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Interview with His Excellency George Cristian MAIOR, the Romanian Ambassador to the USA: “One of the Most Important Aspects of the US-Romania Strategic Partnership is its Vitality”
The Partnership between Romania and the US is both a major benchmark of the Romanian foreign policy and a firm commitment, which defines our options. The cooperation between Romania and the United States has been and will always be all the more valuable and mutually beneficial, as during the years of cooperation there have been many successful strategic accomplishments, in response to the new challenges to the allied security. The Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for the 21st century, in 2011, has boosted the relations and is the main bilateral political document that enhances our common security and prosperity.

George Cristian MAIOR

26/09/2020 Region: Global Topic: Geopolitics

George Cristian MAIOR, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Romania to the United States offered an insight into the Strategic Partnership between Romania and the USA, in the light of 140 years of Romanian-American diplomatic relations, in the interview he gave the Geostrategic Pulse Magazine.

Source: Embassy of Romania to the United States of America

Geostrategic Pulse: In a geopolitical context characterised by instability and by rising tensions that are visible including in the Black Sea region, preserving Romania’s security and stability in the area represents a key area of diplomatic action for our country within the Strategic Partnership for the 21st century with the USA. Developing, deepening and enhancing the Strategic Partnership with the USA based on the Joint Declaration between Romania and the United States of America, signed in Washington D.C. on the 13th of September 2011, represents a goal assumed by the authorities in Bucharest.

  • What is your opinion on the state of implementation of the Joint Declaration on the Strategic Partnership between Romania and the USA?

George Cristian MAIOR: The Partnership with the US, along with its NATO membership represents one of the three “strategic pillars” of Romania’s foreign and security policy. We can say without hesitation that this partnership, that started in 2007, has reached today the peak of its evolution over the past twenty years. This is not just a diplomatic statement, but a reality that we can clearly witness.

In the past years, the bilateral political dialogue, that sets the outlook of the overall relationship and its direction of development, has been extraordinarily dynamic and consistent on all levels. It is emblematic that, in 2017, only months after the arrival of the new administration to the White House, the President of Romania was the first Central and Eastern European chief of state who had an official bilateral meeting with the US President. We can very well remember that during this meeting, the steadfast US commitment to the principle of collective defence of NATO member states was for the first time publicly underscored by President Trump.

In 2019, during another bilateral visit of the Romanian President to the White House, the two heads of state signed a Joint Statement underscoring the progress of the US-Romania Strategic Partnership on all levels. Therefore, we have two crucial benchmarks at the highest level, highlighting the results and the positive dynamic of our bilateral cooperation.

In addition to these, there have been hundreds of bilateral meetings at all levels: members of the two governments, delegations of the Parliament of Romania and the US Congress, senior officials and experts. The Romanian-American Task Force for the implementation of the Joint Declaration has met on a regular basis, and the agenda has always been substantial.

All this intense and continuous dialogue is, of course, supported by the remarkable pace of progress in all areas of the bilateral relationship, whether we are referring to strengthening the military and security cooperation, traditionally the most advanced sector of the strategic partnership, or to increasing and diversifying the bilateral economic cooperation.

One of the most important aspects of the US-Romania Strategic Partnership is its vitality. We will never be able to draw a line and say that all our objectives have been achieved because new areas and opportunities of bilateral cooperation will always emerge. This proves the compatibility between the national interests and the strategic visions of our two countries, as well as the real and deep affinity between the Romanian and American peoples.

The Strategic Partnership with the US has been and continues to be directly connected to Romania’s democratic transformation, to the consolidation of our transatlantic identity, to ensuring security and creating a significant geopolitical profile for our country in a region subjected to multiple influences and challenges.

In the past years, the Romanian Embassy in Washington, D.C. has played an active part and committed itself to increasing the cooperation between the two countries on all the dimensions of the Strategic Partnership. It has succeeded every time to create the proper environment for the development and intensification of mutually beneficial joint strategic actions.

  • This is why an insight into the contribution, especially during your mandate, to the success of the Strategic Partnership would be highly appreciated and relevant, in the light of 140 years of Romanian-American diplomatic relations.

The first remark I would like to make in the context of our conversation on the activity of the diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C. refers to the importance of team work - within the embassy, where I have the privilege to coordinate a team of highly skilled professionals, as well as in cooperation with the other Romanian institutions responsible for achieving the foreign policy objectives. Behind each successful meeting usually lie months of intense work.

