H. E. Mr. Karel KOVANDA
Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic on the NAC
"HOW DO THE NEW EU/NATO MEMBERS PREPARE FOR THE
COMMON EUROPEAN SECURITY AND DEFENCE POLICY? A CZECH VIEW"
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
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.
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. pidla, 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
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
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
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 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.
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
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
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.