But taking these decisions and adapting to the new situation is not easy with 28 members, all of them having different political systems and internal political issues. The decision making process used to be complicated even before when we were dealing with issues like Libya or Iran – something that was remote and didn’t feel like a factor that influences people’s lives in many countries. Things are different now. Progress might not be so visible and the slow pace of changes in some components probably causes frustration in Baltic States, Poland. But we do talk about ways to adapt our defense planning, logistic support, common infrastructure, as well as interconnection of hard and soft power to the new reality, including the hybrid war. We are also discussing what could be done after the Warsaw Summit which is seen as sort of a deadline for the implementation of some Wales commitments.
There is now a more widespread consensus in NATO that Ukraine should be a partner. But the issue of membership is not a matter of today. It’s a matter of time. Because we had raised expectations too high at the Bucharest Summit in 2008 when we promised Georgia and Ukraine something we could not deliver, thereby causing frustration in these two countries, NATO members are more cautious about what they say to Ukraine today. I am pretty sure that if Ukraine meets the necessary conditions, including internal stability, NATO prospects will be more of a technical than political issue for it. It seems to me that people in the Alliance are already more prepared to accept that idea of Ukraine as a member. In my view, that is a very positive thing. Estonia’s President Ilves has said here that 20 years ago, nobody in the West had wanted his country in NATO. That was the case for Slovakia as well. Then, pressure came from America and from some individuals who supported our joining, many of them actually coming from the US. But the process would not have been completed without the respective decision of Western European countries. Ukraine, as well as Georgia, are currently in a more problematic situation since the terms of membership allow only stabilized countries with no ongoing conflicts on their territory to apply. It is difficult to say how long this situation will last. But apart from that some other basic conditions, such as the transformation of the security sector, have to be met. In fact, that had been one of Slovakia’s foreign policy priorities after the Orange Revolution. I was working at the Ministry of Defense at that point, and that was part of my portfolio. We took it very seriously. Another priority was transformations in the Balkans. Then, with all the subsequent problems, Slovakia stepped back. Yet, security transformation remains something of crucial important. At this point, however, it is more about rebuilding rather than transforming it given the scale of previous disintegration. That will take time. And that’s probably one of the reasons for cautious statements on Ukraine’s NATO membership.
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In terms of helping Ukraine transform its security system, there are various NATO trust funds with direct financial contributions to that end. But more important is the role of countries like Slovakia: only they have fairly recent transformational experience, unlike Western European states. In fact, Slovakia could be a very helpful example for Ukraine: I remember that in 1994, when the government of Vladimir Mečiar came to power, Madeleine Albright said that Slovakia had become a “black hole” in Central Europe. Twenty years from then, we are in a completely different place. Of course, we have our internal problems, including shortage of money, corruption, clientelism, drawbacks in our political system or unemployment. But even now, as some people are dissatisfied with the strong line of Robert Fico’s politics, nobody questions democratic values or democratic path. What I will say next sounds like a cliché because it is one, but Ukraine, too, should do its homework. We shouldn’t be too tough on Ukraine, though, but say that further help comes with reforms.
Ukraine, on its part, has some capabilities that we lack here. One is strategic airlift. We are still missing that component among Visegrad states. That’s why we were talking to Ukraine about possible provision of this capability as its contribution. Another one would be your experience from the conflict you are going through: tools against hybrid warfare would be very important for NATO as well. That is what we are trying to find now, and you are already dealing with these threats. All this said, what’s important for Ukraine now is to stay on the right track, and to be patient.
Whether Russia is a temporary or a permanent threat to NATO is now a matter of intense international discussion. My personal opinion is that Russia is no longer a partner, and that is a fact. There are some issues, such as the Iran nuclear deal or dealing with North Korea. That’s why the Americans find it hard to say what I just said. But this issue is in mind of many leaders, particularly those of big Western countries. I’m not convinced that we will say in Warsaw that Russia is not a partner anymore and should be taken as an adversary, one we no longer talk to. This limbo in mutual relations will probably last awhile. But if there is a decision of revising NATO Strategic Concept in response to the changed reality, people will expect this new document to clearly state the new status of NATO’s relations with Russia. Some believe that we should start discussing the content of the new strategy concept before the Warsaw Summit, while the summit itself should launch the revision process. Others say that we don’t need a new strategy concept because the old one is fine, which it is in many respects. So far, however, the clear message from Deputy General Secretary Vershbow, echoed by many leaders, is that Russia is no longer a partner. Yet, officially, we are still keeping a backdoor open in case something changes in Russia.
Marián Majer is Senior Fellow at the Central European Policy Institute (CEPI), Bratislava