Romania’s Successful Conflict Management


Many Romanian political personalities stated, in time, that our only really friendly neighbor is the Black Sea. Statesmen from other countries, neighbor to the Black Sea, have made similar statements. A sea that, over 2 000 years, delimiting borders of some Empires, has known an agitated history of many times bloody conflicts between peoples, conflicts that have left deep marks. If it is true that our friends’ friends could be our friends, and Black Sea is our accepted friend, then why couldn’t it become from a separation area – a proximity one? The following analysis is the recent history of such an attempt.

          The last decade of the 20th century marked the passage through the Cold War to a Hot Peace, as many of the regional conflicts were only frozen by the tyranny of the authoritarian regimes and were hidden by the East-West confrontation. These conflicts have rapidly burst out around the Black Sea: in South-East in the Balkans, in the East in Caucasus – Caspian and in North in Transnistria and Gagauzia.

          The increase of NATO influence, the NATO enlarging project and the partnership for peace proposed by NATO to the countries in the Black Sea – Caspian Sea region that was  accepted by them, has played a role of blocking some open conflicts. In the same time, the project of enlarging the European Union to the South-East has created a target for the countries within this region, target which seems more attractive that the regional disputes. More important, it has created a hope for progress and welfare, which was often addressed directly to some nations whishing to beneficiate, too, from the highest life level that the oblong peace after the World War II   has brought to the other Europeans.

          These two big political constructions had and have their role in maintaining the peace and stability, but they could not and can not substitute the role of the states in the region in solving their domestic and foreign politics problems. Only their own achievements will be able to further qualify them as an acceptable model for other countries in the region, found in difficult situations.

In 1996, when I was elected, the country was half-isolated in a grey zone between rather unfriendly neighbors. In 1999, at the beginning of the Kosovo conflict, the President of the United States, Mr. Clinton, asked his audience who will define the future of the South-eastern Europe, free from communism, and  cited Romania as a model-country, as a democracy founded upon the respect and cooperation with its minorities inside and with its neighbors outside the national borders.

As President of Romania during 1996-2000, I have tried to promote a different logic from the traditional game conception path of a zero-sum game and of mutually exclusive options: East or West, Central or South-eastern Europe, and so on. In my view, instead, the real game is a win-win one - if, and only if, in the global world of today and of tomorrow, we can identify and put to work the complementarities of its components.

Back in 1996, the priority of Romania’s international politics was to provide the best security arrangements and the quickest road to progress for the Romanian people. This meant, as it means today too, a significant progress towards NATO membership and European integration of Romania. For both these two inseparable objectives, we understood the need of a new concept in sub-regional and regional security and cooperation. As defined in the 1995 study about NATO enlargement, the very basic requirement for integrating the North Atlantic Alliance was « to solve any international dispute by pacific means and to promote good neighborhood relations ». On the other hand, both processes of integration were medium-term processes, and in the meantime Romania’s security was guaranteed only by UN and OSCE, both very important, but not too strong organizations. We needed a secure environment to develop its potentialities and to become a sheer provider of security ourselves.

My own vision of the political and geo-strategic role of the Romanian space in Europe started with the recognition of Romania’s three-fold position – that of a borderland between Central, South-eastern, and Eastern Europe. In the past, this in-between position was most uncomfortable, not to say worse, because it often resulted in a double, if not a triple pressure from the Empires surrounding us. In the new Europe under construction, it could become, on the contrary, a potential asset. Romania may be a bridge, a vital crossroad of Europe toward the South and the East, on the essential condition of recognizing the challenges which will confront her in the near future.

All the reasons I stated above became imperatives for a new sub-regional policy of good neighborhood, which was – and still remains – a priority for Romania’s foreign policy, and a necessary component of Romania’s new role as a borderland for both the Atlantic Alliance and the European Union.

One of the most troubling problems in regional security after 1990 was the tension between Romania and Hungary, directly linked to the objective fact of an important Hungarian minority in Romania, and to the subjective, but very intense fact that both sides harbored bad memories of the recent past. The December 1989 revolution brought at first the hope of a better relationship between the majority and the minorities, but in March 1990 a violent confrontation, artificially provoked and escalated, put a bitter end to these hopes, as it seemed to rehearse in Romania the ethnic clash and would-be war which was to tear down soon the Yugoslav Federation. The chance of both Romania and Hungary was the resilience of their respective societies against the tide of hatred, and, in Romania, the fact that the democratic Opposition understood too well the traps and risks of those conflicts, and decided to join the efforts of the Hungarian minority in solving by political and parliamentary means any tension within. Since its beginnings, in 1992, the coalition of the democratic opposition parties included the Hungarian Party of Romania, UDMR.

