President Michal Kováč (left) and his country's military personnel will be dejected if NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana excludes Slovakia from the alliance's first wave.
"It is important...that our military is very popular. Slovak people respect their military forces more than in the Czech Republic or Hungary."
Pavol Hrivík, Ministry of Defense advisor
Jozef Tuchyňa, chief of the Slovak armed forces, on March 18 warned of the consequences if Slovakia is excluded from the first wave of central and eastern European nations to enter the joint American-European security alliance. "Our absence from the first wave can only have negative results," Tuchyňa told the Slovak press.
Pavol Hrivík, foreign policy advisor to Slovak Defense Minister Ján Sitek, interpreted Tuchyňa's remarks by saying that Slovakia's rejection could reverberate negatively with the country's military rank and file.
"Now, if the Madrid summit rejects us from the first group of applicants, this can cause a very curious situation in the Slovak military sphere," Hrivík said. "Our soldiers will think, 'What has happened? Our achievements are not respected.' These soldiers may go into a very low psychological state, which can slide into passivity and a reduced interest in NATO. I think this is the background for Tuchyňa's remarks."
"Soldiers are trained to think logically and determinedly, in terms of concrete, measurable results," Hrivík continued. "[This is in contrast to] politicians, who don't always measure their actions or the results of their actions [in so straightforward a manner]. It means a soldier can be very disappointed."
Hrivík acknowledged that the country's negative political image abroad has jettisoned its prospects of being invited to join NATO at the alliance's July summit in Madrid. "We now know Slovakia will not be in the first group of countries to join NATO," Hrivík said.
But that image hasn't been helped by Sitek himself, who as a member of the junior coalition partner the Slovak National Party (SNS), has been quoted repeating his party's platform that Slovakia should remain neutral. Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar has rejected that viewpoint, saying his country's foreign policy priorities are to join NATO and the European Union.
Though praised by high-level officials such as former US Defense Secretary William Perry (right), military officers such as this one under the watchful eye of Defense Minister Ján Sitek will likely suffer a setback.
The fact that the Slovak military is more trusted than other countries' gives Slovakia the edge, Hrivík added. "The peoples' trust in the Slovak armed forces is higher than it is in other countries," Hrivik continued. "Our minister of defense has for the last three years been rated first of any minister in terms of public popularity. In the Czech Republic, their minister of defense is rated last. It is important in terms of collective security that Slovakia's military is very popular. Slovak people respect their military establishment more than in the Czech Republic or Hungary."
Hrivík added that he thought the Slovak military is more ready than its Visegrád brethren. "We must show that we are prepared to defend Slovakia," Hrivík said. "In my opinion, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are not prepared to fulfill this condition.
They just want to get under the NATO umbrella. The Czech Republic, for example, has great problems with its own armed forces. This is further evidence that Slovakia is better prepared [to join NATO] than the Czech Republic and Hungary."
What NATO's thinking is on that issue is not known, at least according to one NATO advisor who rapid-fired rhetorical questions but shot blanks for answers when discussing the military issue at a recent conference in Slovakia.
"When NATO countries gather to decide whether to accept a new applicant as a member, they will make their decision based on the [following] criteria: is this a country with a political system, civil service and soldiers we can trust, [with whom] we can work? asked Christopher Donnelly, a special advisor to NATO on central and eastern Europe, at an April 16 speech at the University of Agriculture in Nitra. "Do these people share our values? Can we work with them as we have with our members for the last decade? These are the first questions [NATO must ask]."
"Joining NATO doesn't just mean expecting other people to come and fight for you, but sending troops from your country to Portugal, Norway or Greece to fight there if necessary," Donnelly continued. "It means the people, government and military [must] show a sustained committment to doing that, so that NATO members know this country is reliable."
Hrivik intimated that's what Slovakia has been working toward since he started at the Defense Ministry in 1994 - including education, standardization of equipment and communication systems, humanitarian relief and engineering support efforts with the United Nations' peace-keeping mission in the former Yugoslavia.
"Many Slovak soldiers try to be the best in military partnership exercises. They were very highly evaluated by NATO officers," Hrivík said. "[For example], our engineering battalion in eastern Slavonia [in Croatia] was very highly evaluated by NATO Secretary General [Javier Solana]," he added, referring to the Slovak armed forces' performance in the United Nations' peace-keeping operations in the former Yugoslavia.
Asked how the West sees Slovakia as potentially part of NATO, Hrivik said, "I think Western political analysts are looking at Slovakia differently than they look at other countries in the region. They are not well-informed. They don't like the government now in power."
24. Apr 1997 at 0:00 | Tom Reynolds