Visegrad, Vilnius and the Atlantic: What Can the New Democracies Bring to NATO?
September 10, 2003

Staff-prepared summary of the East European Studies discussion with Philip Dimitrov, Former Bulgarian Prime Minister and Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar

Philip Dimitrov provided an upbeat and positive view of the future of NATO and EU enlargement from the perspective of Central and Eastern Europe. It seems quite clear that these countries stand to reap the benefits of stronger security guarantees, economic growth and a larger role internationally as they become more integrated into the key transatlantic institutions. He noted that one of the most important outcomes of the enlargement process was the creation of two regional cooperation sub-groups formed by the East European states in the 1990s. The so-called Visegrad and Vilnius groups helped to set a pattern of cooperation between the East European countries.

The Visegrad and Vilnius processes helped East European countries overcome the natural tendency to act competitively for West European and US favor and instead operate in tandem, which helped facilitate their admission to both NATO and the EU. He claimed that in order to contribute to the EU and transatlantic institutions, it was essential to show that they would not become trapped in petty competition and "sibling rivalries." Dimitrov believes that this cooperative spirit ought to carry over after NATO and EU enlargement. Within NATO, the new members from East Europe should act as a "virtual entity," meaning not acting as individual countries, but as a bloc based on regular informal communication rather than on institutional frameworks.

Addressing the key question of how Eastern European will be positioned between the conflicting pressures of NATO and the EU, he stressed that the most important issue will be the extent to which these countries can identify their own interests and solve their own problems. In particular, he cited the need to deal with organized crime and corruption, the need to enact necessary judicial and military reforms and the need to deal with minority rights, particularly vis-à-vis the Roma community.

Ambassador Dimitrov outlined several ways that the acceding countries will be an asset to NATO. First, they value NATO more than anyone, and will surely reinvigorate the institution. Moreover, each country possesses a certain military capacity and strategic geographic location from which NATO and the US can draw. Most recently, this has been evident in Eastern Europe's role in the war in Iraq. In addition, given their past links to the Soviet Union and its satellites, East European countries have experience and information with this area of potential instability, which clearly will be useful to NATO.

In his opinion, the Bulgarian people and its government are highly supportive of its efforts over the past ten years to gain admission to both NATO and the EU. In this regard, they are generally supportive of the assistance that Bulgaria is giving the United States and the coalition forces in Iraq by providing soldiers to the Polish-led division. Despite the fact that it will not become an official member of NATO until 2004, Bulgaria continues to make its military bases and air space readily available to US and NATO forces.

Ambassador Dimitrov summarized his presentation by re-emphasizing the importance of adding the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe to both NATO and the EU, stressing that the only way to defend freedom is to expand it.