WED, 08 NOV 2000 02:45:29 GMT
AIM Sofia, October 25, 2000
Countries waiting to become NATO members should not expect any political gifts in exchange for the support they gave this organization during the Kosovo crisis. These words, spoken by NATO Secretary General George Robertson, were repeated several times during a meeting with these countries' (Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania) defense ministers and other representatives held in Sofia on Oct. 12 and Oct. 13.
"We expect practical actions from you rather than mere words. NATO is not a political club but a military organization supposed to carry out operations," said Lord Robertson. In other words, in the year 2002, not all the hopeful candidates for NATO membership will have reason to bring out the champagne. The cold shower that hit Bulgaria's hot-headed politicians was immediately linked to events in neighboring Yugoslavia.
Fears are growing that the ongoing process of Serbia's democratization will slow NATO's eastward expansion. There are those who think otherwise, however. Democratization in Serbia is still only beginning and there are many things to be done both in Serbia and in its relations with other countries in the region before NATO changes its policy in the Balkans. In addition, it is highly likely that NATO troops will remain in Kosovo and Bosnia for a long period to come. It shows that Balkan problems are not the principal reason for NATO's expansion in the first place.
Obviously this is not the course the Alliance will follow when deciding on its expansion. The essence of this idea is that all democratic countries in Europe should have access to security offered by NATO and simultaneously assist in achieving NATO's goals. In other words, countries that are to become NATO members should be capable of contributing to the attainment of these goals with an efficient military machine and act in coordination with other NATO member countries.
Lord Robertson made himself fully clear during the meeting held in the Sofia Bojana Palace: the expansion will take place "when NATO is ready." This is to say that even if Bulgaria successfully carries out its military reforms and creates a perfect army, NATO could still say it still wasn't ready to accept it as a member.
It is well known that NATO is a pragmatic organization with clear goals. This is why observers in Sofia believe that its doors, for the time being, will remain closed. There are plenty of reasons for that. The fact that NATO, although pragmatic, does not shun political decisions was demonstrated in the case of the acceptance of "honors students" -- Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
>From a practical viewpoint this was an enormous task and a heavy burden for the Alliance. Now it is believed in Brussels that it would be too much to allow for new such cases to occur. From a military and technical point of view, NATO requires from its would-be members to have armies fully capable of combat, well-structured, trained and equipped, and ready to carry out tasks in the next century. This warrants their rearming with Western weaponry, modern communications, professional service, costly maintenance. New communications equipment for a single brigade, for example, costs up to US$200 million. Not to mention modernization of heavy equipment, air forces, or the building of a professional army. In short, all this requires enormous sums of money.
Even if Bulgaria managed to ensure funds for this purpose, would it be able to immediately purchase the necessary equipment and put it to full use? There are examples indicating that this is highly unlikely. Some two years ago, for instance, Bulgaria attempted to purchase communications equipment, better known as the Polish integrative communications-information system, for its battalion that is part of the rapid reactions forces. A veritable battle immediately ensued between three western companies -- Germany's Deimler Benz Aerospace Ziherungstechniks, the Bulgaria-based Eriksson Telecommunications, and Italy's Marconi SPA. Marconi eventually won, but the fight took a great toll in time and energy. What will happen when other, major orders are made?
Sources in the Bulgarian Defense Ministry believe that behind demands for the compatibility of the armies in question with NATO forces actually lies a desire for a redistribution of power on the arms market. Lord Robertson underlined at the Sofia meeting some other important issues as well: that the candidates for NATO membership should have advanced democracy and that they respect human rights, that they act as generators of stability, and so on. Such abstract requirements could continue to be made infinitely if Brussels determines that certain candidate should not be admitted to the NATO club, some critical observers note. It appears that deciding if a country should become a member or not is entirely political.
It is true that Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia and other candidates for NATO membership cannot boast of superbly equipped armies. But it is also true that some of the member countries (Luxembourg and Portugal, for example) are also not equipped to competently participate in joint crisis management operations, as required from the candidates for membership.
Decades are necessary to build armies that would meet the strict requirements set by NATO. Is this to say that the Alliance has firmly shut its doors to prospective members from southeastern Europe? If NATO sticks to its demands, the potential members have quite a task before them and it could easily be many years before they make sufficient progress. In the end, despite everything Lord Robertson said, the admittance of new members is exclusively a political act, as it was in the case of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
NATO is very grateful to Bulgaria for having let it use its air space during last year's operation against Yugoslavia, said Lord Robertson at the Sofia meeting. He should have also expressed the same gratitude to Romania, Albania and Macedonia, whose armies accepted Kosovo refugees at their respective borders. Back then, no one asked these armies to be equipped in line with NATO standards in order to be allowed to participate in joint crisis management operations, the observers recall.
The countries of southeastern Europe have but a single orientation -- Euro-Atlantic. No one harbors any illusions that the integration processes will be easy. In their efforts to join NATO as soon as possible they allow for certain mistakes. It was also noticed that some countries are favored over others, which is a typically Balkan attitude. If the process, however, is slowed and if the candidates are faced with new demands over and over again, the elation over the idea of joining Europe could easily melt away. Thus, the decisions on NATO's expansion cannot be anything but political.