NATO Prague Summit: Results and Consequences

Article published on Dec. 1, 2002
From the magazine
Article published on Dec. 1, 2002
The Summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation took place in Prague on the 21 and 22 November 2002. At the beginning of the plenary session of the North Atlantic Council (NAC), charismatic NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson said of the aim of the Summit: “For NATO, Prague is a transformation summit. It is a truly defining moment for the Atlantic Alliance.
We will welcome new members, take on new missions, modernise our military capabilities, and strengthen our relations with friends and partners troughout the Euro-Atlantic area.”

Expectations before the Summit were quite high, let’s see if and how the summit lived up to these (often contradictory) wishes.


“I put to the heads of state and government of NATO that they agree that we invite to accesion talks with NATO the following nations: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. I take it that this is agreed – the Council has so decided.” (Speech of Lord Robertson, meeting of the Nord Atlantic Council, 21 November 2002)

The first of these expectations, which has been shared by all the NATO countries for at least the past year, was the necessity of enlargement.

The crises after September 11th 2001 have radically changed US plans on the question of the second wave of the Alliance´s eastern enlargement. Actual US strategic goals are to broaden the area of stability in Europe at any price – the lowest price is further decline of military capabilities and operative powers of European allies. As George W. Bush said after the decision of enlargement was taken in the NAC: “We belive today’ s decision reaffirms our commitment to freedom and our commitment to a Europe which is whole and free and at peace.” In another words: a self-sufficient Europe which the US doesn’t need to take care of.

The United States doesn`t expect much from its European Allies – except one main thing: to ensure peace and stability in their region. The US has to have free hands to operate in other parts of the world where their current – or future – national interests in terms of natural resources (e. g. Africa) or in terms of western security investments (e.g. Middle East) are much more threatened than in Europe.

The power behind Prague`s enlargement is doubtless the United States. Their reasons are so strong and powerful that their European allies have no courage to contradict them, even if it some of them probably wanted to. If they had protested against any of the invited countries (consensus was not strong in the cases of Bulgaria and Romania), the US would have reminded their allies of the huge discrepency in the NATO defence budget. European NATO states give – all together! – only half the sum that the USA gives for armed forces, and their operational effectivity is only 1/10 of the American`s. That is a strong argument for US dominance in Alliance decision making.

In Prague all three post-USSR Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) got the NATO invite. President Putin refused Czech president Havel's invitation to the summit, because this step further weakens Russian geopolitical position. Russia has no other choice than to accept the will of these countries and the Alliance, rather than cause as big (and unuseful) diplomatic and political scandal as they did a few years ago when the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary joined NATO.

The process of enlargement of NATO is not at its end. Lord Robertson said: “The door to NATO membership remains open. Todays invitees will not be the last. Through the MAP (Membership Action Plan – approved at the Washington summit in April 1999) process, we will continue to help you pursue your reform process, and we remain committed to your full integration into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations.” The MAP has been for Prague invited countries a very usefull tool in the process of preparation for membership. That`s why, for example, todays Slovakia is much more ready for joining NATO military structures than the Czech republic was at the time of its accesion (April 1999), despite the same “start position” after the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The countries which shall probably be invited at the next summit are Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia/Montenegro.

The negotiations with the seven countries invited at Prague summit start in March 2003 and the accession process should end at the end of 2004.

NATO Response Force

“We have decided to create a NATO Response Force (NRF) consisting of a technologically advanced, flexible, deployable, interoperable and sustainable force including land, sea and air elements ready to move quickly to wherever needed, as decided by the Council.” (Prague Summit Declaration, Article 4b)

Enlargement was not the only important issue on the agenda at the Prague summit. Follwing the situation after the September 11, the enviroment of fear of terror, NATO should find its own and common way to solve new security challenges and threats.

The NAC has decided to create these forces to a capacity of 21 000 members in full operational capability for October 2006. This is a big change in the history of NATO, because it breaks the old principle of a defence alliance: “Out of Area, out of Business”. What is today's NATO area? The Kosovo crisis showed that in any circumstances it could be outside the borders of alliance states. Are the Balkans outside the area? Or Afghanistan? Or Iraq?

Statement on Iraq

“We [19 heads of state and government of NATO] pledge our full support for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and call on Iraq to comply fully and immediately with this and all relevant UN Security Council resolutions...We recall that the Security Council in this resolution has warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violation of its obligations.” (Prague Summit Statement on Iraq, NAC, 21 November 2002)

President Bush evidently wanted a much tougher NATO statement on his pet issue. European allies – mainly France and Germany – have chosen strictly diplomatic language, because they haven`t changed their mind on this issue. However the German chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced at the Summit that his country is ready to allow the USA to use German bases for any war in Iraq. This gesture has one main reason: to thaw German-US relations after the diplomatic scandal caused during the German election campaign (when Bush was compared to Hitler). But Germany hasn`t changed its mind on involving its army in any war with Iraq.


The Secretary General`s closing press conference was interrupted when one Russian young man and another Ukrainian one threw tomatoes at Lord Robertson, but missed their target. In the meantime they shouted “NATO is worse than the Gestapo!”. The two men were accredited to the Summit as journalists, but both were neofacsists, members of the National Bolshevic Party (based on a mix of bolshevic and nationalist ideology).

This was the only incident in Prague. Anarchists and communists organised every day non-violent demonstrations against the NATO summit, against militarism and against capitalism. It was expected that more than 12 000 demonstrators would come to Prague, but finally not more than one thousand appeared.

For the Czech Republic the Summit was a great historical event. It was the first summit which took place in a country behind the former “Iron Curtain”. This Summit moved the zone of stability in Europe closer to Russia and helped three post-Soviet states gain a much firmer and more visible identification with the West, with Europe, and to break away from the Russian sphere of influence. This is a great success even if other conclusions of the Summit will only stay on paper.