Our generation has brought about colossal, historic change. During the last seven years, we have transformed the political landscape of the European continent. In this short time we have promoted and deepened the reservoir of our shared values: freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and a free market economy. Remembering where we were in 1989, it is hard to believe the progress that has been made.
Over the past seven years, new sovereign states have emerged on the European stage, following the breakup of artificial and undemocratic constructions. International actors have had their roles redefined. Central European states have regained the capacity to determine their own affairs and acquired significant standing in the overall framework of European politics. From objects, these states have become fully sovereign and independent subjects of international relations.
Now we are at a unique point in history. Over the next several months, the process of opening the North Atlantic Alliance and the European Union eastward will begin to come to fruition. The December meeting of the North Atlantic Council and the ongoing European Union Intergovernmental Conference will be critical factors in determining the mechanism for bringing Poland and other Central European countries into the Euro-Atlantic community. It is our strong expectation that accession negotiations will commence soon after these events have concluded, taking a huge step toward strengthening Central European security and a decisive move toward a new security architecture throughout Europe.
I reaffirm now Poland's continuing and unequivocal aspiration to become a full-fledged member of the North Atlantic Alliance at the earliest possible date. I believe that there is no longer a need to address why we seek NATO membership. I consider that phase of the debate completed. It is obvious that every credible scheme for a European security architecture must include NATO at its core--the Alliance is the key factor of stability in Europe. Both NATO and its Partnership for Peace program have demonstrated a huge potential for designing security arrangements in Europe as well as for promoting democracy. At the critical moment of the crisis in Bosnia, NATO showed the necessary resolve to break through the persistent impotence of the international community and move toward a viable settlement.
While we are no longer concerned with the question why NATO should expand, we must now proceed with the how. First, we must undertake intensive pragmatic efforts, both within the applicant states and within the Alliance. Second, we must develop a wider vision of Europe after enlargement. We welcome the Berlin North Atlantic Council decision to strengthen the role of European countries in NATO and to use the Combined Joint Task Force. We also continue to strongly support the United States' political and military presence in the Alliance. As the world moves forward, politicians and opinion-makers will need to stand up to the test of time and use creative imagination to lay the basis for a stable order in the Europe of tomorrow.
Poland has made good progress in its domestic preparations for NATO membership. Our political system has all the characteristics of a mature and stable democracy. Civilian control of our armed forces is already rooted in our domestic law, and we are now acquiring practical experience in this crucial domain. By the time our negotiations for membership in the Alliance take place, this issue will be decisively and irreversibly settled.
We have also moved forward in restructuring our armed forces, so that they meet NATO requirements. Poland is deeply committed to achieving full military interoperability with the Allied forces, commencing with command, control, communications, and intelligence as well as management of air-defense systems. Numerous joint military exercises involving NATO and Polish troops have strongly contributed to the development of mutual understanding between our military and the Alliance at all levels, and have resulted in a strong habit of cooperation. A Polish assault battalion's participation in the NATO-led peace implementation force in Bosnia has given our Euro-Atlantic aspirations a strong practical dimension.
We are currently drafting a National Integration Plan that would cover all aspects of our country's accession into NATO as well as the period following, from finances to the legal issues of stationing NATO troops on Polish territory to implementing all the necessary structural and technical reforms.
Because we believe the enlargement of NATO is part of a complex effort to construct a new security architecture in Europe, we believe that enlargement should proceed in parallel with the development of other forms of European cooperation. The effort to expand the European Union eastward is one such form of cooperation.
Also important are attempts to enhance the security of states that will not join NATO in the near future. Such security measures can be advanced through the continuation of the Partnership for Peace program, maintaining dialogue within the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, and through the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. There must also be a close partnership between an expanded NATO and Russia, and between NATO and Ukraine, to sustain the stability of the new European construction. A cooperative relationship between those nations and NATO will greatly contribute to European security.
Poland also believes that more attention ought to be devoted to the strengthening of confidence-building measures and conflict-prevention techniques. There must be no departure from the existing arms control agreements, which underpin the stability of the European continent. Additional arms reductions, however, may take place sometime in the future.
We strongly feel that a pattern of cooperative bilateral and subregional relations is an indispensable element of stable order on the continent. Consequently, Poland attaches particular importance to maintaining peaceful and friendly relations with our neighbors. The Polish-German partnership has been referred to as a model for the constructive building of mutual ties in the evolving European context. We are also developing trilateral relations with Germany and France within the framework of the "Weimar triangle," and are cultivating close, strategic relations with Ukraine. With other neighbors to the south and the east, we have reached bilateral relations that we assess as "good" or "good neighborly," a step that has often required overcoming the barriers that have come with the baggage of history. Issues such as the status of national minorities have become a strength rather than a weakness of our relations with neighboring states, and our bilateral ties have been made more durable through the many subregional cooperation networks, including the Central European Free Trade Agreement CEFTA), the Central European Initiative, and the Council of the Baltic Sea States, in which Poland plays an active role. Poland will bring to NATO its experience as a stabilizing factor both within its particular region and on the wider international scene.
As a nation, Poland is committed to accepting all the obligations and responsibilities associated with achieving common security goals within the North Atlantic Alliance. We are also prepared and willing to shoulder our part of the responsibility for implementing NATO tasks to ensure the stability of the European continent sensu largo.
There are many parts of the world that are still subject to political turbulence, ethnic tension, instability, disputes, or crises. These areas require a more effective response on the part of the international community. The fundamental truth is that the answer to today's challenges does not lay in geopolitical egoism. Isolating oneself and concentrating only on one's own narrow political interests will not guarantee security. What is required instead is to assume one's share of international responsibility and to build greater confidence among the states of Europe by multiplying the ties of cooperation between them.
Through its potential as a security enhancer, the North Atlantic Alliance will inject fresh incentive into the consolidation and expansion of the Euro-Atlantic zone of security, prosperity, and mutual understanding. The enlarged Alliance will extend the prospect of long-term stability to the countries of Central as well as Eastern Europe. The new NATO will reinforce the tendency toward integration and cooperation in Europe as a whole. It is such a NATO whose membership we wish to join and to which we want to contribute.
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