Expert: New national strategy sees citizens as creators not consumers of security

The Czech government recently approved the country’s first new National Security Strategy since 2015. Unsurprising, the plan of action is influenced by Russia’s war on Ukraine. But how? And what else is different? I spoke to Petr Tůma, visiting professor at the Atlantic Council in Washington and author of a new article on the subject on the organisation’s website.

“It is meant to a starting point and binding guidance for further conceptual work on security for the public sector, from ministries to municipalities.

“The second purpose is to become a stratcom [strategic communication] tool, to communicate major security-related messages to the population, because security is not only about relevant government bodies, but about the population, about civilians.

“And it is meant to be a stratcom tool not only vis-à-vis the Czech population, but also towards Czech allies and adversaries.”

Why is the government preparing the public for the message that “Czechia is not secure”? Is it a way of maybe laying the groundwork for some difficult decisions in the future?

Petr Tůma | Photo: Atlantic Council

“As I already mentioned, security is not conceived any more as a matter of a few administrative bodies like the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Interior or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Instead it is a whole society issue.

“Once you want to get ready for new security strategies, those who are concerned have to be prepared. Interestingly, the strategy says citizens are not only consumers of security but also creators.

“So that’s why we have to wake up from our, I would say, security or geopolitical sleepwalking and get ready for the new challenges.”

The National Security Strategy is more explicit on Russia and China than the last one was almost a decade ago. What concretely is it saying about both those two countries?

“Russia is denoted as ‘the biggest immediate and longstanding direct threat to the security of Europe and the international rule-based order'.

“This is new. We didn’t have this in our previous National Security Strategy in 2015, which became a bit obsolete with the full-fledged Russian aggression against Ukraine.

“This is something you can find in different strategic documents across Europe, but where we go a bit farther is by stating that this will remain so: Russia will remain a threat, unless it goes through a fundamental and deep transformation.”

What about China? What does it say about China?

“China is described as a country that represents ‘a fundamental systemic challenge globally and is attempting to change the existing international order’.

“It is probably a bit softer than some in the Czech security community in the Czech Republic expected; it avoids creating a new precedent and keeps the language closer to the language used by EU and NATO allies.”

You write in your article also that the aim of strategy is to promote the idea of “unity not autonomy”. What do you mean by that?

“In Europe we are aware that we should step up geopolitically, that Europe should become stronger and able to defend itself when needed against the threats coming from our neighbourhood.

“Then the question is, how do you do this? The Czech National Security Strategy highlights the importance of our membership of both the European Union and NATO, and the complementarity of these bodies for our security.

“The whole issue is how to balance it, how those should work together.

“There are countries in Europe who are pushing for more of an autonomous Europe, which might imply less dependence on the US.

“For us, for Czechs, and I think it’s the same for our partners in Central and Eastern Europe, we still feel like we are not there yet and that the Americans are at the core of our security.

“Thus we prefer not to speak about strategic autonomy. We prefer to talk about strategic unity: unity within the EU, and unity across the Atlantic.”