22 Jan. 1998


by NATO Secretary General, Javier Solana

"The Road to Membership"

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured to address the distinguished Sejm.

This is a very special moment for me. As the Secretary General of NATO I have given countless speeches on the future of European security. But this is different. Speaking in the Sejm has a special significance. Poland has been the victim of many of the ill winds that have swept the continent of Europe in this and previous centuries. For the Secretary General of NATO to address the Polish Parliament bears a particular significance: it is another sign that Poland's 200-year struggle for freedom and national identity has finally been won.

The last ten years have not been short of historic events. Yet when NATO Foreign Ministers last December in Brussels signed the Protocols of accession for Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, there was no other term to capture the true significance of what happened: This was a truly historic moment. It signified that in this new Europe, geography is no longer destiny. It signified a sovereign and self-confident Poland, a Poland no longer the object of others' ambitions. And it signified that Poland's return to the family of European democracies is irreversible.

The lessons of the 20th century are clear: If Europe's creative energies are to prevail over its destructive ones, European unity and North American engagement are indispensable. Without unity, our continent cannot break the fateful cycle of mistrust and rivalry that has haunted it for centuries. Without an outward-looking and involved North America, Europe cannot find the equilibrium it needs to complete its grand project of unity. Only together can Europe and North America face the challenges of tomorrow.

In our Atlantic Alliance these lessons are firmly entrenched. Through NATO, Europe and North America tied their security irrevocably together. Based on these strong bonds, a wider Atlantic community of shared values and interests emerged. Europe was able to embark on the project of ever-closer integration. Within this community, war was effectively abolished.

Yet as long as our continent remained divided, our wider aspirations remained unfulfilled. Without great European nations such as Poland at our side, our community remained incomplete: its dynamics constrained by ideological divides; its democratic ideals confined to flourish in only one half of the continent. Poland, that pivotal nation, was in Europe, but it could not be with it.

The signing of the Protocols of Accession last December marked another step towards a community defined by shared values, not by geography. It was also a milestone for Poland's wider transformation through her political, economic and military reforms, and her outward-looking foreign policy. Opening NATO may have served as an incentive to make progress, but it is first and foremost you, the Polish people, who deserve credit for having brought Poland closer to the West.

As an active player in the OSCE, which your country now chairs, and as the UN's largest troop contributor, Poland has demonstrated its firm commitment to multilateral security. Yet you have also sought to enhance security and stability through bilateral efforts. Today, Poland enjoys cooperative and stable ties with all of her neighbours. She is an active player in the Baltic region, fostering regional cooperation and expanding commercial ties between Northern and Central Europe. And Poland has underscored that solid relations with Russia are indispensable for a stable and secure Europe.

Poland's invitation to join NATO should also be seen as an encouragement for further progress. A lot of work remains to be done between now and April 1999, when Poland's formal accession to the Treaty of Washington will take place. As we ask our Allied parliaments to ratify the Accession Protocols over the course of this year, we have to bear in mind their sensitivities and legitimate concerns.

Once Poland joins NATO as a full member, the other Allies commit themselves to the defence of Poland's security and territorial integrity. This is the strongest, most solemn commitment any nation can make to another. It is crucial that the new members demonstrate that they are aware of this fundamental commitment - and that they are willing and able to return it. In order to receive, one also must give - this is what NATO is all about.

The mutual defence pledge that is at the heart of the Atlantic Alliance is not based merely on promises, but on practical mechanisms. NATO's credibility has never been in doubt. And we will make sure it never will be.

Poland will have to make serious military contributions to the Alliance. You already have the capability to do so, but wide-ranging adjustments will have to be made. You will have to continue to modernise your armed forces, just as you will have to continue your efforts to ensure their democratic control. NATO will provide help, expertise and a solid, reliable framework for this long-term restructuring - and that means a more cost-effective reform than could ever be contemplated outside NATO. But equally it will require the consistent and continued support of you, the Polish Parliament. I am sure that we can count on you.

NATO does not put unreasonable demands on Poland's preparation for membership. We are not seeking change overnight. We are not expecting you to spend vast amounts of money on high-tech new equipment. No threat forces us to spend excessive sums on our common defence.

What we want to achieve is first and foremost interoperability between our armed forces. We need communication systems that can communicate, we need to be able to send reinforcements in times of crises, and we need our soldiers to speak the same language. We need more trained and capable non-commissioned officers, a balanced and streamlined force structure. All this can be done at moderate cost. And future new members, like NATO's present members, will have the time and the freedom to meet the requirements in a way that they can absorb. No one wants our new members to put their economic reforms at risk by overspending on defence.

In this context, Poland's new 15-year plan for the modernisation of her armed forces is a very important step in the right direction. Yes, it entails financial burdens, albeit modest compared with the benefits. But it reflects the reality - that Poland will be a contributor to our common security, not just a consumer. This plain fact will not fail to have an impact on Allied parliaments, as they contemplate ratification in the months ahead. It proves that, by enlarging the Alliance, we are not compromising its military effectiveness.

Over the coming months, we will involve Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to the greatest extent possible in Alliance activities. Your representatives will receive regular briefings on Alliance policies. They will also participate in many Alliance fora. Your Ambassadors to NATO are regularly attending most meetings of NATO's supreme body, the North Atlantic Council. You have representatives at meetings of many other NATO committees. This will enable you to become more familiar with the "NATO culture" - the every-day practice of working together and taking decisions by consensus.

NATO's Heads of State and Government have made it clear that the process of enlargement will continue and that we will review this process again in 1999. Indeed, Poland's political and economic achievements already serve as an incentive for other Central and Eastern European democracies that have expressed a willingness to join the Alliance. Encouraged by your example, they are maintaining their course of reform. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are the first countries to be invited, but they will surely not be the last.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, as we approach the parliamentary ratification of the accession of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, we can confidently say that the ground is well-prepared. Enlargement will make Europe more united, and it will consolidate the transatlantic relationship in order to meet the challenges of a new century.

It has been said that the pursuit of peace resembles the building of a cathedral: in concept it requires a master-architect; in execution, the labours of many. What both the architect and the workers have in common is the need for the right tools to turn vision into reality. One such tool is the Atlantic Alliance. If we use it wisely we will achieve the new Europe we all aspire to. With Poland on our side as a future new Ally, a Europe not only free of war, but also free from fear is finally within our grasp. Thank you.

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