H. E. Mr. Karel KOVANDA

Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic on the NAC


Paris, 11 December 2003

Lecture in the International Seminar for Experts "The European Security and Defence Policy - How Does it Fit into a Broader Transatlantic Security Policy?", organised by the Cicero Foundation in the series Great Debates, Paris, 11 - 12 December 2003

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These are personal remarks, not checked or approved by my authorities in Prague. They reflect my own thinking and should not be misconstrued as Czech official policy, from which they may differ, especially in details. I am wearing more of a professorial than of a diplomatic jacket today.

I will not deal here with the minutiae of the evolving formulations of this document or that position, as they are unfolding even as we sit here. Rather, I will try to outline two or three broad themes that historically inform Czech positions on defence and security and the implications that these themes have for current issues, assuming that for many other of the prospective EU members from the former Communist world, these considerations would with modifications obtain as well.

Unpredictability of history

15 years ago, almost to the day, President Mitterrand met for breakfast in Prague with eight people who had no official function in the country, not even the official function of leaders of the opposition, which they in fact were. Less than that even: they were almost non-persons. Among other they included Václav Havel, who would become president within 13 months, and Jirí Dienstbier, who would become Czechoslovakia's first post-Communist Foreign Minister.

This breakfast was memorable; and indeed, its participants regularly celebrate its anniversary. And one thing they point out is that on that December morning in 1988, no-one had predicted that within a year, the Communist regime in the country, nay: all over Europe, would be in shambles.

I am constantly in awe over the unpredictability of history. We can all conduct the intellectual exercise of thinking back to where we were mere 15 years ago. Let's transport ourselves into our positions and into our frames of mind of that cold December morning of 1988. And tell me, who among us would have in our wildest dreams ever believed that 15 years later, i.e., today, the world would be where it actually is? Without the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, without the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, without Yugoslavia, indeed without Czechoslovakia? With a reunified Germany, with seven countries about to join NATO, 10 countries about to join the EU? Of which countries, only six had even existed in 1988 as independent states? And when the luckiest among us think back, that is to say, those of us who had been citizens of Communist-bloc countries: would we, in our wildest dreams, would we have personally believed that 15 years later we'd be where we actually are today?

Another graphic illustration of these changes, one I really enjoy, is the changing boundaries of Poland. Poland has of course changed her boundaries umpteen times in recent centuries but during the '90s, it was not Poland, but her neighbors who changed. In 1988, Poland had three neighbors, today she has seven, not a single one identical to those she had in 1988. You can work out the specifics of the geography in your spare time.

One might feel that this remarkable 15-year long span was perhaps an exceptional one. But let me demonstrate, on a few examples of how the previous century treated my own country, that it was in fact not exceptional at all.

The Years 1908, 1923, 1938

Consider, for example, the year 1908. In that world more-or-less at peace, an obscure Czech professor was labouring in the Viennese Parliament, representing a minuscule Czech political party. In that year, who in his wildest imagination would have believed that 15 years later, in 1923, the Viennese Parliament would represent only a fraction of the erstwhile powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire of 1908 and that the previously obscure professor, Professor Masaryk, would have become the President of a completely new political formation, shaped like a caterpillar and with the unpronounceable name of Czechoslovakia?

So that reflection brings us to the year 1923, when in Munich some obscure corporal tried to effect a coup d'état and was promptly arrested. In that year of the Bierhalleputsch, who would have anticipated that this obscure corporal, Adolf Hitler, would 15 years later, in 1938, dismember Masaryk's Czechoslovakian caterpillar?

That brings us to the year 1938. By then, the Nazi danger for Europe was self-evident. However, who, at that time of early Nazi expansionism, would have anticipated that 15 years later, in 1953, Czechs and Slovaks would be ending up in the hangman's noose - not of the Nazis but of the totalitarian regime of Communism?

Arguably, the entire first half of the 20th century illustrates the unpredictability of history. And this unpredictability continued: let me suggest, and I'm not doing this just for the sake of the argument, that the immutability of the second half of the century, from 1950 to 1990, was equally unpredictable. That is to say, in 1950 there were many, certainly in my country, who could not see the horrendous Communist regime surviving for too long, certainly not for the next 40 years. Thus paradoxically, the predictability of those 40 years had itself been unpredicted, and possibly unpredictable - especially if we consider that these decades were punctuated by a Hungarian revolution here and a Prague Spring there. These 40 years were an unpredictable exception to the generally unpredictable nature of 20th century's history. (Or am I getting too recherché?)

