Following is a view on Romania’s 10 most important and most pressing geopolitical and national security issues and challenges, ranked in descending level of importance.
This article is part of Pax Glocalica’s series evaluating the top geopolitical and national security issues of countries and other entities around the world.
1. Romania’s Endemic High-level Corruption
High-level corruption remains the most pressing geopolitical and national security issue in Romania which continues to debilitate the country’s economic and development opportunities presented by its relatively large market and its EU membership.
That remains the case despite some tangible progress in cracking down on high-level corruption, made especially in the second half of 2000s, before and right after Romania’s accession to the European Union on January 1, 2007.
While Romania “boasts” dozens of former high-ranking politicians with corruption sentences, in the second half of the 2010s, its situation with high-level corruption, seemingly a lasting legacy from the communist period, appears have regressed somewhat. Among its debilitating effects appears to be the somewhat fragile political environment.
2. Romania’s Large-Scale Population Loss and Major Depopulation
Romania is plagued with large-scale loss of population and depopulation of vast swathes of its rural areas – yet another lasting legacy from the particularly brutal communist regime between 1945 and 1990.
Romania’s declining population problem includes several sub-problems: low birth rates, still very high abortion rates, high death rates as well as high emigration rates (see 3. Below).
(The case of Romania’s massive abortion crisis and subsequent abortion ban during the communist period is explored in detail by this author, Ivan Dikov, in his book 6 Million Abortions: How Communism Utilized Mass-Scale Abortion Exterminating Europe’s Fastest Growing Nation – alongside the cases of neighboring communist-era Bulgaria and the former Soviet Union.
3. Romania’s Emigration – to Western European Romance-Language Countries
Emigration is part of Romania’s population loss problem but it is also in a category of its own.
Romanian emigration is primarily oriented towards Western Europe but in particular towards other Romance-language countries in Western Europe – France, Italy, Spain – as well as Germany.
In countries such as France, Italy, and Spain, Romanian immigrants are easily assimilated thanks to their language and culture.
The extent to which Romania’s emigration, largely to Western European Romance-language fellow EU member states has benefited the country goes back to the overarching, never-ending debate on whether “brain drain and labor drain pays back”.
4. Romania’s Long-standing Geopolitical Rivalry with Russia.
Romania’s long-standing geopolitical odds with Russia go back to the first half of the 20th century but also, by extension, has some of its roots in the 19th century when Romania emerged from the status of an Ottoman Empire vassal under the auspices of the Russian Empire.
The Russian-Romanian rivalry has been complicated by World War II when Romanians fought against the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front, and by the ensuing imposition of a Soviet satellite-type communist regime on Romania after the Red Army occupied the country.
In fact, Romania contributed more troops to the Eastern Front than any other Nazi Germany ally, even more than did Italy, a far more populous and prosperous country at the time.
Romania’s communist regime, among the most brutal communist rules in Eastern Europe, while originally imposed by the Soviet Union, saw its two successive communist dictators – Gheorge Gheorgiu – Dej and Nicolae Caeusescu – later try to somewhat stand up to Moscow.
Nowadays, the Russian – Romanian geopolitical rivalry is epitomized by Romania’s alliance with the United States, its NATO membership (both of these translating into the hosting of US air and missile defense bases), and partly by its EU membership.
Romanian and the vastly more powerful Russian geopolitical interests are clashing over much of the regional map, in Moldova, Transnistria, Ukraine, and the Black Sea.
In strictly old-school geopolitical and physical geography terms, the flat terrain of Northeast Romania, Moldova, and Southwest Ukraine, a corridor between the Carpathian Mountains and the Black Sea coast, has historically been a main route for east-west Eurasian invasions – which complicates Romania’s geopolitical vulnerability vis-à-vis Russia.
5. Moldova and the Question of Its Potential Unification with Romania
Moldova, a former Soviet republic which was part of Romania before World War II, is majority populated by Romanian speakers.
That and its pre-World War II history somewhat whet the appetite of Romanian nationalists for a renewed version of a “Greater Romania” to be realized mainly through the (re)unification of Romania and Moldova.
Moldova, however, also has a strong Russian-speaking minority, a “fifth column” from the Romanian nationalist perspective.
The fragile former Soviet republic has been struggling to keep a steady pro-EU course expectedly welcomed and encouraged by Romania’s governments on the official level.
The main perception is that while at least some parts of the Romanian society could be eager for a unification with Moldova, that is not so much the case with Moldovans. Any moves to that end would face massive opposition and a negative reaction on part of Russia.
