Alexandr Vondra (ČTK): Alexandr Vondra says the Czech Republic has built up a good reputation with NATO. (ČTK)Alexandr Vondra says the Czech Republic has built up a good reputation with NATO. (ČTK)

As Czech Ambassador to the United States, he negotiated US support for the Czech Republic’s joining the EU. At the same time, along with his Polish colleague, he travel across the United States and lobbied for support among local Czech associations. In 2002 he was involved in the historic NATO summit that was held in Prague. “You can always imagine other alternatives, even when it comes to the NATO. We could rely solely on ourselves, there could be other alliances, but I personally don’t see any better way to hold the west together,” says Czech Deputy PM Alexandr Vondra in an interview with HN.

This year NATO celebrates its 60-year anniversary. Some say that the alliance is at a crossroads, and that a lot will depend on whether the more brusque United States will be able to find common ground with the more cautious Europe. How do you see the future of NATO?

The foundation lies in article five of the alliance agreeing: that the defence of member states must work in accordance with the motto: “All for one and one for all”. That is the basic premise that must be upheld.

And a lot will depend on the ability of politicians to convince the public that we cannot stop investing in defence. History proves that countries that stop investing in protection and that closed themselves off, do not do well in the end.

How can new the new US president, Barack Obama, affect the future of NATO?

Many European countries called for a greater role for Europe and for greater multi-literalism. The new US administration will want to “co-operate”, but I emphasise that hyphen. It means that if Europe wants to have more influence in decision making, it will need to bring something to the table. That direction will come at a price. There is no free lunch.

It seems that the future of NATO will be largely hinged on whether the alliance succeeds in Afghanistan. Do you agree?

I’m not sure if that’s the deciding point. The fact is that the alliance must succeed in Afghanistan. And we need to define clearly what constitutes success, how we can achieve it and in what time frame. All this still awaits us.

How do you see the Czech Republic’s future role in NATO? Will it involve the radar that the Czech cabinet agreed on with the United States?

NATO plans to continue building its missile defence because it is important for the United States and Europe to share the same level of protection. The fact is that threats remain. Of course, if there were no threats, the situation would be very different. But for now the world we live in is not a paradise on Earth.

In my opinion, the project will continue, but it does not depend only on us. It also depends on how the United States sees the future. It’s the US developing these systems. Without it, we would be starting from scratch.

What is the Czech Republic’s reputation in NATO? As close friends of the United States, do we belong among the hawks?

We are not hawks, but we are not doves either. We are a member of the alliance that acts in accordance with its possibilities and its interests. The fact is that countries in central Europe, whether the Czech Republic of Poland, are interested in maintaining strong trans-Atlantic ties. Ties with the United States are a guarantee of stability in Europe.

I think we have earned a certain reputation. The fact that the US chose the Czech Republic to station the missile defence radar is proof of that. So does the fact that every US president since the end of the Cold War has found the time to pay a visit to Prague.

You have said in the past that it was not easy to negotiate the Czech Republic’s entry into NATO. What did you do in the United States to achieve it?

It was a lot of diplomatic and political convincing, so that the governments would make the decision. This then needed to be ratified by the US Senate. It was necessary to convince senators and help them by convincing their constituencies. Along with our Polish and Hungarian colleagues, we travelled across the United States and gave thousands of lectures and press conferences in order to convince the Americans that letting us join would pay off.

How strong were the arguments against letting us join? And what were they?

There were all sorts of detractors. Some argued that it would have a negative impact on the Unites States’ relation with Russia, and that Russia is more important than the Czech Republic or Poland.

There were also those who expressed doubt that the Czechs, Poles and Hungarians could bring any benefits. There were voices saying that the US should turn inwards, and that Europe should be left to manage on its own.

What was your main motivation in negotiating the Czech Republic’s NATO entry? To get the country to a safe harbour?

I never looked at it as golf club membership. It was also about our own responsibility. Of course, it was important to anchor our country in the safe zone of the west. But it was also about the future of the alliance. The alliance was able to preserve its purpose and influence in part because of its expansion.

When we ran out of arguments about our geographically strategic position in Europe and our ability to contribute to the alliance, we had to pull out moral and historic arguments: For instance, that it was necessary to repair the injustice of the Yalta agreement that divided the sphere of influence between the Soviet Union and the west.

You pushed for NATO entry even though the ČSSD, which was in power here at the time, had a much more lukewarm attitude toward our joining the alliance. For instance Jan Kavan, the Czech foreign minister at the time, asked shortly before our entry what steps countries would need to take if they wanted to leave the alliance…

At the time the mantra was: The fewer visits of Czech politicians to the US, the better it is for Czech aspirations to join NATO…

When you are trying to achieve something, you must appear convincing. It must be obvious that you are firm in your convictions, that you are consistent, and credible about believing in what you are doing and so that others can believe it too. There is obligation on both sides.

The path to earning trust was sometimes rocky, but our reputation, thanks to our foreign missions, is excellent.