On March 1, Slovakian-born Barbora Maronkova became director at the NATO Information and Documentation Center in Ukraine (NIDC). She has worked for NATO since 2006 and knows all ins and outs of citizen diplomacy and non-governmental organizations. Traditionally the new NIDC head chose Den/The Day for her first interview to Ukrainian media. As a part of Ukrainian citizens (albeit a steadily decreasing one) clings to the myth of NATO as an aggressive bloc, we began our conversation with Maronkova by asking her to explain in a nutshell the need and goal of the North Atlantic Treaty today, and what the NATO Public Diplomacy Division does to improve the Alliance’s public image worldwide.
“NATO PROVED ITS ABILITY TO ADAPT”
“From the moment of its creation in 1949, NATO was meant to ensure peace and security of its member states and their populations. However, NATO has also been evolving and adapting to new challenges in the security branch, such as our operations involving settlement of the crises in the Western Balkans in the 1990s, our mission in Afghanistan after 9/11, the operations to counter piracy near the coast of the Horn of Africa, developing the potential in cyber-defense and energetic security, and a lot more. Thus, NATO has proved its ability to adapt.
“After the end of the Cold War NATO reached out to the former members of the Warsaw Pact, striving to develop partnership, help them to reform defense and security structures, and also offer a possibility to join the Alliance to those who wished to become member and were prepared to make efforts to meet the organization’s criteria. Today NATO includes 28 member states, with the 29th member, Montenegro, to join soon. Besides, NATO develops close working relations with many international and regional organizations such as the EU, UN, OSCE, African Union etc.
“The NATO Public Diplomacy Division implements programs aimed at involving millions of citizens both in its member countries and in partner countries, with a view to providing information about NATO and its policy, missions, and operations. NATO Headquarters in Brussels runs an extremely intensive visiting program. Moreover, we organize press tours to the Alliance headquarters for journalists and allow media men to participate in military exercises and monitor NATO-led military operations. We allot grants to public organizations in more than 40 countries to promote discussing NATO themes with the participation of experts, scholars, and youth. We hold conferences, NATO summer schools and so on. We are also active in the internet and in social networks.
“All these measures aim at improving access to information and the awareness about NATO and our activities.”
“FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YEARS AMERICAN MILITARY PRESENCE IN EUROPE IS GROWING”
It is very positive that recently US President Donald Trump declared his support for NATO. We remember that during his election campaign he dismissed NATO as obsolete. What do you think has changed his opinion of the Alliance? Is it the preparedness of the European allies to increase defense expenditure, like Trump demanded?
“The US is unfailingly devoted to NATO. President Trump has emphasized it multiple times in his talks with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, and it was confirmed also by Defense Secretary Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and other high-ranking American officials. We see this devotion not only in words, but also in action: for the first time in years American military presence in Europe is growing, and this is a powerful solidarity message supporting the European members of the Alliance.
“At the same time, the US has long been emphasizing the need to ensure a fairer distribution of costs within the Alliance, and this has become Secretary General’s priority task since he filled this post. 2016 saw positive shifts in defense spending: after many years of shrinking they grew by 3.8 percent in real terms, i.e., by 10 billion dollars. However, there is still much to be done. This will become an important topic for discussion at the meeting of the Alliance leaders in Brussels this May.”
“WE WILL ASSIST UKRAINE IN DEVELOPING STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS”
What goals have you set yourself in the capacity of director at the NATO Information and Documentation Center in Ukraine?
“This May the NATO Information and Documentation Center in Ukraine will mark its 20th anniversary. It is an important event, which we will celebrate and which must serve as a reminder of the huge work we have done in Ukraine together with our Ukrainian partners such as universities, public organizations and associations, mass media, and official institutes. This year we will be also celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Distinctive Partnership between Ukraine and NATO. So, we are going to report to the public about all the huge work we have jointly done over the past two decades.
“Moreover, we intend to keep assisting Ukraine in such an important aspect as strategic communications development. We will provide consultative assistance and specialist training in order to increase Ukraine’s capabilities in the sphere of crisis communications, citizen diplomacy, as well as other important aspects of communications.”
You have worked as a tourist guide in Greece, founded the Center for European and North Atlantic Affairs, and performed the function of coordinator for the flight operations manager at Sky Europe Airlines. But over a decade ago you decided to work at NATO. What was your motive to choose a career in this military and political organization?
“Young people often want to gain variegated experience and try themselves at various jobs. I was lucky to gain experience both in private and non-governmental sectors. But my dream has always been to work for an international organization, and as my NGO was actively involved in increasing the awareness about NATO in the Slovakian population, moving to Brussels became a logic step in my further career. I was the first Slovakian citizen to get a post at the International Staff of NATO Headquarters, and I am very proud of it.”
“SLOVAKIA HAS HAD ITS OWN WAY”
Could you share some of your experience in promoting Slovakia’s accession to NATO and the EU? What helped Slovaks change their mind and prefer NATO and EU membership after being referred to as “the sick man of Europe” under Meciar? Which of the then applied methods could be used in Ukraine to boost support for NATO membership?
“After gaining experience in Slovakia, I worked for some time with Albania, Croatia, and recently Montenegro, striving to help their governments provide public support for NATO accession. From my experience I realized that each country is unique, there are no standard solutions.
“Slovakia has had its own way. After 1998 we had a period of stormy changes, a new government was formed, and our country was heading at full speed towards NATO and EU accession implementing the reforms necessary to meet membership criteria in both organizations. It was a dynamic decade during which all governmental institutions, the public, the media all together made efforts to reach these goals.
“And despite some of the distorted stereotypes about NATO still being common among our citizens (namely, that NATO is ‘a relic of the Cold War,’ ‘a military organization run by the US,’ and ‘via the accession to NATO the nation loses control over its armed forces’ etc.), citizens in general were convinced that it was necessary to move forward and join the two most prestigious international organizations on the continent. This helped overcome many NATO-related myths.”