Do central European governments have the staying power to keep their troops in Iraq?

Iraq, photo: CTK

Apart from Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia also have soldiers in Iraq and the Hungarian parliament has just extended the mandate of Hungarian troops serving there until the end of 2004. Against growing public opposition - will they be able to stay the distance in Iraq? Heinz Schulte is defence analyst from Janes Defence Weekly.

Iraq, photo: CTK
"That would be very difficult indeed because we have a similar debate in Italy and we might have a debate, heaven forbid, in Britain if something happens to British soldiers. So you could argue that the debate that we now see in Central and Eastern Europe reflects exactly the fault lines on the Iraq issue in Western Europe."

Isn't there more pressure on the Central European states because for them the financial costs are more significant?

"I don't think it's the financial cost that really matters because you could see that the Americans are going to contribute to the financial efforts that are undertaken by these countries. I think it is much more the issue, how much can society sustain the kid of suffering we've seen particularly with regard to the American forces."

Just this week the EU has agreed to set up a new defence agency, the Armaments and Research Agency, projecting ahead does this take pressure off countries like Poland the Czech Republic and Hungary once the European Union is taking a greater role?

"I think it will and it will not in a sense because we have to see that it is not only the European Union that will play a role but much more the United Nations. You could see French and German forces joining, that would of course take pressure off the Poles and others but that is what the Americans have been denying for the time being. I do not believe that the setting up of the defence agency and a more combined European defence effort is going to make a change to the current situation we're facing."

France and Germany want to go further, they want to deepen European defence cooperation, but that's opposed by the United States and quite a few other EU states. Where do you see the candidate states on this issue? Are they likely to back NATO and back the US opposition?

"Well I think they will understand that European defence issues are much more shades of grey than black and white. So far it was clear that the defence and security aspects were guaranteed for the Central and East European countries by the United States. Therefore NATO took precedence over Europe. But now if you look at the European identity you will see that it does have a defence and security angle and therefore they have to look at it afresh. The Germans do want an increase in the defence identity of Europe but not at the expense of integration."