|Updated: 06-Dec-2000||NATO Review|
NATO after enlargement: Is the Alliance better off?
Sebestyén L. v. Gorka
Some have argued that their successful accession came about for the wrong
reasons: that the move to enlarge NATO was motivated by either Western
feelings of charity, or a perceived need to exploit a temporary window
of opportunity; and that the three were chosen subjectively, thanks to
US diplomatic pressure, in spite of their militaries being in serious
need of reform and a lack of any true commitment to NATO.
In my view, these charges are without merit. Indeed, the three new members
are vital to defining NATO's new role on the Continent and, in particular,
they have a unique contribution to make in improving Alliance relations
with other non-member countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
Soon after the political tidal wave of 1989-1990, the Czech Republic,
Hungary and Poland all took drastic steps to change the nature of their
armed forces, starting with the renunciation of aggressive strategies
and radical reductions in force levels. Subsequent moves included an increased
commitment to having officers learn NATO's official languages (English
and French) and to formulating new missions for their forces. At the same
time, attempts were made to gradually move away from absolute reliance
on Soviet-era equipment. In this respect, greater emphasis was laid on
achieving compatibility with NATO in communications and airspace management,
among other areas.
The Alliance's Partnership for Peace (PfP) initiative played a key role
in this process, enabling the forces of these countries to practise operational
procedures alongside NATO and other Partner states. As a result, all three
countries were able to make significant contributions to the implementation
of the Dayton Accords which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, through
the contingents they each sent to IFOR/SFOR and, in the case of Hungary,
through its ongoing provision of staging areas and transit rights for
units deploying into and out of the former Yugoslavia.
Each country has been more or less successful in creating the framework
for and gradual implementation of democratic, civilian control of the
military. Nevertheless, we should remain realistic and recognise that
serious challenges do remain regarding military reform generally. The
more obvious of these constraints is financial. The defence budgets of
these three countries currently stand at around two per cent of GDP. Current
budget levels are insufficient to equip forces with military assets that
are in good working order, interoperable with NATO and preferably Western.
It is also proving difficult to attract potentially good officers into
the ranks, as well as build up a qualified cadre of civilians with the
skills needed in the uncertain security environment at the end of the
Some of the criticism levelled at these states may have been justified
as regards their military reform efforts. But it is easy to underestimate
the magnitude of the unprecedented set of tasks facing former Communist
countries wishing to join NATO. Not only are they having to manage the
transition towards a market economy - remember, even some Western states
are still struggling to balance free market principles with the requirements
of the modern welfare state - they are also having to anchor their return
to Europe by firmly re-establishing democratic principles. It would be
foolish to expect advances in the field of defence reform to outstrip
progress made in the areas of general democratic and economic reform.
A credible and confident defence community cannot be created and maintained
in a vacuum, isolated from the society which nurtures it.
Whatever criticisms may be made as to the extent of the modernisation
and reform of their armed forces, one thing is clear: the break has been
made with Communist ideology and aggressive military strategy, and the
Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are unquestionably headed in the right
direction. It may be true that the Warsaw Pact fostered a mentality among
its officers that is not particularly conducive to interoperability with
Western forces, and that all three countries still rely heavily upon Soviet-era
military hardware. But, at a very early stage, their governments made
a political commitment to moving closer to the Alliance and promoted the
learning of NATO's official languages and the adoption of NATO standards
There are several ways to assess the three new members' military contributions
to the Alliance. These countries have at their disposal in peacetime a
total of nearly 350,000 active armed personnel. Even before acceding to
the North Atlantic Treaty, both the Czech Republic and Hungary were practically
ready to deploy up to a brigade-sized unit each for exclusively NATO-led,
non-Article 5 (2), peace missions. Poland will be able
to contribute two to three times as many troops. The fact that only ten
years ago these same forces were pledged to destroy the North Atlantic
Alliance and defeat the liberal democracies of the West makes the military
contributions of the three new members to the Alliance today all the more
All three countries inherited large training facilities from the Cold
War period, which have already won great favour with NATO troops. This
is an important asset, given the tighter political and environmental constraints
some Allies are facing in using their domestic facilities. Two of the
three countries - Hungary and Poland - also have their own peacekeeping
training facilities, dedicated to creating a cadre of men versed in the
special requirements of "Operations Other Than War", something
not all Alliance states can boast.
Hungary also gained valuable experience hosting IFOR and SFOR troops prior to their deployment to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The recent Kosovo crisis clearly demonstrated that a considerable part of NATO's future work will probably involve operations like SFOR and the Kosovo peace implementation force (KFOR), which call for stable staging areas close to the region concerned, as well as personnel trained to manage such logistically challenging operations as peacekeeping and humanitarian support.
Another significant military asset these states bring to the Alliance
is their indigenous military-industrial capacity. Poland has a substantial
military-industrial complex with which it can supply itself and other
states in several areas, helicopters being one of its strengths. The Czech
Republic also has a strong reputation for quality military products, including
training aircraft, munitions and small arms.
Hungary may be the weakest in this field but its potential should not
be ignored. In the last few years, groups of dedicated designers and engineers
have developed new defence-oriented products such as small arms, various
innovative ordnance items, and even a Fast Attack Vehicle (the Szocske)
- a type of vehicle much in demand with NATO special forces. These achievements
are all the more impressive given the size of the country, the constraints
of the post-Cold War period and the perennial drive for peace dividends.
Beyond purely domestic capabilities, there are also favourable developments
in regional cooperation among the three. The best example to date is the
joint Czech-Hungarian endeavour to field a new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
(UAV), a venture which is completely in line with modern tactical trends
in Western Europe and North America.
The area in which the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland may have the
most to offer concerns the need to promote stability in Eastern and South-eastern
Europe. The vast majority of former Communist countries are united by
the common goal of eventual NATO and European Union membership: the prime
mover behind their gradual progress towards market democracy and more
stable relations with neighbouring states. This puts the three new members
in a rather unique position. They are pioneering the way towards integration
with Europe. On the security side of matters, they have achieved their
long-awaited goal. Economically and politically, they have achieved recognition
as stable countries, satisfying the requirements of "market democracy",
and attracting considerable foreign investment, leading them to be invited
to begin accession negotiations with the EU.
But they, too, had to start practically from scratch after several decades
of Communist rule. It is this shared past with other states in the region
that leaves the new members best placed to assist prospective members
to move towards closer integration with the Alliance, since they have
first-hand insight into the necessary reform process.
So, it is clear that the new members can contribute significantly to the security of the Euro-Atlantic region in both political and military terms. As the front runners in the regional push to establish secure market economies and liberal democracies with credible defence assets, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are exceptionally well-placed to assist their neighbours in Eastern Europe and the Balkan region, who are seeking to take the same path to Europe. The new Alliance of the post-Washington Summit environment needs to recognise this fact and exploit it early on, as it works towards promoting the continental stability that is so important to all.