New York property barons lose grip on state politics

New rent-control rules signal an end to a quarter century of domination by big landlords

Joshua Chaffin in New York


The progressive tide in New York thwarted Amazon's plans to build a new headquarters in the Long Island City section of Queens


Beneath the thrum of traffic, the bleat of car horns and the bashing of worksite hammers there was an audible groan in New York City this week. It was the collective wail of the city’s landlords, stung by new rent-control legislation that signals the end of their 25-year grip on state politics.

“I feel like someone just dropped a nuclear bomb on my business and my family,” said Chris Anitheos, who owns nine buildings containing 150 apartments in various Brooklyn neighbourhoods. “It’s just horrific.”

For its success, Mr Anitheos and others blame the same progressive tide that has energised leftwing politics across the state. It has pushed gentrification up the political agenda and unexpectedly thwarted Amazon’s plans this year to build a new headquarters in Queens.

The extreme unpopularity in New York of the country’s developer-in-chief, Donald Trump, also did not help landlords — never the most sympathetic bunch — in their attempt to sway public opinion.

“The culture of New York has moved to the left,” said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban planning at New York University. The real estate industry, Mr Moss argued, had come to be seen in New York the same way that the tech industry is in some other US cities: as “an opponent of equity”.

The new rules were agreed by Democratic leaders in the state legislature on Tuesday night. In a painful rebuke to New York’s property barons, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor who has readily accepted their campaign donations over the years, turned down a last-minute appeal for help and said he would sign the legislation.

“It’s shocking,” one real estate executive said, remarking on the sudden loss of clout of such leading local real estate families as the Rudins, Dursts and LeFraks.

Broadly speaking, the legislation will make it harder for landlords to remove 1m or so apartments from New York’s various forms of rent control and instead charge market rates. Under the current system, that has been allowed when, for example, an occupant earned $200,000 or more for two consecutive years, or when they vacated a protected unit whose monthly rent exceeded $2,774. No more.

The new legislation will also cap the value of capital spending improvements that landlords can pass on to renters. It will also make permanent rent control laws that, until now, have been subject to periodic renewal.

“The story for the last 20 or 30 years has been the gaming of the market by landlords to get people out of their homes because they had a financial incentive to do so,” said Michael Gianaris, the Democratic state senator from Queens who was pivotal in resisting Amazon. He was motivated, in part, by concerns its arrival would push working-class families out of the neighbourhood.

The new state regulations will hit landlords — particularly those with older rental properties in New York’s outer-boroughs. Yet many observers predicted the ripples would be felt more widely.

“The rules are bad policy, and the signal politicians are sending may ultimately lead to less new construction down the line as capital providers price in greater regulatory risk to any given project,” said John Pawlowski, an analyst at Green Street Advisors, a real estate research consultancy.


A new crop of progressives was elected to the New York state legislature in the same election that vaulted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Congress © AP


EJ McMahon, research director at New York’s Empire Center for Public Policy, agreed. “This puts a chill in the climate for everyone,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult to walk any of this back in the future.”

New York’s developers have generally held the upper-hand for decades. They played on the widespread fear in the 1970s and 1980s that businesses might flee a bankrupt and crime-ridden city for the suburbs. They cemented their advantage with generous campaign contributions to Republican politicians, who long controlled the state senate until this year.

Rent controls have been a particular obsession. They were instituted during the second world war to prevent profiteering and later to help returning soldiers facing a housing shortage. Developers argue that they worsen the problem by effectively keeping apartments out of the market.

Their arguments fell on deaf ears after Democrats — including a new crop of progressives — took control of the state legislature last year in the same election that vaulted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young New York socialist, into Congress. As with the Amazon episode, many of those Democrats are inclined to equate development with gentrification, and are sympathetic to growing complaints about the city’s affordability.

“For a long time they thought they could just donate and keep the Republicans in power,” said one lobbyist aligned with the developers. They did not seem to appreciate, this person observed, that their warnings about people fleeing the city no longer resonated after decades of growth that have been accompanied by soaring rents and property prices.

“It’s hard to cry poverty,” the lobbyist said. “The people who are in power [now] weren’t around in the ‘70s or ‘80s. They haven’t lived that experience.”

Today’s New Yorkers are more likely to be rising up against high rents. Last year, the Kushner Companies, the real estate group run until recently by Mr Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was sued by tenants in Brooklyn. They accused the company of harassing them into leaving their rent-regulated apartments so it could convert them to unregulated — and more lucrative — condominiums.

