the alarm on our shores and he did well. Someone had to do it, and it was probably in his job description. If not the Chief of the Army, then who is more able to realize that “we have no one and nothing”? The big problem, however, doesn’t seem to be the weapons at present (although surely more, better and more powerful ones are needed, beyond the major armaments made in recent years), but the fact that we have no one to wield them.
Defence wars are not just fought with professionals. It takes, as we see in Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of people who leave their civilian lives behind for a while and get their hands on a gun, know what to do with it, hit the target and can run from point A to point B with a (certainly heavier than the laptop) sling on their back. Yes, voluntary military service for men and women aged 18-35 is necessary and useful, provided it is successful, works and is attractive. It remains to be seen and we have some doubts for now. Four months is not much military training, but if done well and the number of applicants is large, the project would bring a significant military resource to the country. It will be an interesting test for the government, the army and Romanian society alike.
With some 60-70 thousand active military personnel, as we understand Romania has at present, we can hardly fill the big stadium in Bucharest. With such a small army, Romania cannot defend itself against Russia, that is obvious. And if the talk from the West is that no one will come to our aid and fight here, if Trump blocks NATO and the Europeans continue to look for solutions for the European Army, we are left with what we can do to defend our country. And suddenly the situation becomes “problematic” (an understatement) and we here should approach the future in a much more serious and responsible key.
Let’s also consider that Viktor Orbán, nostalgic for Horthy and Greater Hungary (an EU and NATO prime minister who ostentatiously wears the historical map scarf and presents it to foreign guests, respectively bemoaning the “injustice of the Treaty of Trianon”) and his anti-Western and pro-Russian revisionism seem to be much appreciated by Donald Trump, then we should be much more careful about some unwanted complications, both to the East and to the near West.
We see in the press the astonishingly naive, ignorant or cynical opinions of many Romanians of military age when asked if they would volunteer in case of aggression – Aren’t we in NATO? What business is it of ours, it’s NATO’s job to protect us! That’s why “they” are there, to protect us! (There’s nothing to defend here, I’m just defending my family, that’s all!, etc. Imagine the man, outraged by the question, going to the gym to get ready to defend his family, i.e. to punch the Russian in the face who will ring his doorbell to bother him from Netflix. Well, we may not all be at that level of understanding of the situation, and hopefully the journalists didn’t stop on the street or select only the most shocking answers possible.
Returning to the US-NATO-EU-Russia political picture, on which the security of Europe in general and of our geopolitical periphery region in particular will depend in the years to come, we will have to think in the future, even if we do not like it, about a Plan B, about the necessity of which we have written in the past months.
We don’t know now what this Plan B might contain, whether it might be the “European pillar of NATO”, some form of regional cooperation with Poland and Ukraine (or the entire Intermarium from the Baltic to the Black Sea), or bilateral security agreements negotiated with the US and UK, but concerns that Donald Trump might block NATO and not apply Article 5 of the Treaty at the very moment of a Russian attack on a member state of the North Atlantic Alliance need to be considered. The Suwalki Corridor? A Baltic state? The Danube Gorge?
As we know, the EU is not a provider of security guarantees and will not become one any time soon, even if some useful measures are currently being discussed, such as restructuring the European Defence Agency and raising its profile and strategic stakes, increasing the European Defence Fund, reviving the European defence industry and increasing interoperability and standardisation, creating a post of European Commissioner for Defence in the new Commission, developing new European defence and security instruments and facilities, etc. The EU was not created to defend Europe and cannot defend it.
Moreover, however much we pretend not to notice, the inconvenient truth is that the Russian threat will always be geopolitically asymmetric and focused on Central and Eastern Europe. It is not like the threat of Nazi Germany, which expanded from the centre of the continent and westward, and eastward, and northward, and southward. Nor do we know, after all, whether the US would have gone to war against the Axis powers if it had not been attacked at Pearl Harbor. With Putin’s Russia things are different. We will never convince a Frenchman, a Belgian or a Portuguese that Russia threatens their countries and Western Europeans beyond Germany (which is, in fact, Central European) will never have sleepless nights about it. For most Westerners, the threat from Russia today has nothing in common with the Soviet Union’s global and nuclear threat of the Cold War era. Let’s not forget that even President Macron told us just a few years ago that “the USSR is gone, what’s the point of NATO, which is now clinically dead?”
Above all other Western vulnerabilities, the US is in the midst of a transformation as a society and foreign policy can no longer be separated from domestic policy, anywhere in the world and especially in the world’s First Great Power. Populism is wreaking havoc in the democracies of the Euro-Atlantic area. Any military response comes from the awareness of a threat to one’s own security, to one’s own interests, a principle which, let us not delude ourselves, applies to Western Europeans and Americans alike. Talking is one thing, actually going to war against Russia is another. The Western population does not want war. And Putin, for good reason, will not attack either Biden’s or Trump’s US or Macron’s or Le Pen’s France. In May 1939, the French asked, rhetorically, why die for Poland?
No, the situation in 2024 does not look good. All is not lost, but we need to take things much more seriously, from all points of view, starting with politics, parties and politicians. Our own national military preparedness and increasing Romania’s defence capability are now priorities. We are not on the map in a position that will give us long periods of quiet sleep in history.