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STATE OFFICIALS CELEBRATE ENTRY TO SECURITY ALLIANCE ON THE WHITE HOUSE LAWN

NATO swells to 26 members

THE PRIME ministers of seven former Soviet satellite states, including Slovakia, were officially welcomed to NATO on March 29 in the alliance's biggest expansion in 55 years.
At a special ceremony, the PMs of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia handed over their states' accession documents to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, as the US serves as NATO's depository nation. NATO now has 26 members.
A few hours later US President George Bush welcomed the new members into the alliance as "full and equal partners" on the south lawn of the White House.

THE PRIME ministers of seven former Soviet satellite states, including Slovakia, were officially welcomed to NATO on March 29 in the alliance's biggest expansion in 55 years.

At a special ceremony, the PMs of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia handed over their states' accession documents to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, as the US serves as NATO's depository nation. NATO now has 26 members.

A few hours later US President George Bush welcomed the new members into the alliance as "full and equal partners" on the south lawn of the White House.

"They endured bitter tyranny. They struggled for independence. They earned their freedom through courage and perseverance, and today they stand with us as full and equal partners in this great alliance," Bush said.

Slovakia's politicians rejoiced over the completion of the integration process. Speaker of Slovak Parliament Pavol Hrušovský said the March 29 ceremony was a "historical moment that gives Slovakia the chance to live in a freer and safer world."

"Such a world is worth being defended in a common effort. May God help us," he continued.

According to Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, entry into NATO is the fulfilment of "a great hope of many generations of democrats".

The Slovak PM said he was convinced that Slovakia was prepared for NATO membership in all aspects and added that the country could play a positive role in the western Balkans.

President Rudolf Schuster, who was at the November 2002 NATO summit in Prague when the seven states were officially invited to the alliance and posed thumbs up for cameras, said on March 29 that Slovakia "has returned to a family of democratic states from which we were violently pulled after World War II".

Schuster said that, with the expansion, "NATO expands the sphere of security, stability, and democracy," but he pointed out that membership brings not only advantages to Slovakia but also commitment and responsibility.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who recently visited Bratislava, said that the "alliance brings a feeling of security and stability to Slovakia," and "Slovakia is very important for NATO because the wider the group of allies, the wider the security and stability sphere."

Slovakia has taken a long path to enter NATO, originally hoping to become an alliance member along with the neighbouring Visegrad Four states of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. But Slovakia was rejected from the 1999 NATO expansion when member nations questioned the commitment of the 1994 - 1998 government of PM Vladimír Mečiar to democratic principles.

Hrušovský touched on the issue in his speech, saying that those politicians who managed to steer the state down a democratic path and out of the international isolation of the Mečiar era deserved the greatest recognition for Slovakia's NATO entry.

But the celebratory tone of the occasion was not the only one heard in Slovakia. While the parliamentary Communist Party dismissed NATO as a "relic of the Cold-War era", the former chairman of the ruling Christian Democratic Party, Ján Čarnogurský, said that NATO could actually expose Slovakia to "possible terrorist attacks" rather than bring it more security.

"We do not face any threat of direct attack on our state and that is why we do not need NATO," Čarnogurský told the state-run news agency TASR.

"NATO membership can draw us into armed conflicts that are far beyond our military and power capabilities, as has already happened in case of Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

According to TASR, Čarnogurský also thinks that by building foreign military bases in Slovakia, the state will become a potential target of even nuclear missile attacks.

In the 1990s some politicians talked about the possibility of neutrality for Slovakia, but that idea was in a minority and was soon rejected.

Ivo Samson, an analyst with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, told The Slovak Spectator that that "neutrality was very intensely discussed in the mid-1990s but this initiative was more or less a tactic of those powers who were hoping that Slovakia would not become a part of the so-called 'western political, defence, and economic structures'."

"Because there is not currently the threat of a conflict in [central Europe], NATO membership for Slovakia has rather a psychological character as a permanent guarantee of security," Samson said.

Rastislav Káčer, the Slovak ambassador to Washington, told reporters on March 29 that "Slovakia earned [admission to NATO] with hard work, transparent politics, and courage to stand behind its vision."

But the celebratory tone of the occasion was not the only one heard in Slovakia. While the parliamentary Communist Party dismissed NATO as a "relic of the Cold-War era", the former chairman of the ruling Christian Democratic Party, Ján Čarnogurský, said that NATO could actually expose Slovakia to "possible terrorist attacks" rather than bring it more security.

"We do not face any threat of direct attack on our state and that is why we do not need NATO," Čarnogurský told the state-run news agency TASR.

"NATO membership could draw us into armed conflicts that are far beyond our military and power capabilities, as has already happened in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

According to TASR, Čarnogurský also thinks that, by building foreign military bases in Slovakia, the state will become a potential target of nuclear missile attacks.

In the 1990s some politicians talked about the possibility of neutrality for Slovakia, but that idea was in a minority and was soon rejected.

Ivo Samson, an analyst with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, told The Slovak Spectator that "neutrality was very intensely discussed in the mid-1990s but this initiative was more or less a tactic of those powers who were hoping that Slovakia would not become a part of the so-called 'Western political, defence, and economic structures'."

"Because there is not currently the threat of a conflict in [central Europe], NATO membership for Slovakia has a psychological character as a permanent guarantee of security," Samson said.

Rastislav Káčer, the Slovak ambassador to Washington, told reporters on March 29 that "Slovakia earned [admission to NATO] with hard work, transparent politics, and courage to stand behind its vision."

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