Keynote address

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at event celebrating 25 years of the Romania-US strategic partnership, co-hosted by the Meridian International Center and the Romanian Embassy in Washington, D.C

  • 11 May. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 11 May. 2022 16:20

(As delivered)

NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană: Ambassador Holliday, thank you so much for hosting us, it’s a privilege to be back after many years at Meridian. Congratulations for the Légion d’Honneur, you wear this with pride and I think you fully deserve that. I’d like to thank Ambassador Muraru and his team in the embassy – the embassy that I care about so much and for me, Mihaela and our kids, Ana, our daughter, she’s here, she was six months when we arrived, now she’s a little bit grown up and also to Garret, her fiancé. I’m so, so happy to see both of you, my dear kids, I love you so much. 

I would like to thank also the Romanians in D.C. and Bogdan Bano who’s taking the relay of leading the Romanian-American community in this area. And the Romanian-American community is also significantly important into these unique ties between Romania and the United States and I cherish what you do. I’d also like to thank the Friends of Romania Foundation, [inaudible], Garett, and also the Aspen Institute that I founded, which is here because we are launching a Romanian Worldwide Innovators’ Network, trying to bring the best and the brightest of Romanians living in Romania, but the ones, so many, living overseas, over here. I think also see some new judges on the Constitutional Court of Romania here, Julia, welcome. And I’d also like to thank, of course, the Meridian again. 

Let me tell you a few things that are less scripted. I also remember… I was today running from one meeting to the other like I used to do when I was much younger, going on The Hill, meeting think tanks, meeting the administration, going back on The Hill, meeting the administration. And Steve Flanagan I think remembers that kind of frantic work, and Paula remembers that, and Ambassador Grossman remembers that. And Al Moses, who’ll be with us on video remembers all that. 

What I’m just trying to say, that a partnership with a superpower, with a global superpower like America is asymmetric by definition. All nations in the world are in competition to get the attention of the leader of NATO and the leader of the Free World. And this is not an easy job, because almost every country they send the best and the brightest and Andrei is representing the young, bright generation of Romanian leaders. But it’s not easy. And in those days, Romania was basically almost nowhere. When I arrived, Romania didn’t have the most favourite status nation. Okay, Romania, North Korea and a few others. Try to fix that. And in the first round of enlargement, of course, Romania, after a massive campaign and lobbying from all of us. My wife, Mihaela remembers, I think she still recite, like an Eminescu poem, our pitch to everyone we met here in Washington, just to get Romania into NATO. It was not easy at all. 

And I’m also saying to the young generation of Romanians – and Americans – that this should not be taken for granted. Now, we’ve seen a spectacular level, it’s mature, it’s 25 years later. And this was a bipartisan situation. It was President Clinton and Al Moses when we started it. It was President G.W. Bush when we entered NATO – and Paula remembers those days. Oh, everyone, everyone here is part of that journey. 

The second observation I would like to make that, and, in a way, I remember the day when we invented the strategic partnership. I think Mark remembers from the State Department. Ron Asmus, a dear friend of ours and probably one of the most superb intellects in strategic thinking that we had in that generation. And then Dan Fried, Ambassador Dan Fried, he was at the White House. And he calls on me and says, ‘Ambassador, would you like to come over?’ And I said, ‘Gosh, he will tell me that we are not joining the first round of NATO enlargement.’ I was, like, a little bit nervous. And Dan still remembers the fact that I… he was a little bit, said, ‘Listen, have you heard about defenestration? This is something that we…’.

What I’m trying to say is that despite the huge disappointment that we had for not being invited in the first round, we persevered. We persevered. And we believe that this is the way for Romania. We believe that our partnership with America is the most precious foreign policy and national security priority for my country. And then, with the help of Al Moses, with the help of Ron Ausmus and Strobe Talbott, in the small closet he had at the office of Strobe’s, in the State Department, after jogging, after jogging with everything there, we went there and said, ‘What the hell do we do after Madrid without Romania, Romania not being invited?’. I said, ‘We have to think of something because my people expect something from the US.’ And I said, ‘What about a visit of President Clinton to Romania? And Strobe said, ‘You must be kidding me. These guys will throw tomatoes at us, just… they’re so disappointed that they didn’t get into NATO.’ I said, ‘Strobe, I think you really don’t understand. The affinity of Romanians towards Americans, the mythology in the brains of our ancestors about America finally arriving to Romania.’ 

And we managed to do that visit. We managed to imagine the strategic partnership. It was, at the beginning, Andrei, I don’t say a consolation prize, but it was something, a political gesture. And it was up to Romanians and Americans, generation after generation, to build it up and transform to the beautiful partnership that we have today. And I would say that today, America and Romania, basically, we are Allies in NATO, of course. But I think we are building now and we should be building now a de facto, deep, intimate alliance in everything which takes our societies together in the future. I think that’s the ambition for the next level. 

So we do the visit to Bucharest. Mihai Carp from my team, from working in NATO, he was the Romanian voice when President Clinton had his famous speech in University Square in Bucharest. Piața Universității, the place where the Romanian revolution started, when young Romanians died for freedom, when, basically, the destiny of my country changed. And I know it changed forever. And Mihai, I think he was also working on the speech of President Clinton, because he’s Romanian American, and he was basically translating to more than 100,000 Romanians in the University Square to probably one of the most successful rallies that President Clinton ever had. And I quote from President Clinton on that 11 July 1997 in Bucharest, in front of hundreds of thousands of Romanians and millions of Romanians on TV screens saying, “Like the marathon race, the marathon of freedom is not a sprint. It takes steady and persistent commitment to stay”. 

