Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s Speech before the Euro-Atlantic Association in Warsaw





MARCH 25, 1997


I would like to thank Mr. Onyszkiewicz for his kind introduction, and to thank the Euro-Atlantic Association for the invitation to speak here today at Warsaw University. I am privileged and honored to appear before so many of Poland’s top minds in the field of international security. Your association has made a solid contribution to the cause of cooperation between Poland and the Euro-Atlantic Community, and it is clear from your reports that the men and women in this room today understand the solemn responsibilities and burdens that Poland must assume if it joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I thank you for your work in this area.

Before I discuss Poland’s progress toward qualifying for alliance membership, I would like very briefly to make clear my own feelings at the present time with regard to NATO enlargement. As I have said in my country on numerous occasions, I am in favor of enlargement in principle, but there are several questions that need answering to my satisfaction before I would vote to admit any candidate country.

These issues include an understanding in candidate countries of all the obligations that go with membership, many details of candidates’ political and military readiness, popular willingness to sacrifice in order to pay for costs of enlargement, willingness on the part of our current European NATO allies to pay their fair share of enlargement costs, and a well conceived NATO policy toward Russia.

I hope to gain an insight into many of these issues on my current fact-finding trip. Other answers may emerge in the coming months. So to sum up – while I am a proponent of NATO enlargement, I would not want anyone in this room to believe that I have already made up my mind about how I might or might not vote some time next year when the U.S. Senate will probably decide whether to amend the Washington Treaty to allow one or more Central European countries to join the alliance.

Having said all that, I would now like to narrow my focus and return to a discussion of Poland. In the 8 years since the Communist government and Solidarity sat down for roundtable talks on the future of Poland, your country has made remarkable progress toward returning to its historic Western orientation and toward ensuring political and economic freedom for its people. The shock therapy program that many questioned early on has proven to have been the right course, as Poland has enjoyed growth rates for the past 5 years that rival those of the world’s most dynamic economies.

In the political field, Poland has shown that its democratic roots never died. Changes in political power have come peacefully, at the ballot box, and once again this fall the Polish people will freely decide the composition of their government.

Regardless of who wins those elections, I believe that one unchanging attitude will be Poland’s desire to join NATO. I met today with many of the top leaders of your government and Parliament, and it is clear to me that joining the alliance is the top foreign policy priority of all leading politicians and, most likely, of everyone in this room. Poland is moving in the right direction to meet the criteria for membership set out in NATO’s 1995 Enlargement Study. But now is not the time to sit back and declare victory.

Let me, then, touch on five areas of my concern in deciding whether Poland should be invited to become a NATO member. Some of these are purely political or economic, like minority rights, freedom of the press, and privatization. Others are military-specific, like civilian control of the military and Interoperability. In some of these areas Poland has already answered my concerns and now must only avoid backsliding. In others, while progress has been made, further work remains.

First, I would like to address one of the truly great accomplishments of the current government and the administration of President Kwasniewski: the tremendous progress toward better relations with Poland’s minority communities. Although relations with Poland’s German, Belarusian, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian communities are of interest to us in the United States — and, I might add, seem to be in good shape – our largest concern has been the relations between the Polish government and the Jewish community.

The history of Polish-Jewish relations has been a tragic one of two peoples who have suffered greatly and endured brutal foreign occupations throughout the centuries. The greatest tragedy, of course, came during World War II. Six years of fighting and occupation cost the Polish nation millions of its best and brightest, and it cost the Jewish people in Poland their very existence, as Nazi criminals exterminated an entire culture in Central Europe. The war was followed by reprehensible instances of anti-Semitic violence and discrimination against survivors, which the Communist authorities either tacitly accepted or even instigated for their own purposes.

Understandably, the Jewish people have a special concern that the Holocaust be remembered in a manner consistent with their cultural and religious sensibilities. The Polish government is to be commended for working with local authorities to ensure that the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau is preserved in a manner that honors the memory of the one million Jews who were killed there.

Moreover, the Polish Jewish community has a right to expect protection from physical persecution. In this regard, I was heartened to see the quick condemnation by Polish political leaders of the dastardly fire bombing of the synagogue in Warsaw last month. Such acts of hatred clearly must not, and will not be permitted in a free Poland.

