Prague, NATO, and European Security
Authored by Dr. Stephen J. Blank.
April 17, 1996
One of the most likely candidates for future membership in NATO is the Czech Republic. Inasmuch as the debate over this issue is engaging chancelleries all over the United States and Europe, it is necessary to understand how the prospective members view European security issues, what they hope to gain from membership, and how their interests and security relationships mesh with NATO's.
Dr. Stephen Blank examines Czech policy. His purpose is not to determine whether the United States or any other members should support or oppose NATO enlargement. Instead, he seeks to analyze Czech views and inform our audience as to their meaning and importance for both the Czech Republic and the other NATO members.
The Czech Republic's security policy priority is the soonest possible entry into full NATO membership. Prague thereby hopes to achieve primarily political and psychological goals of selfidentification and acceptance as a member of the West, not Central or Eastern Europe. Czech officials do not seek membership out of a sense of military danger or threat, though they do worry about Russia's apparently revived neo-imperial outlook. Politically the Czech Republic wants security integration with the most successful alliance in Europe, a lasting and durable transatlantic security guarantee so it is not alone with Germany in Central Europe, and an opportunity to reorient its policies away from the other neighboring states in Central Europe.
Thus, Czech policy is unilateralist to a high degree. Prague eschews virtually all forms of regional cooperation except where it might help foster NATO membership. It has avoided anything other than a free trade zone with Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, virtually disdains the latter in public, and Czech officials express highly uncomplimentary views about Polish policy. Prague also seems unconcerned, or at least relatively unconcerned about the security destiny of Ukraine, the Baltic states, and the Balkans if it gets into NATO. Thus its provincialist, if not nationalist, policies, do come into conflict with the spirit of NATO's and the United States' professed ambition to engineer, over time, a pan-European security settlement. Nor does its aversion to cooperation with its neighbors bode well for a Czech state that is located in Central and Eastern Europe, policymakers' preferences notwithstanding.
Prague also apparently is banking too much on Western commitments to come to the area's and to its rescue in the event of a crisis, even though much official sentiment in Europe and even in the United States is averse to any kind of involvement there. The sad record of European and U.S. inability to act effectively in Yugoslavia for 4 years would seem to indicate the need for a security policy that has other cards to play than just NATO membership. Similarly Prague's entry into the EU will not be as smooth as it wishes since EU's statist and highly centralized orientation is at odds with the nationalist and unilateralist policies of the present Czech government led by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. Clearly many serious issues connected with the Czech Republic's entry into NATO have yet to be fully realized and resolved. For these reasons Czech security policy is subject to serious criticisms and may not suffice to defend the country's vital interests.
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