Pundit: Handling of US base issue shows “a lot of amateurism”

Jana Černochová

Defence Minister Jana Černochová made headlines at the weekend by saying she would discuss potential US military bases on Czech territory on a visit to Washington. However, within days – and following a heated debate – the prime minister had poured cold water on the idea. So what happened? I spoke to political scientist Jiří Pehe.

“I think that, unfortunately, this was one of the occasions in which Czech politicians have once again shown that they don’t know how to handle these very sensitive big issues.

“Because it is clear that the minister of defence, Jana Černochová, mentioned this just as her own idea, without consulting with anyone – that means with the government or the American side.

“And just by saying that she would like to discuss the possibility of having an American military base in the Czech Republic she unleashed a lot of reactions which were totally unnecessary.

“Because it wasn’t really anything that should be seriously discussed at this point. It was just her own idea.”

Would you say that this has been quite a misstep by the Czech government, who many people I think would say have been performing quite well so far?

“I think it was a big mistake by minister Černochová, who really should have kept this to herself, even if she had discussed this with some of her colleagues previously, possibly.

“Because it seemed to be a reaction that something that Alexandr Vondra said at the congress of the Civic Democratic Party.

“So even if it was discussed with some colleagues in the Civic Democratic Party it certainly wasn’t something that she should have mentioned as a possibility in an interview with a Czech daily.

“Because then it of course triggered a lot of reactions which were totally premature and unnecessary.”

Illustrative photo: Joel Rivera-Camacho,  Unsplash

The debate that it sparked was indeed very intense. In your view what does that debate tell us about Czech politics?

“I think the debate tells us two things.

“One is that, as I said, Czech politicians often don’t know how to handle such sensitive issues, and they want to score points by being the first to mention such a thing.

“Second the reactions from some other politicians were, given the context, blown out of proportion.

“Right after she mentioned that we heard the chairman of the extreme right Freedom and Direct Democracy of Tomio Okamura saying that there needs to be a referendum.

“Then of course Mr. Babiš, the leader of the biggest opposition party, ANO, said, Yes, there has to be a referendum.

“The even some government members started discussing this seriously.

“For example, the head of the Christian Democrats and the minister of labour and social affairs, Marian Jurečka, started talking about this base as if it were already some kind of reality.

“It said it could be based in Northern Moravia, either in Přerov or Mošnov. So obviously a lot of amateurism.

“I think that it is good that Prime Minister Fiala just stopped this by saying, This is not anything serious, this is something that was just mentioned as an idea – let’s not discuss this anymore.”

Of course many countries in Europe do have American bases, including now Slovakia. Do you think the mishandling of the issue by the minister of defence means that now we will never see, or we will not see, US soldiers based permanently in the Czech Republic?

“No, I think that the Americans will not take this a sign that they should not in the future be discussing the possibility of having some military presence in the Czech Republic.

“But they will return to this only if it is really necessary, because the Czech Republic is not bordering Russia or Ukraine.

“It is obviously at this point not a country where the US would like to have a military base.

“So maybe in the future we will come to that, but at this point it is more a sort of political science fiction.”