Politics & Policy

Romania’s Rise

How a former paragon of anti-Americanism became a stalwart ally in the war on terror.

On June 8, the U.N. Security Council approved the transfer of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government. Twenty days later, this long-oppressed country was living in unprecedented freedom. Few, if any, Western media outlets noticed that this historic U.N. resolution–opposed until the last minute by, naturally, France, Germany–was sponsored not only by the U.S. and U.K. but also by Romania, formerly a paragon of anti-Americanism.

Moving Europe’s center of gravity eastward, away from Paris and Berlin, is a crucial tactic in the U.S.-led war against terrorism. Despite the new anti-Americanism of France, Germany, and Belgium, most of the new Eastern European countries are becoming reliable allies of the United States, their chief guarantor of freedom and prosperity. Because Eastern Europeans only recently shook off the yoke of tyranny, they want to help Iraq and Afghanistan do the same. Furthermore, Eastern Europeans learned the hard way about the devastating power of terror: Their former Communist regimes fed the flames of domestic and international terrorism during the 20th century. Now those new governments are eager to help douse terrorist wildfires wherever they may be burning.

Romania typifies this new Europe. In 1978, when I defected from Romania, it was the North Korea of Europe: a starving prison led by another tyrant who fantasized about turning his nation into a monument to himself, using money that came from selling weapons of mass destruction to anti-American terrorist states and organizations. After the execution of Ceausescu the change there was gradual–until September 11, 2001, when Romania declared itself a de facto NATO ally and sent an infantry battalion to Kandahar. According to U.S. deputy secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, this Romanian battalion discovered “the largest single cache of arms that we’ve captured in Afghanistan.”

In February 2003, while France, Germany, and Russia were vigorously opposing U.S. plans to depose Saddam Hussein, Romanian president Ion Iliescu announced that his country would join a U.S.-led military intervention. A few days later Romania’s parliament voted to allow the U.S. to use Romanian airspace and airports. There are currently Romanian infantry and specialized troops serving in Iraq.

On June 10, I was heartened to see President Ion Iliescu at the funeral of President Ronald Reagan at Washington’s National Cathedral. Meanwhile, France’s Jacques Chirac, already in the U.S. on other business, managed to invent a pretext requiring his urgent return to Paris a day before the event. Eighteen days later, the Romanian president took a seat at the NATO table for the first time. “Afghanistan’s stabilization and reconstruction” are a test that NATO “cannot afford to fail,” he told the summit. “Iraq is also a new challenge that the Alliance cannot ignore.” Meanwhile, Chirac vetoed the use of a NATO rapid-response force to secure the Afghan elections this fall, and refused to allow NATO troops to help Iraq defeat terrorism. Now labeled the “killjoy” of the summit by his own media, Chirac sermonized, “only individual countries, not the alliance as a whole,” can provide such assistance. The Romanian leader, along with the leaders of Great Britain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and even Germany stole Chirac’s thunder by agreeing that their countries would be individually involved as well.

I must confess that President Iliescu was not my favorite person at one time–nor I his. During Ceausescu’s reign we traveled a long journey together, Iliescu as a leader of the Communist party, and I as a leader of the Communist intelligence community. In 1978 our ways parted, and Iliescu’s Communist party imposed two death sentences on me, after labeling my defection to the United States high treason–a label that has not yet been entirely removed in Romania, where former Communists still run corrupt government institutions inherited from Ceausescu. Soon after the 1989 revolutionary wave changed the face of Europe, Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa headed for Washington to express their gratitude for the long and painful efforts made by the U.S. to bring Communism to its knees. Romania’s new leader, Ion Iliescu, went to Moscow, where on April 5, 1991, he signed a treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev stating that in the future Romania would not belong to any military alliance that could be “detrimental to the Soviet Union.”

But times change. On November 23, 2002, while President Iliescu was introducing President Bush to a popular meeting in Bucharest, a rainbow appeared in the sky. “God is smiling at us,” the American president said, after announcing that Romania had just been invited to join NATO. Most Romanians felt great pride on that occasion; their country had never before played a significant role on the world stage. At that moment Iliescu’s Romania had become one of the 26 nations called upon to sponsor global stability.

Romania’s remarkable change of heart enraged Chirac, who threatened to boycott Bucharest’s efforts to join the European Union. No wonder. When it comes to talking about the United States, Chirac sounds almost like my old boss, Ceausescu, who was the quintessence of calculated revulsion for things American. In July 2002, Chirac’s government began attacking the U.S. war on terrorism by using an old Ceausescu slogan, claiming a sinister military-industrial complex had a stranglehold on American foreign policy. “We are no longer in the prehistoric period,” when the man with the biggest club could knock out another “in order to steal his leg of mammoth,” sneered French defense minister Michele Alliot-Marie in early 2003. That was almost word-for-word the anti-American message my agitprop machinery used to spread around during the Cold War. Germany’s vice-chancellor Joschka Fischer joined in, jumping on the anti-American bandwagon just as he did years ago as a member of the Revolutionärer Kampf (“Revolutionary Struggle”), a terrorist group financed by my old Romanian espionage service during the Cold War. It is of course the French, those clever diplomats, who have the perfect saying for the occasion: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The government of Italy, the country that once had the largest Communist party in Western Europe, strongly disagreed. “We will never forget that we owe our freedom–our freedom–and our wealth to the United States of America. And our democracy,” said Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi during a recent visit to Washington. “Every time I see the U.S. flag, I don’t see the flag only as representative of a country, but I see it as a symbol of democracy and of freedom.”

NATO’s key mission is to protect its members. Relocating some of the U.S.’s European military bases to Romania may hearten this courageous country to become an Italy of Eastern Europe–after all, Romania traces its lineage back to the Roman Empire.

Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former two-star general, is the highest ranking intelligence officer to have defected from the Soviet bloc. His book Red Horizons has been republished in 24 countries.


The Latest