Tuesday, 25 April 2017

HN: Czechs should recognise Germany as security guarantor

ČTK |
23 February 2017

Prague, Feb 22 (CTK) - Czechs and Germans should react to the present world, framed with Vladimir Putin's resolute moves and Donald Trump's tweets, by launching a debate on Germany's role as a guarantor of Czech security, Martin Ehl writes in daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) yesterday.
The Czech Defence Ministry recently pondered on whom it should choose as its European partner in the security area. Finally, it heralded a planned exercise of Czech and German military units, and said the Czechs and Germans will probably jointly protect Lithuania under the German command in 2018, Ehl writes.
Trump's election as the new U.S. president, his challenging of Washington's NATO commitments and his approximation to Russia, however, lend the question of the Czech-German alliance a new dimension. The question has arisen of whether Germany is capable of being Europe's security leader in addition to its role as the motor of European politics and economy, Ehl writes.
Whenever asked the question, German politicians say the pillar of European security is NATO, and they have mainly Europe's relation to Russia in mind, Ehl writes.
However, European security has now acquired a new aspect in connection with the terrorist attacks and the refugee wave, in which Germany's role was far from brilliant, Ehl writes, adding that it were the Hungarians and Austrians who closed the Balkan route, doing the "dirty job" for the Germans.
In relation to Russia, Germany has been and will always be considered weak due to a strong influence of the pro-Russian economic lobby. If socialist Martin Schulz became German chancellor in a centre-left coalition after the September general election, it would be a catastrophe for NATO in combination with Trump's America, Ehl writes.
If Schulz became foreign minister in a grand coalition government of Angela Merkel, he would be a difficult partner for the Czech, Polish, Lithuanian and other diplomacies, Ehl writes.
The pinning of hopes on Germans in the security sphere is also questionable in view of Germany's weak protection of its strategic companies against the influence of China, Ehl continues.
Nevertheless, a debate on Berlin's new role as a security leader is unavoidable. No miracles can be expected in 2017, which is the election year in Germany, but a debate on the issue has started in the country, Ehl writes.
Volker Perthes, head of the German government SWP think-tank, wrote in the Handelsblatt daily last week that Germany cannot go beyond the framework of institutions such as NATO and the EU. As far as security is concerned, it should focus on its immediate neighbourhood including Russia, Perthes wrote, cited by Ehl.
Perthes also wrote that Germany's strategic capabilities lie in the defining of its own interests and priorities rather than in the location of various headquarters and weapon systems, Ehl writes.
Berlin's allies and neighbours should not only closely watch the German debate but also influence it for their own benefit, he continues.
The Czech Republic, which is now seeking a balance between its relations to Berlin and the Visegrad Four group (V4, also comprised of Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), might play the role of a moderator in a situation where Poland and Hungary use the V4 as a means to promote their nationalist and populist policies in Europe, Ehl writes.
On the other hand, both Hungary and Poland have their special contacts with Berlin, which is why the moderator's role, eyed by Prague, may be a too much ambitious plan. However, Czech diplomacy must still define its relation with Germany in terms of security, because this is a part of the Czech interests, Ehl writes.
Czechs and Germans should no longer fear to ask the question that made the previous generations shudder. It is a question of whether Germany can be the guarantor of Czech security, either through NATO, a resuscitated joint EU foreign and security policy, a close security and military alliance or a combination of all, Ehl writes.
As a medium-sized country, the Czech Republic depends on the international scene observing the rules set after 1945. In addition, tight ties with German industry and exports make the Czechs dependent on the world trade system shaped by the USA, Ehl writes.
All this seems jeopardised now, he writes, hinting at Brexit and last autumn's election of Trump.
Germany is pragmatically reviving its armament industry, which could boost state-of-the-art armament production in the Czech Republic, if it became Berlin's close military ally, Ehl writes.
The economic cooperation may be facilitated by Prague's political relations with Germany that have improved in the past years, he writes.
The Czechs' [previously tense] relations with Bavaria have been settled, and the Czech-German diplomatic dialogue has been watched by countries such as Poland with envy. The intelligence services have been cooperating and military cooperation has been launched as well, Ehl writes.
A STEM public opinion poll from 2016 showed that 52 percent of Czechs want Germany to take up a bigger portion of responsibility for the developments in Europe, a 9-percent increase on 1995, he writes.
Seeking closer relations with Germany in the security sphere does not mean Prague's withdrawal from its relations with the USA and its V4 partners. It is only reasonable to lean on more pillars on the uncertain international political scene, Ehl writes.
The problem may be that neither Czechs nor Germans are used to think strategically about security issues, since they have enjoyed relying on the U.S. leading role. This practice is over now, however. Ehl adds.

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