Central Europe and NATO Enlargement
Dr. Istvan Gyarmati
Dep. State Secretary, Hungarian Ministry of Defense

I was very happy to attend the Thirteenth NATO Workshop. I have attended all but one of these Workshops since 1988, when I was virtually the only person from a non NATO country and everyone looked at me as a special species. Now it is quite normal for non NATO representatives to attend, and I hope that others from the Central European region will also help to organize future Workshops.


Though we have been talking throughout this Workshop about the situation in our region as a subcontext of our talk about NATO, I would like to present my speech the other way around speak about Central Europe and within that context speak a bit about NATO enlargement. I do this because we in Hungary very frequently have the feeling that Central Europe is not getting the attention it deserves. One reason for that the Russia first policy is understandable, because Russia is a country of strategic importance. But the other two reasons that Central Europe is on the right track, going toward democracy and a market economy so not very much attention needs to be paid to it; and that Central Europe is still full of dangers, so it should not be brought into NATO I believe are wrong.

Fortunately, both of these reasons belong mostly to the past. I am sure that Central Europe will join NATO in the future, but we wish to restate the unquestionable fact that Central Europe is a stable region despite the political disputes you may read about in the newspapers. There is no danger of any kind of heated debate among these countries outside or inside NATO, and they are continuing their progress toward full fledged democracy and functioning market economies. Of course, there are some problems internal mainly, but also external that all of us in the central region have to face and manage. However, all of the countries that have enjoyed prosperity and democracy for the 50 years following World War II should be able to understand our problems, because they have similar ones.

One of Hungary's economic problems, for instance, is its budget deficit something not unknown to Western European and North American countries. We are also involved in the restructuring of our welfare state, which is also not unknown to you, and we face the problem of foreign debts. But while our problems are similar to other countries', we have to face them while in the process of transition, which makes our lives much more difficult. Despite all our internal problems, however, I think that Hungary and the other Central European countries are on the right track, and this is evidenced by the fact that NATO is preparing to enlarge and to invite some of these countries to become members.

Hungary is very much in favor of the progressive enlargement of NATO, but we think that maintaining a strong Alliance is at least as important as inviting new members. New members must contribute to security and stability in Europe, so only those countries that can do so on the basis of a stable democratic system and a functioning economy should be invited. But countries should also be invited as soon as they reach the level of maturity that is required for NATO membership.


While the central region shares the past and its problems, we also want to share the future. We believe that economic association among countries will bring political results and cooperation over time, as it has done in the European Union. Participation by countries in our region in such organizations as the Central European Initiative which is often unduly neglected will bring important returns for many of us. So, too, will the emerging network of bilateral treaties and agreements among these countries, including military cooperation and joint exercises. We have full confidence in the intentions of our neighbor countries. So we believe that regional tensions are not a reason for preventing us from joining NATO, nor are expectations that Central European countries will bring additional tension to the Alliance. On the contrary, we will continue to bring into the Alliance new ideas.

The reasons why we want to join NATO are already well known; they are now part of our integration philosophy. But we also want to contribute to NATO's new mission of projecting stability to other regions, which will be extremely difficult without enlargement or the cooperation of the Central European countries. The IFOR mission has shown how vital to success such cooperation is. Therefore, we welcome the Berlin discussions and the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) concept, not only because they will make NATO militarily capable but because, frankly, we believe that the CJTF concept will also help us to integrate with NATO.


It is often asked what the costs of enlargement would be. There are several different views, most of which I think are exaggerated. But the real question for us is not "What are the costs of enlargement?", but "What are the costs if NATO does not enlarge?" The answer to that is that many regions will destabilize. NATO's ability to respond to new challenges will also be brought into question. And, finally, if NATO does not enlarge, its credibility and that of other international organizations will be undermined. So I think that enlargement is needed not only for the countries that want to join but also so that current NATO countries will see an increase in their security and stability through an increase in security and stability in Europe as a whole.

NATO enlargement will also help us answer a question we all face: how to reorganize and restructure our national defenses. Hungary, of course, was forced into a so-called military alliance; we were part of the Warsaw Treaty. We had no national defense forces, but had to defend this coalition. Then the coalition was dissolved five years ago, and we began to struggle with the question of how to organize our defenses. Speaking for Hungary, I believe that we have not yet resolved this question satisfactorily. But we have to resolve it. The question remains, however, will we do it on a national basis or within a real alliance I hope that within one year Hungary and the other former Warsaw Pact nations will know on what basis our national defenses will be organized.


I want to underline how important it is to see NATO enlargement as a process. Not all countries that wish to join NATO will be invited to join in the first group, so understanding that the process will be ongoing will make it possible for those countries to build a credible national defense, projecting ahead to the time when they will be members of the Alliance. I believe it is necessary to send the message to those countries that as soon as they reach the required levels they will also be invited to join.

Countries that will be invited to join in a second or later group should also be offered some additional measures. Partnership for Peace programs would be absolutely necessary, as well as integration with the concerted efforts to build an all-European security architecture. All of us must take part in the work to increase security and stability for all of Europe. This is the only context in which NATO enlargement makes sense, and in which it will not draw new dividing lines between members and non-members. It is also the only way that border lines will become lines of cooperation rather than lines of confrontation.

Go to top of page
Return to Warsaw '96
Return to Home Page