Center for Strategic Decision Research



Security of Central Europe

His Excellency Bronislaw Geremek
Foreign Minister of Poland

Central Europe, especially in the context of NATO enlargement, has been the focus of much international attention. Therefore, I would like to look at Central European security, including ways to strengthen it and how it contributes to the stability of Europe as a whole.

To do this I must ask the question “What is the position of Central Europe at the threshold of the new millennium?” This question does not refer to geography, but rather to geopolitics. The countries of the region are physically located in the heart of Europe yet spiritually and intellectually they have been part of the West. At the same time most of them have been subordinate to the political East, with all that such oppression entails.


The end of the Cold War erased the artificial divisions of the region, enabling the return of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and some of the other countries of the area to the West where they have always belonged. All of these countries chose pro-Western development, orienting their public life toward democracy, individual freedom, and a market economy. Those choices, together with the ongoing process of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, have altered Central Europe’s geopolitical label. Central Europe no longer is an area where special standards should be applied, nor the source of the risks that were assumed in the Alliance’s 1991 Strategic Concept, now under revision. Moreover, the populations and political leaders in this part of Europe have shown new strength and maturity throughout the post-Cold War changes that have taken place, and have invested in democratic institutions and in foreign relations based on a good-neighbor policy.

Without its former geopolitical burden, Central Europe is now able to take on more challenges, seize more opportunities, and realize more goals. We have breached barriers and widened the zone of prosperity and stability, which for years seemed beyond our countries’ reach. The success of Central Europe is now serving as an example for other states that are striving to complete internal reforms and grasp the hand of friendship and cooperation being extended to them.


NATO has been, and will continue to be, indispensable to European security and stability. The Alliance—and the developmental model it embodies—not only won the Cold War and made true the dream of freedom of two generations of Eastern and Central Europeans, but has also, during the last decade, played the key role in shaping European security. The strength of the Alliance has proven to be instrumental in safeguarding the effectiveness of decisions made by the international community, in particular those concerning Bosnia-Herzegovina and, increasingly, those regarding Kosovo. Through the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, now the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and the Partnership for Peace program, NATO has also built a stable and transparent relationship with Russia, developed a distinctive partnership with Ukraine, reached out to states in the Mediterranean area, and become the main engine for political and military cooperation throughout the continent.

If I were asked to point out the region whose development NATO has influenced in an especially visible and tangible way, without any hesitation I would choose Central Europe. Countries of that region have managed to join the success of their own reforms with the benefits of the Alliance’s openness. I agree with the point that the prospect of NATO enlargement alone—and, it should be said, of EU enlargement—has done a lot for stability and security in our part of the Continent.


The prospect of reaching the goal of membership has provided a strong boost for profound internal reforms in our region and for solving problems that could cause destabilization over a wider area—just as the political and social forces of the Solidarity movement that I represent were at the root of positive developments in Poland. However, it must be said that NATO and EU membership, though of historic and strategic importance to my country, will not enable the achievement of all the objectives of security and stability building. This is why Poland, at the threshold of NATO membership and, to a large extent, EU membership, is not only thinking about but also preparing for “the day after.” The term “mission accomplished” is alien to us, because we are well aware of the amount and scope of effort that remains to be made in order to be politically, mentally, and materially compatible with other members. Only after we have reached this goal will we be able—through participation—to apply the benefits of being part of NATO and the EU to the benefit of Poland, Central Europe, and the rest of the Continent, and to take on our share of the burdens and responsibilities.

Since the beginning of this decade, NATO membership has been the primary goal of Polish security policy. Together with Hungary and the Czech Republic, we eagerly anticipate signing the Accession Protocols and their successful ratification. More than half of the Allies have already ratified the Protocols; we look forward to hearing good news soon from the remaining ones. We also hope that the entire accession process will be behind us by NATO’s 50th anniversary.

New Member Cooperation

Our three countries have agreed to present their ratification documents and to join the Alliance at the same time. But this is not the only issue on which we are collaborating closely. We are also undertaking numerous coordinated activities to better prepare ourselves for membership. But the march toward NATO has not been the only factor stimulating our cooperation. We all share the same values, history, and security interests, and we also want to contribute to the security and stability of Central and Eastern Europe. We are convinced that our close political cooperation can serve this purpose. We intend to continue working together after becoming members of the Alliance.

Central European Cooperation

The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the enhanced PFP program have also provided new frameworks for political and military cooperation in our part of Europe, and have created opportunities for new initiatives to be undertaken. One of the most recent and significant initiatives was launched in April in Vienna. Ministers from Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Romania signed the documents establishing the program Central European Nations Cooperation in Peace Support (CENCOOP). Based on the terms of Partnership for Peace, and guided by the principles of the United Nations Charter and the Agenda for Peace, CENCOOP gives its participants the opportunity to enhance their capabilities to support international peacekeeping operations. Under its aegis, members can exchange views and enhance cooperation in the fields of training, logistics, and armed forces interoperability. The organization is open to others who may wish to join in the future.


I am confident that in the year 1999, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary will become NATO members. As the Washington Summit approaches, we remember all those who dared to think of a new Europe and had the courage to take a further step toward it—not the least of which are those who worked to open the Alliance to new membership. We also believe that the open-door policy should remain in existence after spring ‘99.  NATO must remain open—as stated in Article 10 of the Washington Treaty. That is the basic prerequisite for safeguarding the momentum engendered by the post-Cold War transformations in Central and Eastern Europe, and for extending democratic values further eastward.

While all the NATO nations, soon to be nineteen, must be consistent and have courage in order to continue NATO’s great design, the three newly admitted Central European states will take special responsibility for—as well as interest in—strengthening the pro-European and pro-Euro-Atlantic orientation of their neighbors. We will be certain to share our experiences with them and, when possible, help to bring them closer to the Alliance. We see this as a continuing task for Poland.


As an historian I believe in the truth that is conveyed to us through the monuments and symbols of the past. Therefore I find of extreme significance a 15th-century mural masterpiece now displayed in Strasbourg. The anonymous painting depicts over a dozen men, some on horseback, with the last horseman looking back at the walking figures as if calling them to join the group. The men are all on a pilgrimage to the Holy Cross.

Let us imagine that each of the figures is a European nation, and that the last horseman, who is calling to those who are a bit behind to catch up, is Poland. What Poland is doing is exactly what we need to do with our Euro-Atlantic partners. This is also what we all must do to make Europe whole and free.

Like the horseman, my country beckons to all, since Europe means more than the 15 current members of the European Union and the 16 current members of NATO, and accepts the responsibilities shared by all its allies and partners.


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