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EDITORIAL

Run-up to war puts Slovakia on the spot

THE APPARENT determination of the United States to go it alone in Iraq, should the United Nations decide to give more time to the team of weapons inspectors, poses an important dilemma for Slovakia.
It is clear from the rhetoric emerging from Washington that the US prefers not to go to war entirely alone, if at all possible. Apart from old allies Britain and Israel, the US believes it has new friends it can count upon in eastern Europe, beyond the Old Europe of Germany and France - so scathingly dismissed as almost irrelevant by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

THE APPARENT determination of the United States to go it alone in Iraq, should the United Nations decide to give more time to the team of weapons inspectors, poses an important dilemma for Slovakia.

It is clear from the rhetoric emerging from Washington that the US prefers not to go to war entirely alone, if at all possible. Apart from old allies Britain and Israel, the US believes it has new friends it can count upon in eastern Europe, beyond the Old Europe of Germany and France - so scathingly dismissed as almost irrelevant by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

This new US perception of unquestioning support in eastern Europe, while flattering to NATO's recent invitees, including Poland and the Czech Republic, poses problems for Slovakia. For although all sides deny a connection, there exists an understanding that Slovakia's path into NATO will be made easier through full compliance with the wishes of NATO's leading member, the United States.

It would be understandable if Slovakia chose not to act against the wishes of the biggest NATO member. After all, there is much at stake. Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda said recently that he thought it was no coincidence that PSA Peugeot Citroen had decided to make a huge investment in Slovakia so soon after the invitation to join NATO was issued in Prague in November. That investment will bring thousands of badly needed jobs.

The prime minister has also asked the ministries of defence and foreign affairs to more actively promote the benefits of NATO membership, as the most recent opinion poll shows marginally more Slovaks against NATO membership than in favour. A referendum on NATO membership will only be called if 350,000 signatures are collected on a petition, a task that is currently underway.

But regardless of what promises Slovakia makes to the US, a war against Iraq could have disastrous consequences for the country's prospects of joining NATO. If the US attacks Iraq and most of Europe speaks out against it, the Slovak people will probably not remain silent. A referendum on NATO entry could attract the turnout that the cabinet dreads, more than 50 percent, and more against the alliance than for it.

And Peugeot? The French car company's decision to invest in Slovakia owes much more to the country's recent invitation to join the European Union than it does to NATO ambitions.

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