In the five years since declaring its independence from Yugoslavia, Slovenia has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to integrating its economic, diplomatic, and military institutions with Western Europe and the Atlantic alliance.
More fortunate than other emerging nations from the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia's struggle for independence lasted just 10 days. While its troubled neighbors are often the source of headlines, Slovenia's integration into Western Europe is going largely unnoticed.
Slovenia has recently taken concrete steps toward formal integration into Western Europe. Culturally, it is already a Western European country. Its industrial history, culture, and customs are similar to those of Western Europe. Slovenia is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. For centuries it's had close ties to Austria and Germany, now important trading partners. Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, is geographically further to the west than the capitals of three European Union members: Austria, Sweden, Finland.
On June 10, one of Slovenia's long-standing foreign policies goals came closer to fruition when Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek signed Slovenia's associate membership agreement with the EU. Associate EU membership allows Slovenia to begin integrating its trade and diplomatic structures into the European system and is an important step toward full membership, expected by 2001. In the days following, Slovenia became an associate member of the EU's fledgling defense wing, the Western European Union.
With the most dynamic economy in Eastern Europe and a higher gross domestic product per capita than some current EU members, Slovenia is considered to be an attractive candidate for full EU membership. It has successfully restructured its economy to bring better standards of living and a high degree of economic freedom to all its citizens.
The EU is already Slovenia's main trading partner and accounts for about 70 percent of its total foreign trade. Slovenia was also recently honored when all three leading credit agencies for long-term debt awarded it "A" ratings: the highest initial credit ratings ever assigned to one of the transition economies of Central and Eastern Europe.
Slovenia is taking steps to align itself militarily with Western Europe and the United States through membership in NATO. Mr. Drnovsek met recently with US Defense Secretary William Perry to sign an historic agreement that Perry called "an important step in bringing Slovenia closer to the NATO alliance." The agreement, which allows the US and Slovenia to exchange classified military information, demonstrates what Secretary Perry calls "a higher level of trust and openness" between the two countries. Slovenia already cooperates with NATO through the Partnership for Peace military program.
Slovenia was never considered a part of the former Soviet bloc, nor was it ever a member of the Warsaw Pact. Slovenia's membership in NATO may be a good means of demonstrating to opponents such as President Boris Yeltsin that the alliance can be enlarged without jeopardizing trans-European security.
Another attractive quality about Slovenia is its location. Slovenia is a geographic bridge between Italy and Hungary, another prospective EU and NATO member, which is already a key trade partner of the EU. It could act as a geographic "buffer" between the rest of Western Europe and the delicate Balkans.
The people and government of Slovenia believe that joining the EU and NATO is part of the normal process of integration into democratic Europe. Slovenia's membership in both these international organizations will be good for Europe and sound national security policy for the US. It will also help provide stability in an unpredictable world.
Slovenia is ready for membership and is willing to take its place as one of the guarantors of regional peace. It is up to existing EU and NATO members to bring Slovenia into its democratic fold.
*Timothy F. Ashby was senior-level official in the Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration and has spent several years working as a privatization consultant throughout Eastern Europe and the New Independent States.