U.S Missile Shield Dispute: Romania, a voiceless pawn on a foreign chessboard

Diana Borcea is a Romanian incoming first year undergraduate at King’s College London and will start pursuing a BA in War Studies this September. Her main interests in the research of international relations cover subjects like security and conflict in Eastern Europe, history of diplomacy & conflicts, military strategy and war in international order.


With Russia’s latest public threatening declarations against Romania and other eastern European states that have agreed to be involved in the US military defense shield, a clear, constantly strengthened message against NATO’s new allies has become the main coordinate of new tensions in Europe. The $800 million shield officially switched on in the Deveselu base (Romania) has proven to cause only the beginning of a whole new series of threats coming from the eastern superpower, making Romania a key element in the international dispute.[1]

The Russian concerns had their debut back in 2011, when the American plan to build a missile shield with defensive purposes against states like Iran came closer to reality, as Romania, Poland, Turkey and Spain have all agreed to join the strategic plan. [2] Five years later, major parts of the US military shield became operational, with the officially opened missile site (Deveselu, Romania) capable of shooting down enemy rockets which could reach areas of important European cities. The danger of having developed missile shield close to their borders has determined Russia’s latest reaction the a new addition to the NATO’s defense plan, in May 2016, when the Russian president Vladimir Putin has made a strong warning regarding Moscow’s retaliatory actions due to the threat of the missile shield, alerting Romania and Poland that they could become Kremlin’s enemies, as they are hosting hostile American military elements.[3]

The continuous dispute between the ex-Cold War enemies has, however, transformed Romania in a voiceless actor on the two superpowers’ stage and neither the Romanian leaders, nor the people proved to have acknowledged the very essence of the “play”.  It is explainable how, on the 12th of May, earlier this year, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, has not attended the official opening ceremony of the Deveselu missile site, in spite of the event’s indisputable historical importance and the very presence of NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg and US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Robert Work at the ceremony.[4] The absence of both the Romanian president and the SIE leader, Mihai Razvan-Ungureanu, was not clearly explained by the officials, but has stirred the critique of the public opinion, as it could have been misinterpreted by the American diplomats as a sign of uncertainty in the Romanian foreign policy. Consequently, the voice of Romania had barely proven its existence regardless of the crucial diplomatic occasion.

 Despite the official declarations coming from the NATO’s representatives, who have insisted on the fact that the military base is not directed against Russia, [5] Kremlin still sees in the SM-3 interceptors which are to be set up on the 430 acre-large Ballistic Missile Defense Site (near Deveselu Romanian Airbase) a serious threat. Thus, under the apparent absence of dialogue between Washington and Moscow, Romania is to face all the accusations and warnings of potential Russian military interventions across its borders. The Romanian response? A moderate, partially uncertain presidential declaration from Klaus Iohannis, stating that the future of Romanian security is unpredictable[6], considering the Russian reactions, which did not, however, prevent Romania from getting involved in the international Program “Security in the Black Sea Region. Shared Challenges, Sustainable Future”.[7]

Romania’s lack of voice – or better yet, alleged “silence” regarding its very own position and security in the missile dispute could also be explained by the fact that the country occupied only the 41st position in the 2016 GFP, whereas the two superpowers who seem to have been given vital rights to decide Bucharest’s faith are the world’s top two military forces.[8] Considering the real numbers, the danger truly comes from the East, and after the obvious American absence in the Crimean Crisis, a saving intervention for Romania in a potential conflict with Moscow seems quite unlikely. It must also be noted that, apart from Russia, Romania’s closest neighbour, Ukraine was ranked the 30th in the 2016 GFP, worsening the circumstances for the Carpathian country.

So, while the Romania’s relations with Russia keep deteriorating, the multi-purposed American plans are at a real risk of unwanted exposure, as an important voice from the U.S nuclear expertize highlighted the unnecessary need of American defensive missile base in Eastern Europe, because there is no probability of an Iranian nuclear war in the next two decades.[9] In this case, why is Romania half-passively eager to further involve in defensive plans which are to dramatically deteriorate crucial relations with the eastern superpower?

The answer which should have come from Cotroceni is still missing, whereas the dangerous threats from the east keep gathering and have managed to eclipse the importance of the missile host state itself. The only certain thing that remains, in conclusion, is the danger of a real conflict with Russia (who threatened to send Tu-22M3 supersonic bombers in Crimea as reaction to the missile shield[10]) and a few quarrels between Romanian politicians, who have not yet come up with a strategy to secure the faith of the country.



[1] Robin Emmot, “U.S. activates Romanian missile defense site, angering Russia”, Reuters, May 12, 2016. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-nato-shield-idUSKCN0Y30JX

[2] Andrew Osborn, “Dmitry Medvedev threatens US over planned missile defense shield”, The Telegraph, November 23, 2011. Accessed: June 12, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/8910909/Dmitry-Medvedev-threatens-US-over-planned-missile-defence-shield.html

[3] Denis Dyomkin, “Putin says Romania, Poland may now be in Russia’s cross-hairs”, Reuters, May 27, 2016. Accessed: June 7, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-europe-shield-idUSKCN0YI2ER

[4] Dodo Romniceanu, Mircea Marian, Alexandra Chiric, “Iohannis a RATAT un MOMENT ISTORIC. Președintele ROMÂNIEI NU PARTICIPĂ la INAUGURAREA bazei americane de la Deveselu” [Iohannis has missed a historical moment. The President of Romania DOES NOT ATTEND the inauguration of the Deveselu American base], Evenimentul Zilei, May 12, 2016. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.evz.ro/secretarul-general-al-nato-la-cotroceni.html


[5] Space Report, “Deveselu Base, Romania”, May 12, 2016. Accessed: June 7, 2016. http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/facility/deveselu.htm


[6] Mediafax, “Răspunsul lui Iohannis la ameninţările Rusiei împotriva României: Declaraţiile din partea Rusiei nu pot să ne intimideze, arată că abordarea noastră e corectă” [Iohannises answer to Russian threats: The Russian Declarations cannot intimidate us, they indicate our rightful approach], Ziarul Financiar, May 31, 2016. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.zf.ro/politica/raspunsul-lui-iohannis-la-amenintarile-rusiei-impotriva-romaniei-declaratiile-din-partea-rusiei-nu-pot-sa-ne-intimideze-arata-ca-abordarea-noastra-e-corecta-15401757


[7] SRI Report, “Security in the Black Sea Region. Shared Challenges, Sustainable Future”, May 31, 2016. Accessed: June 7, 2016. https://www.sri.ro/academia-nationala-de-informatii-mihai-viteazul-si-universitatea-harvard-organizeaza-a-treia-editie-a-programului-securitate-in-regiunea-marii-negre-provocari-comune-viitor-sustenabil.html


[8] Global Firepower Ranking 2016, January 4, 2016. Accessed: June 12, 2016. http://www.globalfirepower.com/countries-listing.asp


[9] Robin Emmot, “U.S. activates Romanian missile defense site, angering Russia”, Reuters.


[10] Kuril Bora, “Russia May Send Tu-22M3 Supersonic Bombers to Crimea In Response To US Missile Buildup In Eastern Europe”, International Business Times, June 24, 2015. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.ibtimes.com/russia-may-send-tu-22m3-supersonic-bombers-crimea-response-us-missile-buildup-eastern-2023159


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