In the recent virtual Munich Security Conference, President Biden spoke of the many challenges facing the trans-Atlantic alliance, stating that the alliance itself is standing “at an inflection point.”
Indeed, the West faces the reality of: an aggressive, opportunistic, and often reckless Russia; a 24/7, 360-degree competition with an emboldened China, and headwinds from the economic and societal carnage wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eastern Europe is a region where all three of these challenges converge. Thankfully, the U.S. has in the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) an installed framework for reinforcing the region, strengthening trans-Atlantic economic and political ties, and pushing back against its great-power competitors.
Since 2016, 3SI has worked to strengthen trade and political cooperation among countries bordering the Adriatic, Baltic or Black seas via market-driven investments in the key pillars of digital infrastructure, energy and transportation.
The region faces an overall infrastructure gap—especially when it comes to north-south transportation and energy links—that will take nearly $600 billion to close. Today, much of Europe’s economic dynamism is centered in the countries forming the 3SI. Ameliorating these gaps will unlock an economic and political windfall for Europe and the United States.
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The economic shocks of the pandemic have sparked many nations to rethink the reliability of the supply chains that support critical sectors of their economies. Those reassessments have underscored the wisdom of allies investing in each other. They have also reawakened memories of Chinese firms acquiring European companies for rock-bottom prices following the financial crisis more than a decade ago.
While European businesses and governments are now aware of the security implications that Chinese acquisitions raise, national investment screening mechanisms in Europe remain largely inadequate to the important task before them.
At its core, the 3SI allows the U.S. to strengthen trans-Atlantic business, energy, and geopolitical ties to Central and Eastern Europe, while counterbalancing Chinese and Russian efforts to make inroads in the region.
Today, the 3SI nations are dangerously dependent on Russian energy. In addition to the threat of energy blackmail, they remain vulnerable to other threats from Moscow, including cyberattacks, influence operations and propaganda. The 3SI will help these nations to resist Russian pressure, while also developing greater interconnections between the nations themselves.
Projects completed under the auspices of the 3SI may have the added benefit of supporting enhanced military mobility for North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops and U.S. troops.
In addition, while overall Chinese investment in the region is still relatively minor, China remains ambitious, looking to make long-term investments, especially in critical sectors, to garner economic, diplomatic, and political influence.
Recently, China’s nearly decade-old 17+1 initiative with countries in Eastern and Central Europe has lost steam. Two weeks ago, six European nations downgraded their participation in China’s 17+1 virtual summit from heads of state/government—a signal that left Beijing annoyed and embarrassed.
For the Biden administration, this is an opportunity to go all in on an initiative which serves U.S. national interests and which continues to build momentum.
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The initiative is also a policy that attracts bipartisan support. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle signed on to a recent letter urging Mr. Biden to fulfill the Trump administration’s pledged financial commitment to 3SI, which was invaluable in launching the nascent initiative.
A year ago, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. would invest up to $1 billion in the Three Seas Investment fund to finance energy projects via the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation. An initial U.S. investment of $300 million was unveiled at the 3SI Summit in October.
A smart, strategic initiative, 3SI has the potential to maintain consistent bipartisan support across U.S. administrations. It also could pay dividends for decades to come and will help ensure the continued vitality of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times