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NATO Invitees Step Up to Membership

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

MONS, Belgium, March 3, 1998 – Old ways are giving way to new in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991, change has swept these lands.

Visitors can see democracy is thriving where communism once festered. Goods are available in free markets where shortages were once the by-product of state systems. Civilian officials now lead armed forces once centrally controlled by Moscow.

More change lies ahead as these former Warsaw Pact members prepare to join NATO, the European alliance they long opposed. The three countries are transforming their armed forces, getting ready to make the Article V mutual-security pledge that unites the current 16 NATO allies.

By April 1999, in time for the alliance's 50th anniversary, NATO authorities plan to welcome the three Central European states as full members. NATO Supreme Allied Commander U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark checked their progress during February visits to the capital cities of Prague, the Czech Republic, Budapest, Hungary, and Warsaw, Poland. He said he went to learn and exchange views on NATO enlargement and to discuss the invitees' roles as prospective new members.

After meeting with local officials and visiting troop exercises, Clark said he was "very encouraged." He reported invitees are taking "positive steps" to meet future challenges and responsibilities.

In Prague, Clark expressed confidence Czech armed forces will be ready when the nation is admitted to NATO. Military planning under way is "realistic and properly-based," he told local officials and reporters Feb. 3.

"We are seeing the increases in funding, the support for the military reform and the upsurge in public support which are very encouraging in view of the prospective NATO membership," Clark said. "The internal processes of reform seem to be going well and interoperability training is progressing."

He advised Czech leaders to continue improving interoperability, noting the value of the Partnership for Peace. "This program and the Czech Republic's work in early restructuring of the armed forces paid the obvious dividend of a very successful mission by the Czech battalion in Bosnia-Herzegovina," Clark said. The Czech general staff has set up concrete programs to meet interoperability objectives and is doing far-sighted planning, he said.

In Budapest, the NATO chief commented on Hungary's progress toward providing the three things it takes to transform the armed forces for successful NATO integration: resources, detailed planning and quality people. Hungary's leadership has "a genuine and deep commitment" to provide money and resources needed to support this transformation, he said Feb. 5.

Reforming and adapting armed forces is a continual process for both old and new NATO allies, Clark said. But, he added, he's pleased with Hungary's current plans and priorities. "It's clear that this is an effective planning process at work."

Hungary also should be proud of the quality of the people in their armed forces, the general said. After visiting a training exercise near Tata in southern Hungary, Clark said soldiers there were "motivated, competent and clearly engaged and interested in their work." Leaders were competent and highly skilled.

Addressing soldiers at the training site, Clark said: "You moved decisively; you moved quickly; the tactics made good sense; your equipment was operational out there. It was a very impressive demonstration. ... We look forward to having you as members of NATO."

In Warsaw, Clark said NATO officials expect Poland will play a "strong and dynamic" role in the alliance. Work under way in the general staff is "exactly on target" to bring the Polish armed forces into the NATO integrated military structure, he said Feb. 19. "Poland's armed forces have a great reputation, great soldiers, great spirit and we have very high hopes for them in NATO."

Poland, as well as the other two invitees, needs to continue to reform its military structure, to develop interoperability and to improve communication and command and control "so that the armed forces will fit together," Clark said. "Our success always has to begin with strong desire to succeed, and it's clear Poland has that."

At each stop, Clark responded to questions on what membership will mean in terms of military obligations. He said the bedrock of the alliance is the Article V pledge that an attack on the territory of one member constitutes an attack on all.

To meet this pledge, new members must be able to meet four basic criteria: They must be able to share command and control information, exchange information on air operations, reinforce the alliance and interoperate with other NATO allies.

Language is key to interoperability, he stressed. English language training "will help start a new generation of leaders able to converse more freely with their NATO partners."

Unlike when Soviet authoritarians in Moscow dictate military policy to the Czech, Hungarian and Polish forces, each NATO member nation retains it's sovereignty, Clark said. "It has to decide for itself how much it's going to commit to its security programs."

All NATO allies participate in setting force goals and the force planning process, he said. "This helps shape national contributions in a way that they're most conducive to meet the collected needs of the alliance."

Along with paying for its own armed forces, new members will share common costs borne by all alliance members. These include infrastructure costs and projects designed to promote alliance cohesion and effective crisis response that go beyond each nation's individual commitment. This includes air defense radar and high-speed digital communications connections, for example. Clark said NATO has identified the need for about $1.5 billion in these type of projects for the three new members over the course of the next 10 years.

As NATO adapts to the post-Cold War world, Clark noted, allied forces no longer have to be as large, and they don't have to be ready overnight, but they do have to be high quality, skilled and capable. "Because the tasks they'll be accomplishing in this new security environment are even more difficult and demanding than what we've seen before," he said.

"The old threats have gone; there are different challenges today," Clark said. Ethnic and nationalist instability, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and organized crime and narcotic trafficking are some of the new threats, he said. Uncontrollable migration flow and other transnational problems are also obvious causes for concern.

Clark thanked local officials for contributing to NATO's peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. The Czech, Hungarian and Polish battalions earned high marks from other members of the stabilization force for their performance in some challenging circumstances, he said. Their ongoing work in Bosnia includes everything from inspecting weapons storage sites to ensuring freedom of movement, to backing up international police, to guarding against threats to public security.

Clark commended the Central European forces for their professionalism and for demonstrating their ability to work side-by-side with NATO and non-NATO counterparts. He said their success in the NATO operation sets the example for their future role as NATO members.

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