The potential for NATO's enlargement to destabilise the power balance in the east chills NATO-Russian relations

Simon Brossard/BRUSSELS

One of the first tangible results of the entry of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland into the NATO Alliance on 14 March was the announcement by the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Gen Klaus Naumann of Germany, that, from then on, the territory of the three new members would be fully integrated into the NATO air defence system.

Less evident was the fact that the new members and the alliance are entering a new and still developing relationship that includes their involvement not only into a radically changed NATO, but also the emerging European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) with both a pillar inside the alliance and another related to the European Union (EU).

But the adaptation and planning for the integration of the prospective member countries began earlier and was regarded during that period as fraught with complications - and some controversy. Naumann, for example, has indicated publicly that achieving interoperability goals may take NATO's new members a few years - and considerably longer to upgrade their equipment. Less publicly, Naumann has expressed concern about the wisdom of extending NATO's security guarantees to the three new countries while both the new members and the alliance itself may not have the military capability to meet such a commitment.

One NATO Assembly report was especially sceptical of the three new members' capabilities - citing, for example, the Polish air force's low readiness and training rate (the service's 16h a year flying time per pilot is considerably below the NATO standard of 90-200h) and what it called significant interoperability deficiencies.

It is also generally recognised that, if even Western European armed forces suffer from a technology gap in comparison with their US counterparts, the new Eastern European members will be even further behind, calling into question the cohesiveness of the entire alliance.

The gradual process of involvement began earlier in the 1990s with the creation by NATO of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme. Unveiled by then US defence secretary Les Aspin at a 1993 meeting of NATO defence ministers in Travemunde, Germany, this programme was regarded as a form of associate membership rather than a preparation for entry into the alliance. One US Senator referred to it as the "partnership for procrastination".

Although originally championed by former German defence minister Volker Rühe, the US Administration took up the desire to accept new members into the alliance and the process of integration accelerated during 1994-6. It was also during this period that NATO assumed the planning and management of the Implementation Force peace-enforcement mission in the former Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia, which included elements of the three applicant countries and other members of the PfP.

When, at the July 1997 summit in Madrid, NATO heads of state and governments invited the three countries to begin formal entry negotiations, the process took on a new dimension.

At that time, political examination of the details of enlargement tended to focus on the costs to existing members and to the new entries. Considerable political controversy developed over the forecasts of the budgetary implications. In the end, all parties involved - ranging from military and political planners to the public - appeared confused and unconvinced by the process, which tended to minimise the costs while reassuring that they would be reasonable and easily absorbed.

Still unclear are the infrastructure, strategic and practical dimensions of enlargement, which extends the NATO area nearly 1,000km (540nm) eastward to the frontier of Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Republic. Since these are not considered as adversaries and therefore overt military threats, there are, in NATO's eyes, no tangible military measures required as a consequence.

NATO threat assessments are focused on more defused risks posed by the instability caused by intra-state friction and hostilities, such as in the former Yugoslavia, and on the more immediate demand of crisis management, rather than on territorial defence.

'Insurance policy'

The alliance's strategy, planning and assets, as a result, are oriented towards constituting an "insurance policy" against a possible territorial threat to its 19 member countries from unspecified enemy attacks. It focuses on a new and wider variety of operations ranging from crisis prevention and management to peacekeeping and enforcement and other missions, such as those typified by the two Bosnian deployments and the air action against Serbia.

But Poland, for example, is close to what is considered a geopolitical flashpoint in the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad. Hungary's geographical position, isolated from other NATO members and close to the conflicts in Yugoslavia, also presented particular planning challenges. As a result, it has become a major air and land staging point for the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, but has limited its role in the Kosovo operations to allowing over-flying rights and some use of its air bases, because of the vulnerability of ethnic Hungarians living in Yugoslavia.

These new requirements have shifted NATO's emphasis from its traditional forms of static layered defences focused on deterring, or defending against, a massive Warsaw Pact offensive, towards smaller, mobile, rapid reaction forces directed against the new missions.

In recent years, NATO military planners have developed a new command and force structure, and incorporated these aspects into the ongoing force goal planning process that includes all member countries - and, recently, the three candidates. This process consists of budgetary, infrastructure and equipment planning and reviews to gauge the future needs and performance of each member and of the alliance collectively.

Part of this alliance readjustment also stemmed from the desire of the USA to reduce its military presence in Europe from the Cold War highs of more than 300,000 personnel to the more recent figures of around 100,000, and the related wish by European members to develop an autonomous capability. This led to the decisions to incorporate a separate ESDI within the integrated NATO structure. This would be represented both by an identifiable European chain of command within the NATO structure, and by external collaboration between NATO and the Western European Union, which is designated as the defence arm.

