The question in the title is often asked in Belarus, especially by ?ordinary citizens? that draw information about the world from easily accessible and popular local mass media. This fact indicates that the public in one of the Poland?s closest neighbours, connected to the Poles with a great many relative and friendly ties or just interests, does not have enough information on the outside world. Local public opinion, for instance, does not know those fundamentals that are taken into account by Polish politicians in their choice of a certain treaty of alliance to provide for the national security of their country on the threshold of the 21st century. The answer to this question is even more important, for the North Atlantic Alliance is still referred to in Belarus as ?an instrument of the U.S. global strategy?, that is in the same way as thirty or even more years ago.
Marek Nowakowski, an authoritative author, addressed this issue extensively in the Belarus in the World.1 Howe-ver, we will try to add some more arguments to illustrate the nature of the problem in a wider perspective, perhaps restating some arguments that had been given before.
Let us start from the most essential thing. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the bloc of states, with Poland included, under Soviet tutelage, our nation got an opportunity to independently formulate its security policy. Leaders of all political forces that play important role on the Polish political scene were unanimous in their opinion that isolation or downgrading of the country to a second-rate status in the European and regional aspects are inadmissible. This was reflected in the government?s decisions to formulate security policy based on three main pillars: the development of good neighbourly relations and co-operation in the Central European region; involvement in co-operation processes of all-European character; and integration into West European and North Atlantic security structures, that is NATO, the Western European Union and the European Union. The third pillar was recognised as a fundamental one, directly linked to the realisation of vitally important interests of the Po-lish state. It was the issue of membership in the North Atlantic Alliance that became a priority goal in the national security strategy formulated in 1992. Already in the early 1990s we started to deepen co-operation with some members of the Alliance. After the Partnership for Peace Programme was launched, Poland became its active participant. Decisions of the Madrid Summit and the subsequent Washington Declaration made it possible to talk on a concrete date of Poland?s admission to NATO now.
The new direction of the Polish national security policy has come out from the following basic assumptions:
?there is no immediate military threat to Poland today. However, there still exist hotbeds of tension that can evolve into conflicts of lesser or greater degree, intensity, and effective range that can have indirect impact on other states;
?from time to time one can see the yearning for military-political supremacy at the global or, at least, regional level and in ?zones of influence? in the former Soviet Union;
?the dynamic development of the economy, effective environmental protection, social and educational progress and the absence of social conflicts should compensate for the diminishing role of military factor, which is loosing its significance due to civilisational and cultural changes;
?Poland, as a middle-sized state with its particular geostrategic location, is not capable of withstanding alone the threats from a militarily stronger neighbour, for instance, Russia, which has not set up its constructive policy in the region by now;
?because of the lack of sufficient financial resources, required for a quick and radical modernisation of the armed forces, military-political alliances should be sought, since collective defence, unlike individual one, requires far less expenditures.
All the above mentioned assumptions were drawn from the objective reflection of the situation dominating in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Similar assessments have been formulated in Belarus too, although with opposite conclusions. The essence of this difference lies in the Poland?s attitude towards Russia, and the Belarus?s one towards the Alliance. The dominating ideas held as true in Belarus have perhaps resulted from indoctrination and propaganda waged in the past and now renewed. All this has certainly made people remain suspicious and fearful about NATO. As far as the perception by the Poles is concerned, it is not simply a result of the ?victory of emotions over common sense?, or ?unleashed anti-Russian campaign?, as, for instance, Mechislav Chesnovsky claims in his article in one of the issues of the Belarus in the World.2 Poles have strong grounds to hold their particular views on Russia and NATO, especially in the light of their historical experience of the latest decades and troublesome signals in statements made by some influential Russian po-liticians in recent years.
The decision to join NATO, based on the given assumptions, is associated with the determination to continue playing an active and constructive role in building new European security architecture. For a half of the century the Alliance has been successfully fulfilling its missions, and now it appears to be the only organisation capable of, among other things, conducting peace-keeping operations effectively under the auspices of the UN and the OSCE. We should emphasise that Polish soldiers also took part in these operations-as far as it was feasible. Notable is the fact that the conduct of these operations has led some people to allege that such operations prove an ?aggressive character? of the Alliance. Such allegations are short of trustworthiness, since they were put forward by those who supported annexation of foreign territories, waves of nationalism or religious fanaticism leading to terrorist attempts, pursued the policy of ethnic cleansing, depriving national minorities of their freedoms.
