U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has called on America's European allies to step-up their defense efforts in the face of security threats from outside Europe. Biden made the comments in Bucharest, Romania on Thursday, before ending his Central and Eastern European tour in the Czech Republic.
Biden spoke to political leaders and students at Bucharest's Central University Library, after receiving assurances from Romanian President Traian Basescu that Romania supports plans by the Obama administration to revise missile defense plans for Europe amid new concerns over the continent's security.
The system will replace the one proposed by former President George W. Bush. The Bush plan, which Russia strongly opposed, would have placed 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic to intercept long-range missiles from such states as Iran.
Although the revised plan involves anti-ballistic missiles installed at a former air base in Poland, defense experts say Moscow perceives the new project as less threatening to its security.
Biden said the defense system comes as Europe faces a serious threat. "Today, a new major threat is growing that could reach all our European allies well before it reaches the United States. It comes from ballistic missiles -- short-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The technology has spread to many new countries and less stable countries since the end of the Cold War," he said.
Biden stressed that the new missile defense system would provide more security for the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. "We are determined to ensure that our NATO allies have the protection they need, when they need it because that is our solemn obligation under Article 5. Our missile defense plan means greater security for Europe and greater security for America," he said.
His one-day visit to Bucharest was part of a trip through Eastern Europe intended to reassure Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic that America's commitment to the region remains strong.
The three countries are viewed as close U.S. allies. Romania hosts a small American base and training facilities.
Biden also expressed concerns about energy. He said the United States wanted to work with Europe on a new strategy that would provide energy security for the future. "One lesson we need to work together toward is a more secure energy future. We need sustainable energy security that includes diversification of supplies and transit routes," he said.
Energy has become a major concern in several Western countries, after a dispute between Ukraine and Russia over prices led to major natural gas shortages in Europe earlier this year.
Biden's trip to Eastern Europe comes as the region commemorates the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism.
The vice president said that the world watched in awe and admiration in 1989 as the men and women across the region broke the shackles of repression and emerged as free people.