George Calin / REUTERS NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis arrive for the 63rd NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Bucharest, Romania, October 2017.

How Romania and Poland Can Strengthen NATO and the EU

Two New Cooperation Initiatives Could Improve Regional Security

Russia’s recent actions in Crimea and southeastern Ukraine have motivated NATO to reinforce solidarity within the alliance and strengthen its overall capabilities. They have also, more specifically, prompted Romania and Poland, NATO’s two largest new member countries that joined the alliance after 1999, to try to redefine their positions inside both NATO and the European Union.

Until recently, Bucharest and Warsaw had not had much of an opportunity to distinguish themselves within NATO. But with Romania sharing a border with Ukraine, and Poland sharing one with Ukraine as well as Russia (that is, with the exclave Kaliningrad), the two countries have devised two novel regional collaboration schemes aimed at enhancing their positions within both NATO and EU: the Bucharest Nine (B9) and the Three Seas Initiative (3SI).

The B9 is a little-known cooperation initiative among most of NATO’s new members. It was proposed by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, during the November 2015 Bucharest Summit of the Central and Eastern European States. As part of the initiative, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia agreed to develop a special regional cooperation group in support of NATO’s objectives that specifically aimed to improve security and stability between the Baltic and Black Seas. The Three Seas Initiative (referencing the Adriatic, Black, and Baltic Seas) was born a year later at the August 2016 Dubrovnik Forum, where Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, alongside Duda, proposed the creation of a north-south European axis inside the EU meant to strengthen eastern and central European economic cooperation within the union. It comprises the B9 countries plus Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia.

Both initiatives are related to, among other concerns, a new perception of rising regional security threats, namely, the increasing aggressiveness of Russia under President Vladimir Putin. Still, the two initiatives have until now had little geopolitical meaning. In their current form, they do not change in principal the institutional structure of eastern and central Europe, and neither B9 Bucharest Summit  in her first official visit to an allied state. In July 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump attended the 3SI Warsaw Summit and called the event “incredibly successful.”

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