Appointing a new army chief of staff last month, Romanian President Traian Basescu pledged to keep the military far from politics. “Not for a single moment will I tolerate any political involvement by the army,” he said during the ceremony to invest Rear Admiral Gheorghe Marin as the new chief of staff.
With disagreements among ruling coalition members spilling over into the defence institutions, the leadership of Romania’s military has become sharply divided.
Marin’s predecessor, General Eugen Badalan, had been engaged in a bitter political quarrel with Defence Minister Teodor Atanasiu, of the Liberal Party, leading the president to warn of “a rift between the ministry and the army”.
Badalan had resisted Atanasiu’s calls for a pullout from Iraq, while Atanasiu demanded the army chief be sacked because he was under investigation in connection with an army supply contract. The defence minister himself, meanwhile, was being investigated for alleged meddling in politics by military intelligence.
In September, the president suspended Atanasiu and forced Badalan’s retirement. However, he praised Badalan for standing by him in opposition to the Liberal Party’s unexpected call for an Iraq withdrawal. Certain politicians were under the impression that “party resolutions can be transferred for execution to the army,” Basescu said.
Although prosecutors eventually decided not to file any charges against Atanasiu, Basescu refuses to revoke the suspension order. The minister is now seeking justice in courts, saying he was being punished because of his views on Iraq and because he disturbed “the web of interests surrounding the defence ministry”.
The Social Democratic opposition, meanwhile, has called for the appointment of a new defence minister “able to restore bridges between military and civil leadership”, as former Defence Committee chairman George Maior put it.
“After the unfortunate decision for troop withdrawal taken at the headquarters of a political party, the new minister should be able to integrate himself into a normal decision-making process concerning the national security policy,” Maior told SETimes shortly before Basescu tapped him to chair the Romanian Intelligence Service.
Iulian Fota, the director of the National Defence College, says there is no crisis within the army. “The plans of army modernisation are a long term, very rigid, part of our NATO commitments. They are not vulnerable to political or to military command changes. Of course, the Romanian Army would like politicians to acknowledge its major contribution to NATO accession.”
With more than 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, “it is crucial to have a harmonised civil-military team leading the defence ministry”, Fota says. “A faltering, superficial political leadership could affect the performance of the military.”