NATO is an alliance of democracies, so I hope you — as a candidate for membership in that alliance — will allow me to offer as my second theme some advice on a cornerstone of democracy: a free press. In 1791, the same year that Poland promulgated the first constitution in Europe, our American forefathers proclaimed a Bill of Rights that would protect the liberties essential for a free people. The First Amendment guaranteed the freedom of the press, because our founders recognized that this was paramount in a democracy.

Today in Poland, while the printed press is completely free, I have some concerns about the broadcast media, particularly of Polish state television. Government interference in the content of the television news is not acceptable in any democracy. State-owned television must offer editorial independence to its journalists. The government cannot hire and fire journalists because it likes or does not like what they report.

I tell you here today as a politician that a free press can be a great source of distress, but you are going to have to get used to it if you are going to lead a democracy. Harry Truman, the American president who oversaw the creation of NATO, once said of politics: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” I say to the leaders of this vibrant democracy: you will have to learn to take the heat from independent media. Considering the great strides you have taken so far, I have little doubt that you are up to the challenge.

Every country, of course, has the right to choose its own economic system. Here again, though, we see that all NATO member states have free-market economies with the private sector playing the leading role. In that context, the third area I would like to address is privatization. Again, I commend the steps that you have made in this area. Small and medium enterprises are in private hands, and new, private businesses continue to be created. In addition, the mass privatization plan represents a major step toward giving the Polish people a direct stake in the economic future of their country.

But this is not the time to stop. I believe that large, state-owned enterprises should also be placed into the hands of private owners, so that they can be operated with economic, rather than political, interests in mind. For Poland to be in the vanguard of Western economies in the 21st century, businesses like banks, the energy sector, the state airline, the state copper producer, and the telecommunications monopoly will have to be privatized.

The final two issues I would like to address have a more direct relationship to Poland’s bid for NATO membership. The first of these is civilian control over the military. Ever since we began to consider Poland’s request to join the alliance, this has been one of the areas of greatest concern. It is unthinkable for the leadership of the military in a NATO country to dictate who will be its country’s minister of defense. It is unthinkable for the leadership of a NATO military to raise any doubt about its willingness to carry out the commands of elected officials and their duly appointed ministers.

Earlier this month, Poland took a significant step forward in this direction with the appointment of General Szumski, whom I met this morning, to be the Chief of the General Staff. I was pleased to hear the general state his vision for a military “that is apolitical, skilled, and well-organized.” His appointment helps to assure us that control of the Polish military is in civilian hands.

Again, however, the task needs to be completed. Poland must root out any remnant of the old resistance to civilian control. Of course, I am not telling the members of this distinguished audience anything that they do not already know. Your 1995 study, entitled “Poland-NATO,” called for all of these developments in the Polish defense establishment. This kind of clear, forward thinking translated into policy has surely helped Poland’s bid for NATO membership.

The final issue on which I would like to focus is Interoperability. Poland has taken great strides toward implementing NATO’s recommendation on how to allow its military to work with alliance forces in joint operations. While areas like language training, mapping software, and radios may seem mundane, they are at the heart of Interoperability. The work that is being done is these areas is essential if Poland is to join the alliance.

Here too, I should note the role that the Euro-Atlantic Association is playing in this process. The cost study that you released earlier this year represents — to the best of my knowledge — the first effort in a Central European country to estimate what it would cost to join NATO. Achieving Interoperability is the one direct cost of NATO enlargement, and it is the one cost that all members must share if the alliance admits new members. Although the United States will contribute to meeting common alliance costs, it will subsidize neither Western Europe’s nor Central Europe’s share.

The government and Parliamentary leaders I met with today were firm in their commitment to pay Poland’s share of the costs of enlargement. This is a fundamental issue: a willingness to assume this responsibility is essential if Poland and some of its neighbors are to join NATO. As I said earlier, one of my main concerns is that NATO enlargement not place an undue burden on the American taxpayer. While the United States will pay its fair share of the direct costs of enlargement, others must do their part too.

In addition to the direct costs related to Interoperability, there are indirect costs related to enlargement. First is the cost of modernizing Central European militaries. I have learned today about the Polish government’s plan for modernization, which Poland must undertake whether or not it joins NATO. I will evaluate this plan in the months ahead as I make up my mind about NATO enlargement, and I expect that the other leading candidates for membership will offer similar plans to pay for their own defense modernization.