Romania was monitored by the Council of Europe as regards respecting the minorities’ rights. Just before the 1996 elections, the two countries managed at last to sign the Political treaty, but, when in November, when the Democratic Convention won the elections, and I became president of Romania, the Hungarian party became part of the ruling coalition. The very next day, the Hungarian government issued a declaration, which saluted the shift in power, and considered that the new majority was by itself the best token of the historical reconciliation between the two countries.

Since then, the cooperation between the Romanian majority and the Hungarians in Romania proved itself an enduring asset in Romanian politics, and the friendly relationship between Hungary and Romania healed centuries of dissent. I dare say that a substantial contribution in this respect resulted from the personal friendship with which Arpád Göncz, then president of Hungary, honored me, especially after our joint visit in Transylvania (the Romanian province that was for almost a thousand years dominated by the Hungarian ruling aristocracy, and where lives the majority of the Romanian citizens of Hungarian origin). Together, we were able to marginalize the extremist voices in both our countries, and to build a solid foundation for the bilateral cooperation which blossomed in the last ten years, faring without risks through two electoral cycles in Bucharest as well as in Budapest.

Another priority at the very beginning of my term was the normalization of the relations with Ukraine. The arguments of a swift and decided action in this direction were at least three:  

1. Ukraine is the largest neighboring state of Romania. It is a country with an important material, human, and military potential, and representing an area of the utmost strategic importance for our country, as well as for Europe, in the relationship with Eastern Europe, and especially with Russia. Well anchored in the European democratic structures, Ukraine is an asset for the stability of both Western Europe and the Russian federation.

2. Potentially, Ukraine represents a big market, interesting for the European Union and beyond. Romania could both invest in Ukraine, and be a bridge to Ukraine for foreign investors who can operate from Romania to the East.

3. An important part of the former Romanian territories which were annexed by the USSR after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact are now in Ukraine, which means that a large Romanian minority lives now in this country. Only in a peaceful and friendly environment, Romania can contribute to help this minority to preserve, as loyal Ukrainian citizen of Romanian origin, its cultural identity, only if she can develop a larger process of multilateral cooperation and trust with the Ukrainian authorities, both central and local.

In this respect, the first objective was the Political treaty, which was negotiated in less than five months, and was signed and ratified in the first days of July, 1997, before the NATO summit in Madrid. The treaty offered special provisions and mechanisms to prevent border negotiations to generate conflicts, and assured for the Romanian minority in Ukraine the very rights that Romania guaranteed for the Hungarian minority by the treaty between Romania and Hungary.

One of the treaty’s provisions was directly inspired from the initiatives of the East-West Institute, namely the building and shared activities in the Euro-Regions.  The treaty recommended the creation of two such trans-frontier units, between Ukraine, Romania and the Republic of Moldova. Our capacity of influencing the local administration in the two neighboring countries did not prove strong enough to surpass the traditional suspicions against new ideas, so the results of this project were not as expected, but I still think it was a good project, which deserves perhaps to be revisited now, in a new context.

          The would-be triple cooperation in the Prut and Danube euro-regions was also part of a larger frame, which became a successful complement of the traditional, bi-lateral diplomatic formats. We imagined a system of tri-lateral cooperation agreements, grouping each time Romania and two other neighboring countries: Romania, Poland and Ukraine; Romania, Ukraine and R. Moldova; Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey; with three main objectives: to surround Romania with a friendly network of security; to anchor Ukraine and Moldova in a pro-western structure; and to ensure a formal and substantial support for the regional cooperation in fighting transfrontier crimes and illegal traffics of goods and persons. 

I initiated this new format as a widening and intensification of the spectacular progress of the bi-lateral relations developed by Romania in the region. The tri-lateral cooperation at a sub-regional level translates in the political and strategic field the assessment of the complexity and specificity of the geopolitical area to which Romania belongs. It proved itself a creative adaptation of the modern instruments in appeasing conflicts, and a specifically well-adapted one in the relation between medium-size regional powers, often more ambitious than strong, but with a valued tradition of independence alternating with subordination to the great powers. A dynamic correspondence between the variables of the political space, and the variability of the security structures and arrangements in this space, proved to be flexible enough to prevent undue susceptibilities, and to address common challenges and common risks in an efficient manner. Further, this structure strengthened the ties not only between states, but also between communities in neighboring areas, thus consolidating the network for cooperative initiatives and exchanges.  

