Black Sea Security: The NATO Imperative

By
Alexandros Petersen

August 20, 2004 - On March 29, 2004, Bulgaria and Romania joined NATO. The Black Sea is now ringed, on one side, by alliance countries and, on the other, by former Soviet states with varying degrees of instability and security problems. As the trans-Atlantic alliance spreads to the east toward the greater Black Sea region, it encounters new neighbors, where both asymmetrical and conventional threats that were previously not of primary concern now loom large. However, at the June 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul, held at the very entrance to the region, no coherent strategy was outlined for the alliance's new neighborhood and only scant mention was made of its immense strategic importance.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, the trans-Atlantic security spotlight has slowly shifted from concentration on the plains of northern Germany to the realization that threats are emanating from a geographical band stretching from North Africa, to Central Asia, to South Asia. This band, which some have called the "arc of disorder," will demand the attention of the United States and NATO for decades to come. As the focus of Western security institutions moves toward the Black Sea region, it becomes essential to understand the geopolitical security situation in the region and assess the area's strategic significance in this context.

In addition to being a nearby point of origin for security threats, the Black Sea region is important to NATO's European states because it is the future target for the continued expansion of European and trans-Atlantic institutions. The region is vital for the United States as a possible future stronghold from which to engage the greater Middle East and substantial portions of surrounding regions. It is also the gateway through which Caspian and Central Asian energy sources reach Europe and the United States.

NATO continues to expand, yet its post-Cold War vision is still cloudy. In the coming years, the greatest alliance in history will need to take part in the expansion of greater Europe into the Black Sea region in order to effectively be able to address issues in the greater Middle East and beyond. The factors that necessitate Western involvement in the region should be examined in the context of NATO's new challenge as articulated by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in June 2004:

We simply can no longer protect our security without addressing the potential risks and threats that arise far from our homes . . . . Either we tackle these problems when and where they emerge, or they will end up on our doorstep.1

The first element of a new transatlantic security consensus is the need to project stability where it matters.2

At first glance, the Black Sea seems surrounded by potential conventional sources of instability and crisis. Greece and Turkey remain at odds over sovereignty issues in the Aegean Sea, a problem exacerbated by their mistrust over Cyprus. Safe passage through the Aegean high seas zones is essential to all Black Sea states whose merchant and naval vessels need to reach the Mediterranean, not least those of Russia.

Russia and Ukraine chafe over undetermined borders and territorial disputes. Rocked by political scandals, Ukraine has been slipping away from democracy during the past few years. Its Communist party still has significant destabilizing power, and the October 2004 presidential election could trigger a volatile leadership situation. The brutal, prolonged war in Chechnya, the cause of which has now been hijacked by Wahhabist militants, continues to encourage a massive flow of arms through the region and has created a terrorist hotbed.

Armenia, with Russian support, and Azerbaijan, with Turkish support, grate over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, while Azerbaijan seeks to expand its energy industry. Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and the Trans-Dniester Republic in Moldova proclaim independence and stake out their territory with the help of Russian troops. These frozen conflicts, compounded by the numerous asymmetrical threats in the region, present a challenging environment on NATO's eastern front.

NATO's engagement in the Black Sea area must come with a shift of focus if it is to "project stability where it matters." Many of Europe's major concerns, such as drug, arms, and human trafficking, illegal immigration, terrorism, and possible nuclear proliferation can only be addressed by including the Black Sea region within the NATO framework. Moreover, the areas where there are frozen conflicts, providing perilous havens for terrorists and criminals, are self-evidently of interest to NATO.

These outlaw areas, in or around which Russian troops are stationed, not only provide centers for criminal activity, such as money laundering, which supports organized crime in Europe and the U.S., but they can also be breeding grounds and staging points for local and international terrorism that directly threatens the Russian Federation itself.

New NATO members Bulgaria and Romania, along with Turkey and Greece, are on the front line against these threats to wider European peace and stability. Bulgaria and Romania are actively communicating their willingness and ability to host NATO and U.S. bases. NATO bases in Greece are essential to launching operations across the Mediterranean region. Turkey's strategic value as a launching ground for operations in the greater Middle East and its importance as a secular inspiration for other Muslim societies will grow in importance every day, especially if Ankara is given a date for beginning EU accession talks. NATO has provisions in place for the protection of the eastern Mediterranean, its southeastern front. Similar provisions must be put in place for the Black Sea region, its vital eastern front.

