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Consensus Is The Victim

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Writer: Dominika Cosic
The threat of Soviet intervention has been the cement in the eastwards expansion process of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation but an internal contradiction has emerged in the difficulty in creating a consensus between ‘Old Europe’ as represented by France and Germany and the ‘New Europe’ as represented by states that broke away from the Soviet Union.

 

Historical enlargement of NATO in March 1999 was really one of the most important events of recent years. It was symbolical and real final cutting of the Iron Curtain. Invitation into the NATO alliance of Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary – former communist countries, former members of communistic military alliance – was confirmation of the arrival of the new order in Europe. Fifteen years after this event, it is clear that it was the right decision.

All changes in central Europe started in 1980 by the creation in Poland of the independent syndicate “Solidarność”. It was the beginning of the end of communism. Martial Law which had been imposed in Poland by General Wojciech Jaruzelski in 1981, was not only for Poland a serious alert and that Soviet intervention was not a question of abstraction. Hopefully this worst scenario has not been fulfilled.  But The United States and Western Europe understood that the fear is still real. And the best way to be sure that Soviet Army will not come into Europe, is to take central European countries under NATO umbrella. After the fall of communism in several European countries including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania and specially after collapse of the Soviet Union this goal became more realistic. The foremost political challenge on the continent after the cold war was the integration into European organisations of the countries previously included in the Soviet bloc and NATO stepped up to this challenge as part of its transformation.

Within only ten years this idea became reality for three countries, the best prepared: Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. All these countries had been determined to become members of the European Union – they joined it in 2004.

Poland

In size, geostrategic importance and the armed forces, Poland dwarfs all the other NATO aspirants. It is also the best prepared and the most serious prospective NATO member, a result of post-1989 Polish policy of forging close links to NATO, with near uniformity among elites and the public about the need to join the Alliance.

Poland's enviable position in Central Europe of having good relations with all of its neighbours is unlikely to change following its accession to NATO. Indeed, it is in the Polish interest to have good relations with its neighbours who remained outside of NATO after 1999. Thanks to this fact, Poland did not become a “front-line” state. Specially after another one enlargement of NATO, few years later when three former Soviet Union countries – Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia became members.  And rather than an eastern bulwark of NATO, there is every indication that Poland is going to be a spokesperson within the alliance for continued enlargement and a kind of advocate. A Poland in NATO is regional actor and an important tool for the alliance in central and eastern Europe. Poland seems likely to contribute significant forces to the alliance and to take the responsibilities of being an alliance member seriously. Indeed, out of all the countries being considered for alliance membership, Poland stands out as the one country with a long-standing and demonstrated seriousness in collective security and one that brings important assets to the alliance. Far from being a “free rider,” Poland is likely to remain an above-average European contributor to NATO as a member. For a country similar to Spain in many respects (size of territory and population), Poland is likely to surpass Spain quickly in its importance and contribution to NATO. Polish engagement in mission in Afghanistan, Iraq, former Yugoslavia countries was significant.

Because of war in Iraq there was a temporary split inside NATO – so called New Europe (supported by United Kingdom and Spain) was loyal towards United States. Old Europe led by Germany and France was against. Sensitive moments were the independence of Kosovo (former Serbian province) in February 2008 and the same year, in August the events in Georgia

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic was probably the least controversial of the NATO aspirants, even though the acceptance of this country as a future NATO member went hand in hand with the knowledge that most Czechs did not care much about NATO and that the Czech Republic might become a below-average contributor once it secured membership. The Czech Republic has no territorial or minority problems with its neighbours and the cooperative Czech stance in the region is unlikely to be affected by either the invitation or membership. The Czech Republic is not an alliance member of any great importance. The country’s small size, low defence awareness and limited appreciation for the military act to constrain the Czech role. But the country may make a respectable contribution to NATO reaction forces and the Czech government has demonstrated seriousness about collective security since the end of the cold war. Assuming the continuing trend toward smaller armed forces and a greater reliance on motivated volunteers, the Czech military could be a small but valuable asset to the alliance. Very symbolic was a fact that in 1999 ratification letter has been signed also by American Secretary of State – Madeline Albright who was born in Prague.

Hungary

The biggest problem with accession of Hungary was quite delicate relations between this country and neighbours. Like the Czech Republic, Hungary’s contribution to and its role in the alliance is limited by the small size and potential of the country. At most, it may contribute a brigade of reasonable quality for the alliance’s projection missions (roughly Portugal’s contribution). Although Hungarian interest in collective security since the end of the cold war has not matched the involvement of the Czechs or Poles, there are some special circumstances (war in neighbouring Yugoslavia and the potential for spillover) that explain Hungarian behaviour. Finally, the acceptance of Hungary into NATO costed less than expected because of the already existing NATO facilities in Hungary that have been put in place as part of operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

NATO’s metamorphosis and reinvention of itself involves new functions, new capacities and new challenges. Such an unprecedented transformation of an alliance for common defence towards a structure for collective security poses vexing policy dilemmas. Changes in what an “alliance” is and NATO’s adaptability, add up to a new phenomenon. Yet NATO’s principal members, especially the United States, have rejected any shift from the primacy of NATO after the cold war to a pan-European collective security organisation. Instead, NATO has incorporated elements of collective security, extending its functions and membership. From an instrument of realism, NATO is becoming an institution imbued with idealism. Put differently, NATO has been recast as something other than an alliance arrayed against a foe and increasingly as a collective entity “for” certain norms, values and behaviours. From an enterprise devoted to deterrence and, if necessary, war-fighting, the North Atlantic Alliance has moved irrevocably into arenas of peacemaking (Bosnia), civil-military socialisation (via the Partnership for Peace programme), confidence-building (through efforts to ensure resolution of tensions between neighbours) and other collective endeavours. And through holding out the possibility of membership and participation on equal footing with current NATO members, NATO has shaped the environment by putting in place a set of incentives for cooperative international behaviour that advances the goals of a more peaceful and integrated continent.

How can we evaluate the past 15 years? They have been extremely difficult for NATO as an alliance because of the new threat. Just few days after ceremony with Heads of Governments of Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary NATO attacked Yugoslavia, neighbour of Hungary. Hungary and even more the Czechs were very skeptical towards this operation. Until now peacekeeping groups are still present in Kosovo and Bosnia. Another four years later NATO decided to send troops to Afghanistan

– Polish contribution was the most significant. Because of war in Iraq there was a temporary split inside NATO

– so called New Europe (supported by United Kingdom and Spain) was loyal towards United States. Old Europe led by Germany and France was against. Sensitive moments were the independence of Kosovo (former Serbian province) in February 2008 and the same year, in August the events in Georgia.

Now one of the biggest issues both for NATO and new members is missile defence and relations with Russia. New countries wanted to support Euroatlantic ambitions of Georgia and Ukraine – unfortunately it was the very strong opposition of France and Germany and later on internal problems in both aspirant countries that made it difficult

Now one of the biggest issues both for NATO and new members is missile defence and relations with Russia. New countries wanted to support Euroatlantic ambitions of Georgia and Ukraine – unfortunately it was the very strong opposition of France and Germany and later on internal problems in both aspirant countries that made it difficult.

Bigger NATO is from one side stronger and more powerful. But from the other weaker because consensus is more difficult to reach. But decision from March 1999 was without any doubts one of the best in history of alliance. And it allowed to reunite Europe.


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