The contribution of the embassy to the expansion and consolidation of the Strategic Partnership with the US is best reflected by results. I have already mentioned the high level meetings and the positive dynamic of the bilateral political dialogue. As far as the military and security fields are concerned, we have ensured a close consultation and coordination with the US administration, both bilaterally and with regard to supporting the NATO agenda that represents Romania’s fundamental security interests (adoption of deterrence and defence measures for the entire Eastern flank, in response to Russia’s aggressive behaviour; focusing the Alliance on the southern side of the Eastern flank, especially in the Black Sea region; taking measures to support the strengthening of the defence capabilities of our Eastern partners – the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia; efforts on countering hybrid warfare; establishing a stronger role for NATO in energy and cyber security). We have supported the steps to implement the commitments on enhanced US military presence in Romania and we have ensured a continuous communication with regard to the Romanian-US participation in the development of NATO’s missile defence system, through the defence capabilities fielded at Deveselu Military Base.

On a regional level, our dialogue agenda with the American authorities focuses on matters of Eastern European security. We are actively promoting Romania in Washington, as a Central-European ally that plays a key part in projecting regional security, with strong capabilities to support the energy security in the area, and with a clear transatlantic identity anchored in democratic values.

The dialogue and cooperation with the American side aims at covering the entire security spectrum, including energy and cyber security, highly relevant at this point to Romania’s and our allies’ fundamental interests.

During the past years, the economic dimension of the partnership has known an unprecedented dynamic, as trade volume and investments increased and the fields of cooperation expanded. Romania joined the US in organising major events, such as the Trade Winds 2017, the Department of Commerce’s largest trade promotion mission, where Bucharest served as the hub for the entire region, or the Regional Business Forum of the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Bucharest, in 2018.

Of course, trade and economic diplomacy does not take place only in Washington, D.C. We have established and cultivated partnerships with economic promotion authorities in various US states and cities, especially where there is a high degree of compatibility between the Romanian offer and local demand. Every trip in the US, as an ambassador included an outreach to the local business communities, and presentations of Romania’s economic priorities and attractive investment opportunities.

In addition to the official diplomatic activities , I have actively ensured, according to the specifics of the local environment, the constant and consistent promotion of Romania’s strategic profile and image in relevant non-governmental environments  – prestigious think-tanks, universities, as well as economic or professional organizations.

An important focus of the embassy’s agenda is the relationship with the Romanian community, as well as the promotion and protection of the interests of all members of this community. Ever since I began my mission I have considered the Romanian-American community our closest and most valuable partner in promoting Romania’s interests in the United States. The embassy coordinates the activity of 18 honorary consuls of Romania to the US, and we have provided direct support for the establishment and opening of another Romanian Consulate General in Miami, in 2018.

Promoting Romanian national culture and values in the social, professional and public environments in the USA is a constant investment of ideas, efforts and embassy resources. As a relevant example, in 2017 we have organised (in Washington, D.C.) the biggest Romanian Film Festival in the United States, in partnership with the US National Art Gallery and the American Film Institute.

In the context of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the year 2020 marked new ways to strengthen the Strategic Partnership through the aid our two countries have given each other, including by facilitating the transport of medical supplies to Romania, repatriations, exchange of experience and support by deploying a medical team from the Romanian Ministry of Defence to the State of Alabama.

  • From a personal point of view, and with relevance for the relations between the two countries, what are the main challenges of your mandate as the Romanian Ambassador to the USA?

I believe the main “challenge” lies in the complexity and the enormous potential of the bilateral relationship. Exploiting this potential requires a lot of work, maintaining a constant dialogue on all levels with our US partners and, not least, having a very good cooperation with the other relevant institutions in Romania.

The activity in Washington, D.C. also means adjusting to a reality sometimes different from what is perceived as a “traditional” diplomatic environment. The modus operandi of our US partners is very exact and efficient.  Meetings for the sake of formality are extremely rare. Conversations are pragmatic, practical and very open, as they should be between close partners.

Romania should keep on strengthening its status as a trustworthy partner to the USA, take an active and substantial part in consolidating Euro-Atlantic ties, and be a smart and coherent partner in the dialogue with the American decision-makers. Enhancing the political-military and security cooperation, including to strengthen cyber-security, and deepening the economic Partnership are some of Romania’s strategic directions.

  • What are, in your opinion, the prospects and challenges that these objectives face?

As the results and the current dynamic of cooperation show, the prospects of the Strategic Partnership are very good, especially in the political-military and economic areas. I would even highlight the fact that now, more than ever, the two areas are interconnected, whether we talk about the cooperation with the US to strengthen European energy security, about developing and protecting the strategic infrastructure or about cyber security. The Joint Statement adopted in 2019 by the two Presidents is a good example of the above, as is the fact that, in the context of the same high level visit, the governments of Romania and the US signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 5G technologies.

A very good example of cooperation between the US and Romania in a regional context is the Three Seas Initiative, which has a strategic dimension for Central and Eastern Europe. By focusing on key areas such as energy, transport and digitalization, the Three Seas Initiative covers important sectors to our national security, even if those projects are not of a purely military nature, but bring major benefits to the economic development and the welfare of our citizens.