As the security situation in Saudi Arabia continues to deteriorate, the diversification of energy sources becomes more important. The oil deposits in the Caspian region and the deposits of natural gas and other energy sources in Central Asia, which will be transported across the Black Sea region in tankers and through pipelines for years to come, are important alternatives to Saudi energy sources. When this is considered along with the proximity of frozen conflicts, terrorist network centers, and al Qaeda's professed interest in "Western economic targets,"3 the security of the Black Sea region becomes of pressing interest.

The U.S. and Europe cannot afford to ignore the potential for instability in the regions providing their energy. It is essential that NATO delve into Black Sea security solutions, utilizing to the fullest extent possible its two new Black Sea members: Bulgaria and Romania. These new NATO states face a host of domestic problems. Both still have relatively porous borders. Both serve as major transit states for illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin from Turkey and Central Asia. Human traffickers find victims in Bulgaria and Romania, and transport others there from nearby countries.

Romania is still recovering from the destruction caused by the regime of Nicolae Ceaucescu and the recession resulting from the wars in the Balkans. Political and economic reforms in Bulgaria have progressed slowly. Recently, the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense was implicated in illegal arms deals. Corruption is largely tolerated in the Bulgarian government, and business and trans-national criminal organizations seem to hold significant sway over the Bulgarian judiciary.

Nonetheless, the military capabilities of Bulgaria and Romania are impressive. Only 48 hours after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, both countries provided full intelligence cooperation with the U.S. and NATO, in addition to granting complete overflight rights and basing and port facilities to Washington and the alliance during Operation Enduring Freedom, the Afghanistan military campaign. Both countries have also contributed troops to Afghanistan, the coalition forces in Iraq, and the peacekeeping forces in the Balkans.

Romania, by far the most populous of the Vilnius group states, is more accomplished militarily than Bulgaria. Its contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom proportionately exceeded the capabilities of some original NATO members. Of all the European countries that participated in this campaign, Romania was the only one to deploy a battalion-strength force, approximately 500 troops, with its own airlift. There are approximately 800 Romanian troops in Iraq and about 300 in the Balkans.

Bulgaria has about 250 troops in the Balkans, 65 in Afghanistan, and 480 in Iraq. It is a staunch supporter of U.S. efforts in the war on terror and steadfastly supported the U.S. request for U.N. Security Council authorization of intervention in Iraq. Bulgaria's forthcoming Strategic Defense Review emphasizes the significance of the new security environment in the Black Sea region and calls for more NATO cooperation in the area.

As Bulgaria and Romania have carried out the modernization of their armed forces, they have donated their excess weaponry to U.S.-funded Train and Equip projects, such as the one in Georgia. In addition, both countries, while working closely with the U.S., have also cooperated closely with Russia, in an effort to bridge the gap between seemingly conflicting interests in the Black Sea region. Far from being liabilities to NATO, Bulgaria and Romania are not only at the forefront of the alliance's current and future activity, but they also seem to be ahead of the game in terms of forward-thinking strategy.

President Bush's recent decision to redeploy close to 70,000 troops now stationed in Germany and South Korea is sensible. In the beginning of the 21st century, the U.S. simply does not need almost 500 military instillations in Western Europe. This process would transfer units back to the U.S., and send forces to a variety of places, such as Central Asia and Africa, as well as southeastern Europe, to meet new challenges in a post-Cold War, post 9/11 era.

The basing specifics of the plan have not yet been released, but NATO interests would greatly benefit with U.S. troops stationed in Bulgaria and Romania. The support Bulgarians and Romanians for U.S. policy, in contrast to the German population's increasing anti-American sentiment, will help ensure that Pentagon planners can operate with fewer host country domestic constraints on troop and equipment deployments in the vent of a future crisis. The port of Constanza in Romania and Sarafovo air base in Bulgaria have been used for Operation Iraqi Freedom and would need only minimal upgrading in accordance with the new U.S. doctrine of maintaining "bare essentials" bases. The late July trip of General Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Bulgaria underscores the strategic importance of the two newest NATO members.

The immense, luxurious Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo cost only $350 million to build, and more Spartan installations, such as those established in Iraq, can cost as little as $130 million to construct. The cost of setting up a total of three Camp Bondsteels in Bulgaria and Romania could be covered by one year of subsidies paid by Germany to the United States for the presence of U.S. bases that will remain on its territory, part of the installations housing the nearly 50,000 American troops that will remain in Europe. Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases, as well as many others, will remain intact, and the base at Grafenwoehr will be expanded because troops from smaller installations that are closed will be moved there.

