Czech Republic torn between US, EU over Iraq

Iraq, photo: CTK

Is the Czech government divided over Iraq? The Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said recently he was more slightly more hawkish on military action against Saddam Hussein than his colleagues, suggesting that there are divisions within the cabinet. But how deep are these divisions, and could they cause problems if the Czechs are asked to assist in a U.S. military campaign? Jiri Pehe is a leading analyst and external advisor to President Vaclav Havel.

Iraq, photo: CTK
"I think that should the Czech Republic join the United States and Great Britain in any action against Iraq, that would have to be decided by the parliament. And therefore I think the opinion of one minister is really not relevant in this context. Of course we already have a unit in Kuwait, but to employ any such unit in a war with Iraq would probably require some decisions by the Czech government and parliament."

It's clear now that any action against Iraq will be a U.S. initiative, rather than a NATO one. Does the Czech Republic - which joined NATO in 1999 - feel the same degree of loyalty to the United States as it does to NATO?

"I think that Czechs in general feel at this point a high degree of loyalty to the United States, but of course as all other EU candidate countries, the Czech Republic is split, is torn between two kinds of attitudes. One is to support the United States in its war against Iraq, the other is to support the prevailing attitudes of the European Union. And unfortunately those are currently not in line, and I think this poses huge problems for all candidate countries. Because they cannot really make a decision at this point which is correct - if they support the United States then they will alienate the European Union, and vice versa. And that is a very uncomfortable situation that the current international developments have put candidate countries in."

You yourself wrote a very pro-military action article in the papers last week - how much support is there among the Czech public? How many people share your hawkish views on Iraq?

"We have currently no opinion polls showing what the Czech public thinks about a possible war with Iraq. There are some very unscientific polls in some newspapers and the Czech News Agency, which suggest that opinions are split 50-50. Czechs of course are - just like any other European nations - careful when it comes to a possible war with Iraq. On the other hand I think that Czechs, given their history and given the various policies of appeasement that led to World War One and World War Two, are aware probably more than anyone else that the possibility of appeasement may not be the best solution in this situation. And I think that a lot of Czechs instinctively feel that the principled attitude of the United States and Great Britain may be more correct than the traditional attitudes of European continental democracies that are once again trying to appease."