The Kushners have denied wrongdoing. “Kushner Companies operates quality properties with the highest level of professionalism. Any accusations involving tenant harassment are false,” a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, an extensive New York Times investigation found that the Trump Organization used inflated invoices for capital improvements at its properties as a justification to raise regulated rents.

“Things like that happen every day,” Mr Gianaris said, acknowledging that the prominence of Mr Trump and Mr Kushner had served to elevate the issue.

But developers such as Mr Anitheos are convinced that the new rules are a misguided attempt to solve a longstanding problem — and will eventually spawn new problems.

His father, a carpenter, started the family business 50 years ago in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. About half of their 150 apartments are governed by rent restrictions. Each year, Mr Anitheos estimated, two or three would become vacant — typically after 20 or 25 years of occupancy.

Because the buildings are so old, rehabilitations can run to $70,000 or more for each apartment. Yet under the new rules Mr Anitheos could only recoup $15,000 of capital improvements for a single apartment over 15 years. As a result, he argued, he was unlikely to do much more than apply paint in the future.

“It’s mind-boggling that they’re actually capping how much you can invest to improve your buildings,” Mr Anitheos despaired. “Who’s going to suffer? The tenants.”

Jens Weidmann casts a shadow over the ECB

If he simply validated the orthodox German view as president, it would be a disaster

Martin Wolf




Who should succeed Mario Draghi as president of the European Central Bank? That is the most important decision European governments will take this year. It is more important even than how they deal with an idiotic UK. It is more important than dealing with Donald Trump. It is more important than who will be presidents of the commission or council. The next president of the ECB might determine whether there is a eurozone, perhaps an EU, at the end of the term in 2027. Mr Draghi’s period has been that important. His successor’s might be equally so.

In October 2011, I wrote an open letter to Mr Draghi. I argued the ECB must be a lender of last resort in markets for public debt, thereby also stabilising the banks. I concluded that the “eurozone risks a tidal wave of fiscal and banking crises. The European Financial Stability Facility cannot stop this. Only the ECB can. As the sole eurozone-wide institution, it has the responsibility. It also has the power. I am sorry, Mario. But you face a choice between pleasing the monetary hawks and saving the eurozone. Choose the latter. Explain why you are making the choice. And remember: fortune favours the bold.”




Mr Draghi did the right things, above all with his celebrated remark in July 2012 that “within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro”.

In August 2012, the ECB announced its Outright Monetary Transactions programme, to buy the bonds of distressed governments who agreed suitable programmes. Then, in January 2015, the ECB followed other central banks, by starting quantitative easing.

By reasonable standards, inflation has failed to reach the ECB objective of “below, but close to 2 per cent”. But in other respects, the ECB’s actions were a success. The death spiral of soaring bond yields and enfeebled banks halted. The eurozone economy troughed in 2013 and then largely tracked that of the US, as yields normalised and confidence dripped back.



The recovery of the eurozone from its crisis, perhaps even its survival, owes more to the ECB than any other institution. This is not to deny the role of governments in setting up new institutions and, when push came to shove, backing the ECB. But this was the one eurozone-wide institution with the needed firepower. This will remain true in the future, given the enduring fragility of a eurozone characterised by national — rather than area-wide — politics, weak banks, inadequate fiscal backstops, and persistently divergent economies.

Mr Draghi has transformed the ECB from a descendant of the old Bundesbank into a modern central bank, and from a central bank thinking for a small open economy to one appropriate to a diverse and continental-scale economy. The crucial question then is whether his successor will possess the intellect, flexibility and courage needed to respond to whatever happens. Some of what might happen could indeed be perilous: the world is highly unstable; eurozone inflation is very low; and monetary policy is close to its normal limits. Even today’s slowdown demands action. A worse slowdown might demand heroic action. The next president might have to pull new rabbits out of the hat.



It is doubtful whether any of the candidates meet these high standards. The riskiest by far would be Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank president. Mr Weidmann has opposed many of Mr Draghi’s innovations, including resort to QE. He even testified against OMT before the German constitutional court. The ECB council might be able to force him to do the right thing, in a crisis. But that would be a mad way to run the central bank.

Yet there is an alternative possibility. The one thing that could reconcile Germans to how the ECB must behave is recognition of that reality by a German president. He would have to tell his compatriots some home truths. Most obviously, that inflation has been lower under the ECB than under the Bundesbank. Then he would have to point out that a world of low inflation and generally very low interest rates is not one in which their savings have much economic value.



