Czech Republic joined NATO 3 years ago

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Three years ago today, the Czech Republic joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Less than 10 years after the fall of communism and eight years after the Warsaw Pact was torn up, the country became a member of what was once the enemy alliance. Pavla Horakova reports.

On March 12, 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland officially handed over documents ratifying the Washington Treaty, to the treaty's depository in the American city of Independence. Since then, the Czech Republic has successfully participated in a number of NATO operations. However, it has also been criticised by the Alliance for dragging its heels over transformation of its armed forces and insufficient transparency of defence contracts. I asked Ivan Pilip, the deputy chairman of the opposition Freedom Union, to look back on the three years of Czech NATO membership.

"For the Czech Republic it is definitely a proof of its political stability and a tool to increase our security and even more so after all the events of last year. Many people understood how important it is to be part of some a strong democratic alliance in the world. At the same time, I think it has helped the Czech Republic to increase the feeling that we are part of Western civilisation and that we must take some responsibility as well, which we proved in Yugoslavia during all the attacks, as well as now in Afghanistan by our direct support to our allies."

Miloslav Ransdorf is the deputy chairman of the Communist Party. Does his party see any positive outcome of Czech membership in NATO?

"I have no positive answer in this sense because I am persuaded that NATO did not bring any security to the Czech Republic. We participated in this war in the Balkans, which was maybe the most serious mistake committed by the US after WWII and I must say that we witnessed last year on September 11 that no defence spending in such a high degree as in the United States contributes to the security of a nation."

The accession of the three new countries to the Alliance three years ago was meant to be part of a continuing process. More countries in Eastern Europe - including the Baltic States, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia - are seeking to join the alliance, despite opposition from Russia. In November 2002, the next NATO Summit will be held in Prague. Further expansion of the 19-member alliance will be top of the agenda. Finally, I asked Ivan Pilip and Miloslav Ransdorf how they would like to see the Czech Republic's future membership of NATO.

"NATO is one of very important priorities in our foreign policy, at least for my party, because we think that for security, NATO is still the number one organisation."

"NATO is the reality, so maybe the best solution would be to limit the military part of NATO or change NATO into an all-European security structure."