Washington had a refreshing experience this week, in the form of a visit from a European political leader who is calmly confident in the transatlantic alliance, and sees the importance of meeting NATO commitments and modernizing military forces. While Pavel Belobradek, chairman of the Christian Democrats Party of the Czech Republic, was in town this week, he held national security discussions with the White House in advance of the Vice President’s trip to the Baltics, Georgia and the Balkans. His visit was inspired by the transatlantic bond expressed in the recent speech by Vice President Pence in Munich.
“We spoke of the importance of NATO and the need for constant vigilance to deter evolving threats,” Belobradek told me in an interview.
Belobradek has established a unique relationship with the Trump White House and congressional leaders because of the commitment to faith and values he shares with many senior officials. They also found common ground in their commitment to defending Western civilization from evolving threats. Belobradek made it clear that he considers NATO membership as providing tangible benefits to the Czech people, and something of which Czechs should be proud.
All NATO members have committed to spend 2% of GDP on their own defense; just as important, they promised to dedicate 20% of their spending to modernizing major weapons systems, and making them conform to NATO standards. In spite of repeated commitments at NATO summits in Warsaw, Wales, and going back 20 years, many European countries still fall short. Belobradek has made his position on this clear, in public back home and repeatedly in his meetings in Washington.
“If we are serious about our national security, we will take greater responsibility for it ourselves. Czechs don’t like to see things happen that affect us, if we have no control over them: ‘about us, but without us,’ is a common complaint in my country. But NATO membership and national security are only done ‘without us’ if we choose to do nothing. It is the right of a free people to defend ourselves, and we are proud to have that right. Why should we hesitate to exercise it by meeting spending commitments that we ourselves have made? It is time for us to increase our defense spending to a serious level, as successive Czech governments have committed so many times.”
Taking responsibility for European defense is music to the ears of Administration officials and the members of Congress he met, from the committees on foreign affairs, energy and commerce, technology and innovation, homeland security, cybersecurity, education and the workforce, terrorism, nonproliferation, trade, and military construction.
White House officials were pleased also to hear his commitment to making Czech military systems interoperable with NATO standards. This kind of independent attitude is the linchpin of collective defense: nobody is expected to fight external threats alone, but all are expected to do what is reasonably within their ability.
It also is good for the Czechs. A close relationship between the Czechs and America will bring greater direct investment, more access to lucrative Western markets, and greater access to technology and opportunities for cooperative ventures in the industrial sector, cybersecurity, and research and development. “Czech industry is known throughout Europe for high quality, but generates less profit than our Western European neighbors. Closer integration with America and the West will increase wages, profits, and wealth. Cooperation in innovation can encourage startups and other entrepreneurial activity. But all this starts with strong bilateral and personal relationships.”
In addition to his position as party chairman, Belobradek is the Czech Deputy Prime Minister. White House officials and members of Congress must be gratified to know that there are European leaders who are serious about the transatlantic alliance. And Czechs should be very grateful to have a leader with the credibility to establish connections with the new Administration.
Although he made it quite clear that his visit to Washington was done in his capacity as chairman of the Christian Democrat party, and not in his capacity as a government official, his connection with the Congress and the Administration will bring benefits to all the Czech people in the future.
Bart Marcois (@BMarcois) was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the Bush administration and was previously a career foreign service officer. He is a Director at the Richard Richards Foundation.