Brussels celebration: (Left to right) The Czech and
Polish prime ministers, then NATO Secretary General
Hungarian prime minister celebrate the accession
of the three former Warsaw Pact members to NATO
(© Benoit Doppagne/Reuters)
As NATO's Prague Summit approaches,
the debate on the future of the Alliance, its growth,
and influence in the world is intensifying. Before any
decisions are taken, it is worth examining the concerns
that confronted NATO in the years preceding the Madrid
Summit, the event at which the historic decision was taken
to invite former members of the Warsaw Pact to join, as
well as the experiences of the three new Allies, both
as candidates and members. Is, for example, Europe more
secure today as a result of the 1999 round of NATO enlargement?
Has the Alliance been
strengthened or weakened by the admission of new states?
And were the many fears about possible negative consequences
of that historic step justified?
Although the overall assessment of their membership in
NATO has unquestionably been positive, the years since
the Madrid Summit have, in many respects, not been easy
for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Financial
difficulties, an economic slowdown in their main trading
partners and the NATO campaign in Kosovo have tested their
pledge to be net "producers", rather than "consumers"
of security, as well as their reliability as Alliance
members. Moreover, the legacy of more than four decades
of communist rule has been difficult to overcome.
When in 1990, NATO extended a "hand of friendship" to
its former Warsaw Pact adversaries, few analysts could
have envisaged that within seven years three of these
countries would be invited to join the Alliance. In addition
to the many political hurdles that had to be surmounted,
these countries had armed forces that were militarily
incompatible with those of NATO members. Indeed, the adaptation
of prospective members' military capabilities and defence
policies to NATO standards seemed likely to take decades.
After all, it was a decade or so before the German and,
later, Spanish militaries could integrate fully with Allied
armed forces after their admission to NATO.
In the event, the political hurdles turned out to be only
a relatively minor obstacle in view of the resolve and
tenacity of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe
to build a democratic system of government, market economy
and society based on the rule of law. Reforming the militaries
of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland has proved a
far greater task as a result of the legacy of Soviet structures,
doctrine and mindset. However, despite many technical
and procedural incompatibilities, which still existed
at the moment of entry, the three new members have managed
to operate within NATO's integrated military structures.
The key to getting the militaries of the three new members
up to the maximum basic level of interoperability with
Alliance armed forces was the Partnership for Peace programme.
Although initially interpreted by the countries of Central
and Eastern Europe as a mechanism enabling unenthusiastic
NATO members to postpone a decision on their early admission
to the Alliance, it proved an extremely effective way
gradually to build professional bonds, to harmonise standards
and procedures, and to transform the technical and organisational
incompatibilities into functioning systems. Once the militaries
of the three candidate countries recognised the Partnership
for Peace as the practical road towards NATO membership,
they became its unequivocal proponents.
In retrospect, however, it is clear that the Partnership
for Peace and, later, the Planning and Review Process
(PARP) - a process which lays out detailed interoperability
and capability requirements for participants and reviews
progress towards meeting them - contributed only a fraction
of the assistance needed to complete the reform of former
Warsaw Pact militaries to bring them up to the standards
needed to meet future security requirements. The task
of implementing reforms turned out to be a much greater
challenge than anticipated. Defence budgets were too small,
defence planning and programming lacking, force preparedness
and weapons systems poor, the technological gap huge,
and the capacity to field enough personnel for operating
within Allied structures insufficient.
In fact, the technical and structural transformation of
the three new members' defence systems proved the lesser
of two major problems, irrespective of the issue of resources.
Much more serious were changes of a political and systemic
character, such as introducing effective democratic civilian
control of the armed forces. Early difficulties in this
respect were due, on the one hand, to opposition from
the military, fearful of losing its decisive voice in
matters of strategy, budgets, procurement and personnel,
and, on the other, the lack of suitably qualified civilians.
The painful experience of the Czech Republic, Hungary
and Poland in the field of military reform contributed
to the development within NATO of the Membership Action
Plan (MAP), a programme to prepare the next candidate
countries for possible Alliance membership. The MAP is
a more robust mechanism than either the Partnership for
Peace or PARP and gives NATO a means to assess the performance
of the candidates and participating nations more insight
into the demands of future membership. Though it does
not directly help resolve all issues of building the military
capabilities required, the MAP certainly creates better
opportunities to prepare for the challenges ahead.
The cost of enlargement to the Alliance was a key issue
in the run-up to the Madrid Summit. Early estimates in
the tens of billions of dollars proved excessively high
as they had been based on calculations shaped by a Cold
War mindset and scenarios. NATO has, in fact, coped relatively
easily with the additional financial burden. That said,
the new members have struggled to meet the financial obligations
of membership. While all three countries drew up comprehensive
programmes for modernising and restructuring their armed
forces before joining the Alliance, these plans did not
reflect the real complexities of the fundamental reform
needed. Further, they were based on predictions of economic
growth, which turned out to be optimistic. The economic
slowdown made it difficult to maintain the desired levels
of defence expenditure.
|The task of implementing military reforms turned out to be
a much greater challenge than anticipated
In spite of a parliamentary declaration urging the government
to raise military spending to three per cent of GDP, Poland
has failed to increase the resources allocated to defence. Hungary too has failed to live up to its promise, given
during the enlargement negotiations, to raise military
spending by 0.1 per cent a year. Moreover, in both the
Czech Republic and Hungary, force reductions undertaken
in the hope of saving resources for upgrading technical
systems were insufficient. Additional funds are needed
over a long period to achieve these goals and many planned
projects have had to be postponed. To keep up with their
obligations under NATO's force goals and readiness standards,
an increasingly wide gap is opening within the armed forces
of all three new members between rapid-reaction frontline
units, with relatively high standards of weapons and readiness,
and second-tier forces, with older equipment, less training
and lower morale. Fulfilment of obligations under the
jointly approved force goals has only been achieved with
some pain, indicating that the goals had been set without
proper appreciation of the resources required.
