Could U.S. troops be moving to the Czech Republic?

US troops, photo: CTK

The United States has signalled the possibility that it may move its troops - currently stationed in Germany - eastwards, almost 68 thousand in all. Although the debate over the stationing of US troops on Czech soil is still in its infancy, lines among politicians are already being drawn. Martin Hrobsky has been following the story to tell us why the issue is provoking so much debate so early on.

US troops,  photo: CTK
"Well the United States has been hinting that it has been looking for a new home for its troops currently stationed in Germany for some time now. This new plan comes at a time when relations between Washington and Berlin are under great pressure due to Germany's fierce opposition to the war in Iraq. To make up for the loss of international support for the war in Iraq the US has relied on political support from a number of former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe, traditionally strong allies of the United States. Support for the US-led war in Iraq among Central and East European governments has been strong, signalling the shifting trend in the cross-Atlantic alliance towards the East, and this includes the Czech Republic."

But reactions among Czech politicians have been mixed?

"That's right. President Vaclav Klaus stated that Czech people already had one experience with the presence of foreign troops in their country, eluding to the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops for almost 25 years. Although President Klaus did not reject the idea, he said that the new deployment of foreign troops would not be welcome by Czechs. On the other hand, Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of the governing coalition, Petr Mares from the Freedom Union, stated that on principal he would approve of the stationing of U.S. army units in the Czech Republic. First deputy chairman Jan Zahradil from the opposition Civic Democrats also described the plan as a good solution. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said that further debate on the issue would be needed."

And what about support among the Czech public?

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda,  photo: CTK
"Well, support for American military action over the past decade has not been strong among the Czech public. The majority of Czechs were against military action in Kosovo and they continue to be against the war in Iraq, so its no surprise that the stationing of US troops in the Czech Republic has already become a tough issue for politicians. Any plan that would see the stationing of US troops on Czech soil would also need parliamentary approval. Seeing that politicians are already divided - plus the fact that support for the plan among the Czech public is at best mixed... this is not an issue that will be easily solved."

What about reactions among other countries in the region?

"The strongest support for the plan to move American troops out of Germany has come from Poland. By moving almost 70 thousand American troops into Poland the country hopes to gain economically, the move would create a number of much needed jobs in a country where unemployment is around 20 percent. Its also important to mention that Poland has been one of the strongest allies of the United States, with about 4000 troops taking part in operations in Iraq. American troops are already stationed in Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, so the possibility of increasing those numbers also exists."