• Firstly, we have noted an increase in the intensity of communication on these issues in the public debate in Romania, which has made the activity of the Romanian Army, as well as NATO, more exposed to criticism. The Saber Guardian military exercise took place in the context of increased visibility of subjects associated with NATO and the Romanian Army (and Eastern Europe in general). Other visible issues during the same period have been the increase in military spending in Romania, a more active NATO presence in the region, and an intensification of hybrid operations in the region. Fortunately, Romania is a country where trust in the Army, NATO, and the US is at high and very high values. For this reason, the anti-Western propaganda against these institutions has not generated profound effects yet.


  • Both military exercises conducted this summer had a relatively positive and discrete coverage in the media – but they could have been better used to help strengthen trust in NATO and the transatlantic project where Romania is a part. There was a great improvement in the situation for the second exercise, through the involvement of the Romanian President, but the real potential was not fully fulfilled.


  • The anti-NATO negative narratives exist, they are noteworthy and diverse, even though their impact is still limited in Romania, a country with one of the most pro-Western attitudes in the region. In the case of the Saber Guardian exercise, the negative narratives regarding its development or opportunity didn’t gain significant visibility in media and social media, although there have been incidents which could have legitimized the launch of targeted negative campaigns. The negative mediatization was focused and isolated around a few subjects.


  • The negative narratives focused on the “occupation” risk, the Romanian Army’s “lack of efficiency” (as a result of several negatively-reflected accidents,), the costs generated by the cooperation with the US (buying expensive equipment – “The sinking of the Romanian TAB vehicle will be used as a pretext to buy military technique from the US at high prices”) and the risk generated by upsetting the Eastern Neighbor (Russia – a country perceived negatively, but not seen as a direct threat). We have spotted the isolated use, in online media, of the term “occupation” with reference to the presence of NATO troops. Additionally, there have been references to the uncertainty that NATO would act: “These same troops will not defend us in case of an armed conflict.”

There were two accidents (the sinking of a TAB – armored personnel carrier – in the Danube and the fall of a fragment of ammunition in the back garden of a civilian property) that generated negative news reports. Those situations generated critical observations regarding the capacity of the Romanian Army, but they have not significantly damaged the positive impression created by the exercise.


  • We’ve noticed an increase in the number of negative narratives, as well as a diversification and adaptation to the Romanian context. The Russian reaction to the events was reflected in the media (particularly after Noble Jump, the first important exercise; media also covered the announcement of a Russian military exercise, Zapad 17, as a response etc.) and certain narratives were designed to undermine the credibility of the Romanian Army as well as the legitimacy of NATO presence in our country. Since social media networks, particularly Facebook, have registered a significant increase in media consumption in Romania, these types of narratives deserve a constant monitoring. This has been documented by sociological studies by CPD/SNSPA (2016-2017) that show a category of public (particularly the youth) becoming more vulnerable to the narratives that underline the credibility of Western institutions in Romania.


  • Social media networks, and particularly Facebook, were the channels most used for promotion of messages regarding these events. The dynamic area of social networks is becoming more and more active in these domains – geopolitics, armed forces, foreign relations – and that could impact the distribution channels of propaganda in the future. It is on Facebook that the mentions of these issues reach the highest visibility (out of all types of online media sources), and Facebook is also the channel where it is easiest to create content.


  • The public who is active on social media networks is willing to promote pro-Army and pro-NATO messages, as long as that type of content originates from credible and impactful sources (in the current case – US military leaders and the Romanian President).

Romania’s President can play an important role in the public promotion of these actions – as witnessed, to some extent, during the Saber Guardian exercise, as he benefits from greater visibility than any other public actor involved (and he also has an increased credibility on Facebook in Romania). This is also true about the American leadership of the troops stationed in Romania.


  • The greatest amount of positive news came as a result of the factual promotion of the exercise, as a result of the involvement of Romania’s President (through events organized in the context of the exercise) and as an outcome of the American officials’ praises for the Romanian Army in the frame of the exercise – which increased the visibility of the theme. There have been moments when the troops participating in the exercise came in direct contact with the people – the military equipment exhibitions for example. Another interesting positive moment: the gun salutes occasioned by the celebration of 100 years since the Battle of Mărăști (one of the most important moments for Romania in the First World War).


  • The Romania media (although generally pro-Western and anti-Russian) does not distinguish between themes which are useful in the regional context and themes that generate an “easy” tabloid-style impact – therefore, the official proactive communication from the institutions responsible within the field (the Army, in particular, but also the Government and the Presidency) is decisive in this perspective.


  • As opposed to the first exercise (the Noble Jump), with Saber Guardian we noticed 3 important positive differences in the official communication, which improved the public perception regarding the NATO exercises, in spite of the fact that the number of negative stories increased: (1) Romania’s President assuming an active role in communication (through visits and public messages, which increased the visibility and the positive impact for the military exercises); (2) the military authorities avoiding to communicate about the potential traffic disturbances – which meant no negative mediatization associated with this element this time; (3) the official (internal) communication being accompanied by official external messages – American military leaders present in our country – which also helped increase visibility and a positive impact.


  • The intensity of Russian reactions to this type of exercises has started to increase – a situation that can be noticed in the official messages, where the tone towards Romania becomes harsher. We will continue to monitor these elements to see to what extent the anti-Western narratives increase their impact.


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