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NATO green-lights bases and expansion

THE CONSTRUCTION of anti-missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, countries that neighbour Slovakia, has become a reality.

THE CONSTRUCTION of anti-missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, countries that neighbour Slovakia, has become a reality.

At a summit held in Bucharest from April 2 to 4, NATO members agreed to endorse plans by the United States to build the bases, despite objections from Russia. American and Czech officials met during the summit to discuss the final details.

Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič told the public Slovak Radio before departing for the summit on April 1 that the construction of the bases was a foregone conclusion.

“The consensus is that once the Czech, Polish and American sides agreed, Slovakia was not in a position to try to prevent, or prevent, such an agreement,” Gašparovič said. “However, if a similar arrangement had been sought with Slovakia, agreement probably would not have been reached.”

These comments came just two days after Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico voiced a completely opposite sentiment on the public Czech Television (ČT) station.

“As for the Slovak Republic, I speak now for the Slovak government, I would not consider it right to agree to deploying such elements in Europe,” Fico said.

Fico went on to call the plan to build the bases “total nonsense” and declared that their presence “unnecessarily unnerve[s] the European environment”.

Fico also cast doubt on the reliability of the bases’ anti-missile system, which he said were “being developed and in the growth process”.

“It is very strange that Europe is just watching silently as a new era of foreign armies is being deployed on the European continent,” he said.

This was not the first time Fico had expressed a distaste for the bases. At the end of last April he told journalists he sympathised with Russia’s position on the issue.

“I understand why there is great worry,” he said during a meeting in Germany as quoted by the SITA newswire. “But who would not be afraid when some missile or radar bases are starting to be built nearby?”

Economy Minister Ľubomír Jahnátek expounded a similar position at the end of February during a meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergej Naryškin, in Banská Bystrica.

“Every reasonable and decent person knows that it will automatically endanger us,” Jahnátek told journalists.

“Let us not tell fairy tales here,” he snapped. “We will be in the middle between Poland and Czech Republic. When the rockets fall somewhere, it will definitely affect Slovakia as well.”

This gives Slovakia an overriding interest in seeing that the bases do not operate there, he said, then warned: “Your security is concerned.”

But comments by Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Ján Kubiš, who is a Smer appointee, have shown that not everyone in the government fully agrees with the prime minister.

Kubiš has voiced his support for the anti-missile bases several times, saying that they will contribute to regional security.

“Our allies will contribute with the steps they are discussing today to boosting the security in the whole region,” Kubiš said last April in response to Fico’s criticism of the bases.

Martin Bútora, a former ambassador to the United States, told The Slovak Spectator last May that discordance among top members of the government was not a good sign.

“This exposes rifts, and that can never be good,” he said.

Grigorij Mesežnikov, a political analyst and president of the Institute for Public Affairs non-governmental think tank, expressed a similar opinion.

“There are very few places in the world in which the situation is comparable [with Slovakia],” he told the Spectator. “Generally, it will be seen as a negative that we do not present a constant political message.”

But security analyst Ivo Samson disagrees. He stressed for The Slovak Spectator that dissension on the anti-missile bases has internal logic.

“One pole of the presentation of Slovak foreign policy is meant for the domestic audience,” Samson said, adding that this pole is represented by the prime minister. “This is the anti-Kosovo stance and the sentiments against the anti-missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland.”

But all NATO decisions must be approved unanimously, so the crucial thing is how Slovakia votes during the summit, not what declarations it makes at home, Samson said.

“Fico prudently avoided the summit in Bucharest, as he would have had to speak against his own statements meant for the domestic political scene,” Samson continued.

He added that President Gašparovič’s presence at the summit not only fulfilled his role as the country’s head of state and commander in chief of its armed forces, but allowed Slovakia to protect its reputation in the alliance by voting in favour of the bases.

“So this is a certain game of political pragmatism, not an illogical schizophrenia,” Samson concluded.

The main topics of discussion at the NATO summit were enlargement, the future of NATO missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo, and the alliance’s new strategic direction. NATO members had intended to invite Croatia, Albania and Macedonia into the alliance, but left out Macedonia due to objections from Greece.

Ukraine and Georgia had expected the summit to include them into the Membership Action Plan (MAP), the final phase before joining NATO, but that hope was dashed when Germany and France opposed the plan due to concerns from Russia about the alliance’s eastern expansion.

Before boarding his flight to Bucharest, President Gašparovič told journalists that Slovakia supports enlarging the alliance.

“It is true that the bigger the alliance, the stronger and more apt it will be, and the more effective it will be in the fight against terrorism,” he said.

Apart from the president, Foreign Affairs Minister Kubiš and Defence Minister Jaroslav Baška participated in the summit.

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