Nato Secretary General George Robertson says expansion will go on.
"Slovakia's invitation to Nato is already printed, it just has to be sent," said Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan at a Košice press conference September 18.
Slovakia hopes to be invited to join the alliance at next year's planned fall Nato summit in Prague, having been left out of a 1999 expansion round that absorbed three of its regional neighbours.
The Deputy Prime Minister for Integration, Mária Kadlečíková, said she felt the terrorist attacks would increase Nato's resolve to accept new members, as well as bring forward the expansion timetable.
"I tend to think it will speed up, from our side at least," she said. "We understand that on the US side its agenda will be tougher, more complicated, but we think that now more than ever it is in the alliance's interest to have such a country as Slovakia in its ranks. In interviews we have had with officials from Nato member countries we have been told that they rule out any chance that Nato expansion will be stopped or slowed down."
A diplomat close to the Nato expansion process offered no confirmation of the cabinet members' views, saying it was still too early to say what the future might hold.
"The long-term implications are unclear," said Douglas Hengel, chargé d'affaires of the US embassy in Bratislava. "There has been no change regarding the Prague summit or Nato's intentions to look at enlargement at that time, but of course the focus is on other issues at the moment. I don't foresee any slowdown, but there will clearly be less attention paid to the issue of Nato enlargement in both Washington and Brussels for some months to come."
Vladimír Bilčík, analyst at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association thinktank in Bratislava, predicted the attacks would have an "indirect effect" on Nato integration by discouraging US isolationism.
"If the US wants to prevent these kinds of attacks in the future it needs to become more internationally engaged, to seek out more partners," the analyst said. "I don't think this will slow plans to expand Nato, but it may help define some of the specific priorities of Nato enlargement."
Bilčík said that while possible anti-terrorism cooperation between the US and Russia following the attacks could hinder the admission of Baltic nations such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, whose Nato membership Russia opposes, "I don't think this will have a fundamental effect on the possible admission of Slovakia or Slovenia. Other factors will likely play a greater role here."
These other factors, in Slovakia's case, are largely associated with the outcome of September 2002 elections and whether politicians associated with the authoritarian 1994 to 1998 regime of Vladimír Mečiar return to power.
"The criteria we will use to judge possible new members are unlikely to change, and those are essentially an ability to contribute to the missions of the alliance and whether the people and government of a country share the same values of the alliance, since Nato is an alliance of shared values," said Hengel.
"It's not enough to say that you support Nato - do you also believe in the values of democracy, tolerance, human rights and free markets that this alliance is based on? Clearly, the policies of the previous Slovak government were not consistent with these values, and therefore a return of leading officials from that government to power would raise serious concerns in Washington and Nato about the suitability of Slovakia for membership in the alliance."
Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, since declaring Nato membership a priority last year, has supported government bills related to integration in parliament, and last week made several public statements expressing support for the US.
"We appreciate the support of the HZDS for Nato and their expressions of condolence and support following the attacks on the US," said Hengel. "But I have not seen a self-reflection, a self-analysis by the HZDS of the policies they undertook when they were in power. This would certainly be useful in getting Nato to look at the HZDS through different eyes."
HZDS spokesperson Žaneta Pittnerová did not respond to a request by The Slovak Spectator for comment.
24. Sep 2001 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson