By Frank Koszorus, Jr.
Hungarian American Coalition
November 5, 1997
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, it is a great honor and pleasure to appear before you to address the vital issue of the security of the United States which is closely linked to European security. Mr. Chairman, the Hungarian American Coalition ("Coalition") enthusiastically supports the enlargement of NATO to include Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. We believe that this historic step will serve the geopolitical interests of the United States. In order to be successful, the enlargement process must take into consideration the unique history of the region and espouse West European norms relating to the ethnic communities of Central and Eastern Europe.
The Coalition is a consortium of organizations and individuals which disseminates educational and cultural materials about Hungarians, U.S. relations with Hungary and the Hungarian minorities living in the Carpathian Basin.
The Coalition strongly believes that the long-term national security and budgetary interests of the United States require an unequivocal commitment to the transition of Central and Eastern European countries to fully democratic and free market status. That commitment requires the United States to be actively engaged in the region.
The Coalition further believes that peace and stability throughout Europe serve the national security interests of the United States. In this century, the United States was called upon to fight two hot wars and a 45-year Cold War — conflicts which emanated from the heart of Europe — in the furtherance of those vital geopolitical interests. These wars, which resulted from uncertainty and instability in the region, cost America dearly in lives lost and treasure expended.
In addition to the institutionalization of democracy and market economies in Central and Eastern Europe, the prevention of any large power dominating any part of Europe are the best means of guaranteeing that there will be no further European conflicts which will entangle the United States. We believe that with the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union, the objectives of peace, stability, and democracy in Europe are achievable if we exercise leadership.
Among the most visible and effective forms of our engagement is our continuing involvement in the security issues of the region. We believe that the general stability and security of the region can be accomplished through the enlargement of NATO to include Hungary and other countries which desire to join the Alliance and meet the criteria for membership.
Mr. Chairman, I had the great pleasure of visiting Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic two weeks ago as part of a joint Department of Defense/Department of State fact finding mission. It was striking to observe the desire of the people, including the military leadership, of the three countries to be part of and contribute to NATO and the security of the region. This desire was evident, for example, in Hungary where young, reform-minded officers recently had been promoted to senior ranks and enthusiastically spoke about steps they had taken to restructure the military better to conform to NATO standards. We were particularly impressed as they and their junior officers briefed us in English.
The majority of Hungarians welcome NATO membership because they want to be part of a successful and defensive alliance. They recall how their quest for freedom and independence was brutally crushed by Soviet tanks in 1956 because Hungary was on the wrong side of Stalin’s dividing line.
Today, we must not permit Central and Eastern Europe to languish in a security vacuum. Russian interests are not threatened by the expansion of a defensive alliance. Moreover, stability and economic growth on the borders of Russia can only benefit Moscow. Russia should not be isolated and mechanisms, such as the Founding Act between NATO and Russia, should dispel any lingering concerns Moscow may entertain about an enlarged NATO. Russia, however, should under no circumstances be permitted to exercise a “veto” in NATO matters.
Russia is in a fluid state with voices of nascent expansionism being heard in some quarters. Failure by NATO to accept the invited countries will redraw the lines imposed by Stalin and signal Russian imperialists that they, in fact, enjoy a "sphere of influence" in Central and Eastern Europe. The consequences of rejecting Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic would be contrary to U.S. geopolitical interests in a secure, integrated, and democratic Europe.
NATO enlargement is a building block — indeed the cornerstone — of stability in Europe. An enlarged NATO alone, however, is not a panacea for ethnic peace. As a military alliance, NATO’s role has been to defend its members from outside aggression. An enlarged NATO that sticks to its core function will promote a large degree of interstate stability in Central Europe. The Alliance alone will not resolve tensions caused by discriminatory policies and practices of majorities toward ethnic minorities — a historical source of conflict and instability in the region. The United States, therefore, can cement long-term stability by not only enlarging NATO, but also by promoting the ability of minorities to enjoy the fruits of democracy.
NATO enlargement should not be seen as a means of sweeping minority rights under the rug; the enlargement process must not apply a different standard to new members as has been applied to current members. It should be recalled that the scope of collective — i.e., ethnic or group — rights of the Catalans and Basques of Spain, the Welsh and Scots of Great Britain, the South Tyroleans of Italy, the Walloons of Belgium or the Swedes of Finland are significantly greater than those sought but denied to ethnic communities, especially Hungarians, in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Soviet Union cynically suppressed minorities while loudly proclaiming that socialism had solved the nationalities question. A NATO expansion process which ignores the legitimate and democratically asserted aspirations of minorities will leave them frustrated and dissatisfied. They once again will feel abandoned as they did in 1920 when borders were drastically redrawn and millions of minorities created without their having a say in the determination of which states they would live in. If NATO enlargement is to serve U.S. interests, it must not become a vehicle of instability by ignoring the rights of minorities in Central and Eastern Europe.
In order to promote lasting stability in Central Europe, the United States must do two things in addition to enlarging NATO. First, it must recognize that improved interstate and interethnic relations are a function of democracy and enlightened minority policies.
Second, the United States must use its influence to convince the states in the region that if they want to join Western institutions, including NATO, they must conform to Western minority rights practices. Central European minorities must be granted the same rights as the rights exercised by Western European minorties. Dismissing the aspirations of Central Europeans to enjoy such rights virtually guarantees that our worst fears may become self-fulfilling prophecies.
The surest way to defuse ethnic tensions in Central and Eastern Europe, protect the territorial integrity of states and promote democracy and good neighborly relations is to grant ethnic minorities group rights such as the ones exercised by Western Europeans. Such policies — as opposed to basic treaties between the countries of the region — would serve United States strategic interests in Central Europe and dispel our fears of perpetual conflict. They would also ensure the continued strength and vitality of an expanded NATO.
As we approach the 21st century, we simply cannot afford to squander a historic opportunity to safeguard long-lasting stability and democracy. We can win the peace this time. The adverse consequences of our withdrawal from Europe at critical times in the past are well known. Had the United States reacted firmly to the turmoil threatening peace in Europe prior to the First and Second World Wars, many American lives and resources would have been spared. Similarly, the Cold War would have been far less expensive and dangerous had the United States not pulled back from the heart of Europe and had we resisted domestic pressure to "bring the boys home" before the European political order had been settled.
If only to avoid being drawn back into exacerbated controversies, the United States should not ignore the challenges posed by Central and Eastern Europe. This means that NATO enlargement should be ratified quickly and overwhelmingly, and the democratically expressed aspirations of ethnic minorities to enjoy the fruits of Western style minority rights should be actively and vigorously promoted. These steps would constitute inexpensive, yet vital insurance policies for the United States. Our failure to exercise leadership, on the other hand, will ensure a new world order far less congenial to our interests.