This story originated in VOA’s Serbian service.
WASHINGTON — Despite its “America First” policies and general drift toward disengagement from foreign commitments, the Trump administration appears to have found an international enterprise it likes.
Known as the Three Seas Initiative, the four-year-old effort aims to enhance energy and digital connectivity among a dozen Eastern European countries clustered among the Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas.
For the participants, who are just now beginning to put economic meat on the diplomatic bones of the concept, the goal is to boost everyone’s economic growth by making key resources more readily available.
For the Trump administration, the initiative offers an opportunity to help friendly nations reduce their dependence on Chinese and especially Russian money, natural gas and other resources.
The Washington-based Atlantic Council has been a major booster of the program. Its executive chairman emeritus, retired Gen. James L. Jones Jr., said the project represents an ideal point of collaboration for the U.S., EU and NATO.
“The future of NATO is not just a military future, it is about economic strength. It is about governance and rule of law,” Jones, a former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said in recent testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“This is a plan that will significantly allow Central and Eastern Europe to gain parity with Russia and Europe over time, economically,” he said in an interview with VOA’s Serbian service. “Coupled with NATO, you have security, economic development, hopefully good government and the rule of law. Those three things working together will catapult Central and Eastern Europe into a new position of total strength beyond what they currently have.”
At a 2017 meeting of the Three Seas Initiative in Warsaw, President Donald Trump said the U.S. would sign on to a gas supply deal “in 15 minutes” if it meant the initiative’s 12 member states — Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia — would no longer be “held hostage” to a single supplier.
Initially, the project drew some skepticism from Western European neighbors concerned that substantial U.S. involvement could undermine EU standing in the region.
At last year’s Three Seas Summit in Bucharest, however, the EU committed $28 billion for infrastructure projects in Central and Eastern Europe.
According to Bloomberg News, Warsaw-based Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego, Poland’s state development bank, has narrowed its lists of potential asset managers to allocate the Warsaw bank’s nearly $6 billion fund.
One proposed component of the Three Seas Initiative, a north-south pipeline that links to a planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant off Croatia’s Adriatic coast, is of particular interest to Poland and Croatia, the initiative’s two founding member states.
Polish President Andrzej Duda has long called for stopping the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which, if developed, would expand the volume of gas currently transported from Russia to Germany along the floor of the Baltic Sea. The Nord Stream infrastructure, opened in 2011, was the first east-west pipeline to bypass land-based lines that run through Ukraine.
Trump has slammed the $11 billion, nearly 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) pipeline expansion linking Russia and Germany, arguing that would give Moscow greater geopolitical leverage over Europe at a time of heightened international tensions, an opinion in keeping with that of his immediate predecessors, former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who opposed Nord Stream 1.
Last month, U.S. officials warned at an energy conference in Brussels that the Trump administration would take punitive action against European companies building Nord Stream 2.
Poland and Lithuania, who are among Nord Stream 2’s most vociferous European critics, have built LNG terminals that would stand to profit from an American-backed takeover of Europe's LNG market.
Former Soviet satellite nations such as Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia have long warned that a growing reliance on Russian energy not only compromises European security but also rewards Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the first forcible seizure of territory in Europe since World War II.
In a Wednesday speech before Congress, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg extolled NATO’s role as a guarantor of post-World War II-era peace, concluding his address by emphasizing how the U.S. is politically, militarily and economically tied to its NATO allies.
“Our alliance has not lasted for 70 years out of a sense of nostalgia or of sentiment,” Stoltenberg said. “NATO lasts because it is in the national interest of each and every one of our countries. Together, we represent almost 1 billion people. We are half of the world’s economic might, and half of the world’s military might. When we stand together, we are stronger than any potential challenger — economically, politically and militarily.”
Stoltenberg received multiple standing ovations during his address from both Republicans and Democrats.