SLOVAKIA's preparation for NATO entry may be adversely affected, but not seriously threatened, by the decision of the US government to stop all military assistance to Slovakia, according to experts.
The US administration has decided that Slovakia, along with other countries that have decided to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) by not granting US citizens immunity from the court's powers, would cease to receive military aid as of July 1, when the court's statutes entered into force.
"The freeze on military assistance to Slovakia came about through the operation of the American Service Members Protection Act which was passed by Congress in response to the Rome Statute that established the ICC," says a statement provided to The Slovak Spectator by the US embassy in Bratislava.
"This act of Congress requires the administration to freeze on July 1, 2003, all military assistance to countries that are parties to the ICC and are not members of NATO nor are other major allies of the US," the statement continued.
The 22 US allies, which have been exempt from the prohibition, include Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Japan, and South Korea.
Despite being a staunch US supporter in the period leading up to the war in Iraq, deploying a biological, chemical, and radiation protection unit to the Middle East before the start of the conflict and its recent promise to send a unit of military engineers to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq, Slovakia did not find itself on this list of top allies.
The US did, however, provide an option for countries to avoid sanctions.
"The Act authorises the US president to grant waivers to those countries that have signed bilateral agreements with the US not to surrender Americans to the ICC. We are encouraging all counties that are affected by the Act to sign such bilateral agreements with the US," states the US embassy in Bratislava.
However, it does not appear likely that Slovakia will change its mind in light of US pressure anytime soon.
"We are negotiating with the US and we hope to find a different solution," said Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan at a press conference.
Kukan also added that Slovakia respects the universal jurisdiction of the ICC and will not enter into any such agreement with the US, stressing Slovakia's position will remain fully in line with that of the EU.
"Slovakia is bound by its entry to the EU. It is becoming a part of the union's common foreign and security policy. So we are under pressure from both the US and the EU," said Ivo Samson, analyst with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association.
At a European Council meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece, held on June 19 and 20, the EU agreed to support the ICC as a step toward the "implementation of international humanitarian law and human rights" and to "continue to work actively for the universality of the court and contribute to its effective functioning", according to the final statement from the summit.
Officials stress that the recent developments will not result in any substantial damage to Slovakia or its military.
"Slovakia will not lose its military aid," said Defence Minister Ivan Šimko at a press conference, adding that it is up to the US to decide to whom it will provide assistance and under what conditions.
Šimko explained that once Slovakia enters NATO, the flow of money will resume. "We are talking about a relatively short period of time, until May next year," he said.
Šimko also said Slovakia is looking for ways the aid can be released before that time, other than Slovakia having to sign an agreement with the US.
None of the representatives specified the amount of aid Slovakia will miss out on, as that information is confidential, but Šimko said it was in the tens of millions of Slovak crowns.
However, US help is not only about money.
"Slovakia has to fulfil all five criteria resulting from the [NATO] membership action plan. One of them - the transformation of the armed forces - is underway, and Slovakia would have problems with that one regardless of US aid. However, that aid is welcomed, because it is about US know-how, about the presence of US military advisors, and sharing experience," said Samson.
Slovak representatives say future relations between the two countries will not suffer in the long run, because of their differing attitudes toward the ICC.
"Slovakia doesn't need to prove that it is a loyal partner of the US," said Kukan.
"The US Congress has already ratified Slovakia's admission to NATO and we look forward to Slovakia becoming a formal member of the alliance as soon as all the current members have also ratified its admission," according to the US embassy in Bratislava.
As regards NATO itself, experts don't see the problem of the ICC as the main one to trouble the alliance.
"Relations within NATO are already damaged. This is just an additional problem, which is much less significant than the crisis in Iraq," said Samson.
14. Jul 2003 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila