Lugar (left) meets Slovak President Rudolf Schuster.
That was part of the message of US Senator Richard G. Lugar, who paid a visit to Bratislava August 23 on the way home from meetings in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Lugar, who is the second-ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees in the US Senate, spent much of his time in the country focused on the relationship between Slovakia and NATO. Lugar met President Rudolf Schuster and spoke with officials from the Ministries of Defence and Economy, as well as with Slovak Army officials.
He said that the country has a lot of work to do to bring its army up to NATO standards. "You also have to find out how much Slovak people are willing to pay, as NATO membership requires significant expenditures from the state," he said at an August 24 press conference. "The Slovak army has to increase its budget to a level closer to the NATO requirement and to get more sophisticated military machinery, guns and other equipment," he added.
Lugar said he supported Slovakia's membership in the OECD, EU, and NATO, which he called "crucial for the country." He added that he was impressed by the political courage Slovakia showed in supporting NATO actions in Kosovo war.
Another way to increase the likelihood of NATO entry, Lugar said, was through securing more US and western European investment in the country, as alliance members would naturally want to protect their investments. The boost such investment would bring to the economy would also help.
Indiana, the state which Lugar represents, has unique ties to Slovakia. The industrial giant US Steel, which has a joint venture with Slovak steel company VSŽ, has a large factory in Indiana. The Indiana National Guard has held trainings and other co-operative projects with the Slovak Army. And Indiana was recently named Slovakia's partner in the international Partnership for Peace Program.
Lugar's visit will be followed this week by the arrival of a large trade delegation of United States politicians and businessmen. That mission will be led by US Representative John Mica.