Finally, such a German president should add that the German private sector has a surplus of savings over investment comparable in scale to that of Japan. It is possible for Germany to have full employment and a budget surplus because Germany has been running a huge current account surplus. That would have been far more difficult if Germany had not been inside the eurozone: a floating Deutsche Mark would surely have appreciated hugely, Germany would now be in deflation, much more of its export-oriented production would have moved out and its monetary policy might be like Japan’s.



In brief, Germany has been a huge economic beneficiary of the euro. A Mr Weidmann who had said that again and again, and had also strongly backed the actions taken by the ECB, could have made a big difference to eurozone politics. Unfortunately, such a Mr Weidmann has not been in evidence. Instead, he has represented and so validated the sceptical German view. If that is what he would do as president, it would be a disaster. If he took the broader view, it would be a blessing. This, and not his nationality, is the issue. There can be no objection to a German president. On the contrary, a realistic and reasonable German president would be a great boon.




So which would Mr Weidmann be? Only he knows. Above all, this decision must not be the product of horse-trading among governments. The question is whether the next president can and will do the job as Mr Draghi defined it. Everything else is noise.

Europe Must Fix Its Fiscal Rules

In an environment of persistently low interest rates and below-potential output, economic policymakers must rethink the prevailing approach to public debt. For the eurozone, this means creating a common budget, or at least overhauling the fiscal rules that have tied member-state governments' hands for no good reason.

Olivier Blanchard

blanchard15_PHILIPPEHUGUENAFPGettyImages_eurobanknotesbyEUflag


TRENTO – Earlier this year, I argued that in countries where interest rates are extremely low and public debt is considered safe by investors – making it less costly from both a fiscal and economic standpoint – larger fiscal deficits may be needed to make up for the limitations of monetary policy. The eurozone has now reached this stage.

After the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent euro crisis, monetary policy played a key role in stabilizing and reviving the eurozone. It took pragmatism, creativity, and political flair on the part of European Central Bank President Mario Draghi to accomplish this feat. But while monetary policy hasn’t quite run out of fuel, it cannot be expected to serve the same role again.

By contrast, fiscal policy, the other key component of sound Keynesian macroeconomic management, has been underused as a cyclical tool, with the result that eurozone output still is not at its potential level. This is an urgent problem that cannot be solved by any one country alone; it demands a concerted eurozone response. But while the need for a common eurozone budget from which to draw additional spending is more pressing now than in the past, this would entail risk-sharing among the member states, which is a politically difficult issue.

Still, there are other measures the eurozone could pursue, starting with a fiscal rule change. With interest rates so low, a 60% debt-to-GDP limit is not the right target (if it ever was to begin with). Not only should it be higher, but the requirement that member states that exceed the limit adjust back to it at a certain speed should be loosened. Moreover, because monetary policymakers have little room to maneuver, the European Union must grant governments more freedom to stimulate demand through fiscal policy. That means loosening the 3%-of-GDP limit on fiscal deficits, too.

To be sure, governments should not be given carte blanche; but they should not have their hands tied so tightly, either. What the EU needs is a new rule-making philosophy. The eurozone has gone so far in piling up constraints, on the assumption that governments will always misbehave or try to cheat, that the result is sometimes incomprehensible.

As a first step, the European Commission should stop micromanaging member states’ fiscal policies. The Commission should intervene only when a government is on a trajectory toward amassing truly unsustainable debt (which certainly can happen under irresponsible leadership). Otherwise, the Commission’s main job should be to provide information to the markets about the health of a member state’s economy and its likely path of debt.

This way, the markets would decide. Fiscal space, after all, is in the eye of the investor. Japan has a large public debt, but investors do not seem worried; Italy, where investors are now demanding a large risk premium, is another matter. The challenge for a member-state government, then, would no longer be to please the Commission, but to convince investors that it is operating responsibly with respect to the debt.

As a second step, the eurozone must improve its fiscal- and monetary-policy coordination. (In fact, it has always needed to do this; but now the matter is especially urgent.) At this stage, monetary policy cannot do the job alone. Stimulus must take the form of a fiscal expansion to make up for what the ECB cannot provide. Yet no country has an incentive to do this on its own, because, with member states so deeply integrated, some share of any fiscal expansion will inevitably be lost to spillover in the form of increased imports.

What is needed, then, is either a coordination device through which each country commits to a larger, self-financed fiscal expansion, or, preferably (but more controversially) a common budget, funded by euro bonds, which can then be used to finance higher spending in each country, when and if needed.

The stakes are high. Without higher limits on debt and better coordination – through a new mechanism or a common budget – fiscal policy will remain too tight, economic activity too low, and the risk of populists emerging to offer simplistic solutions too high. That is the last thing the eurozone needs.


Olivier Blanchard, a former chief economist of the IMF, is Professor of Economics at MIT and Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He is the co-editor (with Lawrence H. Summers) of Evolution or Revolution? (MIT Press, 2019).

No, This Isn’t Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Moment

For the moment, Beijing is content to let the Hong Kong government handle growing protests on its own.

By Phillip Orchard

On Monday, roughly 30 years after Chinese tanks rolled through Tiananmen Square, anti-Beijing protesters in Hong Kong decided it was time for a confrontation. The Beijing-backed Hong Kong government had ignored their demands for the full withdrawal of draft legislation that would facilitate extraditions to mainland China and, according to the opposition, further erode Hong Kong’s autonomy. So, hundreds of protesters sieged the building of the Legislative Council, or LegCo, and then used a makeshift battering ram to smash their way inside. After scribbling some demands on the main wall and raising the British colonial flag, they were dispersed with tear gas.

In the universe of protests, this is hardly exceptional. But it was unprecedented for the order- and business-obsessed Special Administrative Region, where tens of thousands regularly take to the streets in opposition to Chinese encroachment but typically refrain from breaking things along the way. Given Beijing's fear of and experience in crushing social movements, the move was bold, to say the least. And given the staying power of the underlying socioeconomic conditions fueling the unrest, this sort of incident is unlikely to be the last.



Beijing has made it clear that it isn’t about to look the other way. On Tuesday, Chinese state media labeled the incident “a public challenge to the bottom line of ‘One Country, Two Systems,’” called for a crackdown, and lamented the damage the protests were doing to Hong Kong’s economy (a statement designed to remind mainland audiences that Communist Party-imposed order is largely to thank for China’s breakneck economic rise, as well as to keep Hong Kong elites from throwing support behind the opposition). More pointedly, the People’s Liberation Army announced that its garrison in Hong Kong had been holding drills to review its “combat abilities in emergency dispatches.” Is Hong Kong headed for its own Tiananmen moment?
 
A Different Kind of Protest?
It would be a mistake to assume that the LegCo invasion was part of a master plan to force an eventual showdown with Beijing. Unlike the other protests in recent months, where plans and tactics were laid out and debated online ahead of time, the decision to storm the building was widely reported to have been abruptly made on site, following a show-of-hands vote among a group of just 200 protesters. After the crackdown, protest leader Joshua Wong said that the LegCo invaders were merely acting out of anger and desperation following the suicides of three of their own.

Nor was the incident indicative of a broader radicalization of Hong Kong’s opposition movement. The bulk of the hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters who took to the streets on Monday (as they do every year on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China) marched peacefully on a route that steered well clear of the government complex. Moreover, the group that took over LegCo, consisting mostly of students and other youths, is hardly demographically representative of the opposition movement as a whole – much less of the broad slice of the Hong Kong citizenry that the opposition would need to attract to push the government and Beijing to capitulation. Polls suggest that the hard-liner’s dismay with the Hong Kong government and Beijing’s creeping dominance of the city, as symbolized by the extradition bill, is widely shared in Hong Kong. But there wasn’t exactly a rush of mainstream supporters arriving to help the radicals hold LegCo.

In short, there’s reason to doubt whether the more radical protesters could sustain a pattern of confrontations, even if they wanted to – and little reason to think Hong Kong authorities won’t ultimately prove capable of containing the movement and keeping Beijing on the sidelines. Indeed, the July 1 incident may only undermine the protesters’ goals.

Consider what led up to the events on July 1. Mass protests against the extradition bill have been gathering momentum for months, culminating in a mass march on June 9 that organizers said drew more than a million demonstrators. But it wasn’t until the government cracked down violently on protesters outside LegCo three days later, leaving at least 80 injured, that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was forced to suspend debate on the extradition bill, retract her widely ridiculed characterization of the protesters as rioters and issue a tearful apology for the whole mess.


