Ten years since Slovakia joined NATO, we tend to perceive its protecting shield as something automatic. It is not and it never was. We failed to enter together with our Visegrad neighbours in 1999 and managed to integrate in 2004 only thanks to an unprecedented effort. Today, our capacity to think strategically needs to be proved again.

Though many believed that we would be invited to join NATO thanks to our “geographical importance”, the opposite turned out to be true. Authoritarian practices and ruthlessness of the state apparatus disqualified us. The government of Vladimír Mečiar’s (1994 – 1998) “had no interest in integration, it was under strong political and intelligence pressure from Russia,” explained Rastislav Káčer, Slovak ambassador to Hungary, former Slovak Ambassador to the US and Honorary President of the Strategy Council, for the Hospodárske noviny newspaper. “During the nights following official negotiations, I could not sleep because of anger and despair stemming from strategic folly and incompetence of our delegations,” he recalls.

Fortunately, after the 1998 elections which ended Moscow’s hopes by giving power to the pro-EU and pro-NATO democratic forces, Slovakia went through difficult political and economic reforms and eventually succeeded in embedding itself to the West. It would not have been possible without a great effort of politicians and public servants who wanted to catch up with the second wave of countries and join NATO in 2004.

However, our accession revealed that more needs to be done. “New strategic documents were prepared, new structures established and new people hired,” said Jaroslav Naď, at the time a new officer at the Ministry of Defence, today Deputy CEO of Strategy Council, for Hospodárske noviny. Mr Naď adds that the human capital was the biggest problem: “Many people were not granted security clearances, language skills were poor and many felt nostalgia for the Warsaw Treaty”.

We overcame initial difficulties, but also satisfied ourselves with the initial success. Disinterest replaced our zeal: perception of total security and obsession with the economic crisis marginalized our defence in terms of attention and investment.

Róbert Vass, CEO of Strategy Council, pointed out for the public service broadcaster RTVS out that “only recently, we were shocked by the annexation of Crimea.” He insists that “after having lost our sensitivity to security issues over time, we must develop it again because what we had thought to be impossible – the use of military force in Europe – turned out to be a reality on the ground.”

Today, when the principle of collective defence regained its importance, we find ourselves “in”, but “without”. We all know what needs to be done and what would be a security gamble. Again, we have to make the needed strategic decisions instead of turning blind eye to our already collapsing armed forces. We need to join the Alliance again.