NATO: The Safeguard of Stability and Peace In the Euro-Atlantic Region
President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel

The communist takeover of my country in 1948 was a brutal victory for the forces of darkness, crushing freedom and democracy in the very heart of the European continent. Like many other events in Czech and Czechoslovak history, it left its mark on the whole of Europe. In fact, it sparked action by Western democracies to establish the North Atlantic Alliance as a bulwark against the further expansion of totalitarianism and against further attempts by the Soviet leadership to dominate the world.

The creation of the Alliance had two dimensions. The first was its underlying idea--a common defense of the values of the Western democratic world against any threat, as embodied in the Washington Treaty. The second was the reality out of which that idea was born. The determining factor at the time was the threat of Soviet and communist expansion; the existence of that strategic threat meant that everything else had to be subordinated to it. This explains why NATO sometimes had to admit countries that then could have hardly been considered democratic. The adherence of these countries to democratic values, or their lack of it, had to take second place to their strategic importance.


Four decades later, the reality radically changed; the kind of threat that led to the founding of the Alliance disappeared with the fall of the Iron Curtain. Many now wonder whether the Alliance still makes any sense.

Those harboring such doubts see only the second dimension behind the Alliance's birth, that is, the circumstances that called it into being in the first place, while ignoring the primary dimension--the Alliance's central idea. I am deeply convinced, as you all are, that the Alliance remains a meaningful instrument. The fact that circumstances have changed has not consigned NATO's underlying idea to the dustbin of history. Quite the contrary: the changed circumstances have breathed new relevance into the idea. They virtually call for the renaissance and fulfillment of that concept in its pure form, not dictated by strategic interests alone. Without a clear and powerful strategic adversary, the Alliance has less reason to let itself be pressured by reality into making exceptions to its standards or its fundamental principles. The reality now invites the Alliance to rededicate itself to these principles in their entirety.

Indeed, it is only now that the Alliance has a chance to become exactly what the Washington Treaty meant it to be--an open alliance of all democratic countries in the Euro-Atlantic region, protecting its area and its shared values. This central concept is not to be changed; it is to be infused with new life.

This, I believe, is what NATO should declare again in no uncertain terms before the end of this year. There are many reasons why this is necessary; for one thing, such affirmation would make it clear that those who pose no threat to Alliance member states have not the slightest reason to fear NATO, nor have they any justification for playing upon such fears for political ends.

While the danger of global conflict is rapidly diminishing, the danger of regional conflicts is, unfortunately, increasing at least as rapidly. Loosening the straitjacket of power blocs, combined with the loss of the unity that was derived from a common threat, has unleashed a potential for many small-scale confrontations. Unless a new, solid security order is built in Europe in a timely fashion, there may be more of these. NATO, in my opinion, should therefore restate itself as the principal guarantor of internal stability and peace in the Euro-Atlantic region. Furthermore, it should, as much as possible, adapt itself and its doctrine to the new situation. This involves confronting the danger of regional and local conflicts in effective ways, even when this may include--under certain explicit conditions--action outside member-states' borders, such as the operation undertaken recently in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Combined Joint Task Force concept is heading precisely in this direction, and should therefore be given complete support.

Moreover, the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere--for instance in the Middle East--reveal that it is becoming less and less possible to distinguish clearly between local armed conflict and terrorism. NATO, therefore, should also give thought to whether, or how, it can deal with such security risks, because they may play an increasingly important role in the years and decades ahead.

Another principle that the Alliance, in keeping with its original Treaty, should unequivocally restate is that it is open to all Euro-Atlantic countries that share its values and are ready and willing to defend them within NATO's structures. Yet such a statement is no longer enough. In the foreseeable future the Alliance will have to state how it means to expand, whom it intends to admit, and when. It should announce a timetable for its enlargement and explain the logic of that timetable. Every person of sound judgment understands that if NATO wants to retain its capacity to act it cannot take in all the countries aspiring for membership overnight. On the other hand, no one should be led to think that the admission of a particular country means the end of the enlargement process. Each applicant country should be offered assurance and hope, and know the requirements it would have to meet and the rational reasons why the opportunity for admission may come sooner for some than for others. The formulation of such guidelines can undoubtedly benefit from the initial experiences gained through NATO's current individualized dialogues with its Partners.


I know there are many doubters who question the purpose of an enlarged NATO, and I know of the wide variety of arguments with which they support their case. I shall not enter into a polemic with them. I shall just say that doubting the purpose of enlarging NATO amounts to one of two things: either the doubters are dubious about the idea behind the Alliance or they want to perpetuate the situation brought about by the Cold War, and refuse to recognize that the world we live in now is different.

One major issue of our time is the relationship between NATO and the Russian Federation, or the entire Commonwealth of Independent States. Few people in the world, I believe, would not wish to see the best possible partnership between these two large bodies. Perhaps their relationship might be given some formal status, articulating and reaffirming the vital importance of this partnership within today's interconnected global civilization. The Russian Federation is and will always remain a power with great gravitational potential and with security partners of its own. World peace is hardly conceivable without good cooperation between the Euro-Atlantic region and this large and influential Euro-Asian entity.

Yet, these two entities can cooperate creatively and build a deepening partnership only if both are clearly defined, have distinct boundaries and fully respect each other's identity. Unclear regional boundaries, or zones of states that are unsure of where they belong, always lead to trouble. It can spell instability, struggle for influence, mutual suspicion, and, eventually, confrontation. It is above all a matter for every state or nation to say where it feels it properly belongs and to decide about its allegiances. Similarly, the different regional groupings can and must define themselves on their own. No one else has the right to do this for them, or to veto their choices. Any social and political order can function and remain stable only as long as it is fair, that is, only as long as it respects the will of all, regardless of size, and pays heed to everyone's security interests. Whenever the large and powerful decide the fate of the small and less powerful, the outcome is always war rather than peace. The atrocities of the two World Wars give us ample evidence.

I think this is what the Alliance should tell Russia clearly in the near future. NATO should affirm its desire to strive for the best conceivable partnership, but it should also stress that such a partnership can be built only when each of the parties knows its true identity and when neither attempts to dictate how the other should define itself, or whom the other may or may not accept as allies.

Starting out from the belief that NATO should not expand because its enlargement would jeopardize Russia's security interests is the same, in fact, as saying that NATO is directed against Russia and that Russia's concerns in this regard are legitimate. This line of thinking leads only back into the past and to confrontation, not ahead into the future and to peace, regardless of whether such views are put forward in Russia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, or America.


We will soon be remembering the fiftieth anniversary of the communist coup in Czechoslovakia, and the North Atlantic Alliance will soon be observing its fiftieth birthday. I would like to express my wish that Czech Republic will celebrate the latter anniversary as a full member of the community whose founding was once prompted by our land's bitter fate.

Living in the very center of Europe, on a traditional crossroads of European history, we experienced many unfortunate developments that proved detrimental to the entire continent. Could not this be a time for our country to be the scene of events to pave the way toward a better future for the whole of Europe?

I would be delighted if I could welcome you all to Prague in June 1997 for the Fourteenth NATO Workshop. I promise that the conditions for your deliberations would be as favorable as those that were so kindly prepared for us in Warsaw by our Polish hosts, to whom I extend my heartfelt thanks for their hospitality.

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