Global Policy Forum

US Military Bases in the Black Sea Region


By Dr. Federico Bordonaro

Power and Interest News Report
November 19, 2005

On November 17, Romania and the United States agreed on installing American military bases near the Black Sea. The same day, Washington started a new round of talks with Bulgaria in order to finalize a deal granting the United States use of Bulgarian military bases (the Bezmer airfield and the Novo Selo firing range).

As expected, the positive trend in political and strategic relations between the U.S. and the two southeastern European countries of Romania and Bulgaria is continuing. During the 2003 preparation of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in the middle of a serious European diplomatic split in front of the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq, Bucharest and Sofia openly said that Washington could count on them for future strategic cooperation. [See: "Bulgaria, Romania and the Changing Structure of the Black Sea's Geopolitics"]

The 2005 advancement in establishing a U.S. military presence in the two countries signals the consolidation of the new American geostrategic initiative in the Black Sea region and will have important consequences for the European Union, U.S.-Russian relations, and the West's strategy toward the "Greater Middle East." Moreover, it also confirms that Washington now seeks small, flexible bases for the possible deployment of forces in Europe, instead of Cold War-style bigger, permanent facilities.

U.S. Geostrategic Needs

The U.S. appears to be accelerating the process of its post-Cold War military redeployment, especially in the European theater of operations. Many predicted that such moves would be performed in the early 1990s. During the 1945-1990 period, the main U.S. military presence in Europe was in Germany, coupled by crucial air facilities in Italy, Great Britain and Turkey. This was seen as increasingly anachronistic due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

However, even after the Berlin Wall fell, Washington delayed a major change in its deployment strategy. The Balkan region wasn't "normalized" until 1999, when N.A.T.O. crushed the last communist nation-state (Serbia and Montenegro) and opened a new era in the former Yugoslav region. Also, the process of N.A.T.O.'s and the E.U.'s eastward enlargement was still underway in the past decade. After the September 11 attacks, however, Washington's security perceptions changed. It wasn't that the Middle East was not considered a source of threats before September 2001, but it certainly became the first priority for U.S. strategists after that date.

Moreover, the American goal of tackling Islamic revolutionary movements in a broad "Arc of Instability" connects with Washington's need to successfully compete with rising power centers such as China and India, both of which are increasing their cooperation with Moscow. [See: "Washington's Long War and its Strategy in the Horn of Africa"] As a consequence, the U.S. now needs new logistical support. Lighter facilities, designed to function with new generation military technologies and tactics, advocated among others by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, must be established in geographically strategic locations where friendly and reliable political elites rule.

This is precisely why Romania and Bulgaria are considered ideal partners by Washington. The Black Sea region provides excellent power projection toward the heart of the Greater Middle East (roughly the area between Morocco and Pakistan). It is also the region which connects the Caspian Sea oil- and gas-rich zone with the eastern Mediterranean Sea, an area of crucial importance for the European Union's energy needs. Since the geopolitical orientation of Ukraine is still uncertain -- for Moscow maintains important political, economic and military influence in the country -- and as Turkey showed determination in pursuing its own political and security agenda during the 2003 Iraq crisis, Bulgaria, Romania and Georgia are the three most attractive regional territories to redeploy U.S. forces. Of the three, Georgia is the most unstable and politically unpredictable. Therefore, Romania and Bulgaria look to be the most rational choices.

Romanian and Bulgarian post-communist elites have proved more enthusiastic than others in supporting U.S. policy in the Middle East. Additionally, they do not seem to face the domestic protests involved with hosting an American military base, unlike the displays made by opposition movements and parties in Germany and Italy. Therefore, deals with Washington are less dependent upon electoral campaigning in Bulgaria and Romania than they are in Western Europe.

Bucharest's and Sofia's Political and Security Goals

U.S. geostrategic needs appear to be consistent with the objectives of the new elites in Romania and Bulgaria. These objectives involve a quick integration into the E.U. -- which was preceded by their introduction into N.A.T.O. in 2004 -- and a double security guarantee (U.S./N.A.T.O. and E.U./E.S.D.P.) against any possible resurgence of Russian hegemonic attempts. In addition, the two countries' elites perceive U.S. assistance as crucial to enhance their still cumbersome economic transition into market capitalism. Logically, they hope that stronger strategic ties with Washington will pave the way to further economic and financial cooperation and an increase in U.S. investments.

The locations of where the U.S. would like to place the bases are: in Romania, the Kogalniceanu airport (situated near the Black Sea port city of Constanta) and Fetesti, located almost 200 kilometers (124 miles) east of Bucharest. In Bulgaria, the Bezmer airfield and the Novo Selo firing range, situated near the southern border with Turkey. Romanian bases in particular could also function as a useful N.A.T.O. asset should the situation in Trans-Dniester (a separatist region of Moldova) be perceived by Brussels and Washington as requiring more substantial Western intervention. In fact, Romanian troops have been present in Trans-Dniester in 2005 since Bucharest wants to play a relevant role in the negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol. [See: "Intelligence Brief: Moldova"]

However, both Bulgaria and Romania want first and foremost a full integration into the Western security architecture, also as a way to successfully join the European Union. The E.U. released on October 25 an "accession report" regarding the two countries. Also, in light of the recent malaise in the E.U., following the 2004 enlargement and the two surprising developments in 2005 (when French and Dutch citizens refused to adopt the European Constitutional Treaty), Sofia's and Bucharest's 2007 planned integration has been reconsidered. It is increasingly likely that accession will be postponed to 2008. However, once again in the post-Cold War Europe, N.A.T.O. (and Washington's strategic reach) has successfully integrated former communist countries before the E.U.

The Bottom Line

With the United States securing its strategic positions in Bulgaria and Romania, the Black Sea region is moving fast toward a new power configuration. Since the E.U.'s integration process is flawed by the Union's inability to quickly adapt to the new configuration and by the European public's dissatisfaction with the enlargement itself, the U.S. is rapidly taking the lead in Western penetration of the once Russian-dominated region.

Look for Moldova to soon become the new regional stake, as the U.S.-aligned countries will pressure for its inclusion in the U.S.-E.U. geostrategic realm at the expense of Russia. Expect Sofia and Bucharest to use their increased role in the N.A.T.O.-based security architecture to enhance their image in front of Brussels.

At the same time, Western Europe will hastily become aware that integrating southeastern and Balkan countries will likely produce a further advancement of pro-Atlantic, pro-U.S. European factions and will undermine any attempt to build an autonomous E.U. power.

More Information on Empire?
More General Analysis on US Military Expansion and Intervention
More Information on US Military Expansion and Intervention


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.