Vol. 2, No. 12, 20 January 1998
NATO CONCERNED ABOUT POLISH MILITARY. The daily
"Rzeczpospolita" reported on 19 January that the Atlantic
alliance is concerned about the state of Poland's defense forces.
Citing a report from NATO headquarters in Mons, Belgium, the
newspaper said the Polish army is equipped to defend only
against a land-based attack and would add little to NATO's
strength in its early years of membership. The report added
that the air force is poorly trained and lacks modern
equipment, while the Polish navy could not be deployed much
beyond the Baltic Sea. It also criticized the planned increases in
defense spending as too low. The NATO document is reported to
be even more critical of the Czech and Hungarian militaries. PB
HUNGARIAN PREMIER MEETS TONY BLAIR. British Prime
Minister Tony Blair told his visiting Hungarian counterpart,
Gyula Horn, on 19 January that the EU will begin accession
talks with the six candidate countries on 30 March, Hungarian
media reported. Horn proposed that the "principle of
differentiation" be applied to the six countries invited to begin
negotiations. At a joint session of the British parliament's
Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, Horn stressed the
importance of NATO accession. The chairmen of both
committees said there are no obstacles to the ratification of the
accession protocols. MSZ
FROM THE UNTHINKABLE TO THE INEVITABLE
by Paul Goble
Two developments many world leaders had long thought
impossible--eventual Baltic membership in NATO and the
transformation of that defense alliance into a collective
security organization--increasingly appear not only likely but
That movement from the unthinkable to the virtually
inevitable has taken place as a result of the convergence of
two very different patterns of political development: the
West's tradition of and insistence on step-by-step change, and
the East's experience with and expectations of sudden,
Both of those patterns and their increasingly certain
impact on NATO and Europe were very much in evidence on 16
January when U.S. President Bill Clinton, Estonian President
Lennart Meri, Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis, and Lithuanian
President Algirdas Brazauskas signed the U.S.-Baltic charter
at a White House ceremony in Washington.
In his speech, President Clinton stressed the U.S.
commitment to ensuring that every country in Europe has the
right to choose its own security arrangements, regardless of
its geographic location, and to guaranteeing that the Baltic
States would eventually be able to enter NATO.
In his response, President Meri spoke for all three Baltic
States when he repeated their desire to join the Western
alliance as soon as possible and when he suggested that
inclusion in NATO of those countries would be the next big test
for the alliance.
Because both Clinton and the charter itself largely
repeated promises the U.S. and NATO have made in the past and
because the Baltic States appeared once again to be
unsuccessful supplicants, many observers in the U.S., Europe,
and the Russian Federation have tended to dismiss the charter
as either an element in American domestic politics or a
"consolation prize" for the Balts.
Such conclusions could not be more wrong, albeit for
very different reasons than many of those celebrating the
signing of the charter have offered so far.
What was striking about both the signing ceremony and
the charter itself was the extent to which both were broadly
accepted as nothing out of the ordinary.
As President Clinton noted at the start of his speech, the
signing ceremony attracted an unusually large number of
ambassadors, including Yulii Vorontsov, the ambassador of the
Russian Federation, to mark what the U.S. leader called an
historic and positive development for all concerned.
And as the commentators who dismissed the charter
themselves acknowledged, the document and the speeches
given on 16 January seemed unimportant because virtually
everything in them had been said before and was now more or
less common ground.
But that last observation is precisely the key: it is now
common ground that eventually the Baltic states will get into
NATO some day. And it is also common ground that the
organization of which they are to become members will not be
the NATO of the Cold War but a new regional security group
that will cooperate with rather than contend against Russia.
Neither of those ideas was common ground until recently.
But because of the pattern of developments in Eastern Europe
since 1989, the very acceptance of such ideas may lead to the
inclusion of the Baltic States in NATO. Moreover, the
transformation of that alliance may take place much faster
than anyone had expected up to now.
Even those in NATO who accept that the Baltic States
will eventually join and that the alliance itself will change in
the process have generally been reluctant to include the three
countries on a short list for candidates for invitations in
1999. But it is a measure of just how fast things may now be
moving that an unnamed senior U.S. State Department official
explicitly rejected a media recent report in the Baltic states
that NATO will not invite the three at that time.
Along with the increasing willingness of the
international community to accept as inevitable what had been
seen as impossible, that rejection seems likely to encourage
the three Baltic governments to push even harder toward their
goal over the next 18 months in the hope that they will receive
invitations in the next round of alliance expansion.
A year ago, such an initiative would have seemed the
most improbable of developments, just as five years ago few
thought that Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic would be
taken into the Western alliance and just as 10 years ago even
fewer thought that the Soviet Union would disappear from the
Now, in the aftermath of the signing of the U.S.-Baltic
charter, those who thought Baltic membership in NATO was
utopian may discover that it is going to take place far sooner
than they had thought possible.
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