Stálá delegace České republiky při NATO v Bruselu

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Karel Kovanda: Czech Republic and NATO

Q&A; to NATO Nations Journal

1. What have been main tasks for your nation, on the subject of security policy?

The main objective of our security policy is to ensure a safe and stable environment for our country and its allies. Our first goal in this area - NATO membership - was achieved in 1999. Becoming a member of the European Union on May 1 of this year was another critical landmark.

Since becoming a NATO member, we have been contributing to most of its operations, be it SFOR, KFOR, Essential Harvest in FYROM, and most recently ISAF in Afghanistan . In fact, one can say that we have had troops in every single NATO operation except for the maritime Active Endeavour. Czech troops have of course participated in other operations as well, including Enduring Freedom in Kuwait , Iraq and Afghanistan , not to speak of UN missions.

In NATO, the Czech Republic has been given a very responsible task within the framework of the NATO Response Force. Building on our historical experiences, we have developed rather advanced expertise in the detection of, protection against and consequence management of weapons of mass destruction. The Czechs are currently in charge of a multinational CBRN battalion of the NRF.

Meeting the objectives of our security policy requires human, material and financial resources and long-term planning. So far, the Czech Government has been allocating some 2% of the national budget to defence. This is an appropriate share - so long as we match our ambitions with these resources and manage to spend them wisely; this, I think, is actually the main task of our security policy at this moment.

2. Which persons have enjoyed special attention and sympathy in your nation?

In the field of security and defence, one should mention our ex-president Václav Havel. He is generally seen as the prime mover in leading our country to NATO. His crowing touch and valedictory came with the 2002 NATO summit in Prague : not many people realize that it was originally his idea, and that he personally paid very close attention to its preparations.

It would be unfair (impolitic even) to mention any other specific personality. Those, however, who definitely enjoy my nation's sympathy and support are our soldiers, especially those serving in missions abroad. The reputation of the Czech Armed Forces has rather dramatically improved over the past few years; undoubtedly - at least in part - as a consequence of their absolutely sterling performance, whichever theatre they may have been involved in.

3. What are the main challenges and tasks for the year 2004, regarding international cooperation and security policy?

When he started out at NATO's Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer declared that Afghanistan is Job One for NATO for this year. NAC members have recently visited there - and returned determined to complete this task. Promoting an environment peaceful and secure enough for elections to take place in the autumn of 2004 and subsequently for indisputably legitimate Afghan authorities to take office is a critical challenge for NATO.

Today, 19 European countries are members of both NATO and the EU. The recent accession to the EU of mine and other countries underlines our co-responsibility for forming its security policy. This is both a theoretical matter (sometimes disparagingly but wrongly dismissed as "mere theology") and a practical issue: involving, for example, EU's anticipated role in Bosnia and Herzegovina or the practical development of the "battle group" concept. More broadly, Balkan operations - both in Bosnia and in Kosovo - have been on our agenda for several years now but have lost nothing in their importance - whichever organization is in charge.

The world at large faces any number of additional challenges, and whether NATO as a whole or "only" NATO's nations are involved in coping with them, many of them are tough and long-term. Sorting out the future of Iraq , sorting out the future of the Israel-Palestine conflict, coping with the tricky issues of WMD proliferation threats posited by dramatically non-democratic countries and facing up to the constant and pretty much ubiquitous threat of terrorism, especially when compounded with weapons of mass destruction, are the main ones.