Important for the Poles is the fact that the NATO membership is associated with real guarantees of the vote and protection of national interests. To defend this thesis, let us have a look at the way the former Warsaw Pact was operating. The 30th anniversary of the intervention in Czechoslovakia makes it natural to mention the example of extreme actions related to the use of the armed forces by each of the alliances. Now it is known that the decision to send Warsaw Pact troops to Czechoslovakia was made by the leadership of the USSR without approval by such organisations as the UN. The latter was not asked at all; moreover, any criticism by the international public opinion was silenced. No due consultations with the other Warsaw Treaty members were held. This decision was motivated by ?the interests of the socialist community?, which, in practical terms, was a mere ideological cliche professed by the leading group of the bloc. The decision has not been based on the principles of international law. Today, when NATO considers its reaction to actions of a particular government that go against these principles, the issue is being brought before the international community for discussion. In fact, each member of the Alliance has the right to express its opinion and emphasise its own national interests. This is the basic reason why Poland, with its experience of being in the ranks of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation, turned to a different alliance guided by absolutely different principles.
The North Atlantic Alliance is involved in the process of broadening the area of stability and security. To this end, realised are the values underpinning the Alliance: the establishment of democratic state with the rule of law and civil society in which human rights are respected, and the development of free market economy. Poland, striving for the reformation of its state system and economy so that these could meet expectations of the citizens, and for the sake of well-being of the future generations, is also guided by these very values. Our experience of the last few years proves that it is only with this course that the consistent development of the country and the improvement of living standards of our citizens are possible.
In the early 1990s, the prospect of membership in NATO and other West European organisations triggered the process of deep reforms in Poland. The reforms have been and is being carried out in many areas: military, political, economic, social, cultural, and religious. Due to these reforms the Republic of Poland is becoming a state in which the values underpinning the North Atlantic Alliance are realised. This gives grounds for Poland to broaden co-operation with NATO members, something that, justifying privations and hardships suffered by the society, brings about desired results.
To become a fully-fledged member of the North Atlantic Alliance, Poland should meet certain preconditions. It is expected that from 1999 to 2003, out of 70 tasks to be fulfilled, 50 will be completed fully, and the remaining ones-partly and within the existing capabilities. These are only some of the steps towards integration that are required to reach up to the level of other states? half-century achievements. More tasks are expected to appear in future. However, essential is the fact that Poland receives concrete assistance in various forms-not only financial, but also organisational and educational. This makes it possible to upgrade, as fast as possible, infrastructure of defence and the armed forces up to the established standards. These standards deal with the existing order of how missions are accomplished by the commanding structures, operations of different type-from tactical to operational-are conducted, troops at bases are supplied and so on. These tasks are fulfilled on the modern level, taking into account the principles of rational employment of forces and resources. Through the achieved high efficiency, efforts and expenditures applied in this way bring about positive results.
It is taken into account that Polish participation in NATO?s enlargement should be useful for the Alliance itself. In the undertaken initiatives, it was assumed that Polish membership could not affect negatively the Alliance?s internal integrity. Otherwise, it would conflict with the suggested strategic goals. Our country is striving to contribute to the heritage gained during its active participation in pan- European processes (in widening capabilities of crisis prevention and management, and in the co- operation process, especially within the framework of the OSCE), and during implementation of a series of UN peace-keeping missions. Additionally, Poland takes on a special responsibility for stability in Central and Eastern Europe. We endeavour to enlarge NATO in a non-confrontational manner and under conditions of an intensified political and military co-operation, and through this, to reduce threat to peace. In practical terms, it is also expressed in the development of broader relations with the neighbours, including Belarus, in accordance with the universally shared values.
According to the generally accepted norms, civil control over the military is expanded, and the process of defence planning and budgeting becomes transparent. As a result, neighbouring states can perceive Poland as a stable and predictable country. This will obviously become a significant factor for the neighbouring states to take into account when organising their own national security systems.
