The Future of the Transatlantic Bond: Speech of Miroslav Poche

The Future of the Transatlantic Bond: Speech of Miroslav Poche

The topic of this conference is the “Future of the Trans-Atlantic Bond”, especially the role of the Czech Republic within this framework. We are supposed to address this theme not just in general terms (as academics usually tend to do), but from the practical perspective of Czech “national interests”. Should we wish to use the language of political realists in international relations, then we will speak about concrete policies or projects to be proposed, implemented, evaluated and further adapted to the changing circumstances of the uncertain world we live; specifically, in the first decades of the 21st century. 

The focus on possible future actions to be recommended to policy-makers should not, however, cause us to forget about and disregard the past. The point of departure for our deliberations must be the broader historical context within which we operate: and not only as concerns this year’s important anniversary celebrations of key historical events  

We should bear in mind 1918 when American president Woodrow Wilson played an essential role in supporting the establishment of an independent democratic Czechoslovak state. 

Nor can we overlook 1938 when the United States remained on the sidelines when the young Czechoslovak state became the first real victim to the Hitler’s aggressive policies. This occurred due to decisions by leading European democratic powers looking to ensure “peace for our time”. 

We must also be aware of 1948 when the communist coup d’état in Czechoslovakia became the final nail in the coffin of the great, anti-Hitler coalition and the beginning of the Cold War between the East and the West.  Add to that the events of 1968, when we were painfully reminded of the existence of the status quo: Europe’s bi-polar political architecture that would not allow a satellite country to leave the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. 

Of course, the main starting point for our current assessment and evaluation of today’s Trans-Atlantic bond is 1989. This was a singular moment when the spirit of 1918 was miraculously revived, and the United States once again became our key partner in our transition to democracy. The United States was first among all the decisive players at a moment of profound reconstruction of European political architecture. US support undoubtedly helped put the Czech Republic on the path to membership in NATO and the European Union.

Having mentioned this historical evolution, however, we find ourselves (together with all other nations belonging to Western civilization) in 2018 in a dramatically new global situation. The international order that we took for granted over the past thirty years has seriously come into question. Many certainties we cherished have also disappeared. That is why all the basic elements of our foreign policy must be carefully reconsidered and re-examined.  

Please, I hope you understand clearly what I wish to say to you now: there is no doubt, in my view, where the Czech Republic stands in current international politics.  We are proud of what we have achieved since 1989. We are likewise grateful to all those who assisted us in our return to European structures after the fall of communism. As a member of the European Union and of NATO, we are, and want, to be a trustworthy, reliable partner to our allies. We seek nothing else in this respect. At a time when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs now strives to strengthen its analytical capacity and policy planning, the vital aspect of this reform is more intense cooperation: dialogue, exchange of information for analysis and policy-oriented research.  We wish to achieve this together with all our strategic partners: within Europe, with the United States, and in the world. 

In my view, this conference should send a clear signal that the Czech Republic values its ties with Trans-Atlantic institutions and wishes to engage in new projects that touch upon all areas of our foreign policy. We should work together to identify key concerns related to  current national security debates: bringing together more than ever before NATO and European Union ambitions in an effort to increase significantly joint European defense capabilities. We should examine all possible forms of cooperation between these two organizations. The United States’ positions in NATO debates (articulated recently by President Trump and other high-ranking members of his administration or the US government in general) are of key importance for us. We truly wish to be consistent in our efforts to adjust our foreign policy ideas and adapt them to changing global circumstances. We seek to launch an exchange of ideas in this area: not only between Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs, but also among think tanks, public policy institutions or academic bodies.

The Czech Republic, thanks to the pioneering efforts of former President Vaclav Havel, is still known as a country that, based on its own encounters and historical experience with totalitarianism in the 20th century, places strong emphasis on international dialogue and effective policies in the field of human rights. We are prepared to continue in this tradition despite current, changing circumstances. Moreover, we see as regards defense of human rights an important role for Trans-Atlantic dialogue that is conducive to the exchange of ideas, explanation of differences, and effective policy coordination. We have been trying to build communication channels in the field of human rights: both with our European partners within EU structures and with our American allies. I believe it is now time to intensify our efforts.  Indeed, closer cooperation in this field is a clear means for enhancing the stability of our broader region. 

Lastly, the key tool needed to preserve democracy in the world, a system now challenged by all sorts of new threats, is, in my deepest conviction, the promotion of democratic or civic education. We are ready to support and encourage active participation in any programs that might strengthen future Trans-Atlantic bonds. The United States and the Czech Republic obviously have very different geopolitical perspectives and historical experiences – yet both share a set of common principles and values. This was a point that T.G. Masaryk made great effort to articulate and promote.  Enhanced cooperation between our institutions of higher learning, among our think-tanks and public policy organizations, participation in – albeit sometimes intense and volatile – political debates in both countries may now be the most important investment that both our countries could make in the future of the Trans-Atlantic bond. This engagement may now be even more critical than it would be under other, perhaps more normal, circumstances. Yet time is, as we increasingly see, quite sacred. Just think of how we now look around and find ourselves “out of joint”; to cite the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I can assure you that the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs will begin immediately in playing its part in these communication and educational efforts. This will happen through a renewed focus on analytical work, policy planning and public diplomacy. We will build on the premise that a productive, Trans-Atlantic dialogue must start now and engage, as a priority, all of our young people as future global citizens. This is the best possible investment. It is incumbent upon us to realize the common task of promoting freedom and democracy for future generations. 

More information about the conference here.