A key lesson, which has been learned the hard way in all
three new member countries, is that decisions on defence
funding must be politically sustainable in the long term
and that this requires a broad social and political consensus.
Even in Poland, where the armed forces are held in high
popular regard and public support for NATO membership
has been unshakeable throughout the past decade, this
has not translated into comparable support for an increase
in defence spending, which has, nevertheless, remained
stable at just over two per cent of GDP. Defence modernisation
plans require greater expenditure or more drastic restructuring.
However, the benign security environment, on the one hand,
and the challenges posed by preparations for integration
with the European Union, on the other, make it difficult
to garner support for increased defence spending. Drastic
restructuring, on the other hand, is hindered by institutional
resistance and also by uncertainty as to how armed forces
should be restructured and what priorities should be set.
This is not only a problem for the new members. Many long-standing
members as well as the new aspirants face similar difficulties.
The threat to stability in Southeastern Europe posed by
violence in Kosovo confronted both the Alliance as a whole
and the new members in particular with an immense challenge.
The politically controversial decision to intervene required
a high degree of cohesion and consensus-building, which
many analysts expected to be more difficult as a result
of the admission of three new members. In the event, however,
this was not the case and it proved as easy to make the
decision to intervene at 19 as it would have been at 16.
The new members, nevertheless, immediately had their pledges
of loyalty put to the test and were called upon to demonstrate
a practical appreciation of the Alliance's values that
they had accepted in theory during the negotiations and
preparation for membership.
Making the decision to intervene in Kosovo was not easy
for the new members. All three countries had a history
of good relations with Yugoslavia in general and a friendly
disposition towards Serbia in particular. Moreover, Hungary
was particularly worried about the possibility of reprisals
against the ethnic Hungarian minority over the border
in Yugoslavia. Public opinion, especially in the Czech
Republic, was not entirely convinced of the rationale
for military action. None of their forces had expected
to be called to duty so soon and all were reluctant to
take on the additional financial burden. These concerns
and others were, however, openly discussed before the
North Atlantic Council took its decision to launch the
operation based on the need to preserve regional stability
and the urgency of the humanitarian situation. Critically,
the new members rose to meet this first and most difficult
test and all three countries participated in the campaign
and follow-on peacekeeping mission.
While concerns expressed prior to the Madrid Summit about
the potential negative consequences of enlargement on
the cohesion and effectiveness of the Alliance proved
unfounded, this may not always be the case. Should a large
group of countries join the Alliance, its mechanisms of
consensus-building may be put under unbearable strain
and break down or, at the least, be weakened. This concern,
like the earlier one, may also be proven unjustified.
After all, the support and cooperation of countries like
Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and the during the Kosovo
operation, which often required resolute political decision-making
and a strong sense of affinity with the Alliance's goals,
was exemplary. Nevertheless, the issue must be addressed
before invitations are tendered. The issue of numbers
alone may on this occasion be the main problem, creating
an administrative, rather than a political, overload.
Among the host of complexities of the enlargement debate
of the 1990s, the issue of relations with Russia was
one of the most intractable. Although Russia had no
direct say in or power of veto over the decision, the
country was seen then and is treated now as an indispensable
partner in building and maintaining security in the
Euro-Atlantic area. While enlargement was never in any
way directed against Russia and was not seen by either
the Alliance or by the three candidate countries as
an obstacle to friendly relations, such reasoning was
not shared in Moscow. Great-power instincts and a long
tradition of dominating the neighbourhood made it painful
to see former allies shape independent destinies. Intransigence
backed Russia into a political corner, from which the
only way to influence events was by becoming a problem,
as, for example, during the negotiations on the Founding
Act of 1997. Moreover, misperceptions and suspicions
were aggravated further by the Kosovo campaign.
eyes of the candidate countries, especially in Poland,
Russian policy in the late 1990s was designed to
preserve a special droit de regard
in Eastern Europe
and to spoil the value of enlargement by enforcing second-class
membership on the new entrants, undermining their Article
5 security guaranties. If this was indeed Russia's intent,
it failed. NATO, for its part, did as much as it could
to assure Russia of its benign intentions without negating
its obligations towards the three new partners by adopting
a careful policy of confidence-building, embodied in the
decision not to station Alliance forces and nuclear weapons
on the territory of the new members.
The experience of the past three years and of cooperation
in building peace in the former Yugoslavia have persuaded
many in Russia that they can live with an enlarged NATO.
This is reflected in, for example, the recent improvement
in Russian relations with Poland. After close to a decade
of mutual suspicion, Russia and Poland have put their
bilateral relationship on a new equitable and mutually
beneficial footing. Indeed, in contrast to earlier predictions,
membership of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in
NATO has not caused any deterioration in relations between
these countries and Russia.
While Moscow remains unconvinced of the arguments in favour
of NATO enlargement, further membership invitations are
no longer perceived as being so great a threat or as so
detrimental to Russia's interests. As a result, the Russian
factor is receding as an obstacle to the next round of
Alliance enlargement. This development and the experience
of the first three countries to join NATO in the post-Cold
War period should facilitate decision-making in Prague
and enable the Allies to open the benefits of Alliance
membership to many more candidate countries.
* Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.