The major challenges mainly pertain to the global geostrategic and economic context. Whether we are referring to the deterioration of security on NATO’s Eastern flank caused by Russia’s aggressive actions, or to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, these challenges are tackled by Romania and the US together, as partners and allies.

US domestic politics has become much polarised lately, sometimes even volatile, if we are to refer to President Trump’s mandate. However, in Washington there is a significant bi-partisan consensus on a series of aspects related to foreign policy and European security. The presidential elections are traditionally accompanied by debates, forecasts and assessments of the possible major changes in the US foreign policy from one administration to another.

  • What do you think would be the lines of continuity in the US foreign policy that are relevant to our country, irrespective of who wins the presidential elections this year?
  • At the same time, what can you tell us about the views on security and defence of the two US presidential candidates?

The Strategic Partnership enjoys broad and consistent bi-partisan support in the US, a support that mirrors Romania’s diplomatic efforts, as well as the compatibility between the interests of the two countries and the positive results of their cooperation.

I am convinced that, based on the fruitful dialogue we have with all relevant US political actors, the positive dynamic of our bilateral relationship will continue irrespective of the political colour of the next US administration.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the complex situation in Ukraine, the frozen conflicts in the extended Black Sea region, the tensions between countries that have major interests in the area, they all make us look with even more concern at the regional security environment.

  • How does the USA perceive the continuous Russian development offensive military capabilities in Romania’s proximity (the Crimean Peninsula)?
  • Can the development process of the Romanian Armed Forces, to which the USA has a significant contribution, lead to a more aggressive Russian attitude?
  • Under these circumstances and given the fact that key segments of the Romanian borders also represent the Eastern frontier of NATO and EU, do you believe that extra measures should be taken besides the present commitments, to enhance our security and stability?
  • Could Washington’s decisions to reduce the number of US troops deployed in Germany and to operate some redeployments on the European territory, including in our region, be part of a set of enhanced American security approaches and commitments to countries on the Eastern flank in general, and our country in particular?

The US and Romania share, as NATO Allies, common concerns regarding the developments in the extended Black Sea region. Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 caused a major paradigm shift, that is the North Atlantic Alliance adapting to the new geopolitical and geostrategic reality on the Eastern flank, as well as making the Americans more aware of the necessity to come with a proper response based on deterrence and defence while leaving room for dialogue.

The continuous escalation of the Russian threat in the region through the significant militarisation of the Crimean Peninsula, and its use by Moscow as a force projection element to other regions (the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean) – is constantly monitored by decision makers in Washington.

The subject of regional security has always been on the US-Romania dialogue agenda, both bilaterally and within NATO. As a result of this common concern, the USA and Romania have supported the strengthening of NATO’s defence and deterrence measures on the Eastern flank. At the same time, the two countries support the consolidation of the Alliance’s capabilities by providing the necessary resources and modernising the armed forces of the member states.

This modernisation process is natural, and, in Romania’s case it makes sure its armed forces meet all the necessary requirements, including those that come associated with NATO membership, as well as those pertaining to the security environment it operates in. We cannot say that NATO – a defensive alliance – or any of its members, has ever issued threats against Russia.

The reconfiguration of the US posture in Europe is still under inter-institutional analysis and decision. One may notice, however, the US interest - expressed as such by some American senior officials - towards strengthening NATO’s Eastern flank, an approach that meets the US and NATO’s strategic requirements.

The transatlantic link is subjected to a series of challenges in the current, extremely complex environment.

  • What can you tell us about the way Washington sees and approaches the transatlantic cooperation from the perspective of the current administration on NATO and the EU, and in the light of Europeans promoting the concept of strategic autonomy?
  • Where do the countries from NATO’s Eastern flank stand in this equation?

The fundamental strategic role of the transatlantic cooperation is well understood and assumed both in the US and in Europe. As far as collective security and defence are concerned, strengthening European capabilities represents a positive step that can also contribute to more balanced burden sharing within NATO. It is crucial, however, that the development of EU capabilities is done under the logic of complementarity and cooperation with NATO, thus contributing to strengthening the transatlantic link.

The countries on the Eastern flank can and must play a substantial part in this consolidation process of European defence in a transatlantic context. The process of adapting to the new security threats firstly implies strengthening this flank, by maintaining the Alliance’s forward presence in the region, hosting NATO structures, increasing the number of joint exercises and training etc. This is actually one of the main issues on the agenda of dialogue and cooperation between the US and Romania, and a very good example of the added value of the bilateral Strategic Partnership for the entire region.

Since we have mentioned the regional context, we need to highlight Romanian, US and other partners’ joint efforts to enhance NATO cooperation among the countries on the Eastern flank. The Bucharest 9 (B9) format has been launched for this purpose by Romania and Poland, with support from the USA, which has actively participated as an observer in the B9 meetings. The B9 format had a real contribution to the adoption of firm NATO commitments to strengthening the Eastern flank.