On May 23-24, Slovak citizens will go to voting booths all across the country and decide on three questions regarding the country's quest for membership into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the main security umbrella for western Europe. Those three quesiions are: 1) Do you favor Slovakia joining NATO? 2) Do you favor the possible deployment of foreign troops on Slovak territory? 3) Do you favor the possible deployment of nuclear weapons on Slovak territory? The Slovak public's answers to these three questions are expected to provide NATO decision-makers with a more accurate picture of how Slovaks feel about NATO membership.
Should Slovakia join NATO and why?
It should, but it can't for now
In a few weeks NATO member states will announce in Madrid which countries will be invited to join the alliance. As previous statements by alliance officials have without a doubt indicated, there are three favorites - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. It seems that Slovakia has been definitely crossed off the list in which it had just been unanimously included two years ago.
The reason why is clear: Slovakia does not meet the political criteria that would place it together with other democratic countries. More than that, the foreign policy of Prime Minister Vladimir Mečiar's third government is ambiguous, and the premier himself has been very contradictory. This fact - together with evident discrepancies between his words and deeds repeatedly demonstrated during his term in office - has contributed to his loss of credit in the West's eyes. That is definitely not the best way for Mečiar to accomplish his foreign policy goals.
The last and very precise example is the fact that Mečiar - like a little boy - got caught lying to somebody he would never have suspected. Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin during his visit to Slovakia denied allegations that Moscow and Washington ever negotiated the list of NATO candidates. It is well-known that not long ago Mečiar declared publicly that Slovakia would not become a NATO member because Russia and America had agreed on to exclude the country from the alliance.
Of course, Slovakia has been left out of the first round of NATO expansion. However, it is not clear when the next round will take place because Moscow's objections are expected to grow stronger. Therefore Mečiar's statements more or less badly camouflaged his offended vanity and political insensitivity which does not help Slovakia's aspirations and could create a boomerang effect.
There is one last possibility, though under the present circumstances it is rather theoretical. If the political situation changes next year at the latest, it would then be possible that NATO member states could reassess their decision. The process of ratification, which takes approval from all sixteen member states' parliaments, will not commence sooner than 1998 and will culminate in April 1999 when the invited countries will become equal members of the alliance on the 50th anniversary of NATO's establishment. Slovakia could slip in if the political climate changes.
A worst case scenario for Slovakia's strategic interests would be if Mečiar's government started to act as a destabilizing element in the region. It is better to believe that his statements were just an expression of frustration and will not become part of his political program. Similarly, let us hope that his frustration will not lead to playing the neutrality game. All this would do is diminish Slovakia's prospects of integrating into the EU, where we are getting off track despite positive economic results.
The present Slovak government probably has not fully realized that joining NATO is a political invitation to an elite Western club that also means stability and prosperity. It will soon be very hard to explain to Slovak citizens why they are still not wearing a members' only jacket.
Ivan Horský is a columnist for the Slovak daily Sme.. He wrote this piece in Slovak.
This article was translated by Lucia Šefranková.
8. May 1997 at 0:00 | Ivan Horský