Today, in 2003, we may be back in "predictable unpredictability". We know precious little about the world 15 years hence, in 2018, but we do know that in all likelihood it will be rather different from what today we imagine it will be like. History has indeed not come to an end; during the Cold War, it only froze. Now it has thawed out again, and is on the move.

Unintended Consequences

A part of history's unpredictability, of its being on the move, is due to the unintended consequences of our decisions. I haven't thought this point through carefully enough to do it justice here. But even a cursory reflection might suggest that it are precisely the unintended consequences of our conscious political, military, economic decisions that twist their otherwise perfectly predictable (and intended) outcomes and send the world hurtling into directions one would never have anticipated. Living history differs from a chess game. I am reminded of my Prime Minister, Mr. Špidla, an historian by training, who in the summer of 2002 recalled at a meeting of Czech ambassadors that "by 1915, Austria had attained all her military objectives." What he meant was of course that in 1915, Austria was riding high but by 1918 the empire disintegrated. It was a point about unintended consequences, about history's unpredictability. By the way, my Prime Minister made this point in connection with preparations for the Iraq campaign.

Europe or the US?

It is in the light of this general historical experience of ours that we in the Czech Republic evaluate our security and defence circumstances. Certainly the political elite has to bear it in mind, even though ordinary people frequently take into account only their current situation: in 1997, for example, during the (rather feeble) debate on joining NATO, a cross-national poll indicated that the people in my country registered the highest "feel-safe" percentage of any country polled - i.e. they were most inclined to believe that in the foreseeable future no appreciable danger from abroad would menace the country.

Nevertheless, politicians are obligated to look out beyond the foreseeable future: at least down those "unpredictable" 15 years. With this in mind, the national consensus of Czech political leaders to join NATO was violated only by the Communists - and anything different coming from them would have been a surprise. NATO means two things, among other: a commitment to collective defence which though not foolproof is still the best anyone in town has to offer, and the trans-Atlantic link which is the linchpin in the collective-defence guarantee, such as it is.

Precisely this was at the back of our minds when, earlier this year, the collective defence idea was questioned in NATO. In February 2003 Turkey requested consultations in the North Atlantic Council, under Article 4 of the Washington Treaty. At stake was Turkey's perceived threat from Iraq, and Turkey wanted some military planning for beefing up her defences. Some countries argued against authorizing such planning. Mind you, they argued not against the actual beefing up of Turkey's defences but even against planning for it! Mine, on the other hand, was one of the countries which came out extremely strongly, if I may say so myself, in support of Turkey. There were surreal circumstances around those exchanges in the NAC: such as the argument that by supporting Turkey's defence planning effort we would be giving the wrong signal to Iraq - whilst completely ignoring the signal we would be giving to Turkey by not supporting her defence planning effort.

For the Czech Republic, supporting Turkey was a matter of fundamental principle. In our view, when our Alliance receives a request from a country that feels threatened, it should respond automatically. It is not up to the Alliance, or any of its members, to question the country's motives, to second-guess whether the threat is as real as the country perceives it, to speculate whether there is some arrière-pensée behind the request.
As is well known, four countries were initially opposed to the Turkish request. It were these same four countries that a couple of months later came out in favor of the Tervuren project. This "coincidence" didn't help generate much political trust in that project in my country - entirely apart from basic military and political concerns, namely, the oft-repeated (but no less valid for that) mantra of "no unnecessary duplication" of military resources between NATO and the EU.

It bears recalling that the Czech Republic came to the ESDP from the position of an outsider: we have been members of NATO since 1999 but with respect to the EU, we have been one of the six "non-EU European allies." Whilst candidate EU members, we were not taking part in its decision-making, at least not until recent months. This dual position led us to be resolute on military issues, including the non-duplication, but by-and-large cautious politically: lest we upset too much anyone in the EU. Thus a certain caution can easily be traced with respect to Czech positions during the negotiations of Berlin Plus, for example, a caution which was distinct from the open, even vocal positions of Turkey, Norway and, indeed, Iceland as well.

