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Tuesday, April 27, 1999 Published at 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK


Rude awakening for Nato's new recruits

Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic join Nato

There was official jubilation on 12 March when the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland officially joined Nato.

Commemoration not celebration
Rude awakening for new members
Alliance's Cold War roots
Fast facts:
Nato: Who, what, why
The event was said to mark an acknowledgment that the three countries were, by tradition and inclination, part of the West - despite more than four decades of Soviet domination.

Poland's prime minister, Jerzy Buzek, even called it the "real end of the Second World War".

But a month later, Nato is at war - and the response in the three new states has been mixed.

[ image: Czech soldier in the first Partnership for Peace Mission, 1991]
Czech soldier in the first Partnership for Peace Mission, 1991
The Czechs are the most ambivalent. A majority of those polled oppose the bombing campaign - although parliament has voted to approve the use of Czech territory to transport Nato troops and materiel in the direction of the Balkans.

The Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, says Nato should still be prepared to negotiate with President Milosevic.

The Hungarians are worried about the future of the 300,000-strong Hungarian minority in northern Serbia.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan: "Serbs have been closest friends"
Hungary's Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, says his country is not ready to take part in a Nato ground operation in Yugoslavia.

Poland keen

Poland, the largest of the three new Nato members, has been keenest. Opinion polls show a clear majority supporting the bombing campaign - and Poland is expected to offer a battalion of troops in the event of a land campaign.

James Coomarasamy reports on how the Polish military see their new role
Poland claims it wants to become "America's major partner in Central Europe" - and is also lobbying, so far unsuccessfully, for neighbouring Lithuania to be brought into Nato, in defiance of Russian opposition.

Poland and Hungary, in particular, badly need Nato to prove itself. Relations with Russia, already cool, appear to have worsened further.

Poland's eastern neighbour, Belarus, has ostentatiously backed the Serbs. Hungary fears future Serb reprisals.

Waiting at the door

For the three failed applicants - Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia - the Yugoslav conflict presents dangers and opportunities.

All three have been saying that their present cooperation with Nato - making air space available and, in Slovakia's case, also allowing the passage of troops and military equipment - entitles them to Nato security guarantees, leading eventually to full membership.

The Washington summit is not expected to issue any new offers of membership.

But if Nato really does want to secure some form of international protectorate in Kosovo, the Balkans as a whole may need to be integrated more closely with the Western alliance.

[ image: Nato's new members have a strategic importance for the alliance in its operations against Yugoslavia]
Nato's new members have a strategic importance for the alliance in its operations against Yugoslavia

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