Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec at the NATO-EU Resilience, Military Capability Enhancement and Cooperation for the Development of Black Sea Security

As prepared for delivery

November 14, 2023

Palace of National Military Circle
Bucharest, Romania

Defense Minister Tilvar,

Your Excellencies

Distinguished guests,

Good morning.

Thank you to Minister Tilvar for this invitation, and congratulations on the 164th anniversary of the Romanian Defense Staff.   It is a pleasure and an honor to join you here today to discuss key issues of our shared security.

As recently highlighted by President Biden, we stand at a critical juncture in history. The era of the Cold War has long passed, and with it, the proclamations of an ‘end of history,’ where the assured ascendancy of liberal democracy was once presumed.

We find ourselves at a defining moment, where the challenges we face are not just more complex but often global in nature.  The include challenges to the international order posed by Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Hamas’ attack on Israel and a resurgent, more aggressive China.   We also must contend with the impacts of climate change, pandemics, and a rapid technological evolution that is transforming communication and global competition.

Romanians recognize the gravity of the current moment as they find themselves on the flank of Russia’s unprovoked and unlawful attack on Ukraine, the most significant conflict in Europe since World War II, and the most pressing challenge to today’s international order.

Though exact figures are hard to ascertain, recent media reports suggest that at least half a million people have been killed as a direct result of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russia’s abrupt and cynical withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative has destabilized grain markets and threatens global food security by denying much-needed food to the most vulnerable populations worldwide.

In short, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes clear that an attack on the international order anywhere affects peace and stability everywhere, including, as we will discuss today, in the Black Sea region.

While our most immediate concern revolves around the threat posed by Russia, the long-term challenge presented by China may prove even more daunting. China stands as the sole nation with both the ambition and the economic, military, and technological prowess able to reshape the global order.

The remarkable economic development of China over the past half-century is not in itself inherently problematic. However, the present leadership’s apparent intention to subvert the international laws, agreements, and institutions that have facilitated China’s economic ascent poses a critical challenge to all of us.

We are engaging with our allies and partners to insist that the PRC plays by the same rules as everyone else.  Together, we need to work to uphold —and even more importantly, to revitalize—the shared systems, values, norms, and core principles that have enabled peace and prosperity for decades.

Indeed, the importance and value of strategic unity has never been clearer than in this moment.   It’s crucial to prioritize investment in our alliances and partnerships, beginning with NATO.  Our strength is magnified when we unite and stand together, whatever the challenge.

Putin made a strategic miscalculation believing he could divide Europe and the West.   Instead, we stand more unified than ever with Finland’s recent accession to NATO and Sweden’s impending membership.

Romania’s solidarity with Ukraine amid challenging times demonstrates this country’s commitment to democratic values and acknowledges the interconnected nature of global challenges.  This support doesn’t just help Ukraine, but benefits Romania itself as well as the broader global community.

Indeed, the choices we make today will significantly shape the world we pass on to future generations. Collaboration and the strengthening of partnerships, including the U.S.-Romania alliance, will remain critical in surmounting the challenges that confront us all.

The longstanding relationship between the United States and Romania is one such example on an important and effective alliance. Our partnership has aimed to secure a safer world, foster economic prosperity, and safeguard democratic values.

Today, we are working together to help Ukraine defend itself and to improve security in the Black Sea region.  Just last month, Assistant Secretary of State Jim O’Brien testified before Congress regarding our Black Sea Strategy.   He identified five pillars of that strategy:

  • Increased U.S. political and diplomatic engagement in the region;
  • Strengthening regional security cooperation by supporting a strong NATO presence and defending freedom of navigation in the Black Sea;
  • Supporting enhanced regional economic cooperation to promote resilience and a level playing field for business;
  • Promoting energy security and clean energy; and
  • Fostering democratic resilience by combatting corruption and countering disinformation

Yesterday we witnessed allies and partners working together at the opening ceremony of the regional F-16 training center at the Romanian Air Force Base at Borcea – a collaboration of Romania and Dutch and Danish NATO Allies.  Soon Romanian and NATO pilots will help fill a critical gap in the training demand for F-16 training across the Alliance.

In fact, security and defense cooperation between the United States and Romania has never been more robust. Together, we’ve seen a substantial investment in modernizing Romania’s military infrastructure.  This cooperation is a crucial safeguard not just for Romania but for global stability.

It is important to note that the U.S.-Romanian partnership extends beyond defense to a dedication to shared democratic principles, economic prosperity and investment, and people-to-people ties – key elements of democratic resilience.

We are working with Romania to achieve all the steps necessary to include Romania in the Visa Waiver Program.  This will facilitate business travel and further connect our two nations.  To our Romanian guests, please get the word out that we need as many visa renewal applications as possible to help achieve this goal.

In the economic realm, I am pleased to say that the number of U.S. businesses in Romania has doubled over the last 15 years, highlighting a commitment to mutual prosperity. Since joining the EU, Romania’s GDP has tripled, and per capita income has grown from 44 percent to nearly 80 percent of the EU average.  Trade with the U.S. has meanwhile tripled, and is now at $5 billion.

This economic growth has made Romania more prosperous, more capable and more resilient, a stronger partner and an ally.   Romania has gone from a recipient to an exporter of peace and security, deploying with us and our NATO Allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, and providing critical security in the Western Balkans and worldwide.

Today, Romania stands prepared to defend its sovereign territory with the support of NATO allies and partners.  And our cooperation on every level – from security to trade to cultural exchanges – has never been stronger.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak today.  I look forward to expanding and deepening our partnership in the years to come.