NATO at Seventy: Letting Freedom Ring

Written by Roxana Allen

It took thirty years, two generations, fifteen prime ministers, and numerous elections to appoint the first woman Prime Minister in Romania.  With the introduction of the Membership Action Plan twenty years ago, NATO requested that Romania implement a 25 percent quota for women in Parliament and public service.  Consequently, there are many women in leadership today.  Prime Minister Viorica Dancila leads in a world confronted with violent extremism, terrorism, cyber security, and hybrid threats.  While strategists have continually resigned NATO to the dustbin of history, with its original rationale of defending Europe from the Soviet Union, NATO’s membership policies have been a symbol of hope but also despair since the 1989 Revolution in Eastern Europe.  NATO’s commitment to inclusion launched an enlargement process that empowered women, changed societies, and expanded peace and stability.  While the “carrot” of NATO membership spurred liberal reforms, it also produced complacency and a nationalist backlash.

After its 1989 Revolution, Romania found itself without the strong cosmopolitan leadership ready to take power or embrace the West that blessed other Eastern European states—cosmopolitanism meaning those who support civil society, tolerance, human rights, rule of law, and democracy.  The Czechs had Václav Havel.  The Poles had Adam Michnik.  The Hungarians had Miklos Haraszti.  The success of these cosmopolitans and their revolutions seemed to prove Francis Fukuyama’s argument that with the end of the Cold War, liberal democracy, civil society, free markets, and the rule of law would eventually prevail in all states.  As a consequence of the Stalinist nature of the Ceausescu regime, Romania did not have any outspoken cosmopolitan leadership.  The West’s seemingly disorganized engagement, which did not embrace the Romanian intellectuals, allowed for the growth of nationalism in Romania á la Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations.” In his vision of competing civilizations, “the fundamental source of conflict…in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic…its center-piece becomes the interaction between the West and non-Western civilizations and among non-Western civilizations.”  This interaction was best demonstrated in Romania in 1991 when coal miners smashed their way into Bucharest, attacking students, intellectuals, and Westerners. Raised in the Stalinism of Ceausescu, then fed by nationalism, the lumpenproletariat continually tried to destroy Western norms.

The cosmopolitans of Bucharest, Cluj, and Timisoara needed help to establish Western norms in all of Romania, as Dr. Adrian Nastase stated: “The Balkans zone needs not only financial support, but also an outspoken desire from the part of the developed states to offer the former room for integration in their community…Establishment of democracy in the former communist countries needs an economic support and a political one as well.”   After the creation of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, the Western desire to support democracy and integration was affirmed.  Enforcing the Dayton Agreement and peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in 1995, NATO became the primary Western means of implementing cosmopolitan intervention.  Cosmopolitans, as Mary Kaldor describes in New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era, are buttressed by Western armed forces.  The perceived NATO commitment to Romania’s and the Balkan’s efforts to establish Western norms led to the election of new democratic leadership under President Emil Constantinescu in 1996.

The successful NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina had emboldened NATO’s leadership to redefine the Alliance’s mission and attempt to provide a “carpet of stability” in Europe through enlargement.  This carpet, intended to support those cosmopolitans who led their nations to freedom in 1989 and faced growing domestic intolerance, soon developed holes.  Referring to the enlargement of NATO in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, Charles Gati explains that “the post-communist success stories that most people expected to write themselves after 1989 have turned into tales with rather mixed plot lines.”  As NATO stumbled, so did the establishment of Western norms in Romania. Constantinescu’s corrupt and divisive government was not that different from the previous one.   By 1998, during NATO’s war in Kosovo, Western norms were openly challenged in Romania.  Once again, the dangers to democracy began to reveal themselves in Romania.

The introduction of the Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the Washington NATO Summit in 1999 provided guidelines for NATO membership and strengthened Western norms in Romania. NATO membership was the main plank of Adrian Nastase’s election bid in 2000.  With the new elections and with MAP as a guide, Prime Minister Nastase instituted the National Action Plan for NATO. Aside from military issues, this plan led to more progress in the reform of laws, regional cooperation, disarmament, protection of the national minorities and human rights, a 25 percent quota of women in Parliament and public service, combating organized crime and international terrorism, and fighting and eradicating corruption.  Although NATO and EU memberships were obvious benchmarks for the Action Plan, the real goals were to reinforce Western norms in Romania – in effect, to change Romanian society.

NATO enlargement as a defender of cosmopolitan values became internalized, changing domestic politics.  As NATO enlargement became more dynamic, so did the entrenchment of democracy in Romania. As enlargement waned, so did freedom in Romania.  NATO became the force maintaining and expanding political stability from the Atlantic to Urals.  NATO membership became more than a destination; it was the only tool the leaders could use to instill Western norms in their country. Their real goals, like those of the early Western European cosmopolitan leaders, were to create and reinforce Western norms in Europe, in effect, to make their countries “normal.” Fifteen years ago in 2004, Romania joined NATO  after the Prague Summit in November 2002.  NATO enlargement converted a totalitarian Romania into a free democracy and made Romania a better place.  Better, however, does not mean perfect or even just.

NATO could use lessons learned to expand peace and stability to other regions beyond Europe, though as the example of states that emerged from totalitarianism show—Romania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Georgia—the process will be painful.  Paul Wolfowitz stated, “If you think where Romania started from at the end of the Ceausescu era, it has come a terrifically long way.  If you think about some of the problems that remain, then obviously the transition still has some work to do. What I think is impressive is, considering how embedded old totalitarian system was here, Romanians are an inspiring example to people in Iraq and elsewhere in the world in what you can achieve with freedom.”  Under continued Western engagement, Iraq and other countries could be like Romania and most of Eastern Europe today, an imperfect but progressing democracy.

In a paradigm shift, Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg and Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gottemoeller placed women’s empowerment at the center of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda by recognizing the impact conflict has on women and girls:  “Empowering women is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do:  it makes countries safer and more stable. NATO is determined to make a difference, including through our training and operations – for example, by deploying gender advisers to local communities in Afghanistan.  We also aim to raise the profile of women at all levels within the Alliance. We still need to do more, but for NATO, peace and security are not just a man’s world.” In January 2018, to support full and equal participation of women at all levels of conflict prevention to post-war reconstruction, and protection of women and girls from sexual violence in conflict, Mr. Stoltenberg appointed a NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative.   Clare Hutchinson is the high-level focal point for the NATO Women, Peace and Security Agenda.  As a provider of peace and security assistance and capacity building, NATO is reforming itself into a human-centric organization by empowering women as agents of change, implementing innovative programs in collective defense, crisis management, and security cooperation to contribute to a modern, ready and responsive NATO in a changing world. Gender becomes the driving force and advances NATO’s cooperation with other international organizations such as the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations (UN) and grass-roots civil society.  Moreover, the newly created NATO’s Civil Society Advisory Panel provides a safe space for all women to engage with NATO on security cooperation and defense. Addressing women’s empowerment from all dimensions, including equal participation of women at all levels of conflict prevention, post-war reconstruction of governments and implementation of the 25 percent quota of women in Parliament and public service will lead to more changes from the inside.  More women in leadership will expand peace and stability beyond Romania and Europe in a rapidly globalized world.


Roxana Allen is the Deputy Vice President at IIA NOVA, SAIS Johns Hopkins Alumna and a WIIS member. Ms. Allen was a Personal Adviser to the Prime Minister of Romania during Romania’s accession to NATO and the Head of Field Office Trebinje with OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina during NATO’s intervention in Kosovo.