The issue of Romania and Moldova’s potential unification is vastly complicated by the situation of the breakaway Moldovan region of Trasnistria, a Russian-speaking region bordering Ukraine, with official Russian military presence.
Transnistria is oftentimes described in international media as being a contraband quasi-state, possibly with a strong influence of Russian intelligence services.
It has no recognition as an independent state but Moldova’s central government has been unable to force or negotiate its reintegration. Thus, Transnistria remains one of the main frozen conflicts of the former Soviet space, with some in Romania fearing it could be “reactivated” by Moscow on an “as needed” basis.
6. Romania’s Large Hungarian Minority
Romania has had a large historic minority of ethnic Hungarians – numbering more than 1 million, close to 2 million in the past, in the Szeged Region in Transylvania, right in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains
A remnant from the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, the Austrian Empire, later Austria-Hungary, the Hungarian minority remains, among other things, a simmering source of tensions with fellow EU member state Hungary (itself oftentimes perceived as being gripped by a right-wing “soft” authoritarian rule under Viktor Orban).
Any potential for irredentism involving the ethnic Hungarian community in Transylvania, however, is vastly complicated by the fact that the community is geographically isolated from Hungary with a wide corridor populated by ethnic Romanians.
In the past, Romania has had some historical border and/or population disputes with its other neighbors – Bulgaria in Dobrudgea / Dobrudzha, Serbia in Banat, and Ukraine – on land, around the Danube delta, and also over some Black Sea islands and maritime zones. Those, however, are considered settled, and are hardly ever mentioned as geopolitical issues anymore.
7. Romania’s Communist Era Legacy in the Economy
The massive but massively inefficient industries of the communist era have left a lasting mark on Romanian economic management.
The previously non-existent private sector managing started catching up with international and Western standards in terms of efficiency and productivity only in the past couple of decades.
Some of Romania’s most exotic communist-era mastodon projects are the Black Sea – Danube River canal, which was dug with the slave labor of political prisoners, and has become profitable by small margins in recent years, and the unrealized project for digging a canal from the Danube to the capital Bucharest, which certain Romanian politicians revive from time to time as a populist endeavor.
8. Romania’s Historical Legacy
While Romania’s national identity is well-established, its historical narrative does have some potentially controversial spots – including its going to back to Roman times when Roman colonists mixed with local Dacian Thracian tribes eventually producing the Romanian ethnicity.
Romania’s language and its identity narrative were deliberately Romanized in the 19th century in order to underline its Roman legacy and connection to modern-day Western Europe, and to France and Italy in particular.
That included switching from the Cyrillic (Bulgaric) alphabet to the Latin alphabet. Despite having lots in common with the Romance languages, Romanian itself still contains a great deal of Slavic, a legacy from the medieval Bulgarian empire, when the Romanian lands – mostly consisting of the principality of Wallachia, were first part of the First Bulgarian Empire in the Early Middle Ages, and were later in a very tight alliance with the Second Bulgarian Empire through its integration of the Cuman aristocracy in the High and Late Middle Ages, up until the Ottoman Turkish conquest of Southeast Europe.
9. Fragmentation of Romania’s Political Life
Because of some deep-seated political animosities and the presence of at least several parliamentary parties, in the 2010s, Romania has seen several Cabinets fail to come even close to completing their full four-year terms.
The political scene has been tense and disillusioning with social and political unrest, caretaker Cabinets, and figurehead politicians appointed as Prime Ministers while backstage leaders have been running the show from behind the scenes.
That has created a level of political uncertainty also casting doubts on judiciary reform and corruption crackdown progress achieved in the 2000s.
10. Climate Change and Global Warming’s Potential Effect on Romania
While Romania is not among the countries that stand to be affected the worst by global warming, and might even benefit in some marginal ways from warming climates, the fact that it is a very large agricultural producer still makes it vulnerable to climate change.
That might especially prove to be the case when it comes to potentially declining precipitation and potential partial desiccation in the fertile Lower Danube Valley and especially its Black Sea region Dobrudzha, which is particularly rich in water resources despite the presence of the Danube River.
While the Danube River itself does have the potential to act as a natural water pipeline from the potentially more rainy Western and Central Europe, even that might mean that Romania might have to need some serious investments in tackling at least some global warming.
Geopolitical entities mentioned in this article:
The Republic of Romania: Tier 5 Power (Geopolitical Score 5 out 9: “Middle Power”) as per the classification of PaxGlocalica and HeartlandHinterland.com