Security Bloc’s First Post-Soviet Members Remain Focused on a Resurgent Russia
By Jason Overdorf - The Washington Diplomat (April 2019)
A day after NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called for the alliance to hold its ground against an increasingly bellicose Russia, the foreign ministers of the three Central European countries that joined the bloc as part of its first eastward expansion following the collapse of the Soviet Union also warned of new threats from Moscow even as they celebrated what Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek termed “arguably the most successful alliance in the history of mankind.”
The Czech, Hungarian and Polish foreign ministers were marking the 20th anniversary of their membership into NATO as well as the security alliance’s 70th anniversary. The day before the three ministers spoke at the Polish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., Vice President Mike Pence reiterated his boss’s criticisms that some NATO members aren’t carrying their weight, although Pence declared that “the alliance at 70 has never been stronger,” due in large part to President Trump’s leadership.
The three foreign ministers backed Trump’s calls for increased defense spending but cautioned against viewing the alliance in transactional terms during a panel discussion titled “Twenty Years Later: Lessons from NATO’s Enlargement and the Alliance’s Future.”
Pushed through despite protests from Moscow, NATO’s first eastward expansion added the three Central European countries in 1999, as the sheen was just starting to wear off Francis Fukuyama’s idea of the “end of history,” Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz recalled. Two weeks later, NATO’s intervention in the Kosovo War began.
“With [NATO] membership, we got more rights, we got more security, but at the same time we took responsibility,” said Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček, touching on a key theme all three countries repeatedly emphasized — that they are among the most vocal proponents of a muscular alliance.
“We want to be active and we have been an active member of NATO. We contributed to many missions, and we also sacrificed the most valuable price, the price of human life,” Petříček said.