The strategic importance of Central Europe is evident in the fact that three of the last four NATO Workshops have been held in this region: in Budapest in '93, Dresden in '95, and in Warsaw today; we also hope that the next Workshop will be held in Prague in '97. Central Europe is a traditional crossroads of various interests, influences, and European powers. We can see this in every step we take as we walk through this great city of Warsaw.
In the past, the temptation to fill the vacuum in Central Europe has brought about various conflicts. Remembering these conflicts, there can be no doubt that stability in Central Europe is fundamentally linked with the stability of Europe as a whole. Three years ago I told the NATO Workshop that NATO will need its center flank. I am still convinced that the best way to achieve this stable flank is to anchor it securely to NATO.
I and my fellow countrymen are certain that NATO is the backbone of stability, security, and decency in Europe. But even more, NATO is the guarantee of a U.S. presence in Europe, which, from a Central European perspective, is still greatly needed. The process of European integration is well developed but not yet finished.
NATO is also an important instrument for fighting all tendencies toward defense renationalization. And it is the only organization that is capable of acting successfully out of area and that can adapt itself to the new post-Cold War conditions in Europe.
The results of this adaptation are already visible. First, there is the success of IFOR and the military implementation of the Dayton Agreement. Second, there is the result of the NAC meeting in Berlin on the implementation of the Combined Joint Task Force, and the decision to build a European element inside NATO and under NAC authority. Last but not least, there is France's recent decision to return to the integrated structure.
Along with this internal adaptation, NATO is also undergoing external adaptation-enlargement and establishment of relations with countries that will not become members in the first round. Yet with all of these reforms, NATO must remain a collective defense alliance. Common defense and Article V must remain our core functions.
There has been some debate on the costs and burdens of enlargement, and no doubt there will be some costs for members and especially for those who join. However, I think this is an issue that can be solved. In fact, I believe the RAND Corporation has some proposals on the problem for us to study. My assessment is that the price need not be so high in the short run.
But while there will be some costs, we must remember that collective defense is definitely cheaper than guaranteeing defense on one's own. For example, for the 1,000 Czech soldiers who are participating in IFOR, working with Canadian and British personnel in Bosnia, the cost is 1.5 billion Czech crowns per year. An entire squadron of F-16's would cost 4 or 5 billion crowns. If the Czech Republic is ready to pay for its share of the costs in Bosnia, it must be even more ready to pay for the security of its own territory.
I am convinced that any further delay in NATO enlargement would mean not only loss of our credibility but also resignation of our principle of political solidarity in Europe. European integration is based on such solidarity, and enlargement would be NATO's best contribution to integration and its final success.
The Czech position on joining NATO has not changed. We still wish to become full-fledged members as soon as possible-in the political as well as the integrated military structures-with all rights and obligations. The results of our Parliamentary elections three weeks ago did not change our intention in any way. And a government proclamation that has just been prepared offers the chance to receive an even stronger mandate on this issue.
So what are our next steps- We want, of course, to keep the momentum in our intensified individual dialogue with NATO. We expect that the North Atlantic Council will evaluate this dialogue in December '96, and decide about the NATO Summit in the spring of '97.
We also expect that the Summit will decide who will be invited to the pre-accession talks. We believe that the Czech Republic will be among those invited. The pre-accession talks could be concluded in '98, and we will be prepared to sign the protocol no later than '98 or '99. This will be an excellent time since NATO will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Our homework in the meantime will be, first and foremost, to maintain political stability and economic growth, to keep the momentum of our individual NATO dialogue, and to cooperate with PFP and NACC. Our military will need to implement all standardization agreements (STANAG's) into everyday reality, and to increase the military budget. These priorities are generally good ones, because we have solid, stable, 5% GDP growth. Last but not least, we will also try to persuade all 16 NATO governments and parliaments that we are a reliable Partner.
General Joulwan said that through Partnership for Peace we are becoming good friends. I believe we are not far from the moment when we will also be good Allies.
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