Small nations on the fringe: the New Czech Government and Foreign Policy
I appreciate the fact that I was invited to address this esteemed audience in such a prestigious institution as Chatham House undoubtedly is. I have been here before and I was privileged to listen to lectures by a number of very prominent and learned people. However, I have to admit that it did not cross my mind that I shall return here to address you as the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic.
Being a presentative of the Czech Republic, I have chose a topic which I believe is in the centre of attention not only of my country: the role of small states in international politics.
It is a statement of fact that in today's world small states predominate. This applies to the United Nations and to the European continent as well.
Being a politician of a new European state with more than 10 million inhabitants, formed five years ago, I have to ask myself what kind of international environment we live in and what chances the ČR has to pursue its aims. Is it on the fringe or can it participate in co-shaping the course of events?
It is indeed a unique coincidence that exactly 83 years ago, on 19th October 1915, a prominent Czech scholar and politician Thomas G. Masaryk, who later became the first president of Czechoslovakia, delivered a lecture on small nations at the London School of Slavonic Studies.
At that time he spoke on the belt of small sates in Europe which found themselves in a dangerous zone between Germany and Russia. He dealt specifically with the German policy known as Drang nach Osten, and with the Russian policy. He stressed, moreover, the necessity of disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He presented an argument in favour of forming an independent Czechoslovak state. At the same time, he wanted to dispell concerns about the Balcanisation of Europe and he stressed the right of small nations for an independent and cultural development. He rejected the view of some German authors, according to which history showed that small nations slowly but surely disappeared while becoming material for larger states. In Masaryk's view, "history speaks not only for the large states, but also for middle-sized and small nation states. History speaks for all individuals, and for individualism generally."
History proved him right. After the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated, and Czechoslovakia emerged as one of many new European states.
Ten years later - in 1925 - the then Czechoslovak Minister of Foreign Affairs Edvard Beneš spoke at King's College on small states. He was rather optimistic and stated that "seen from practical international politics, the imperialist pan-German plan was made impossible primarily due to the establishment of smaller national states in Central Europe. In the regions which Masaryk called a dangerous zone in 1915, thirteen new, smaller nations emerged."
I quote these statements of Czech politicians to prove that the discussion on the role of small nations was indeed held for many years, and will continue to be topical for the period ahead of us.
If one seeks to draw a general lesson from the twenty-year-long history of Czechoslovakia between the two world wars, it is a simple observation that a position of a small (or if we want, a middle-sized stated) is highly dependent on the international environment in which it exists. In a peaceful and liberal environment, it may prosper and contribute its share to international stability, while in the environment where totalitarian and aggressive policy prevails, its very existence is at stake.
The first period of interwar Czechoslovakia - form its formation as an independent state until the thirties - provided ground for optimism. Czechoslovakia became a well-established democratic state and a recognised partner for both the European and the world communities, and played an active role in the League of Nations. The second ten years, however, demonstrated the limits and fragility of its position when exposed to the aggressive policy of Nazi Germany without receiving any effective support from the democratic powers.
The fate of Czechoslovakia is well known. It was dismembered after the Munich dictat in 1938. Hitler was given free hand in pursuing the policy which eventually led to the Second World War.
Looking back to their own history and to the history of Europe as a whole, the Czechs arrive at the conclusion that, paradoxically enough, their actual development influenced or predetermined to a certain degree the wider course of events. The notorious Munich Agreement is one example. The second date worth mentioning is 1948, when communist rule was installed in Czechoslovakia and speeded up the process of the division of Europe into two rival political and military blocs. And not to forget the 1968 Prague Spring: a modest attempt to reform and liberalise the communist system was considered to be such a serious threat to the Soviet type of communism that it had to be suppressed by a large-scale Warsaw Pact military invasion.
These fateful events took place during the lifetime of one generation. They were bound to influence the thinking and attitudes of the Czech population. It is not surprising that both rational and emotional attitudes and peceptions continue to play a role in Czech politics. Defensive instincts and postures are still strong and must be taken into account as a political reality. To overcome them will require time. To a certain extent they hinder the full utilisation of new opportunities.
As a Czech who spent more than twenty years in Britain and was able to view this Czech phenomenon from the outside, and, furthermore, while being surrounded by British attitutes and perceptions, I became very aware of this distinction.
Some reflections on the present situation
There is a commonly held view by a majority of Czech political observers and politicians that the present Czech political environment is favourable for the achieving of Czech national aims. It is closely connected with the situation which emerged in Europe after the end of the Cold War.
The collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union itself and the end of the bipolar system in Europe freed the small states from external limitations imposed uponed them by it and opened the possibility to pursue their independently-designed policy aims. h danger of a global nuclear war has been in fact eliminated, and the military and political division of Europe has ceased to exist. A substantially new political environment has emerged in Europe.
This has created new opportunities for all states, and particularly for small states. They may pursue independent policies aiming at utilising these new chances. Their comparative advantages can be more fully used. One can name for instance the ability of small states to adapt themselves faster to changing situationrs via the flexibility of their socio-economic strucures. The small states also tend to act as initiators of closed political and economic cooperation both in regional and subregional dimensions.
Still, one must not overlook the other side of the coin. Small states are more vulnerable than the large ones to the changes coming from the external environment, they are also less able to cope with their negative impacts.
If we wish to follow Masaryk's way of analysis, what has changed in Europe?
The number of small states has increased considerably. They have become important actors in European politics. The arena for their active participation has expanded.