The bi- and tri-lateral sub-regional cooperation avoided successfully the risk of a chronic ambiguity in the status of South-Eastern and East European countries which became in 1997 and 1998 candidate countries both for NATO and the EU. Their contribution both in the NATO campaign in former Yugoslavia, and in fighting non-military risks as defined by the new Strategic concept of the Alliance, especially after September 11, 2001, was essential in instauring a security regime in South/Eastern Europe and in the Balkans after 1999.

Romania used to be a strong competitor on the oil and gas market. The Second World War and especially its aftermath put an end to that, by a savage consumption of the national reserves, both as a consequence of the heavy war compensations paid to the USSR, and of the inconsiderate extensive exploitation of its reserves during the two successive massive industrialization periods, first in the fifties, then during the Ceausescu era. Now, we share the fate of the European developed economies, while lacking to share their level of development.

Political considerations add their weight to the matter. As you well know, Romania’s integration into NATO was not a happy event for all her neighbors. The Russian Federation - the main supplier of gas for Romania, as well as for the whole of Europe - proved that it can and will use its richness as a political tool. Of course, as Romania is not a former Soviet republic, we cannot expect to be as favored as Belarus is, but we do not wish either to be penalized as Bulgaria was, back in 1998. That is why we try two things: first, to become as soon as possible independent in energy matters and second – to participate in a significant way in the building of a common pool of European policies in the Energy field. 

A European energy policy means, in turn, two ranges of action: first, a strong commitment of all member-states towards a common position in dealing with Russia, and second - the development of  alternative sources, as well as of alternative technologies, to be able to put an end to any monopole in providing energy to the EU countries. As an alternative source, the central point is now the development of pipelines and other means of transportation from the Caspian region to Western Europe: a development for which a security regime in the extended space of the Black Sea is pivotal.

The strategic project of the reconstruction of the Black Sea space as a space of European and Euro-Atlantic security, which has officially inaugurated its international career at the NATO summit in Istanbul in 2004, is essential in ensuring the effectiveness of any such plan. This strategy has been prepared not only by debates of various think-tanks, analysts, in research institutes and at the US Congress. The contribution of the scientific and political milieu in Romania in this direction cannot be neglected. But another contribution, a diplomatic and political one, started back in 1996-1997, when I began my personal crusade for a new vision of the Black Sea and Caspian region.

We engaged fully in promoting various pre-existing projects, from the Silk Road, enthusiastically launched by presidents Demirel-Aliev and Shevardnadze, to TRACEKA and INOGATE, promoted by the European Union. In any of these projects, the Romanian territory could play an essential role, both through the Constanta port, which has the most up to date facilities, oil terminals, ferries, etc., and through the Danube, which goes deep into Central Europe and communicates with the Rhin. As hopeful as all these projects, and first of all the Constanta-Trieste-Rjeka pipeline may seem, the political difficulties in implementing them are not negligible, to say the less.

Essential in this process was the direct, political and diplomatic relation developed by Romania with the three Caspian republics – Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan - and by myself with their presidents. Due to the confidence we succeeded to develop in the region, I was able to visit in the same diplomatic tour the three countries, at a moment when the cooperation with one of them seemed mutually exclusive for the two others. It was not so, at least for Romania and her president, back in 1997-2000.

Turkey has tried to contribute to the common goals, as well as to its own political agenda, by initiating since 1992 the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, BSEC, which became in 2000 the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.

The escalation of the conflict in the Western Balkans in 1999 was in a way an effect of the increased presence of the West in Central and Eastern Europe. The Kosovo conflict provoked a dramatic correction of the vision of the EU and NATO member states. It proved the geo-strategic importance of the European Southeast and of the neighboring area, both regarding traditional threats and the new, unconventional forms of confrontation and conflict. The New Strategic Concept of the Alliance, debated and adopted at the Washington Summit, embedded the concept of indivisibility of the European security. This concept was systematically supported ever since 1997 by the representatives of our country, beginning with myself as a President. It became obvious in the Western Balkan conflicts. The Kosovo intervention resulted in the reevaluation of security imperatives in Southeastern Europe generally and of the strategic importance of Romania for the security of the Balkans specifically. The behavior of Romania as a de facto ally in the NATO intervention in former Yugoslavia – and, not less, in the circumstances that have directly followed, including the attempt of the Russian Federation of massive post-conflict intervention – have given the West a strong signal about the need of a new regional strategy, with the immediate consequence of launching the Stability Pact, in the summer of 1999, but also of opening EU accession negotiations for Romania and Bulgaria, as well as consolidating the position of the two countries towards their NATO integration. Our strong commitment to the NATO and UE initiative would not have been possible without the security which the network of friendly neighbors we builded since 1997 offered us.


