Security expert Radek Khol - world at risk from forces "beyond our control"

Radek Khol

Revelations of an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic passenger aircraft have once again brought the issue of security very much to the forefront of people's minds. Ours is a society grimly obsessed with security - who would have thought ten years ago that passengers would be prevented from taking soft drinks on board for fear they might contain explosives? So just how safe are we, especially tucked away here in the heart of sleepy central Europe? In this week's One on One, Rob Cameron talks to Radek Khol, co-ordinator of the Centre for Security Analysis at Prague's Institute of International Relations - a position - suitably perhaps - he's held since September 2001.

Radek, we're in a quiet village pub on the outskirts of Prague. It's a very long way from Islamist terror groups, liquid explosives or plots to bring down transatlantic aircraft. The Czech Republic is fairly far down the list of potential terrorist targets, surely?

"Yes, on the one hand it's certainly in a different category to the United Kingdom, or Spain, or France, that are thought to be at the top of that hypothetical list out of all of the European countries. This is partly because those countries contain large Muslim domestic populations that may contain a fraction of a percentage of extremists. Here in the Czech Republic of course it's very different, because the Islamic population is very tiny; it's very well rooted in Czech society, there are almost no extremists and there are no pockets of social or economic exclusion. So the potential that terrorist recruitment might be successful here is really rather low."

But it's not just the social aspect is it? It's also about foreign policy. The Czech Republic is not, after all, either a major ally or major military force.

"Well here I would slightly disagree. Of course being a medium-sized country we will never have a similar profile to that of the United Kingdom let's say. But at the same time Czech foreign and security policy has kept a relatively high profile for a number of years. Particularly its policy in the Middle East, where its support of Israel as far as its right to existence and self-defence will not make it terribly popular among large parts of the Arab or Muslim world. At the same time, the Czech Republic was among the few allies to actively support the US and the UK in the coalition in Iraq. It's also active in Afghanistan, where it has deployed military units since 2001. So we can say we're not just consuming security, but rather contributing to it with relatively high resources, and being active from the Balkans, to the Middle East and Central Asia."

What about the Czech authorities' response to this latest alleged threat? Few would argue that western democracies such as the Czech Republic are at risk from terrorism, but many people feel that their government's response to that risk is actually whipping up a climate of fear - saying the security threat level is 'critical' or posting armoured personnel carriers outside airports etc.

"Well I guess it cuts both ways. First, the authorities must show they are doing something. So putting on display armoured personnel carriers or police squads at airports and railway stations..."

Which in reality can do very little in the event of an attack...

"Yes, but it's both a presence which can deter some potential terrorists, and also a presence that shows the taxpayers that the authorities are doing something. Frankly the most effective thing that the authorities can do will be hidden from public eye. It will be cooperation among intelligence services, law enforcement, so it will be relying on international contacts or undercover agents, that sort of activity, which for obvious reasons the authorities are not going to be advertising."

If the Czech Republic is fairly low on the list of terrorist targets that might soon change, with a decision due soon on the location of a new missile defence facility to be built by the United States in either Poland or the Czech Republic. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has said the US is almost certain to choose the Czech Republic for part of it - is he right do you think?

"Yes, I think for both political and technical reasons, the US government will probably approach both the Czech Republic and Poland, because they have on the table an option to separate the location of several parts of the US missile defence shield. There could be in one country a radar and tracking station, and in the other the actual interceptor site, which would be the bigger one, more visible, and would be crucial for any heightened effectiveness of the missile shield against ballistic threats coming from the Middle East."

Of course there is substantial public opposition to this idea among the Czech people. Surely the people should decide in a referendum?

"I'm not sure there's a major argument that would exclude the parliament from deciding on it."

Why not?

"Well first of all in the Constitution it's specifically granted that Parliament has the right to decide both on sending Czech armed forces abroad but also the stationing of foreign troops on Czech territory. So the founding fathers of the Czech Constitution certainly had this exclusive power in mind. There's no doubt in the wording of the Constitution. It very clearly puts this right in the power, in the hands of the Parliament."

You have a three-year-old son. As a security expert, are you afraid for the world he's going to grow up in?

"Certainly it will be a very complex world. There will be more or many different threats than there were 15 or 20 years ago, when for many people the clear-cut division between good and evil shall we say was much more intelligible than it is now. He will also have to live with realities that will be beyond his control, or beyond the control of the state authorities. There will be a number of forces, be it climate change or shrinking world resources, that will simply be beyond the influence of even the most influential of all state governments. But he will also be living in a world where the activity of individuals and society from grass roots levels can change and affect things in both a positive and negative manner. So I'm not completely fearful, and I hope that he will have, if anything, an interesting future."