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National Security Concerns Drive 'New Europe' Commitment to Transatlantic Ties

(Washington, DC--February 4, 2004) The concerns of Central European countries about guaranteeing their national security will lead them to maintain a strong transatlantic alliance with the United States, said Robin Shepherd, Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Shepherd made the statement at a recent briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office.

Shepherd argued that, in order to maintain their security relationship with the United States, Central European countries support strategic American foreign policy issues such as the U.S. led war in Iraq -- despite high disapproval rates among the residents of these countries, as recorded in opinion surveys. This Central European policy stands in contrast to the policies of some Western European countries, such as France and Germany.

One important reason for Central Europe's desire for closer ties with Washington, Shepherd said, is gratitude for the U.S. role in liberating them from Soviet domination in the Cold War. Another -- the ongoing concern of Central European countries, sometimes referred to as "New Europe," of an expansionist Russia -- contributes to a desire for continued strong security ties with the U.S. Additionally, Shepherd said that many leaders in Central Europe believe that the EU will never be able to compete with the United States as a foreign policy superpower -- therefore they place great stock in membership in the NATO alliance.

Nonetheless, political and economic concerns make closer ties between these Central European countries and the EU inevitable. In fact, Shepherd argued, closer ties will consolidate democracy in the "New Europe" members. Practical obstacles do exist, however, to integrating the new countries into the EU. For example, EU candidates such as Estonia have been forced to step back from their free-market policies in order to harmonize its economy with EU regulations.