A statement highlighting U.S. support for the Three Seas Initiative united a bipartisan group of senators, including Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio and Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democrats Chris Coons of Delaware, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.
In their written statement in June, the five senators underscored:
The Three Seas Initiative illustrates the importance of investing in critical regional cooperation to diversify energy sources, making Europe stronger, better connected and more resilient. … And we support the initiative undertaken by members of the Three Seas Initiative to work together in identifying and responding to their shared challenges.
In recent years, various regional cooperation initiatives throughout emerging Central and Eastern Europe have been explored, formed, and pursued. The Three Seas Initiative is the most notable, practical case and should be further prioritized and brought to fulfillment.
Indeed, the task of making the Three Seas Initiative more practically operational has gained greater urgency and necessity.
The Three Seas Initiative held its inaugural summit in 2016 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and since then annual summit and business forums have taken place across member states.
The initiative was launched to promote connectivity among the nations in the regions of the Black, Adriatic, and Baltic seas, supporting infrastructure, energy, and digital projects. Its significance include geopolitical, economic, and energy security aspects.
The 12 countries of the initiative are Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Slovakia.
As a part of a Soviet legacy, east-west infrastructure remains more developed and advanced than north-south linkages. This gap in infrastructure development has been a growing issue for the Three Seas Initiative states as well as the whole of Europe, particularly for the European Union’s ongoing but rather sluggish quest for energy independence.
The dominance of east-west pipelines and limited alternatives to those pipelines have been the core factor concerning the regions’ continued dependence on Russia for energy.
From a greater foreign policy perspective, the Three Seas Initiative can and should offer the U.S. and Europe an alternative engagement model to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative in Central Europe and Beijing’s dwindling 17+1 cooperative development framework. The Three Seas Initiative potentially could strengthen dual-use infrastructure for the forward collective defense of NATO.
In that setting, the goal of the Three Seas Initiative has been to implement tangible and pragmatic joint development projects that would operate on commercial terms and address the region’s chronic connectivity shortcomings through enhanced cooperation.
This year’s Three Seas Initiative Summit and Business Forum, held in Riga, Latvia, was the first such gathering since Russia’s latest unprovoked and unjustified military aggression against Ukraine, which began Feb. 24.
The Riga meetings were to evaluate progress and plan more concrete future steps. Participating political leaders, policymakers, and business representatives discussed the challenges and prospects of ongoing projects in the energy, transport, and digitalization sectors, among other things.
Reemphasizing the elevated importance of more effective cooperation in implementing strategic projects, particularly in current geopolitical contexts, the meetings focused on the multiplying role of the Three Seas Initiative as part of the wider European and global efforts of democratic countries to drive market- and values-based investments into connectivity in the emerging region of Central and Eastern Europe.
The combination of crosscutting political, economic, and security challenges in the region unfortunately keeps the overall progress of the Three Seas Initiative far more gradual than what many have hoped for. The diverging priorities of the Three Seas Initiative countries, the growing uncertainty driven by evolving economic challenges, and Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine are some of the key factors that force the initiative to be less game-changing.
Nonetheless, the Three Seas Initiative should be guided and developed into a practical platform for private sector investors to begin and pursue infrastructure development projects. The initiative’s success ultimately hinges on building private-public partnerships driven by concrete business interaction.
America should become a more proactive anchor investor in the Three Seas Initiative. Economic tools—both sanctions and incentives—are critically important in American statecraft. And such tools deserve a rethink to increase their efficiency.
Ultimately, the Three Seas Initiative could and should develop into a viable transatlantic alliance, but only with continued commitment from Washington, Brussels, and the capitals of the member nations.
The hard reality is that while the Three Seas Initiative remains alive and well, few have expectations that it will realize its full potential in the very near term. Yet that is precisely why now is the time to notch up the focus on and the commitment.
As noted by New Direction, a European think tank founded in 2009 by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as the intellectual hub of European conservativism: “The Three Seas Initiative now represents a golden opportunity to boost the economies of the region and defend the interests of its members on the world stage.”
Indeed, the coming months will be the crucial period that will reveal whether the Three Seas Initiative remains just a diplomatic agenda or can progress into a serious, practical, and collaborative project of the transatlantic partnership.
America will help itself and allies more practically if it acts on elevating mutually beneficial strategic partnerships such as the Three Seas Initiative to a greater operational level.
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