In another related decision, NATO ministers agreed in Berlin in 1996 to begin the work of establishing the concept of Combined Joint Task Forces, which would be composed of coalitions of NATO countries undertaking specific missions which use joint NATO assets such as logistics, communications and intelligence equipment and facilities without all NATO members being involved.

At both the planning and training level, the three applicant countries have begun a process of integrating into the NATO system in at least two major ways.

Like other NATO members they began participating in the force goal and budget process. Target force goals were developed jointly with the NATO planners. While the targets are classified, Polish defence minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz has publicly stated that his country, for example, had 65 such major targets, with priorities centring on communications systems - in particular, command and control for air defence. It was required to integrate its airspace control system with that of NATO and also to make ground, naval and air force units immediately available to NATO's rapid-reaction forces. He says that the only target force goal Poland has been unable to reach is the long-delayed decision to procure new multirole fighters. This has been delayed for years because of the country's budget problems, despite the desire to provide enough aircraft to retain skills and to have some capacity available to NATO commanders.

In air defence, Hungary also worked to modernise its radars and relevant control and reporting systems, to integrate the Air Sovereignty Operations Centre into the NATO system and to upgrade all assets with NATO-compatible identification friend or foe systems.

NATO officials and planners were repeatedly required to underline that the process of integration and interoperability was not aimed at requiring the applicant countries to acquire sophisticated and costly Western weapons systems, despite the constant discussions in the three countries on aircraft modernisation spending projects.

The three nations also became directly involved in testing and improving their capability to operate with NATO and other partners in PfP training, including air exercises.

In recent years, for example, Allied Air Forces Central Europe at Ramstein AB, Germany, has developed a programme of seminars, visits, workshops and training courses in topics ranging from air traffic control to English.

Major "Co-operative Chance" multinational air exercises have also involved the new countries completely in their planning and preparation, as well as the implementation and application. The first, in Hungary in 1996, was devoted mainly to search and rescue and humanitarian aid and others involved an increase in content and scope. These involved command post and live exercises which featured air force missions and the inclusion of ground based air defence systems, including the airspace surveillance and control elements. In last year's exercise in Slovakia, 20 countries, including eight NATO and 12 PfP states (including the three candidates) worked out a scenario involving a war between two previously united countries, known as "Diamond" and "Amber", which was ended with a peace agreement involving a NATO-led peacekeeping force.

Before the NATO alliance could even begin to plan and implement the enlargement to include the three new member countries, it faced two major sets of external negotiations.

The first to be concluded involved talks with Russia, in an attempt to mollify Moscow's opposition to, and unease about, NATO enlargement closer to its borders, and specifically to seek a mutually acceptable means of reducing the perceived threat to Russia.

Part of this process was resolved early when the alliance issued unilateral declarations as a prelude to signing a joint agreement with Russia on consultation and negotiation. NATO ministers declared that it saw "no reason, no plans and no intent" to station nuclear weapons in the three new member countries, a move generally considered to cover nuclear-capable aircraft. It also reportedly gave some assurances to Russia that no NATO troops would be stationed permanently in the new states, although some may be there temporarily for exercises, or in small numbers as part of headquarters facilities. It also reassured Russia that the new members' infrastructure would not be altered in a threatening manner, which was taken to mean the preparation of air facilities in Poland to use as a possible staging site against Russia.

Some of these issues were discussed - albeit on a relatively superficial basis, according to NATO officials - in the Permanent Joint Council established between NATO and Russia, which met on a regular monthly basis until Moscow suspended its representation and participation with the alliance in March in reaction to the launching of NATO air operations against Yugoslavia.

CFE negotiations

Another major element affecting NATO, its new members, Russia and other European countries, was related negotiations in the context of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) on limitations and reductions in certain categories of potentially offensive weapon systems, including fixed-wing combat aircraft and combat helicopters. Since the early negotiations, which concluded on a CFE treaty in 1990, had been conducted on a bloc-to-bloc basis between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, it had become evident following the demise of the Warsaw Pact and the splintering of the Soviet Union, that the ceilings for the weapons categories no longer applied and would have to be recalculated to represent the new geopolitical situation in Europe. Moscow, especially, became insistent when it became obvious that at least three of its former Warsaw Pact allies would shift camps to join the NATO alliance and shift the military balance even further against the new Russian Federation.

Difficult negotiations have been under way for the past two years, possibly to incorporate the details of the pledge that would prohibit the permanent stationing of significant NATO forces in the three new members, but to allow temporary basing for exercises or peacekeeping missions. Both sides have said they wish to produce an accord to sign later this year.

Source: Flight International