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"We Are a Sovereign Country"


Rozhovor redaktora Christiana Neefa s ministrem Schwarzenbergem v časopisu Spiegel ze dne 19. 2. 2007 (v angličtině).

SPIEGEL: Minister Schwarzenberg, at the Munich Security Conference earlier this month, Russia's President Vladimir Putin warned the United States would spark a new 'arms race' by deploying missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic. Is he genuinely concerned or is it just hot air?

Schwarzenberg: It's well known that Moscow's own defense program is continuously developing. Some time ago, the Russians already proudly announced their new intercontinental missiles, whose warheads can change altitude and course to avoid even missile defense systems like this one. They're working on their own defense system and have set up a radar station near St. Petersburg. So I don't think we're facing dramatic changes.

SPIEGEL: You think Moscow isn't behind at all? The Americans in recent years have made a number of advancements...

Schwarzenberg: It's true the United States' defense capacity is even greater; the United States is a much wealthier country, after all. But this is a matter between Americans and Russians in which we only play a minor role.

SPIEGEL: The missile shield is actually meant to stop missiles from Iran or North Korea. Russia considers this justification given by Washington to be a pretext.

Schwarzenberg: I'm convinced Iran does not have the capability to construct missiles with such a range. But Iran has made great progress in terms of its technical abilities. The Iranians have excellent scientists and are already building respectable missiles. That means they can doubtless create an intercontinental missile in the foreseeable future. The Russians back then were able to do so pretty quickly too. Why should Iran need 20 years?

SPIEGEL: If Europe is really facing such a danger, why isn't NATO taking charge of the appropriate defense measures?

Schwarzenberg: NATO wouldn't be out of the game if European countries were to decide to reach into their coffers and make a significant contribution. But for something like that to get through the European parliaments, and for action to be taken -- it takes time.

SPIEGEL: Can you at least understand the Russians' concerns when they complain about NATO moving closer and closer to its borders?

Schwarzenberg: What do you mean by "the Russians"? The fact is that Russia is ruled in a more or less authoritarian manner -- which means that Putin and his team know exactly what's really going on. When I think through the speech Putin gave (at the Munich Security Conference) again, I see a leitmotif running through it: that of the Russian Federation's desire to be respected and treated the same way the Soviet Union once was -- and a desire for the same scale.

SPIEGEL: In Munich, you reacted very emotionally to the charges Putin levelled at the missile shield...

Schwarzenberg: Why emotionally? It was very rational. I said the notion that there is not just a Russian zone of influence but also a zone where the Russians have a veto right merely gets a tired smile from me. We're a sovereign country, and interference from third parties is likely to consolidate our position.

SPIEGEL: There is resistance to the US plans even within the Czech Republic.

Schwarzenberg: Of course there's a lively discussion -- across the entire political spectrum. And of course parliament needs to make the final decision. We're only in the negotiation phase; we have to see whether we can even achieve a sensible agreement with the United States. And then we'll see whether we're also able to get a majority.

SPIEGEL: You've just recently tried to win over the mayors of 15 communities southwest of Prague which are located near the planned radar facilities. Many weren't exactly enthusiastic.

Schwarzenberg: They were divided: Some were strongly opposed, others more positive. They all have their experiences with military training facilities in the region -- from the time of the Third Reich to the time when the Soviets were here. My feeling is more that they're trying to use the opportunity to get something for their communities.

SPIEGEL: The trend towards rejection of the missile shield is clear throughout the country: Only 31 percent are in favor of the shield -- and only on condition that Washington allows Czechs visa-free travel into the United States.

Schwarzenberg: I hope Congress will act accordingly. But of course the two things aren't related -- only to the extent that the attitude of the Americans will probably be more favorable than usual if the missile plans meet with approval.

SPIEGEL: Poland and the Czech Republic, the "new Europe," have long had the reputation of cooperating more with the United States than with the European Union and the Germans in particular. Won't this make things worse?

Schwarzenberg: The catch phrase about "old" and "new Europe" no longer has any validity. But that people here aren't driven by such powerful anti-American reflexes as elsewhere is true, thank God, and it's also the case for Poland. That also has to do with our history in the 20th century. But we are members of the European Union and feel that way. We don't see trans-Atlantic ties as contradicting that.