Twenty Years of the U.S.-Romanian Strategic Partnership
When Bill Clinton came to Bucharest in 1997, he made history as the first U.S. President to visit Romania since the fall of communism. Speaking to the Romanian public, he announced, “Your President and I have agreed to establish a strategic partnership between our nations, a partnership important to America because Romania is important to America—important in your own right and important as a model in this difficult part of the world. Romania can show the people of this region and, indeed, people throughout the world that there is a better way than fighting and division and repression. It is cooperation and freedom and peace. Our friendship will endure the test of time. As long as you proceed down democracy’s road, America will walk by your side.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of that U.S.-Romania Strategic Partnership, which President Donald Trump, during a meeting with President Klaus Iohannis this past June in Washington, said is now “stronger than ever.” The Partnership is unique because it is not based upon any written agreement, treaty, or compact, but by mutual respect and understanding, strengthened continuously over time. It is a friendship based on shared values and aspirations, including democracy, freedom, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. While usually invoked when speaking of government-to-government bilateral relations, the Partnership extends to people-to-people ties as well. More than 90 percent of the Romanian public rates relations with the United States as good or very good, and overall, associations between the two countries expand far beyond diplomatic obligation.
The Romanian Diaspora is one of the world’s largest. Approximately 3.4 million Romanians live abroad and millions more emigrated over the past century and a half, including to America. The United States has enriched its unique mosaic of peoples with newcomers from Romania for decades, and large Romanian American communities thrive across the country, further deepening our cultural and historical bonds. Indeed, much more than a relationship based on paper and ink, the U.S.-Romania Strategic Partnership is one based on people and has been from the very beginning.
In Romania today, the United States promotes security, democracy and prosperity. Six years ago, the two nations agreed to the 2011 Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century between the United States of America and Romania, which identifies key issues that fall under promoting security, democracy and prosperity: the political-military relationship, law-enforcement cooperation, trade and investment opportunities and energy security. The agreement also notes the importance of human rights, strengthening the rule of law, and peace and freedom for all. The current bilateral Strategic Partnership structure includes multiple working groups, each focusing on one of these important topics, bringing together diplomats and subject matter experts from both sides.
The Strategic Partnership strengthens NATO by providing a pillar of defense throughout Eastern Europe and the surrounding region. Romania has been an excellent ally of the United States and NATO, providing real combat forces from the beginning of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan even before it was a NATO member. For 15 years, U.S. and Romanian troops have fought side by side in Afghanistan, where Romania still provides over 650 troops—the fourth largest NATO troop contributor to the Resolute Support Mission. Over the duration of these two missions, Romania has significantly improved its own military capabilities, particularly in areas such as Special Operations. Additionally, Romania has remained a vital contributor to the NATO Kosovo mission by continuously stationing over 50 troops there.
The United States especially commends the Romanian government’s commitment to deliver on its promise of budgeting 2 percent of its GDP to defense this year and maintaining that level of commitment for 10 years. As emphasized by President Trump, the United States “hopes other NATO allies will follow Romania’s lead on meeting their financial obligations and paying their fair share for the cost of defense.” The United States helps develop these capabilities with security assistance and military-to-military engagements, having provided over $40 million in military assistance to the government of Romania in recent years.
Additionally, Romania has assisted U.S. and NATO military efforts by supporting the introduction of a new Multinational Brigade (MNB), continuing operations at the Mihail Kogalniceanu MK base near the Black Sea, establishing an Aegis Ashore missile defense system at Deveselu and promoting Eastern Flank security through the enhanced and tailored Forward Presence policies. In July 2017, Romania and the United States successfully conducted Saber Guardian 17, the largest joint military exercise in Partnership history, with over 25,000 troops. This multilateral exercise displayed NATO strength and deterrence capabilities on the Eastern Flank, as troops from throughout the Alliance executed powerful demonstrations of military capability in Romania and neighboring countries. Security cooperation remains robust and is a central pillar of the continuing Partnership.
The United States bolsters Romania’s ongoing fight against corruption, particularly by supporting institutions such as the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) and the National Integrity Agency (ANI). Since 2012, approximately 3,400 Romanian participants have benefited from justice-focused U.S. government-provided training, grants and travel valued at approximately $3 million. During a June 2017 joint press conference at the White House Rose Garden, President Trump told President Iohannis, “Mr. President, I want to applaud your courage and your courageous efforts in Romania to fight corruption and defend the rule of law. This work is necessary to create an environment where trade and commerce can flourish and where citizens can prosper.”
