No. 1 - Feb 1994
Vol. 42 - pp. 15-18


Michal Kovác
President of the Slovak Republic

As the first president of a democratic Slovakia, I had the privilege to address the North Atlantic Council in Brussels on 4 November last year and, shortly after the crucial NATO Summit, I participated in the meeting of the heads of the Visegrad Four countries with US President Bill Clinton in Prague. In this article, I would like to summarize the main points of the messages I delivered during these two very important gatherings.

It is a challenge for small nations and new countries to establish their position on the geopolitical map of the world. The history of our European continent has demonstrated that no country exists in isolation, in a cordon sanitaire, untouched by the spheres of influence of larger nations. However, if a country is forced, against its own natural political gravitation, in a direction counter to its interests, it will become, unfortunately, a source of instability and a potential political hot spot.

The Slovak Republic was established in a democratic and constitutional manner as one of the two successor states of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic and it assumed responsibility for the international obligations incurred as part of the former state. At the same time, it is significant that, almost immediately after the establishment of Slovakia as an independent state, we were invited to renegotiate the Association Agreement with the European Community. The result of these negotiations was the agreement signed on 4 October 1993 in Luxembourg.

I believe that the flexibility and determination shown by Slovakia during these negotiations clearly demonstrate my country's commitment to align itself with the Western community of nations. It should also be mentioned that the Slovak Republic did not choose this orientation merely as an automatic response to the international agreements to which it was a successor. Rather, it seeks this identification with the West because this is precisely where its fundamental cultural and political consciousness and disposition lie. For us therefore, discussions about the "imprecise orientation" of Slovakia, which have arisen in some quarters, are unproductive.

Slovakia's approach to NATO

Slovakia's desire to cooperate with NATO and achieve full membership, is based upon the premise that it is not possible to seek only political or economic integration with the West. Full integration requires, at the same time, the development of security guarantees within those structures which historically and fundamentally characterize Western European integration.

Slovakia sees its approach to NATO as a political act. Public and political opinion in Slovakia are overwhelmingly in favour of cooperation, and of eventual membership of the Alliance. My country wishes to be recognized as a member of the community of nations, which respects and adheres to common values and, quite understandably, it requires guarantees of its own security. It seeks this within the context of its traditional Western orientation.

Slovakia is a country going through a complicated process of systemic economic transformation which we firmly believe, on the basis of our Association Agreement with the EC, will result in full membership of the European Union. But in the process of European integration, sufficiently reliable security structures are also needed, not merely as a future goal but during the difficult period of transition. Our process of transformation and the realization of necessary reforms must take place within a secure Europe.

I would suggest, therefore, that some type of formal associate membership in NATO and the Western European Union (WEU) could be considered as a possible solution. It would not require the full integration of military units and would not even necessarily have to include those guarantees stated in Article 5 of NATO's Treaty of Washington of 1949, or Article V of the WEU's modified Treaty of Brussels of 1954. However, the guarantees might be similar to those established in Article 4 of the Washington Treaty and include the assurance of eventual full membership based upon firmly stated criteria. I would like to emphasize that it is not only in our own interest to obtain such security guarantees during the process of transformation taking place in my country. I firmly believe that these guarantees would also positively contribute to the secuity of the West.

At the same time, cooperation with NATO and the WEU would provide a significant economic impetus for Slovakia since it would evoke a greater feeling of certainty among potential Western investors and thereby foster the eastward expansion of economic stability. Moreover, the closer cooperation of the countries of Central Europe with NATO and the WEU would extend the belt of stability and democracy in Europe and serve as an example for other post-communist countries. Finally, closer cooperation and membership in NATO and the WEU would strengthen European integration and security.

When it considers its security, Slovakia must also take into account its allegiance to the countries of the Visegrad Four group. I believe that it is best to view the group as a whole, geographically and strategically as well as politically and economically. Unlike Russia or the post-communist countries which participate in the common military structures of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Visegrad Four would probably find it difficult to defend themselves. However, I do not believe that in drawing closer to NATO and the WEU, our countries would represent a threat to Russia and Ukraine nor isolate them, since I would hope that NATO would find an appropriate form of cooperation with them as well.

Common security

After my visit to Brussels last November, an intensive exchange of views continued within the framework of the Alliance and among those who showed an interest in cooperating in the form of the Partnership For Peace. We followed this process with great interest and hoped that our views would not be overlooked. President Clinton's decision to send Ambassador Madeleine Albright and General John Shalikashvili to Central Europe, even before the NATO Summit, also assured us in Slovakia that our position was being taken seriously. The message we received, that the US saw a direct connection between its own security and the security of my country, was significant for us. We eagerly awaited the results of the Brussels Summit, especially because we hoped that the political decision would be taken concerning the possible extension of NATO towards the East. The Brussels Declaration did contain this. Moreover, I was personally pleased to have the opportunity, together with Presidents Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, Lech Walesa of Poland and Arpad Goncz of Hungary, to be informed in detail by President Clinton of the results of the Summit immediately after its completion.

