Hungary and NATO: Problems in Civil-Military Relations/Poland and NATO: A Study in Civil-Military Relations/NATO and the Czech and Slovak Republics: A Comparative Study in Civil-Military Relations

By Epstein, Rachel | Naval War College Review, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Hungary and NATO: Problems in Civil-Military Relations/Poland and NATO: A Study in Civil-Military Relations/NATO and the Czech and Slovak Republics: A Comparative Study in Civil-Military Relations


Epstein, Rachel, Naval War College Review


THE EXPANSION OF NATO Simon, Jeffrey. Hungary and NATO: Problems in Civil-Military Relations. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003. 131pp. $26.95

Simon, Jeffrey. Poland and NATO: A Study in Civil-Military Relations. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004. 195pp. $28.95

Simon, Jeffrey. NATO and the Czech and Slovak Republics: A Comparative Study in Civil-Military Relations. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004. 307pp. $34.95

The enlargement of the European Union and the consummation of the second wave of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's expansion in the spring of 2004 would tempt one to believe that the postcommunist transition is coming to a close as a kind of normalcy settles over the region. Jeffrey Simon's careful and informative series of books concerning civil-military relations in four Central and Eastern European countries reminds us that in important respects, transition is still under way. Or rather, given the state of civil-military relations across the region, we should hope that it is, for the difficulties that postcommunist states face in democratizing, rationalizing, and strengthening their military-security apparatuses are still manifold. Placing Simon's insights against the backdrop of NATO's own strategic transition-the outcome of which is very unclear-one has continuing reason to worry about the stability of postcommunism. By extension, European security is at stake insofar as stability and security stem from constructive military-societal relations, sophisticated defense expertise, and well institutionalized democratic accountability.

In each of the three volumes, which cover Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia (now the Czech and Slovak republics) respectively, Simon provides a detailed chronology of defense reforms since communism's collapse. In all cases, Simon's narrative is set against four consistent criteria to which he continually refers as he assesses the merits and shortcomings of reform. The four criteria revolve around: the division of civilian authority in democratic societies; parliamentary oversight, especially in matters of budgeting; subordination of general staffs to civilian institutions; and military prestige, trustworthiness, and accountability. According to Simon's analysis, Poland has clearly been the best at transforming its military-security apparatus, despite some fairly serious setbacks in the early 1990s. Measured in terms of the four criteria, the Czech Republic has fared somewhat better than its Slovak counterpart, which, after the "velvet divorce" of 1993, found itself building a range of military and security institutions from scratch. The biggest surprise in the series for students of the postcommunist transition will be how poorly Hungarian civil-military relations have developed-especially given Hungarian politicians' strenuous efforts to enter the alliance.

These books are essential reading for anyone writing on NATO, because, concerning as they do half of NATO's newest members, the problems within these states will no doubt have some bearing not only on the functioning of the alliance but also on its political orientation. Certainly, there are few people better placed to report on events and persons crucial to the military-security reform process than Jeffrey Simon, given his long-standing role as a leading American adviser to postcommunist governments on how to advance institutional change in this area. More generally, those interested in the post-communist transition and cross-national variation would do well to spend time trying to understand this somewhat arcane sector's evolution, not least because military-society relations carry with them implications for democratic consolidation. Admittedly, Simon does not make this an easy or inviting task. He has evidently been so close to the intricacies of reform that one unfamiliar with the issues or the personnel could conceivably drown in the detail.

Despite the particular challenges that Simon's intimate portrayal poses, I would nevertheless suggest that his findings provide some puzzling questions for the literature on postcommunist transition. …

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