But when it came to political issues of ground-floor importance, such as the Turkish crisis mentioned earlier, or the country's support for the US invasion of Iraq, we did speak up, albeit sometimes with hesitation and papering over some cleavages in Prague. The well-known (should I perhaps say "notorious"?) letter of the eight countries from all over Europe supporting US Iraq's policy earned us of course President Chirac's schoolmasterly admonition about what opportunities pour se taire one might usefully have taken advantage of. But letter or not: my Prime Minister rightly observed at the time that our practical policies, with soldiers at the ready in Kuwait, prepared to go into Iraq on a moment's notice, spoke for themselves. This was just another example of our siding with the US not because of our sycophancy vis-à-vis the hyperpower (if you wish), but because of our belief that it stood on the right side of an issue; because of our belief that the Saddam regime was so awful that if someone was ready to take it out, we, with our own historical experiences with totalitarian dictatorships, could not be against it. And by the way: where were the Mitterrands of the 21st century, ready to visit Iraq but only on condition that they could breakfast with the local opposition as well?

And yes, there were public demonstrations in Prague against the invasion of Iraq: however, they were merely a few hundred strong, perhaps, attended almost exclusively by Communists and foreigners.

The Czech Republic was founded on Wilsonian Idealism

We detect a strand of idealism in US foreign policy which appeals to us: for better or worse, President Masaryk's country - our own - was founded on the strength of Wilsonian idealism, back in 1918. It is an idealism dedicated to freedom and democracy, and idealism that might be a little less tempered by pragmatic, say economic concerns than, we fear, motivate from time to time foreign policies of some European powers. I believe this may be the view of a number of other formerly Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well.

Let me mention just one obscure example of this idealism: In 1993, when I arrived in New York as the first Czech Ambassador to the United Nations, I met with two remarkable individuals: Anicetas Simutis and Ernst Jaakson. Their names are completely unknown, except in their own countries - Lithuania and Estonia, respectively. These two gentlemen had been diplomats stationed in the US when in 1939 the Soviet Union invaded their countries and eventually absorbed them. This absorption was taken as an immutable fact in most of Europe. But as the Soviet land-grab was never recognized by the United States, Baltic diplomatic missions continued functioning throughout the decades of occupation. And in the 1990's, after their countries regained independence, Mr Simutis and Mr Jaakson were appointed their Ambassadors to the United Nations. From the US point of view, the Baltics had for decades been occupied countries; and no amount of Realpolitik would change this. I don't think any European country followed the same political pattern with the Baltics, except for the UK, to a point. No surprise the Baltics, too, have a particular feeling for the US.

The Czech Republic's Choice for Atlanticist Policies

These historical memories that inform Czech political thinking help explain why Czech policies lean rather to the Atlanticist than to what I might for short call "continental European" views - whenever it in fact is unavoidable to choose between them. This is the case especially when the former is openly criticized. At that moment, one has to examine motives, especially when it comes to challenging the US. Criticizing individual US policies? Definitely. The Czechs share any number of critical points with other European countries, with respect to the US, from Kyoto to steel quotas to the International Criminal Court. Criticizing this or that US administration? Less sanguine: criticizing a particular position just because it's a position of this or that administration is surely shortsighted. Criticism that unintentionally undermines the US position in the world? Let's point out these consequences and try to finesse our views more carefully. Challenging the very position of the US in the world, with the deliberate intention of subverting it? I don't think so!

The Choice of ESDP Versus Atlanticism is no Zero-Sum Game

Within these limits, though, we believe that those who - especially in security and defence issues - regard the choice of US vs. Europe, of Anglo-Saxon vs. continental Europe, or of NATO vs. ESDP as a zero-sum game are fundamentally wrong. Aspects of complementarity between the two sides of the Atlantic vastly outnumber and override aspects of competition or rivalry. We are a part of Europe, and we are a part of the trans-Atlantic community. What that means in ESDP practice, is this: We are all for the further development of European military capacities. Our own contribution is there as well. Unlike some others in Europe, we do spend 2% GDP or so on defence. Domestically, we have embarked on a very difficult military reform which within two or three years will dramatically downsize our armed forces, professionalize them, make them more mobile, more expeditionary, more useful for the current requirements of warfare - which, take note, greatly overlap between NATO and the EU. We have units earmarked for the NATO Response Force - and these same units are earmarked for EU use as well. Obviously, if both telephone calls come at the same time, units earmarked for the NRF that are on stand-by status will not be available for EU operations. But in other circumstances, it will no doubt be a matter for a couple of high-level telephone calls - understanding all along that crises that would lead up to such telephone calls do not emerge from one day to the next. One thing we do not see as required, however, is separate sets of forces for NATO and for the EU. We, for one, are not wealthy enough to support that.