 
To the protesters, the lesson was that mass marches aren’t enough. It took confrontation for the government to show its true colors and turn the public against it. And with Lam still refusing to fully withdraw the bill (despite another mass march on June 16 that drew as many as 2 million people), much less to cede to demands for her resignation, decided to try the same tactic again. But the government evidently learned the same lesson. And this time, police largely stood by as the protesters moved on LegCo. The government now has the legal standing to take the vanguard of the opposition movement off the streets, and it may have greater political cover to do so. And the divisions among the broader opposition movement, which Beijing and the Hong Kong government have routinely proved adept at exploiting, may only deepen.
 
Tried and True
Still, the underlying issues that have fueled the opposition to the extradition bill aren’t going away. The feeling of losing autonomy to outside forces – unforgiving market realities, mass immigration, moves by outside governments to secure their interests – is a powerful one, and the impulse to take back control by whatever means necessary can drive people to extremes, even in the world’s wealthiest cities. Youths in Hong Kong face a future shaped by each of these. For so dense a city, Hong Kong is a marvel of urban planning, but an excellent public transport system can only do so much. Its size and density have made it by far the most expensive city in the world, making home ownership a pipe dream for most. The ever-rising tide of mainland money and migrants pouring into Hong Kong has further distorted job and real estate markets for natives, fueling soaring inequality. Meanwhile, Beijing has been gradually stripping Hongkongers of the right to choose the leadership responsible for tackling the city’s mounting woes.

Beijing cannot fix these problems. Nor can it ignore their implications. If Beijing appears paralyzed on what to do beyond issuing veiled threats and condemnations, that’s because it’s following its tried-and-true playbook for managing Hong Kong.

Historically, Hong Kong’s crucial role as a gateway for foreign tech and investment to the Chinese economy compelled Beijing to keep a low profile in the city. As the economic rise of mainland counterparts like Shenzhen and Shanghai has made Hong Kong less vital, Beijing has been emboldened to protect its interests in the city with a heavier hand. But China still benefits enormously from Hong Kong’s reputation as a place that operates on rule of law. But as more and more investors become wary of navigating the pitfalls of doing business in communist China, and with the U.S. and other Western governments starting to restrict Chinese access to core technologies, Hong Kong is recovering some of its leverage over Beijing. This was made clear as protests first spiked in early June, which briefly sent Hong Kong stock markets into free fall and interbank lending rates soaring amid fears of capital flight.

What Beijing needs most is the power to prevent Hong Kong’s autonomy from being exploited by dissidents, political opponents, uncooperative tycoons, and media muckrakers to destabilize the mainland. The extradition bill would advance its powers in these areas. But, to date, the lack of an extradition treaty between the two governments hasn’t stopped Beijing from reaching in to snatch figures it deems threatening. It’s not about to sacrifice Hong Kong’s international reputation and risk an all-out insurrection by intervening too forcefully to save the bill. (Indeed, there’s been some reporting that Lam’s government was pushing the extradition bill forward on its own volition, not at Beijing’s behest).

Of course, Beijing may not want to set the precedent that it can be deterred by collective action and, especially, by acts of civil disorder. So don’t expect some grand concession. This is why Lam merely suspended debate on the bill, rather than withdrawing it altogether. But Hong Kong is a real problem for Beijing only to the extent that it threatens mainland stability. At present, there’s little evidence that the Hong Kong protests are raising the risk of similar uprisings at home. Unless this changes, Beijing will remain content to let the Hong Kong government do what’s necessary to keep a lid on matters on its behalf.

On the Black Sea

By George Friedman

 



 
I have just awakened on the first day following a 24-hour trip from Austin to Constanta, a city in Romania that few Americans know of. It is where the Danube meets the Black Sea, and it has been a pivot point since before even the Romans arrived. The Danube is something like the American Mississippi, a river drawing in the waters and the trade of the tributaries that flow from the Alps and Carpathians. It reaches the Black Sea, which is where the similarity ends. The Mississippi reaches the Gulf of Mexico, which opens on the waters of the world. But the Black Sea is an enclosed body of water from which the Mediterranean Sea can be accessed only through the narrow Bosporus, and the world’s oceans only through the Strait of Gibraltar.
 
 

The Mississippi trades with the world. The Danube trades mostly within the Black Sea Basin, which today is a body of glowering mistrust, much as it has always been. The Ukrainians and Russians are to the north; Bulgarians and Turks to the south; and across the sea, Georgia and the Caucasus, where Russians, Turks and Iranians have battled for domination for centuries. These nations trade with each other and distrust one another. Like many nations in the Black Sea Basin, they remember each other’s betrayals for centuries even as they depend on each other for trade.
 
