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reflections

Feb 5, 2010 | 11:07 GMT

5 mins read

U.S. Tightens European Alliances and Internet Security

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT TRAIAN BASESCU announced Thursday that Romania intends to be part of the revamped U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) system. Romania plans to — pending parliamentary approval — host U.S. interceptors by 2015. While the fact that Romania will specifically host interceptors on its soil is news, its actual participation in the revamped BMD is not. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden made a widely publicized trip to Poland, Czech Republic and Romania in October 2009 and talked to all three countries about revamped U.S. plans for the new BMD system in Europe. Romania is already a key ally of the United States, and the home of four U.S. lily pad bases that house pre-positioned equipment that can be used in times of crisis. Participating in the revamped BMD system will only reaffirm that alliance, giving Romania an explicit security shield that will expand the scope of Romania's political maneuvering in the region. Since the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Romania has by default become the most powerful Balkan country, and it has the military and security apparatus — relative to its neighbors — to prove it. Romanian geography — dominated by the crescent-shaped Carpathian Mountains — is such that it only has one route for power projection: the so-called Bessarabian Gap between the Carpathians and the Black Sea, which forms the key southern transportation corridor between Russia and Europe. For countries around the world, the possible NSA-Google partnership will be seen as both a blessing and a concern. Today, Moldova — the site of direct clashes between Bucharest and Moscow's interests — sits astride this route. Basescu has actively supported Moldova's current pro-Western government and Moscow has accused Bucharest of directly orchestrating and participating in the April 2009 protests that ousted the Communist Party from power and forced the pro-Russian former president Vladimir Voronin to ultimately resign as interim president. But Bucharest's meddling in tiny Moldova may not be enough to satisfy Washington's appetite. The real prize is Ukraine, which on Sunday — when the second round of presidential elections takes place — makes its formal return back into Moscow's sphere of influence since both remaining candidates are friendly with Russia. With Russian influence strengthening in Ukraine, the question now becomes whether Romania will partner with the West's efforts to undermine rising Russian power in Kiev. Biden suggested as much in his visit to Bucharest in October when he specifically said that the United States expects Romania's history of pro-Western revolution to be a template for bringing Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine back into the Western sphere. The close U.S. military and political alliance illustrated by today's announcement — as well as examples from Romanian history of how to conduct regime change — make Romania the perfect candidate in a renewed effort to stump Russia's influence in Central Europe. As the United States strengthened its alliances in Europe on Thursday, in a completely separate move, it also strengthened its involvement with Internet security — which will almost certainly have implications for U.S.-China relations. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) — the U.S. intelligence agency specializing in cryptology — plans to partner with U.S. Internet company Google. The deal is still in the works, but the report — the first official and publicly acknowledged cooperation between the two entities — comes in the wake of what appears to have been a major breach of Google's security, with hacking attempts that were apparently able to deeply penetrate Google's defenses. Google believes the attacks emanated from China. The NSA-Google partnership is a natural one. Google is the world's largest search engine and the largest information aggregate. Conversely, the NSA is the world's largest electronic data analysis organization. Together they boast an enormous capacity to monitor and influence the Internet. In the face of cyber threats, Google stands to benefit a great deal from the NSA's capacity to process information. The NSA can help Google analyze enormous amounts of data to diagnose security breaches and head off future assaults. The partnership is equally important for the United States. Cyberspace joins with sea and space in what has now been collectively termed the "global commons." But cyberspace presents new challenges for ensuring the same sort of freedom of action the United States has come to enjoy on the high seas. In a world where information technology drives business and facilitates trade, a stable, functional and reliable cyberspace is a critical national security issue. For countries around the world, this possible partnership will be seen as both a blessing and a concern. The United States has the most technological and financial resources to dedicate to the stability of Internet communication. And the Internet is as critical to most countries — particularly developed countries — as it is for the United States. The converse, of course, is that countries such as China will worry about the security implications of such a powerful partnership between Google and the U.S. intelligence community. And while many have decried the possibility that the NSA would gain unprecedented access to information on domestic users, the NSA is specifically designed to target international data — making this agreement much more important for foreign governments than for domestic actors.

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