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The Warsaw Voice » Other » June 3, 2009
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March 12, 1999: Poland Joins NATO
June 3, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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The foreign ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary put an end to a decade of tough political negotiations as they handed over the NATO Accession Protocols to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on March 12, 1999 in Independence, Missouri, in the United States.

Discussing the priorities of Poland's foreign policy in his Sejm statement on Sept. 12, 1989, Krzysztof Skubiszewski, foreign minister in the first noncommunist government of Tadeusz Mazowiecki, listed them in 12 points. One of them was Poland's NATO accession. A few months later the Polish embassy in Brussels established permanent relations with the alliance.

The military structures of the Warsaw Pact were dissolved in March 1991, and the pact itself ceased to exist in July. On July 3, 1991, President Lech Wałęsa paid an official visit to NATO Headquarters. The meeting resulted in Poland's admission to the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) in December 1991.

At an Atlantic Council meeting in Washington on Sept. 10, 1991, Prime Minister Jan Krzysztof Bielecki proposed that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe be admitted to NATO as members, to "guarantee them peace and freedom." The next Polish prime minister, Jan Olszewski, said in his policy statement on Dec. 21, 1991 that Poland would work to strengthen its ties with NATO. "In the present situation, we see NATO as a pillar of European security, and the presence of U.S. forces in Europe as a stabilizing factor," Olszewski said.

Door open
The first sign that the former satellite countries of the Soviet Union could one day become full-fledged NATO members appeared exactly seven years before the ceremony in Independence. Manfred Wörner, NATO secretary-general at the time, paid a visit to Warsaw during which he said "the door to NATO is open."

On Aug. 24, 1993, Russian President Boris Yeltsin came to Warsaw on an official visit. Poland and Russia were meant to sign eight documents and a joint declaration of the presidents. In the first version of the documents, no mention was made of Russia's approval for NATO's eastward expansion plan. After talks between Wałęsa and Yeltsin, however, such a statement was included in the part of the agreement concerning international affairs. It read, "The presidents discussed the issue of Poland's intention to join NATO. President Wałęsa explained Poland's known stance on this matter, which was accepted with understanding by President Yeltsin. In the future such a decision from sovereign Poland, aimed at furthering European integration, would not be in conflict with the interests of other countries, including Russia."

On Jan. 12, 1994, at a meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Prague, the presidents of the Visegrad Group countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) approved the Partnership for Peace program, which offered the possibility of joint military exercises, participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions as well as consultations with NATO partners in the event of a threat to security. On Feb. 2, 1994, Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak signed the document of Poland's accession to the Partnership for Peace at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Officials in Washington additionally assured Poland that Russia would not be able to veto Poland's accession to NATO.

Not if, but when
During Clinton's visit to Warsaw in July 1994, breakthrough words were spoken to the effect that NATO enlargement was not a question of "if" but "when and how." On July 5, Poland and NATO adopted the Individual Partnership Program to which new objectives were added each year.

On Oct. 8, 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the "Brown Amendment," which gave the president the mandate to expand NATO's military cooperation with Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

On Feb. 8, 1996, in a joint letter to the NATO secretary-general, the Polish ministers of defense and foreign affairs officially accepted NATO's invitation, issued on Jan. 29, to begin individual membership negotiations. On April 4, Poland submitted its Individual Discussion Document on NATO enlargement. The first individual membership negotiations were held on May 7 in Brussels. The final meeting took place on April 25, 1997.

Almost there
The accession negotiations between Poland and NATO began on Sept. 16, 1997 and lasted six weeks. The first topic was the political obligations stemming from the Washington Treaty. The next stage of the talks covered Poland's adjustment to the strategic concept of NATO. The third round was devoted to Poland's contribution to the NATO budget (set at 2.48 percent of the alliance's spending) and the possibilities for Poland to finance its armed forces reform. The final round, which summarized what had been agreed, was held on Oct. 23.

The first stage of Poland joining NATO was sealed with the signing of the Accession Protocols for Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary during a ministerial session of the North Atlantic Council on Dec. 16, 1997.

February 1998 saw the start of ratification of the accession treaty in the member states. In Europe, the first country to approve it was Denmark. On April 30, the U.S. Senate approved the treaty in a 80-19 vote.

On Feb. 18, 1999, President Aleksander Kwa¶niewski signed a law paving the way for Poland to ratify the North Atlantic Treaty. The Sejm had passed the law the previous day, with 409 deputies voting in favor and seven against. The president ratified the treaty on Feb. 26.
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