Now let us try to define our attitude towards some more specific questions that raise doubts. Often catch one?s eyes ?prompting? headlines in the Belarusian media that NATO is ?rushing eastwards?. This could be a good propaganda trick. But this is absolutely wrong. The process of admission of new states to NATO is carried out gradually and sensibly, in a long-term process, and in compliance with democratic procedures. While opening the door to Central European new democracies, the Alliance strengthens co-operation with the countries that are not in the ?first wave? of enlargement, and with those that do not want to join NATO. This is done through the Partnership for Peace programme and the newly established body to maintain dialogue and co-operation-the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. The position of the states that have a strong voice in the region is taken account of through the conclusion of strategic partnership treaties. The NATO enlargement is a process that is carried out circumspectly and without imposing will and wishes by the leading states.
Should we expect in the modern European environment that NATO would be disbanded-just like the Warsaw Treaty Organisation? This question often comes into view in Belarusian mass media, and often in the rhetoric form. From Poland?s standpoint, NATO is needed for a gradual, non-conflict transition from the post-Cold War force posture to the new security architecture. It should be noted that the remnants of the two formerly opposing military blocs, designed to respond to threats, remain, especially those related to the systems of ideas and public opinion. The new system aimed at meeting challenges of the changing political, military, economic, and social environment is still being shaped. Therefore, an organisation is needed that would take on a stabilising role during the transitional period. This need is urgent, since the emerging new security architecture will be considerably different from the previous one. Already now the postulates are being formulated so that the new security system could be political rather than military, and based on real partnership and co-operation, and on open equal dialogue. No doubt, this meets Polish national interests.
Finally, it is alleged that NATO enlargement will cause new ?dividing lines?. The Polish side has repeatedly stated that it does not have such intentions. On the contrary, the enlargement of NATO, together with joint participation in NATO?s programmes and initiatives, opens up new possibilities for co-operation. This happens in such an important area as bilateral military relations. Today, they are established primarily in three directions: the creation of formal legal framework for co-operation in certain fields of armed forces? functioning; reciprocal visits of various levels, and direct contacts between the military. Today, both sides see prospects for the expansion of these relations. Perhaps, contacts of experts and a broader co-operation between defence industry enterprises will help reach the new level of relations.
I do not think that the discussion on whether dividing lines are re-emerging or not, will result in creative conclusions. By the way, such lines did not disappear in Europe with the end of the Cold War. There still exist two groupings of states: those belonging to NATO and those co-operating within the Commonwealth of Independent States. The other states are located in the so-called ?grey zone? of security that has appeared between these two groupings. It should also be borne in mind that the indisputable notion of ?border line?, which divides territories of states or groupings of states, has gone into the past. In the Soviet times this line was meant to be a so-called ?system? made of a thin network of checkpoints, set up to ensure strict and thorough control of border crossings, linked by ploughed strips of no man?s land, fenced by many rows of barbed wire and detecting equipment to minimise chances of unauthorised border crossing. Today, state borders are supposed to be an element that makes it possible to exploit every opportunity for co-operation. Here, what comes to mind, is the term ?interface? used in information science. In principle, such a connecting device does not have a well- defined, real pass-through line; it is a compound and many-directional element that operates under complex logical order. Contacts through such a device require harmonious interaction of various parts, and these parts are activated simultaneously and in a co-ordinated manner from each side.
The presence of the OSCE Monitoring and Consultative Group in Minsk serves precisely these standards of inter-state relations. The Group was established with Poland?s active involvement and began to work during Poland?s chairmanship in the OSCE. The Polish Foreign Minister Bronislav Geremek attended the opening ceremony.
In conclusion, trying to give the most general answer to the question raised in the title of this article, one should see that Poland?s move towards membership in NATO is in no way aimed against any state, especially its closest neighbours. It is believed in Poland that NATO?s membership is needed not only for the Poles, since this is becoming an element of a broader vision of the new European order. We expect to benefit from the membership in terms of growing security-national one, and at the regional and ontinental level.
1. See article by Marek Nowakowski, Belarus in the World, 1997, Nb.1, pp. 21-23.
2. See article by Mechislav Chesnovsky, Belarus in the World, 1996, Nb.3, pp. 28-32.