Threats and Challenges

In 1908, nobody saw the possibility of the Austro-Hungarian Empire falling apart over the next 10 short years. In 1938, people focused on the danger of Nazism - if so. Stalinism was an under-appreciated danger. In 1988, people saw glasnost and perestroika - but seeing the collapse of the world as we had got used to over the previous decades was not on anybody's mind. Who ever looks beyond the horizon of the self-evident?
Today we see terrorism as the main challenge. NATO has its Strategic Concept, dating back to 1999, the EU has the Solana strategy paper. They feature important similarities, though the Solana paper, 4-1/2 years younger than the Strategic Concept, does have a broader sweep, focusing on various causes of terrorism and on several other sources of danger as well.

On the struggle against terrorism, NATO and the EU have an awful lot to cooperate about. General James Jones, NATO's Saceur, points to Africa, to its "large ungoverned areas that could be a haven for terrorists in the future." He could have been quoting Solana here. Cooperation in Africa between the two organizations is natural, one would think, with the EU providing the lead, if appropriate. The fact that Africa is not in NATO's vision today doesn't mean much - two years ago, Afghanistan wasn't either.

The actual, current battlefields in the war on terrorism could see some more shared work as well; the belt of instability from Georgia to Tajikistan, including Afghanistan itself, for that matter, is an area where more cooperation could be useful, probably with NATO playing the lead. Apart from terrorism, the main danger Afghanistan represents is its poppy production, sourcing 95% of Europe's heroin supplies. What exactly is the linkage between NATO leadership of ISAF and the poppy agriculture? It is also not clear for me, though I have of course heard the argument that security is the key to eradicating the poppy fields. A necessary condition - sure. But a sufficient one? Not so sure. Certainly, there's an important role for Europe to play in this area.

But sometimes I wonder about dangers that might be lurking over the horizon we watch today. Dangers having to do, for example, with technologies.

Over-the-Horizon Dangers

So much dramatic technological advancement is leaping ahead all around us. And yet, are some results of this technological progress not prone to turn into perils to mankind? Let me mention a man called Bill Joy. He was the Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems until three months ago. In a seminal article for the magazine Wired, he wrote three years ago about dangers stemming from contemporary technology. He focused specifically on three areas: biotechnology, nanotechnology and robotics. He has written about the danger of unchanneled research, and of results of research falling into the wrong hands. I'm not going to go into any of the specifics here, look up the debate on the Internet, if you're interested. My main point here is this: Bill Joy might be completely and utterly wrong - but we'll know more in 15 years, in 2018. And until then, we won't know. And while we have identified the danger of global warming and of AIDS, who is looking at the possible danger of modern technologies? Only the scientific community, if anyone at all, not policy makers - as best I can tell.

What do over-the-horizon dangers imply? First, let's be aware they are out there. When it comes to these dangers, Secretary Rumsfeld was right when - admittedly in a different context - he points out that there are perils we know, perils we know we don't know and perils which we don't know we don't know. With these looming perils, we need as many heads peering over the horizon we can muster. Setting barriers between a European and a trans-Atlantic outlook would imperil us all: something like the Byzantine Empire and the Roman Empire regarding each other as the greatest enemy, while the truly greatest enemy of them both was attacking them both from without.


So - getting back to the question I was assigned to answer, as to "how do the new EU and NATO members prepare for ESDP": we prepare for it by seeking as close an alignment as possible with NATO, by refusing the putative NATO-EU zero-sum-game dichotomy as being false, by seeking ways to fit into EU operations even before becoming members, by insisting on Berlin Plus as the framework for all those operations as can fit into it, whilst applauding the EU for managing operations which it conducts - pretty soon: which we conduct - autonomously.
In this context, a practical guide: in the array of positions within the EU, chances are that on any subject connected with the ESDP the Czechs - and by extension, many other new members as well - will be closer to the Anglo-Saxon view than not.
But of course, history is unpredictable, so five, even two years from now I might turn out to have been wrong on this count as well.