Czech leaders highlight range of threats on anniversary of NATO accession

Foto: ČTK/Ondřej Deml

At Prague Castle on Tuesday senior Czech politicians addressed a ceremony marking exactly 20 years of the country’s membership in NATO. The country’s prime minister said the alliance needed to be more active in some regards but described membership as crucial, while the foreign minister highlighted the threat posed by Russia.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl
An event entitled State Ceremony Commemorating 20 years of the Czech Republic in NATO was held at Prague Castle’s grand Spanish Hall on Tuesday.

Among the speakers were the presidents of Poland and Hungary, which joined NATO on the same day as the Czech Republic, and of Slovakia, which entered the alliance five years later.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told the visiting dignitaries, local politicians and diplomats that membership was crucial to his country.

“Twenty years ago we joined NATO. Membership gave our security a new perspective. We ceased being alone and can rely on the help of our allies. The history of the 20th century has shown that a country of our size cannot defend itself. Therefore it is our existential interest to be a member of this defence alliance.”

However, Mr. Babiš also called for on the organisation to do more in some areas.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml
“NATO should be a lot more active in eliminating terrorist organisations that endanger our security and our way of life… I regard the fact NATO has not been more active in the fight against Islamic State as a strategic mistake that should not be repeated.”

Czech President Miloš Zeman highlighted a different terror group, cautioning against negotiating with such people.

“Somewhere in Qatar talks are being held with the Taliban in the hope that a tiger will become vegetarian, that it will no longer murder. In reality, the tiger will remain a tiger. If we again allow the Taliban to control Afghan territory, it will again turn it into a terrorist base used in attacks on the territory of Euro-American civilisation”.

Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček highlighted yet another threat in Russia, which he said was aggressive toward both its neighbours and NATO itself.

Tomáš Petříček,  photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml
“The alliance’s hitherto two-pronged approach to Russia – defence deterrence combined with dialogue – continues to make sense and to offer hope that a return to cooperation is possible. We don’t want to isolate Russia. Escalation isn’t in our interest either. Neither is another arms race or Cold War. For NATO-Russian relations to improve, Russia must respect international law, as well as the choices and orientation of its neighbours.”

Another speaker at Prague Castle on Tuesday was the Czech-born former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

Her message was that NATO was not just a military alliance but a political alliance based on democratic values. She said members needed to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defence but also needed to be “100 percent for democracy”.