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Poland: Language Problems Create Obstacles In NATO Preparations

By Jan de Weydenthal and Bogdan Turek

Prague, 2 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A former key Polish defense official says that lack of fluency in Western languages, particularly English, among Poland's military continues to be a hurdle on its path to enter NATO.

Andrzej Karkoszka, a former deputy defense minister and senior member of the Polish NATO negotiating team, told RFE/RL last week in a telephone conversation that Poland faces an urgent task of reaching "the minimum standard of interoperability" with the Alliance's forces. The linguistic fluency is indispensable to fulfill that requirement.

Karkoszka said that other key tasks include integrating the Polish command system with NATO, achieving full compatibility with NATO telecommunications and linking Polish air-traffic and data processing systems with NATO.

Karkoszka also said that there is a continuing need to "re-train" the Polish officer corps so it could develop full understanding of behavioral patterns and values maintained in the Western military. Most Polish officers were trained in a different, Eastern environment.

But Karkoszka went on to say that considerable progress has been made in all those areas during recent years and that this work is continuing.

This was confirmed by General Jerzy Gotowala, a ranking Polish Air Force officer, who told RFE/RL in a separate interview in Warsaw that Polish officers are highly motivated to learn English as the admission time into NATO is approaching. "I often see all those lieutenants and captains running, out of breath, to study English after field exercises," he said, adding that "they want to be well assessed by their future comrades in arms in NATO when they are speaking to them."

Colonel Jerzy Wojtys of the Polish Defense Academy said the school has several program of English language instruction of different duration and levels.

Colonel Miroslaw Sawicki, a press officer in the Ministry of Defense, said that about 1,500 ranking army officers are fluent in English and some 4,500 who have recently graduated from various language courses. "On the whole, the situation is not bad," Sawicki said.

Poland is widely regarded as the leading Central European candidate for an early entry into NATO.

The country has recently concluded a series of membership negotiating sessions with NATO military and political officials. These talks have served to prepare a "protocol of accession," setting down terms of Poland's entry into the Alliance.

The protocol is to be signed by NATO foreign ministers at their meeting in mid-December and will have to be subsequently ratified by all NATO member states. If all goes well, Poland will be formally accepted into the Alliance in April 1999, NATO's 50th anniversary.

Poland has worked long and hard to gain the invitation to NATO. It has seen the membership in the Alliance as both a guarantee of its security and a proof of international acceptance into the world of Western democracies. During recent years the thrust of its foreign and security policies has focused on the drive to secure entry into NATO.

A member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program since 1994, Poland has actively participated in the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia. It has developed close ties to the French, the German and the Danish military establishments, three important members of the Alliance. It has taken part in, and has hosted, numerous NATO military maneuvers. It has set up military exercise bases on its territory for NATO troops. And it has been actively involved in the Alliance's work at NATO military headquarters in Belgium.

At the same time, Poland has been active in developing an cooperative relations with its eastern and southern neighbors, securing their support in its efforts to enter NATO. During recent months alone Poland has reached agreements with Lithuania and Ukraine on setting up joint military battalions to be used in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations sponsored by either NATO or the United Nations. It has maintained close links with the Czech Republic and Hungary, the two other Central European candidates for an early entry into the Alliance.

Poland's efforts to join NATO have met with criticism and opposition by Russia and Belarus. But Warsaw's different governments have insisted on conducting a continuing dialogue with Russia on the issue, making sustained efforts to explain that its entry into NATO does not now, and will note in the future, create any danger for Moscow's security. The new Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek confirmed last week during a visit to NATO headquarters his government's determination to continue this dialogue with Russia.

Buzek was informed by NATO Secretary General Javier Solana that invitations have already been sent to the Czech, Hungarian and Polish governments to attend the ceremony of signing the protocols of accession in Brussels.

"It is a good news," Buzek said on a nationwide Polish television program last week (Nov. 27), "we have been waiting for this moment for many years."