Germany, whose expansionist policy was in this century the cause of two world wars, and which represented the main threat for small central European states, has been transformed into a stable democratic state incorporated firmly into the main Euro-Atlantic and European structures. It is a fact of historic importance that Germany, as President Herzog said, has, for the first time in its history, friendly relations with all its nine neighbouring staes.
The other major European power - Russia - whose policy represented a threat to the security of neighbouring smaller nations, finds itself in a process of fundamental social transformation. It is highly important that Russia is pursuing a policy of peaceful cooperation with other states of Europe and of the world. Even though some elements of imperial policy cannot be excluded, due largely to the critical internal development, Russia's ability to curtail the small states' newly acquired ability to formulate independent policy has diminished substantially.
European security is enhanced by the continued presence of the United States within the framework of the North Atlantic Alliance.
One of the major factors which have contributed to the new political environment in Europe is the existence of the European Union. It has become a sui generis grouping without a precedent. It has no adversaries, its aims being focused mainly in the economic sphere. It has created an elaborate system for solving differences between members states without resorting to traditional means of power. It is a system where the interests of both large and small states of Europe can be accommodated, though, of course, far from perfectly. It is moreover a system which builds up an elaborate system of relationships with the third states and groups of states. It has no expansionist and hegemonist nor militaristic pretensions. It is a system which all European states seek to join and which introduces a new set of norms of inter-state relations, which are accepted voluntarily.
It is a structure which fits the Czech policy aspirations. It provides a framework for the realisation of major Czech policy aims - stability and prosperity in a peaceful Europe. It is also perceived as a guarantee preventing the repetition of traumatic historical events. It acts as a stimulus for pursuing an active policy, enhancing the position of the Czech Republic.
The Czech Government and its Foreign Policy
The present Czech government is a minority government. It was formed by the Czech Social Democratic Party, which gained most votes in a recent general election, and currently occupies 74 of 200 seats in the Lower House of the Czech Parliament. These very figures indicate the complexity of the situation.
Before forming the minority government, the Czech Social Democratic Party concluded a so-called "opposition agreement" with the Civic Democratic Party, with the aim of stabilising the political situation in the country. It is a novelty in Czech politics, and it remains to be seen how successful it will be. The first serious test of this arrangement will be the Budget Act, which the government submitted to the lower House at the end of September. It was defeated last Wednesday during its first reading. The second reading will be decisive. I venture my own subjective view which is that the Government will be successful and will get the sufficient votes for approval without necessarily convincing the Civic Democratic Party or the bulk of its MPs to support it.
I have already explained the international environment in which the Czech Republic operates and the opportunities and limitations with which it is confronted. I will therefore comment only briefly on some aspects of Czech foreign policy.
The foreign policy of the current Czech government stresses the elements of continuity and consensus on major issues among the main political parties. It foresees that the role of foreign policy within the overall policy of the state will be enhanced, due to the forthcoming integration of the Czech republic into the Atlantic alliance and later into the European Union. The interrelation between foreign and internal policies will be strengthened. Greater emphasis is to be put on the external economic relations of the Czech Republic.
The Czech foreign policy furthermore aims at creating favourable international conditions for a peaceful and stable economic development of the Czech Republic within a secure and peaceful Europe. The ways of achieving these goals are complex, encompassing both bilateral and multilateral relations. The Czech government is focussing its attention upon efforts such as joining the North Atlantic Alliance and the European Union and furthermore building good and stable relations to the neighbouring states.
The government assumes that during its term of office the treaty of accession to the European Union will be negotiated. Therefore preparation for this major change in the history of the Czech Republic will be very much in the forefront of governmental activity during its whole term.
The present government - in comparison with the previous one - attaches far greater attention to Central European cooperation. One of its aims is to prevent new lines of division from emerginh in connection with the forthcoming NATO and EU enlargement. The government intends to pay more attention to the multilateral dimension of its foreign policy. Respect for human rights will become more pronounced in Czech foreign policy.
The government is convinced that respect for human rights, political stability of individual states and the efficacz of international organisations are linked and are conditioned upon one another. I believe that foreign policy can be implemented morally and at the same time it should be possible fully to respect national, including economic, interests of the state. I admit that I was inspired not only by Charter 77' s dictum of the indivisibility od human rights and freedoms, but also by Robin Cook' s insistence that human rights should play an important role in foreign policy. In particular, I want to learn more about the Code of Conduct on the arms trade as I find competition for arms contracts at the expense of human rights objectionable and appalling. Just as Robin Cook, I thoroughly believe that the values and freedoms which we want for ourselves are the same values and freedoms we should demand for others.
I look forwards to learning how successful this aspect of the British foreign policy has been to date. The Czech Republic will contribute within its capabilities to the solution of conflict situations. Our soldiers were in the Persian Gulf and they are still serving with SFOR in Bosnia. The Czech government will supply up to 30 members of the OSCE verification mission to Kosovo. I have a dream that NATO, OSCE, WEU as well as other organisations such as the UN or the Council of Europe in mutual cooperation will seek to find a way of establishing a future pan-European functional security architecture. I also have a dream that the Czech Republic will one day be a part of a more integrated, democratic, socially just, prosperous and peaceful Europe, Europe without great tensions and dangerous confrontations, Europe of free citizens and cooperating regions. I am frequently told that dreaming is dangerous and should be avoided. One Czech pre-war poet once wrote that the best method of killing a dream is to realise it. The Czech government will try to contribute to the realisation of these dreams. An outline of these attempts will be also included in a comprehensive document on mid-term aims and strategy of the Czech Foreign policy, which is being currently prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I hope to present it to the Government before the end of this year. Later, it will be submitted to Parliament for approval.