While the United States may offer some modest, technical assistance, the burden of military modernization must be borne by you and your neighbors. As you have learned throughout your country’s difficult history, freedom isn’t free, and security is not cheap. Today, when 6 percent annual economic growth is rapidly raising the Polish standard of living, the political will is present. My friends, nothing is permanent, and that political will must continue if growth slows or the economy turns downward.

I am well aware that 90 percent of Poles want to join NATO. I remind them today that if you do join, just as NATO will stand ready to assist Poland in its hour of need, so too must you commit your country to contribute to the defense of your new allies. This would entail a financial cost to your people and a human cost to your soldiers.

The other indirect cost of NATO enlargement must be borne by our current allies. In the post-cold war world, NATO is no longer directed against a common threat. NATO is transforming itself to meet new challenges outside the territories of its member states, in regions where stability is not assured. In order to carry out these missions, NATO must develop new capabilities to allow its members to project power beyond their borders and lift troops, equipment and supplies to areas where the conflicts of the future may arise.

I am troubled by indications in some West European countries that there may be resistance to funding this power projection capability. For 40 years American taxpayers undertook the obligation of helping to defend Western Europe, thereby allowing that region to recover from the devastation of World War II and enjoy unprecedented prosperity. Now it is time for the people of Western Europe to invest in the security of their continent for the next century. If NATO is to remain viable, our allies must commit themselves to develop the capabilities that will be needed for new roles and missions, the same capabilities that would allow the alliance to defend new members if enlargement occurs.

Let me be blunt: if our West European allies shrink from this responsibility, not just enlargement, but NATO itself will be in jeopardy.

Let me also say a word here about Poland’s efforts to join the European Union. I am fully cognizant of the unique experiment in governance upon which the EU has embarked. It is an immensely complex undertaking. Nonetheless, I find it unconscionable that the richest countries on the Continent are delaying membership for the countries of Central Europe. I see no justification for keeping countries with vibrant market economies outside the European Union, special interest groups and institutional growing pains notwithstanding.

Poland has taken giant steps toward making its laws compatible with those of the European Union, and its commitment to a freemarket economy is unquestioned. The countries of Central Europe that meet the criteria for EU membership should be admitted to the Union in the very near future, and I hope you will press this point with EU leaders whenever the opportunity arises.

As for NATO, we must be attentive to the effect that enlargement will have on those countries not invited to join in the first group. I will not support any enlargement that does not enhance the security of the United States, of our current allies, of new members, and of those countries remaining outside of NATO.

The most important country in this last category is, of course, Russia. We all understand that a new European security architecture will collapse without a strong Russian pillar. We must understand Russia’s legitimate security concerns, and to the extent we can, we should work to ensure that these concerns are heard and taken into account by the alliance.

This does not mean, however, that the West should calmly leave unchallenged the old, stale, Stalinist stereotypes of NATO. NATO has always been a purely defensive alliance, and it will remain so. NATO is speaking out for reduced armament levels in Europe, not increased. However forthcoming NATO is, it must not make concessions either on the enlargement process or on the ability of current and future NATO members to take whatever action they deem necessary to maintain the readiness of the alliance.

In the months ahead, the governments of the United States, our NATO allies, and the Central European democracies will work to devise a plan for allowing the alliance to admit new members. When this work is completed, perhaps by the end of this year, it will become the duty of the U.S. Senate and of the 15 other member countries, according to their own procedures, to review this plan to be certain it is in their interests. It will be my duty, and that of my colleagues, to ask the hard questions about this plan: Will it add to the security of our country? Will it add to the security of our allies? Will the costs be distributed fairly?

I can tell you today that I am very impressed by the steps that Poland has taken to meet the political and military criteria for NATO membership. Poland has come far in transforming a failed political and economic system into a thriving free-market democracy. I encourage you to persist in your efforts, to continue working closely with us and our partners, and to prepare your people to assume the burdens of helping to defend the Western Alliance.

But this role is nothing new for the Polish nation. Throughout history, your soldiers endeavored to fight and die, as they said so eloquently, “for your freedom, and for ours.” I hope the Polish people remain firm in their commitment to defending democracy, both at home and in the larger Western community.

Thank you for your attention.