In Prague, I stated that the Slovak Republic accepts the Partnership For Peace project as an expression of a qualitative change and, at the same time, an evolutionary process on the road to full membership of the North Atlantic Alliance. The Slovak Republic's desire to be part of NATO and its system of values is of the utmost political importance in my country and has the support of our entire democratic political spectrum. We wish to create conditions, as soon as possible, for establishing the work programme within the framework of the Partnership For Peace initiative, which will put a definite end to our efforts to confirm our foreign policy orientation. We firmly believe that this is the line of thinking of the member states of the Alliance as well. We not only seek to achieve our aspirations, but also to prove our preparedness to participate actively in the projects and missions of the Alliance through our cooperation within the Partnership For Peace initiative.

I wish to emphasize that the Slovak Republic does not aspire to be a part of the Alliance because it feels militarily threatened. In today's Europe, we have no enemies. However, we have had negative experiences in the past and do not wish to see history repeat itself. For this reason, we are endeavouring to anchor ourselves firmly in the structure of democratic states, a structure which is capable of effectively defending democratic values - values also shared by our citizens. This endeavour, and the commitments arising from it, will also facilitate the complex process of transformation which is currently under way in our society.

The North Atlantic Alliance carried out the historic defence of democracy and freedom in a bi-polar world with success and honour. We have no doubt that it will confront the challenges of the present in the same way. One such challenge is to find a new relationship with Russia and Ukraine, a partnership that would strengthen both European and global security. We believe that the specifics of European power coordinates and their relationship to global processes require the active presence of the United States on our continent and therefore we are pleased tha the US has reconfirmed its commitments to Europe.

We are aware that Partnership For Peace, as it is implemented, will establish forms of cooperation between the Alliance and individual countries which will probably not be identical. Any differences which might emerge should not, however, serve as a spur for the creation of a competitive environment, which may be quite natural in the area of economics but is very risky in matters pertaining to national and international security. The Alliance should, in our opinion, approach the principal security issues systematically and through bold decisions that take into account a broader geopolitical area.

We know that the creation of stable, democratic relations on the international scene and the strengthening of security requires everyone to contribute actively, not just the most influential participants. The Slovak Republic, too, wants to contribute to European stability, especially through good relations with its neighbours.The mutual confirmation of the inviolability of present borders and respect for human rights, including those of national minorities, are the political conditions for intense cooperation with our neighbours. The Slovak Republic takes this opportunity to stress once again its willingness and determination to foster cooperation with its neighbours on this basis.

A step towards membership

We have studied carefully and in detail the Brussels Declaration and the other documents approved at the Summit and we are convinced that Slovakia fulfils the conditions for concluding a Partnership For Peace membership accord with NATO. In accordance with the Framework Document, we are committed to the preservation of democratic societies, to their freedom from coercion and intimidation, and the maintenance of the principles of international law. Slovakia reaffirms its commitment to fulfil in good faith the obligations of the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, specifically, to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, to respect existing borders and to settle disputes by peaceful means.

In bilateral talks with President Clinton, I stressed that we not only welcome Partnership For Peace but that we also would like to sign an agreement with NATO as soon as possible and start taking concrete steps to implement it. The Slovak Republic is ready to welcome experts from NATO and to discuss specific steps which will lead to intensive cooperation with the Alliance, and we see this process as a step in the direction of eventual full membership.

In view of the destructive nuclear potential in Ukraine, we consider the signing of the tripartite agreement between Russia, Ukraine and the United States as another positive result of President Clinton's European trip. Ukraine and the Slovak Republic are neighbours and have signed a political accord which, among other things, stabilizes the borders of both newly constituted states. Ukraine, like Russia, is a very important economic partner for us and we have a close interest in the successful continuation of its economic transformation. We hope that the agreement will also result in an infusion of economic assistance from the West to our immediate neighbour to the East.

The meeting in Prague revived a debate about the possibilities of coordination within the framework of the Visegrad Four. While there are differing views concerning the degree of coordination, no one dismisses the need for it as such. Personally, I am convinced that the opportunities for coordination will increase. If the Partnership For Peace develops in individual countries, however differentiated, this will be a broadening of NATO which will finally lead to a resolution of deeper security considerations. Any expansion will have to increase security for the Alliance as a whole, but it could definitely not take place if there were quarrels among our neighbours.

I think that every country in our region, and especially those cooperating within the framework of the Visegrad Four group, should strive for all the others to be accepted into, and become reliable participants in, the Partnership For Peace. This would improve the security of each individual country, of our region, and of Europe as a whole. This is Slovakia's hope and one of the major goals of our foreign policy.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1994.