The NATO enlargement in 2002 and that of the EU in 2007 sets the Eastern frontier of both organizations “from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea”. In this new context, the extended space around the Black Sea becomes ipso facto an intermediary area between Europe and the Middle East in a broader sense. In this context, the new NATO members, Romania and Bulgaria, had become an important nodal point. For the moment being, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, are NATO members, Bulgaria and Romania will soon became EU members, whereas Turkey is still in a process of negotiation. Old (Turkey) and new (Romania and Bulgaria) NATO members coexist with states with important human and even material resources, but with a frail institutional structure – and with a relatively inconsistent, pro-Western orientation, depending upon domestic political confrontations, such as Ukraine; or a restrictive internal political organization, such as Azerbaijan; other, even smaller states, lacking resources, depend in excess, economically, on Russia (Moldova, Armenia), and states just a little more prosperous, which, like Georgia, are quite consistently following the path to the West, but have nevertheless to bear in mind the constraints inherited from the Soviet past. Even more seriously, between these very diverse actors there are tensions, more or less acute conflict areas, territorial disputes, and a dire competition for access to resources – mainly to resources of the Western countries – so that their individual evaluation is at least just as difficult as the construction of a regional solidarity, but it triggers infinitely more risks than advantages.

The presence and the coordinate implication of the great Western actors is, indispensable in such a process. This is not mere for the fact that only these, and only together dispose of the material and human resources, of the potential and democratically controlled military force, and of the indispensable expertise to help and support the democratic construction. NATO and EU are alone able to offer incentives – either material or symbolic – in exchange of necessary reforms, starting with those referring to the real capacity of the states in the region to control their own frontiers to the East, and to significantly contribute to the control of terrestrial or maritime borders in the West.

This does not mean that the big players can, and should confront only by themselves the risks in the region. To avoid replacing cooperation with endless competitions for the leadership of the Black sea-Caspian region, a complex and flexible casting must be put into fact, with local and international, European and Transatlantic protagonists, a scenario in which the neighboring countries might intervene whenever necessary to soothe suspicions, to avoid patronizing and misunderstandings.

As I have several times stated in my speech, the essential card to eliminate and prevent conflicts between states is played within every state domestic politics. As regards the political reconciliations, an interesting experience has the Balkan Political Club. It groups former and present presidents, prime-ministers and foreign ministers from Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Moldavia as well as from the rest of the Balkan Peninsula and civic society personalities from these countries. These Forum meetings could have gathered personalities found on exactly contrary positions - sometimes in open conflicts- in their countries, in an intern and regional reconciliation exercise.  As a member of the Board of this Club, I can share its experience, as well as the intention that a similar Club would be founded in the Caucasus –Caspian region, using the BPC experience. If this club emphasizes on reconciliation and on projects supported by own experiences, the Young Political Leaders School organized by East-West Institute in Istanbul for the Black Sea – Caspian region stresses upon forming leaders of the future, trained at the dialogue school. Speaking about preventing some future conflicts, I believe that the main conflict - not only in this region, but worldwide – comes from the development of populism in politics and from the populist leaders.

          If by the end of the communist dictatorships, the nationalist extremism was the main weapon the former communist nomenclature and the old political police have succeeded building and maintaining some oligarchies, now the danger comes from the expansion of demagogy, which wins the people’s votes by speculating the frustrations caused by the private capitalist economy and by the economic reform programs. The populism is supported by mass media, bought by corrupted businessmen and by the chase for rating, thus justifying the side-slips towards vulgarity, obscenity and the bad taste flattering.

          After the Westphalia Peace, the only international order subjects were the states. Globalization has brought on stage new actors: corporate organizations, university organizations and mass media with trans-national calling. That is why I believe that a positive answer to the future challenges should include the re-construction of the civil society.

          The Antiquity Philosophers believed that the world is made up of air, water, earth and fire. Excepting the air that is universal, all the others are connected to the Black Sea shores. In this place Noah has cried “Land” when landing after the flood, with the saved lives for the future world. Here was Prometheus enchained, because he gave the fire stolen from the sky to the people, in order to make their like better. Here have Mitriade’s warrior cried “thalassa”, which remained the symbol of saving sea waves. All the heroes of the antic myths have come here in order to search “the golden wool” – symbol of richness.  Only one myth misses from a world that thousand of years faced devastating wars: the myth of peace. Maybe the new generations in our countries will build it here, too, on the Black Sea shores, for the future world.