NATO and Central Europe: Three New Books
January 14, 2004
Staff-prepared summary of the EES noon discussion with Jeffrey Simon, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University

Jeffrey Simon has just published a series of three new books dealing with postcommunist political and military reform and civil-military relations in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia and Poland. Simon's talk highlighted the broad trends and lessons learned from the transformation of the militaries in the three new NATO countries admitted in 1999, as well as in Slovakia.

Simon argued that four factors are critical in transforming a military that serves broader society in these countries. First, a clear division of authority must be established for the main institutions of government, a task that to date has largely been achieved in the four states. Second, Parliament must have effective oversight capabilities through defense and intelligence committees, as transparent defense budgets are needed to foster public trust in the military establishment. Over the past ten years, political and military leaders in all three countries have gained more experience in dealing with military affairs and are more easily able to make judgments regarding military budgets, acquisitions and conscription.

Third, civilian defense officials and Defense Ministers must be able to have effective oversight of the military. Currently, each country, Hungary most of all, is struggling with the effort to impose military accountability on the military command structure. The defense ministry must develop long-term strategic plans and a defense structure, make smart acquisitions and effectively communicate and justify their decisions to the public and Parliament. Finally, the military must restore its image as a prestigious and trustworthy institution so that society does not perceive it as a threat. In Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the military has gained the support of Parliament and the public, but in Hungary the military continues to be held in low esteem and this is reflected in the lack of budgetary support from Parliament.

While Simon asserted that a great deal has been achieved in the past decade, there are several key areas in need of improvement. The defense ministries continue to have problems with force planning capacities. Budgetary constraints hinder modernization. Restructuring of the top-heavy military must be enacted with the concomitant release of thousands of career officers and phasing out conscription. The Czechs and Slovaks have set a goal of having an all-volunteer force by 2007, but Simon is not optimistic that this will be the case for Hungary. The states are also plagued with constitutional and legal system inadequacies, which would be solved with more rational planning.