This is the second message I would like to convey to you. In life, in foreign policy, in everything we do, once you decide you go in one direction, you have to be committed to staying the course. And Romania joining NATO and then the European Union, we committed to freedom, to democracy, to rule of law, to fighting corruption, to transforming the Romanian society and Romanian economy into something that will be closer to what we see in Western Europe and in America. And to say that this is a commitment that needs to continue. And I know that younger generations of Romanians and Americans will continue to build and build on that. 

There is also something I would like to say about the exceptionally important moments we are living now. And by the way, I’m so proud that Vice President Harris was in Romania, that the First Lady, Jill Biden, was in Romania. I hope that other high-level officials will visit my country. I know that many Romanian officials and others will be visiting. But this moment of the war that Russia waged against innocent Ukraine is one of those moments in history. It’s a moment when everyone, including, Steve, our young generations of Americans, of Canadians, of Germans, of French, of Romanians, of Poles or Lithuanians, name it. We are rediscovering through the atrocities that we see against the innocent people of Ukraine – and the heroism of the people of Ukraine – a re-galvanisation of our democracy. 

It was not to be unexpected that NATO will work in unity to react and support Ukraine. It would not be a surprise that G7 or European Union or US are working on sanctions. Mr Putin probably is still surprised at the level of unity that we have. But I believe that for us, other than the political unity of the West, that has never been before – and Dan Hamilton remembers these discussions we had over time, about resilience and society. I believe the most precious thing we have now is the fact that our citizenry is re-engaging and discovering the immense value of freedom, the immense value of democracy, the immense value of living in opened, decent societies. 

This is something we should harness. Because on high emotions, of course, people respond. I have to say, also, speaking of my countrymen and countrywomen in Romania, I’m so proud of my Romanians, how they responded to the humanitarian crisis of so many Ukrainians, I think one million Ukrainians crossed Romanian lands. And everyone, everyone was coming with a bottle of water, with a song and hospitality and support for these guys in so much trouble. 

And this is a moment that is defining for the way in which the world will look like. This is not about Ukraine and Russia. Of course, we have to make sure that Russia and Putin, they will fail strategically in Ukraine, that Ukraine will prevail in this just war that they are waging. But on the way in which we, as democracies across the Atlantic and across the world, will respond on the long-term to this crisis – because this is not going to go away easily, there will be attempts by Russia and others to use the discontent of our public opinions on many things, some of them domestic, others economic, others inflation. So we have to make sure that we keep this unity and this re-galvanisation of our democracies alive. I believe this is very important. 

One thing I would like to mention about Romania and the United States. I remember – and I’m happy that Andrei Muraru is also starting to work all over America. America is not only Washington, D.C. or New York or even L.A. In so many other places, it’s a lot of work, it’s a big country, it’s a complicated country. And Romania is not always on the radar, because it cannot be because there are so many other things that are happening into this. And I believe we have to continue to invest in this partnership. To give the embassy and the Friends of Romania the instruments and the resources to do that. To go more to the local level and make sure that we, also, we harness the fantastic intimacy of our veterans. 

I remember President Biden, he was Vice President and he was coming to Romania, and I’ll quote from his visit as a Vice President. And I remember talking to him and said, “Listen, if you ask an American Marine who he would like to have on his right hand side in Afghanistan or his left, you’d only have the answer: a Pole and Romanian”, or a Romanian and a Pole, it depends, left on right, that changed. And I think that sense of camaraderie, the sense of sacrifice, that sense of being in harm’s way, strategic partnerships and alliances are not only for good weather, my friends. They are especially important and tested in difficult times. I would say to the pride for my nation and for the pride of our Alliance and to the pride of our American allies that I know that we’ll be up to the challenge that we are now faced with. This is one of those moments in history. 

Romania’s modern history started after the first Crimean War in 1854-56. There was a battle in Mariupol for the Sea of Azov, with the English frigates defending the Russians in that part. We’ll never forget what President Wilson has done for the reunification of Romania. We’ll never forget what the American presidents, each and every single one of them, have done for our country. And I think this is one of the most precious things we have in Romania: national consensus about the need to continue to invest in our partnership and alliance with the United States of America. 

So I cannot see a much better way for me to continue my visit to Washington than being with my dear friends here at the Meridian, to see so many good friends from many, many horizons. To see so many organisations cooperating in doing this event together. And I’m just saying, in closing, that, as President Biden said in 2014 in Bucharest when he visited, “NATO nations never stand alone”. We protect one another. Romania has made a remarkable journey from tyranny to freedom, from captive nation to NATO Ally. It happened in the space of a generation. 

So. I think the message I have for the younger generation, I don’t believe we’ve done everything we could have done. But we tried our best. We failed. We never have given up. This is not an easy journey. But as long as we believe in our values, we believe in belonging together, we believe in freedom, we believe in the right of people to a decent, normal life, this Alliance will last forever. The partnership between Romania and America will last forever. As long as the more experienced generations are giving the relay to the younger ones and the younger ones to the even younger ones, and continue to reinvest in what brings us together. 

Our values are more important than our security interest. Our values are more important even than economic interest. Our values is the most precious asset of this partnership. These values are the most precious asset of our Alliance. And I know that in competition with despots or dictators, or people that believe that authoritarian regimes are more efficient than my democratic world will not prevail. This is the message from a great friend of America. I’m also giving my daughter to an American, so what other testament to my friendship to this country. Garrett, you take care of Ana. And I want to thank you again for coming here and being such loyal friends of the strategic partnership between our two nations and for the fantastic transatlantic community of values that we have and share together. Thank you so much.