Others will question the usefulness, in an age of rapid-deployment capability, of moving troops only 800 miles to the southeast. But, as indicated in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, U.S. troops are less than welcome in the greater Middle East outside of Qatar and Bahrain. The shift of American troops from traditional locales, such as Germany, to safe areas closer to, but outside, the hot zones of the Persian Gulf, such as Bulgaria, Romania, or Djibouti, allows for proximity, without placing the soldiers in possible danger. Such troops will not replace units already in the Middle East. They will be available as an important complement to these units, while simultaneously addressing vital regional issues, such as those in the Black Sea region.

The Basic Act of the NATO-Russia Council, the cooperative agreement formulated by President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2002, precludes the permanent stationing of NATO troops on former Soviet bloc soil, including Bulgaria and Romania. In fact, NATO forces operating from these countries would be stepping in partly in response to actions by Russia's enemies. Chechnya and Dagestan, with fairly moderate Muslim populations 10 years ago, are now infused with militant Wahhabist and Salafist thought, and have become prime breeding and training grounds for both local and international Islamist terrorists. The Russians do not seem to be able to contain their own local threats, much less terrorist threats emanating from that region aimed at international targets. International support in the form of NATO and U.S. forces in the region is essential to containing and eliminating these grave threats to regional and global stability.

However, the Russians will likely perceive any NATO intrusion into their "near abroad" as inherently menacing. Therefore, it would be useful if NATO and the U.S., either through the NATO-Russia Council, or more directly through a special diplomatic team, were to make it clear to the Russian government that an alliance presence in the region strengthens Russia's security. Intensive negotiations will have to begin in order to include Russia as a major partner of NATO efforts in the region. Russia's return to NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP), following its withdrawal for about a year due to a disagreement with the alliance, and the development of the NATO-Russia Interoperability Program, which has been active in coordinating military-to-military responses by alliance and Russian troops to potential threats or crises, offer hope for Russian inclusion in the process of maintaining Black Sea security.

As part of the development of the region, the Black Sea states are beginning to participate in a number of cooperative security efforts. Cooperation in peacekeeping has become common since Georgian and Azerbaijani troops have been part of the Turkish contingent in the Balkans and Armenian troops have joined the Greek force in Kosovo. Furthermore, a cooperative security group has already been formed along the lines needed to address Black Sea security issues.

BLACKSEAFOR, a naval cooperation task force conceived in 1996, includes the navies of Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia. The tasks assigned to the cooperative are non-military, such as rescue missions. However, during these missions, interoperability between the navies is increased. BLACKSEAFOR can serve as a prototype, not only for a naval cooperative serving military purposes, but also for a potential Rapid Reaction Force, based possibly on the concept of the NATO Response Force proposed at the alliance's Prague summit in 2002. Quick intervention in crises by such a force would include contingents from the militaries of all Black Sea countries. BLACKSEAFOR's flag, representing all the participating nations, is an important symbol of the potential of Black Sea states working in concert.

Alternatively, BLACKSEAFOR could be incorporated into an expanded version of NATO's Operation Active Endeavor, which has been very successful in detecting and preventing criminal and terrorist actions in the Mediterranean since October 2001. The magic ingredient in BLACKSEAFOR, however, is Russia's membership. If collective security programs are to be successful, they must, at least eventually, include the Russian Federation as a major partner.

It is not NATO policy to have regional strategies. However, if the overall purpose of NATO is to most effectively project stability where it matters, regional cooperative security programs should be a major part of its strategy. It is up to NATO to incorporate already-existing cooperatives such as BLACKSEAFOR into a comprehensive, multi-faceted initiative, where NATO and non-NATO states, including the Russian Federation, could pool efforts and partake in a variety of endeavors that address regional strategy, crime, terrorism, energy, and environmental issues. This could, perhaps, be formulated within a Partnership Action Plan, a concept proposed at the NATO Prague summit. The mere sharing of critical security information among the Black Sea countries can help prevent potential catastrophes such as a tanker being hijacked or exploding in the Bosporus. A program supported by the impetus of NATO and European Union expansion would be more likely to attract the interest of non-NATO Black Sea nations and produce concrete results than an independent program would.

Parallel to such efforts, it would be useful if the NATO aspirations of states such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine were acknowledged and the Partnership for Peace program were eventually expanded to include them, not only in name, but also in action, so as to develop a real Operational Capabilities Concept to address possible crises in the region. Once the Black Sea region irreversibly moves toward becoming a NATO stronghold, wider issues in the "arc of disorder" can be addressed by further expanding the PfP's crisis prevention strategy.

