March 29, 2004: Seven new members joined NATO. What it means for them after a decade

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. How do you perceive the position of your country in NATO after one decade and how important or unimportant is NATO for your country?

2. Anything special on your mind when I say NATO and Slovakia?

Answers:

Iztok Prezelj, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana

Interestingly, NATO was more important political topics in Slovenia before we joined it. Big public discussion was led at that time, controversial opinions shared etc.

After we entered, the membership has become as something self-evident. NATO has been less discussed.

Our Armed force has benefited the most from the membership in terms of higher standards, knowledge, education, training, participation in missions, etc.

The present position of Slovenia in NATO is a position of a small country that mostly follows the security trends among the capitals. We are a reliable partner that contributes much IN RELATIVE TERMS and not so much in absolute terms due to our small size. Slovenia is relevant as a small piece in a large puzzle. The same goes for Slovakia.

NATO is important for Slovenia in order to bring our politicians around the same table with other NATO politicians and armed forces together with other armed forces. The problem of my small country is to understand why would NATO intervene in some cases where we never had a global interest (or post-colonial interest). Such small countries (also CR; Slovakia, Baltic states…) have more »rural« understanding of security in comparison with some other member states that are really sensitive to many security events around the world.

2. Yes, I know that Slovak military contribution has made a good impression in NATO and that Slovakia has been a reliable partner in NATO. Slovakian contribution however suffers from the same small state syndrome as Slovenia.

Oana Popescu, Director, Global Focus Centre, Analyst, Foreign Policy Magazine Romania

1. Romania has gained a lot in terms of international standing from NATO membership, thanks to contributions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and others, plus participation in exercises etc. US bases in Romania and missile defense shield also played a positive role since it tells NATO we have capabilities. We have been more able to project a good image in NATO then we have been in the EU. We have recognition of very good capabilities, a good army and I think we are one of the most trustful partners at this point. As the security situation in our region becomes more and more worrying, for Romania it is crucial that it is part of NATO. Also, from the very start we have been aware of the importance of military security in this region and we have placed a lot of importance on it. It makes the difference between being in a gray zone of uncertainty between Russia and the EU (as Ukraine is, and the Rep of Moldova etc) and being safe and under cover of Art 5 within NATO borders. NATO will continue to be very important to Romania and so we will continue to try and contribute to the shaping of its policies in accordance with global and regional necessities nowadays.

2. Troops in Afghanistan, significant contribution, together with Romania and other regional partners.

Todor Tagarev, Head, Centre for Security and Defence Management, Frm. Bulgaria’s Defense Minister

Slowly, but surely, the Bulgarian defence establishment has been transformed over the last 10 years (and the preceding five, during preparation for accession). Bulgaria is among the smaller, but reliable allies, both in terms of commitment and contribution to operations. The change of the material basis (and the reliance on Russia) turned out to be a major challenge, which we still face.

NATO is and will continue to be important for Bulgaria’s security. Public perceptions in that regard vary, and are subject to most recent developments. At current, under the impact of Russian aggression vis-a-vis Ukraine, there is a renewed interest in NATO.

Zlatko Šabič, Professor Chair of International Relations, International Relations Research Centre, University of Ljubljana

A short answer to the question would be: I don’t see much of a discussion about the importance of NATO in Slovenia: NATO is here and a majority of people accept this, in spite of criticism of the Alliance that is still present in the public discourse.

The question that I am often being asked, both in public and by your fellow journalists, what has Slovenia gained from the NATO membership. 10 years or so back not everyone saw clearly what those benefits might be. Unlike the prospect of membership in the EU, the prospect of membership in NATO was subject to a strong public scrutiny. A lot of arguments against membership were offered at that time, such as that nobody threatens Slovenia, we have not been in the Soviet bloc so there is no reason to fear Russia, membership will be costly, etc. The two different debates – one about the EU and one about NATO – were eventually reflected in the results of the referendum, when only good two-thirds of the voters supported the membership in NATO, compared to almost unanimous backing of the EU membership.

10 years on, it is still difficult to answer the question how Slovenia benefited from NATO membership, or how important is NATO for Slovenia, except that there is a difference now. We simply got used to being a NATO member. Of course, there is still a lot of opposition against the NATO membership and the arguments are the same as they were in 2004. But eventually, if asked again, we would see the repeat of the of the scenario. There would be tough debate about pros and cons of membership, but the majority of voters would probably support the continuing membership of Slovenia in NATO. There are two reasons for that: an opportunistic attitude, namely that it is still safer to be inside than outside NATO – one never knows when the political situation in Europe and in the world might change to the extent that collective defence is needed. Further, if in NATO, one can influence decision-making process at least to some extent – if you are outside you cannot. Second, there has never been a serious intellectual, policy or generally speaking debate about alternatives to NATO post 2004. Once the membership goal has been accomplished, the nationwide debate pretty much stopped. NATO is now perceived as part of Slovenia’s security landscape. Given all the problems Slovenia needs to deal with as a result of global crisis, but also in the light of recent security concerns and the rise of nationalism, I don’t see enough incentives to run such a debate, although personally I would like to have one.

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One Response

  1. Hmmm…you focused on the south only. NATO membership clearly means so much more up north, and participation in collective defence efforts much more active (Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, etc)

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