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Austria´s Membership in NATO from the Point of View of Poland´s Security Concerns

erschienen in der Publikation "Österreich und die NATO (4)" - Jänner 1998

Vollständiger Beitrag als PDF:  PDF ansehen PDF downloaden  14 Seiten (71 KB)
Schlagworte zu diesem Beitrag:  Österreich, Politik, Sicherheitspolitik, Außenpolitik, NATO


Austria has traditionally played an important role in Poland's foreign policy and, to a lesser extent, in Polish security considerations. Over the years our interest in Austria may have varied in nature and intensity, but it has never fallen to the level of indifference.

Due to historical and geopolitical factors, Austria is one of the important actors in the politics in (and of) Central Europe and whatever strategic choice it makes, is of concern to its neighbours. From the perspective of Warsaw, it is important that Austria (a) is an important neighbour of some of Poland's immediate neighbours (the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and political allies (Hungary); that (b) co-operation and stability in this part of Europe is important for us, and that these goals are impossible to achieve without Austria's collaboration; and that (c) we perceive Austria as a country with similar - if not identical - concerns. Last but not least, roughly one fifth-in terms of territory-of the present-day Poland has shared a certain period of its history with Austria, and has quite fond memories of that time. All these factors together can be seen as a proper point of departure for defining Austria's role in Central Europe.

Austria borders on four post-communist states in Central Europe: Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. All these countries had been until 1918 part of the Habsburg empire. The common past creates cultural ties that, in the long run, often promote co-operation and understanding. At least this seems to be the case of Austria and its neighbours. Because Austria does no longer pose a threat to their sovereignty, these states see it as an important potential arbiter and partner in soothing the erupting regional conflicts and in clearing up misunderstandings.

At the same time, however, one encounters an opinion among the Polish foreign-policy establishment that, as regards European affairs, Austria's potential has been under-utilised. Austria, as an important political partner, is no doubt present in Warsaw, Budapest and Prague (is it equally strongly present in Bratislava, Kiev or Bucharest?). The potential is surely there, but it is not exploited. Even in non-political spheres such as cultural contacts and events, and language training (to mention only these two areas) the role of Austria seems to have been relatively reduced. Some of the reasons for this situation are obvious (e.g., the bigger role of Germany and German institutions in the region after 1989 cannot be underestimated) but one would wish to see more effort, interest (including self-interest) and dedication on the part of the government and other public institutions and people in Vienna.

Some may object that Austria belongs to the group of relatively small (hence unimportant), albeit highly prosperous, European states. Thus, its impact may not be as great as suggested by this analysis. Yet, the relatively small size may be an advantage, for other states will not fear Austria's dominance in regional affairs.

It is obvious that Austria's adhesion to NATO will strengthen its Position in the region and will offer it an opportunity to play the important role of the arbiter and the strategic partner to the nations of the region (certain Czech politicians and security experts are, for example, quite explicit as far as this issue is concerned). Austria's position has already been made stronger by its admission to the European Union. One cannot forget that in the not so distant past Austria played the role of the "bridge" between ideologically and politically defined (and divided) East and West. The major still relevant dividing lines are different, be it geographic (east, west, centre, north, etc.), political (democracy, autocracy/dictatorship) and/or economic (developed and less developed regions and countries of the European continent, advanced and underdeveloped market economies). These are serious and potentially explosive lines of division. Along these lines Europe will be structurally divided if a special effort is not made to counter these tendencies

At the same time, when propounding the concept of a more committed Austria, one should realise that for many Austrians the tradition of more than forty years of neutrality, which served Austria extremely well in the bipolar world of the Cold War, is a value in itself Twenty or thirty years ago neutrality ("Finlandization", as it was called in Poland) was an idea cherished by anticommunist rebels from the ranks of both intellectuals as well as blue-collar workers. Felix Austria, this historical term gained under communism in Poland a new, modem meaning, reflecting both history and the more fortunate Austria's present.

However, today we ask ourselves and our Austrian (and, for that matter, also Swedish and Finnish) friends a different question. It is felt in Warsaw that the very concept of neutrality is obsolete, that it belongs to a different, historical epoch. The word "neutrality," it seems, has no place in the vocabulary of the European Union which at least from 1994 has been speaking about European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) or about Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). If properly and strictly understood, neutrality can mean today self-isolation and self-marginalization.

Commitment is the call of the present day and of the days to come. One cannot remain neutral when facing the challenges of the pre sent; one is forced to act when confronted with Bosnia's, international organised crime, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, etc. The real question is the level, direction and institutional forms of commitment.

Austria's possible increasingly important commitment to Central European and Europe-wide affairs is also in Poland's national interest. To act constructively and efficiently in the region (and beyond it), one needs good, experienced and reliable partners. Austria's well developed economic and political potential aided by a numerically modest but of a very high quality, armed forces should be added to the common European pool, to be a part of a new European synergy.

Austria already made the first step when, together with Sweden and Finland, it joined the European Union. Austria made the second step when the country signed the Partnership for Peace in 1995 and involved its military in IFOR and next in SFOR operations.

Today the third step, i.e. NATO membership is desirable and, at the same time, an active role in giving more flesh and blood to the activities of the Western European Union (WEU) and to the strategically crucial concept of the Combined Joint Task Forces (CJTF). At a strictly military and operational level, Austrian armed forces can help, if need be, in executing the tasks of power projection to the most troublesome region of Europe, namely the Balkans. However, one should add here immediately that the projected power will not only be that of its own, but rather that of an international defence community and, ultimately, of the United States

The strictly military and operational approach is, needless to say, insufficient when trying to explain reasons for the third step. To describe the case in a more satisfactory manner, it is appropriate to make a few remarks on Poland's view on the role of NATO.

Eigentümer und Herausgeber: Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung | Roßauer Lände 1, 1090 Wien
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