NATO Expansion

Romania: Southern Comfort

Snagov, Romania, April 19, 2002: Romanian President Ion Iliescu (C)chats with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis (L) and Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov (R) at their third trilateral summit to discuss economic cooperation and a common policy with regard to joining the European Union and NATO (Photo: AFP).

Looking ahead to NATO’s November summit, the leaders of Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece met on April 18-19 to express their support for the alliance’s expansion into Southeastern Europe. At the conference held in the resort town of Snagov, Romania, they declared that bringing Romania and Bulgaria into the alliance would strengthen NATO’s military capabilities and its capacity to combat terrorism and nonmilitary threats. Romania’s press responded enthusiastically.

“At this historic juncture in reshaping European security, the inclusion of Southeast European countries in NATO would strengthen overall stability and security on the continent,” the leaders said in a joint statement published in most Romanian newspapers.

Commentators portrayed international missions in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan as arenas for demonstrating Romania’s NATO credentials. Concerning Romania’s decision to send 500 additional combat troops to Afghanistan, Evenimentul Zilei’s Alina Grigore wrote that it was “a perilous mission…but a worthy one,” in keeping with the status of a de facto NATO member (March 22). “It is a credibility issue,” concurred Romania Libera’s Romulus Georgescu (May 2).

The Snagov meeting brought together the Romanian and Bulgarian presidents, Ion Iliescu and Georgi Parvanov; and the Greek prime minister, Costas Simitis. It marked the launch of a campaign, eagerly embraced by the media, to promote expansion efforts. Elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe, there is talk about the costs related to NATO expansion. Not in the Romanian press. Here, the tone has been supportive and consensual. Evenimentul Zilei and other newspapers have devoted much space to government plans to upgrade Romanian airfields for use in operations against Iraq. Developments in the Middle East are perceived as favoring expansion of NATO’s southern flank. Among their allies in this regard, Romania and Bulgaria can count Greece, Turkey, Italy, and France.

Some commentators see the process of military integration as a stimulus for more effective and honest government. Writing in Romania Libera, Bogdan Ficeac asserted (April 25), “NATO’s expansion will...clean up corrupted practices,...lead to the dismissal of former communist apparatchiki in government structures, and kick-start the real reforms in Romanian society.” Radu Tudor of Ziua agreed (May 9): “[The] battle for NATO…is good for Romania;…it supports democracy in our country and expresses a solidarity of values with the Western World.”

The press has been alert to any news regarding Romania and NATO expansion, regardless of where it originates. On May 11, Romania Libera bothered to translate and print an entire article on NATO expansion from a minor Danish newspaper. The day before, Ziua lamented the bad news from Prague: “Havel doesn’t want us in NATO!”