With Friends Like These:
by Larry L. Watts
Reviewed by Colonel Charles W. Van Bebber, Ph.D.,
Director of National Security Policy and Strategy,
US Army War College
During the Cold War, American diplomats, intelligence specialists, and scholars viewed Romania under the leadership of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu as something of a paradox. On one hand, it was a harsh, Stalinist regime that clearly fell within the Soviet orbit. On the other hand, it behaved internationally as a maverick state that often defied the foreign policy positions of Moscow and even withdrew from the Warsaw Pact command structure after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Conventional wisdom asserted that such defiance could be tolerated by Moscow because Ceausescu’s firm Stalinist control over the country gave the Soviets no expectation that Romania would deviate from communism. With the defection in 1978 of Romanian intelligence chief Ion Mihai Pacepa, the idea that Romania’s autonomous foreign and security policy was actually a Moscow-orchestrated conspiracy to deceive the West (known as Red Horizon) became widely circulated and accepted by many. In fact, the idea that Bucharest was not a Warsaw Pact maverick but rather a “Trojan Horse” would become a contentious issue within the US policy community in the 1980s. In 1987, former US ambassador to Romania David Funderburk asserted in his book Pinstripes and Reds that the US Department of State had been deceived into giving Romania Most-Favored-Nation status and that US diplomats had been hoodwinked by Ceausescu to believe the false pretense of Romania’s independence from Moscow.
In With Friends Like These, historian Larry L. Watts provides the historical “coda” to the question of Romania’s geostrategic orientation during the communist era. Using evidence gleaned from recently opened intelligence and defense archives of the Warsaw Pact, Watts examines Romania’s strategic behavior during the Cold War and explains why this country earned a reputation from scholars and diplomats of the era as a so-called “maverick” and why some believed Romania’s seemingly autonomous behavior was really a sham. By tracing Romania’s relationships with Moscow and its Warsaw Pact satellites through the dimensions of intelligence and defense relationships, Watts confirms that Romania was at the very least a reluctant if not defiant member of the Warsaw Pact. Watts demonstrates that Romania never enthusiastically embraced its inclusion in the Soviet bloc and that its relationships with its nominal allies deteriorated from the early 1950s onward. Watts documents the clandestine disinformation campaign (beginning in the 1950s and heightening after the events of 1968) orchestrated by Moscow to discredit and isolate Bucharest. The archival evidence Watts reveals indicates that this premeditated effort to discredit Romania met with a large degree of success and Ceausescu’s Romania would consequently become increasingly isolated both from the West as well as from its fellow Soviet bloc “friends.”
This work is more than just an exposé of Cold War intelligence secrets. The author has written a geopolitical history of Romania and not, as the title implies, simply an examination of Romania’s experience as a member of the Warsaw Pact. This lengthy first volume specifically spans a period from the early 19th century to 1978 and highlights the turbulent relationship Bucharest experienced with its allies—particularly its problematic historical relationships with Moscow and Budapest. The author takes the reader through this history in five of the first six chapters which are best skipped if the reader’s focus is on the Cold War. Although the background provides an insightful context for Romania’s subsequent defiance of Moscow, this book’s real merit lies not in the breadth of the author’s treatment of Romania’s struggle for national autonomy from the region’s great powers and irredentist neighbors, but in its particular focus on Romania’s status within the Eastern bloc of communist states after World War II. It is Watts’s detailed narrative of Romania’s experience as a member of the Warsaw Pact that captures the reader’s attention and justifies the title.
The author is well qualified to examine the topic of Romanian strategic culture and history. He has authored a biography of Romania’s controversial Second World War leader Marshal Ion Antonescu, and has written extensivel on contemporary Romanian military and intelligence affairs. He also served intermittently as an advisor to the Romanian government on defense and intelligence issues. Most notably, he was an advisor to General Ioan Talpeş, a former director of the Romanian foreign intelligence services and national security advisor to President Ion Iliescu, who penned the foreword to this work.
With Friends Like These represents a monumental effort by Watts to come to terms with Romania’s Warsaw Past legacy. Although it is poorly edited and somewhat lengthy—at times it becomes mired in the details of covert activity—it is nonetheless a worthwhile read for those who wish to understand contemporary Romania. In particular, Watts’s understanding of Romanian strategic culture and his access to communist-era archives combine to make this volume a must read for those interested in Cold War history and the Warsaw Pact.
Versiunea in limba romana: “Fereste-ma, Doamne, de prieteni“