NATO and U.S. interests are not served when there is no crisis prevention strategy for the greater Black Sea region to address incidents such as that which occurred in July 2001, when the Iranian navy and air force violently chased Azerbaijani and British Petroleum ships away from their drilling project in the Caspian Sea. In order for these interests to be protected, it would make sense to seriously court NATO aspirants in the Black Sea region such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine so that their governments will take more substantive steps to address security issues of concern to NATO, the EU, and the U.S. This will allow for PfP expansion and the development of an Operational Capabilities Concept for a substantial portion of the troubled regions surrounding the Caspian Sea, including the Central Asian countries and Iran.

The U.S. European Command (EUCOM) is already actively involved in many countries in the Black Sea region on a bilateral basis. In Ukraine, EUCOM has initiated officer training programs, joint exercises, and the development of a Joint Rapid Reaction Force. In Georgia, EUCOM heads the highly successful Georgia Train and Equip Program and the Georgia Capabilities Enhancement Program through which specialized U.S. troops have modernized the Georgian military. In the Caucasus Hydrocarbon Security Initiative, EUCOM will work with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia to provide security for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the proposed South Caucasus gas pipeline, which will run from Azerbaijan through Georgia to the Turkish border. Yet, it must be stressed that limited bilateral involvement, however successful, does not compare to a major commitment by the entire NATO alliance.

Given the immense strategic value of the greater Black Sea region, a coherent, effective regional strategy for cooperation must be formulated by NATO and put into action if the alliance is to project stability where it matters and, if the U.S., as the primary partner in NATO, is to successfully defend vital alliance interests. There was consensus within NATO on a May 2002 communiqué that stressed NATO's need and ability to "be able to field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and time, and achieve their objectives."

However, EU and other Western European states are reducing their military spending and are generally unwilling to participate in what they consider to be U.S.-led operations. In addition, the EU's vision of expansion is not always in line with NATO's. For example, the EU departed from NATO policy by reaching out to Libya and Syria and including them in the bloc's 2002 "Wider Europe" initiative. At the same time, the EU excluded the historically European Caucasus countries from the initiative and only recently decided to bring them into it.

A comprehensive program that seriously addresses Black Sea security issues and incorporates the region into the NATO security framework is needed primarily to improve European security in the same way that addressing the Balkan region's security matters enhances European security, although such a program also facilitates the alliance's engagement in the greater Middle East and beyond. It is in the direct interest of France, Germany, and Belgium, countries that irresponsibly resisted NATO assistance to Turkey in February 2003 to protect it against possible biological or chemical attack by Iraq, to ensure the security of the alliance's perimeter.

Such a program would no longer require a large U.S. presence in Germany. A Black Sea secured by NATO and possibly, in the future, surrounded by NATO would make the traditional states of the alliance in Western Europe more secure. The final communiqué of the June 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul referred to "the importance of the Black Sea region for Euro-Atlantic security," without elaboration, in item 41 of a list of 46 items. Coming on the heels of the entry of Bulgaria and Romania, two key countries in the region, into the alliance, this did not reflect forward thinking on the part of NATO leaders. The U.S. has already begun to actively engage the countries surrounding the Black Sea. It would be wise for the EU and NATO, as institutions, to follow suit.

However, given the diverging world views of the U.S. and states such as France, it is entirely possible, albeit highly undesirable, that there will be an impasse in NATO consensus on whatever endeavor the U.S. proposes for some time to come. If this is the case, it may be time to seriously consider an intra-NATO coalition, a grand Partnership Action Plan with teeth that would effectively pursue the security interests of the alliance in the Black Sea region. Eastern European countries that recently joined NATO are aware of the region's importance. It remains for them and the already-committed U.S. to convince their doubting allies of its importance and move ahead without the hindrance of those who do not recognize the significance of the region.

Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase described the Black Sea region as "both a bridge and a dividing line among three continents, with all the advantages and difficulties inherent in such a position."4 The various security threats in the region pose difficulties for NATO. However, there are potential strategic advantages for NATO in establishing bases in Bulgaria and Romania, securing the flow of oil from the Caspian Sea and, possibly, from the Black Sea waters, and further expanding the alliance to include Ukraine and the Caucasus.

Henry Kissinger spoke of the importance of world powers realizing when an international "paradigm shift" has occurred and described their defining moment as the action taken in response to this shift. With the inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania in the NATO family, the alliance has already encircled half of the Black Sea. The other half cannot be ignored and neither can the strategic value of the region in relation to securing energy sources and liberalizing the greater Middle East. The defining moment of NATO's mission to project stability where it matters could be whether it decides, in the months and years ahead, to actively engage the greater Black Sea region, or to marginalize it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1. de Hoop Scheffer (June 18, 2004)
2. de Hoop Scheffer (June 27, 2004)
3. Cohen (2003)
4. Maior (2002)
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