Over 600,000 Roma reside in Romania according to the last census, although the actual Roma population may be even larger. Many Roma are undocumented, making it impossible for them to receive basic services such as education, healthcare and employment. While the country has made tremendous strides at building a more inclusive society, discrimination against Roma still exists at all levels of society. The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest works diligently to support Roma-related events and actively participates in an inter-embassy group on Roma issues. I recently stated, “A healthy democracy is one that can reflect on its imperfect past and take steps toward a better future. While Roma families still faced discrimination and violence after their emancipation…gaining their freedom was a vital first step on the road to integration, a struggle that continues even today. It is our hope that, one day soon, the prejudices of the past will be completely replaced with respect and equality for all.”
The United States strongly supports Romania’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons. Our countries work closely to address the issue in Romania and throughout the Black Sea region, including enhanced cooperation based on the Strategic Partnership process. This fall, the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest will participate in multiple training, educational and networking seminars and will facilitate a conference on regional trafficking involving Romania and Moldova, enabling key actors to discuss possible improvements and new approaches, including an increase in services for victims, allocation of public funding for relevant NGOs and improved training for those working with trafficked victims.
Romania’s economy improved following its accession to the European Union in 2007. It had the strongest economic growth in Europe in 2016 and projections estimate this trend will continue; however, the country still struggles to keep the budget deficit below the EU-required 3 percent of GDP. In a recent speech to Romanian industry leaders, I explained, “The United States wants to share [its business] culture here in Romania through our strategic partnership….We want to collaborate with you and help foster a stronger environment for entrepreneurship and innovation. That is because we want a more dynamic and stronger Romania, because you are such a good partner for the United States.” There are numerous examples of U.S. promotion of economic development in Romania, including conducting an Entrepreneur of the Month program, sending Romanian youth to American entrepreneurship and innovation summits, bringing entrepreneurs to Romania and hosting visiting scientists.
The 1992 U.S.-Romania Bilateral Investment Treaty provides the backbone for economic exchange between the two countries. U.S. corporate presence in Romania is growing rapidly and currently surpasses $1 billion. In October 2017, the U.S. Commercial Service will host the Trade Winds Forum and Trade Mission in southeast Europe. This program facilitates new investment in countries including Romania, providing a platform to showcase the prospects of the Romanian economy while enabling U.S. companies to learn about new export market opportunities. At present, many potential U.S. investors are disincentivized by Romanian governmental—and thus economic—instability and lack of transparency, but Trade Winds can be a positive step towards increasing trust and reliability.
Romania has one of the highest participation rates in the U.S.-run Summer Work and Travel Program, which sends high school students to live and work in the United States for a summer. More than 7,500 Romanian students participated this year, and it was life-changing for many. One Romanian student reflected, “My first experience with Work and Travel was probably the best thing that could ever happen to me. The first thing that you see when entering the U.S.A. is diversity: people who work together, who play together, and love each other no matter what race, color, religion, sexuality they are. This is actually the most important thing that I learned while in America: to love more and judge less.”
Since 1960, the United States has contributed over $17.5 million for 4,000 citizen exchanges with Romania. Over half of these were Fulbright Scholarships. Romania recently joined the U.S.-sponsored Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX), which provides scholarships for Romanian high school students to spend an academic year in the States; the first 25 recipients returned just last month. The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest also runs a week-long program for 25 Romanian high school juniors and seniors, Camp Kennedy, which promotes civic engagement, understanding of U.S. values, and increased English-language skills. Such educational programs ensure that the fortitude of the Strategic Partnership continues with the next generation as students from both countries are able to see the benefits of bilateral cooperation. As I have noted, “International students from diverse backgrounds coming together strengthens ties between the United States and countries around the world, developing the relationships between people and communities that are necessary to solve global challenges.”
Twenty years after President Clinton’s historic visit, the Partnership stays strong. Romanian President Iohannis was the first Eastern European head of State hosted by President Trump in the White House. The meeting was a tremendous success as the two presidents reaffirmed the importance of the Partnership and emphasized continuing bilateral efforts. President Iohannis noted, “The transatlantic link is not about diplomacy, about policy. It’s at the basis of our Western civilization. And together, we will make it stronger. Together, we will make it better. NATO and the European Union do not have to compete against each other. They have to work together. They have to work in such a manner as to produce synergetic effects, make NATO stronger, make Europe stronger, make the United States of America stronger.”
Partnership and friendship—these have characterized the unique U.S.-Romanian relationship for the past 20 years and will continue to do for the next 20 years and beyond.
 To read the entire statement from which this quotation is derived, visit: https://ro.usembassy.gov/american-education-opens-doors-opportunity.
United States Ambassador to Romania