Meeting in Tihany, Hungary on August 25, Prime Ministers Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Jerzy Buzek of Poland and Mikulas Dzurinda of Slovakia called for a two-pronged enlargement of NATO next year. While reaffirming their support for the admission of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to NATO in a single move in 2002, the four Central European prime ministers linked that goal to the admission of Slovakia and Slovenia in one and the same round of the alliance’s enlargement.
Speaking on the four prime ministers’ behalf, session host Orban declared at the concluding briefing that these countries’ full support for the Baltic enlargement is “conditional” on the admission of Slovakia and Slovenia to NATO “at the latest by the time of the accession of the Baltic states,” the target date being next year’s summit of the alliance in Prague.
The four Central European democracies form the Visegrad Group (named after the group’s 1991 founding venue), three of which countries became NATO members in 1999, with Slovakia well placed to follow suit. The Visegrad countries take common positions in foreign policy, and may be counted upon in NATO councils to add three votes in favor of inviting the Baltic states to join the alliance. The “precondition” named at the Tihany meeting does not imply any diminution of their support for the Baltic enlargement of NATO. On the contrary, it seeks to ensure that invitations are issued to the three Baltic states next year in conjunction with invitations to Slovakia and Slovenia. The idea is to pool the diplomatic efforts of a maximum number of NATO countries behind the goal of a five-country enlargement round.
Such an effort is more attractive, not only in strategic terms, but also in terms of both NATO’s political cohesion and an orderly enlargement process. The debates within the alliance have tended to produce disagreements among various member countries supporting various candidates countries, and to generate political contests among candidate countries themselves. Many European allied countries have been slow to recognize that intra-NATO frictions are almost guaranteed by a piecemeal or snail’s pace enlargement process. For their part, the Baltic and Visegrad countries recognized and addressed that risk by calling for enlargement across a broad front and without undue delays.
This is a guiding idea of the Vilnius Nine group of candidate and aspirant countries, formed in May 2000 in Lithuania’s capital, and cemented in May 2001 in Bratislava, Slovakia. The group’s strategic and political concept received a strong boost with Czech President Vaclav Havel’s address in Bratislava and U.S. President George W. Bush’s speech in June in Warsaw (see the Monitor, May 14, June 11, 20; Fortnight in Review, July 6). The Visegrad countries’ common stand at their Tihany meeting takes the debate further along that path.
Political support for a five-country, Baltic and Slovak-Slovene enlargement round seems clearly on the increase within NATO. Significantly, the constituencies that favored one or the other direction of enlargement are beginning to overlap. On August 24 in Prague, Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen of Denmark–a country that champions the undelayed admission of the Baltic states to NATO–called for the admission of “at least Slovakia and Slovenia” next year as well. “This is a test of historic importance for us.” Similarly, the influential U.S. Senator Richard Lugar recently called for a Baltic-Slovak-Slovene-enlargement round in a landmark position paper. By the same token, the Visegrad countries strongly promote the Baltic enlargement notwithstanding the fact that Slovakia’s and Slovenia’s admission to NATO is a top geopolitical priority for Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland.
The prospect of a five-country enlargement round is becoming increasingly more realistic for 2002. Such an outcome would still fall short of the “Big-Bang” round, hoped for by the Vilnius Nine. Yet, that scenario did not envisage a specific timeframe or deadline. And the admission of five countries in one move next year would open the prospect for the remaining aspirant countries, particularly Romania and Bulgaria, to be issued invitations in the follow-up round, if they meet the admission criteria by then (AFP, Reuters, BNS, August 24-25; see the Monitor, July 5, 13, 30).
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