Analyst: Prague hoping Trump’s NATO comments just campaign rhetoric

Donald Trump, photo: CTK

Czech leaders have congratulated Donald Trump on his victory in the US presidential election, saying they are looking forward to continued cooperation between Prague and Washington. But how does the Czech foreign policy community view Mr. Trump’s suggestion on the campaign trail that the US might not necessarily honour NATO’s key Article 5 and come to the defence of another member if it were attacked? I put that question to Petr Kratochvíl, head of Prague’s Institute of International Relations.

Donald Trump,  photo: CTK
“First of all, we have to make a distinction between foreign policy departments and the foreign policy elite, which follows these comments very closely, and ordinary people on the street, who don’t really know much about this and don’t discuss it in much detail.

“But even for the foreign policy elite, I think most of them are convinced, or at least hope, that this was only part of the pre-election heated rhetoric and that all of this will change once president Trump assumes office and that everything will calm down and these declarations will be at least revised to some extent.

“Also there is clearly a big difference in the public mood in the Czech Republic and in the Baltic countries or Poland regarding Russia.

“So these worries are not really as palpable as in some other countries.”

Actually, I wanted to ask you about Mr. Trump’s perceived positive attitude toward Russia and Vladimir Putin. Should that be a cause of concern to Czechs and others in the region?

“Again, I think there is a big difference between the Czech Republic and some other countries in this regard.

Vladimir Putin | Photo: Archive of World Economic Forum,  CC BY-SA 2.0
“As you know, the Czech political elite as well as the public is rather divided on Russia.

“There are many who support the ongoing EU sanctions against Russia, but there are others, including our president, who call for the end of the sanctions regime.

“The same applies to the perception of Russia as a threat to the country.

“There is a substantial part of the population that in the long terms sees Russia as a threat to the country. But according to opinion polls, Islamic fundamentalists are perceived as the biggest threat to the country, and not Russia.

“And again, there is a substantial difference between the Czech Republic and, let’s say, Estonia or Lithuania. The attitudes are very different across the region.”

The French president, Francois Hollande, famously said that Mr. Trump made him feel sick. I haven’t heard any such statements from any Czech leaders, and indeed President Zeman said he would vote for Donald Trump. But from speaking to Czech officials behind the scenes, did you get any sense that they preferred either candidate before yesterday’s election?

Photo: CTK
“My impression was that most people in the establishment would definitely vote for Hillary Clinton. There is no doubt about that.

“There is this rather narrow group around President Zeman who were in favour of Donald Trump. But these were a minority that was very vocal.

“Most of the people, however, in the particular at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also at the Ministry of Defence – because most of these people are a bit worried about security guarantees from the United States – would be much happier with a president Clinton.”

Do you think we can expect to see Mr. Trump’s win provide a kind of boost to anti-establishment politicians around Europe and here in the Czech Republic?

“Yes. I think that this is very likely because of course all of these events that we have been through this year – including Brexit, including the gradual rise of populist parties across Europe – is part of a broader or deeper trend of the erosion of the Western liberal order.

“The novel thing is not that it’s a challenge from the outside, but that it’s also a challenge from the inside.

“So indeed, there is a kind of cross-fertilisation among these movements and Mr. Trump’s victory will definitely give it another boost.”