(Washington, DC--March 26, 2003) Senior Slovak government officials told an audience at RFE/RL recently that the military reforms undertaken by their country to qualify for NATO membership were needed to facilitate Slovakia's own reform process.
Rastislav Kacer, Deputy Minister of Defense, said that the NATO requirement for a "comprehensive defense review" allowed the normally "conservative [defense] community" in Slovakia to "reach consensus" on the need for fundamental change. With the adoption of a new defense strategy by the Slovak parliament in 2001, Kacer said, the military establishment was able to tackle the review and is now implementing a series of reforms which extend into 2010." Without fundamental change there would have been no military value in spending two percent of GDP for defense -- the investment would have been wasted," Kacer pointed out.
Kacer also praised the NATO process which allowed the candidates to work together with NATO headquarters to develop annual membership action plans, or MAPs. Through the MAPs, the candidate countries came to understand NATO's expectations, and NATO -- the candidates' abilities and constraints. One benefit of the MAPs, Kacer said, was that "there were no surprises" in Slovakia's accession to NATO membership, and now "Slovaks understand both the hardware and the software of NATO."
Ivan Korcok, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the government was concerned that popular support in Slovakia for NATO membership has fallen from a high of 60 percent last November, when it and six other candidates received invitations to the trans-Atlantic alliance. Korcok described the Slovak government's plan, launched in 1999, to build public support for NATO membership as very successful because it took a "personal approach" with spokesmen who "criss-crossed the country."
Korcok also commented on the French government's criticism of the Vilnius-10 and the 8-leader statements in support of the U.S. position on Iraq. Korcok said that the Slovak government is not afraid of the criticism, because "Slovakia's position is value-driven." Korcok noted that his "main concern" is that there not be "long term damage to the Trans-Atlantic alliance" because "that would be a victory for Saddam Hussein."
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