 
Now the Americans are here, as they are everywhere. There is a joint Romanian-American base, and U.S. warships and combat aircraft visit on a regular basis. This began in earnest after Ukraine’s 2014 revolution, which the Americans view as a rising against a corrupt Ukrainian government, and the Russians view as a U.S.-organized coup against a legitimately elected pro-Russia government. The Turks, who hold the Bosporus, are the decisive power, retaining the power if not the legal right of determining who might enter and leave the Black Sea.
In the contemporary world, this means that conferences are held here, too – like the one I’m now attending. These are the places where the underpinnings of strategy are created, and relationships between those who might implement them will be formed. The conference is organized by the New Strategy Center, a Romanian think tank; Geopolitical Futures partnered with NSC to write a report on the challenges of the Black Sea. There is an entire profession of self-declared experts who gather regularly at these events, with speakers and panel sessions aplenty. But the real work is done in the private conversations in which those who know don’t talk and those who talk don’t know, and all try to extract information without providing it. In these conversations, you get to know those you have previously known only through writings designed to persuade. And here, reality may begin to emerge.
That the Black Sea basin is critical is obvious. Americans face the Russians, and the Russians face the Turks. Alliances are formed, as with the U.S. and Romania, and others wonder what the other is up to. And so, we meet, and we talk, and sometimes truth is told, and sometimes some of us actually know what the truth is. It is a microcosm of the game of nations. Below, I am sharing with you an introduction I wrote to the report on the Black Sea. I thought it might be interesting to you.
 
Black Sea: Eternal Riddle
The Black Sea has played multiple roles in its history. The most common role has been as an avenue of trade. The most definitive role has been as an arena of war, or at least an adjunct to the war raging on the land around it. And though there is no war on its waters right now, the Bosporus – which provides littoral nations access to the Mediterranean and thus must be considered in any discussion of the Black Sea– is constantly at risk.
The Russians have participated in the war in Syria. At times, they have been in near-conflict with the Turks, who, treaties notwithstanding, control the Bosporus. For Russia, control of the Bosporus, or at least its neutralization, has been an overriding geopolitical imperative. Russia has always had interests in the Mediterranean that were largely blocked by the Black Sea. During the Cold War, when the U.S. placed its massive Sixth Fleet in the Black Sea, the Russian force was limited, most notably because the flow of vessels and logistic support moved through Turkish and NATO waters, and therefore any naval force they placed in the Mediterranean was at risk.
In order to have free access to the Mediterranean, Russia must be in a position to persuade or, preferably, compel Turkey to make credible guarantees on right of passage. Turkey has a very complex relationship with the Russians. It uses Russia to try to shape American behavior in ways that benefit Turkey. The United States does not want to see a shift in the status of the Bosporus and would likely act if Turkey went too far.
On the other hand, the United States wants an air base exactly where Incirlik is located. Close to a port for logistics, and within range of targets in Ukraine for tactical attack aircraft and able to operate through the Middle East as well, it is a precious asset. No other base would be quite as good. Therefore, the United States is not in a position to pressure Turkey too much, and Turkey doesn’t want to alienate the United States excessively. Any modification of the status of the Bosporus would be excessive.
The United States has based assets in Romania to have an alternative to Turkish basing and, more important, to make certain that if the Russians undertook an unexpected adventure southward, toward Turkey or the Mediterranean, the U.S. would be in a position to respond rapidly, with at least some force.
This all means that the Black Sea remains what it has been for a long time. It is coiled, ready to spring, but unable to do so because the complexity of force around its shores remains so intricate and with so many hostile and intertwining interests that they cannot move. This buys Romania the most precious thing in geopolitics. If the Black Sea springs, or rather when it springs, it will be too late, and Romania cannot simply be a bystander. There is now a three-player game. There is Russia, weakened but still the strongest power native to the Black Sea. There is Turkey, potentially powerful but in the process of a painful redefinition. There is the United States, the most powerful, but not eager to fight a battle in the Black Sea, preferring the Mediterranean. All of this will change over time as it always does, but it cannot be assumed that the coil will not be let loose to spring. But of all the powers, the one least predictable and in the long run potentially the most powerful is Turkey. It is the country to watch.