Czech Experts explain Czech support for War

Taiwan News, by Darcy Pan

Political experts from the Czech Republic said recently that the support given to the U.S.-led war in Iraq by many Eastern European governments was based on security concerns and their countries‘ political experiences. They argued, however, that this support did not validate U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld’s assertion that the old continent was divided into „old Europe“ and „new Europe.“

In interviews given to the Taiwan News in Prague earlier this month, the commentators also had mixed views on the need to reform the United Nations, and called for increased effort in reconstructing postwar Iraq.

Owing the Americans

„In general, many Eastern Europeans have been supportive of the United States because they feel ‚we owe the Americans,‘ after the Americans played an instrumental role in bringing down the communist regime,“ said Jiri Pehe, a well-known political commentator.

Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security Josef Jarab added that in the 20th century, „It was always America who was asked for help when Europe could not cope. Many people here say, ‚America asked us to help for the first time, so we’re paying them back.'“

Asked if Eastern European support for the U.S. was given in the hope of gaining benefits down the road, Jarab stressed that „there are much more serious reasons than just material ones. (Our support) has to do with our historical and political experiences. History makes us feel that this war is also about freeing the people of Iraq.

„There was always a feeling that it was more in America’s interest than in Western Europe’s interest to push (communist) regimes here to (become) more democratic,“ Jarab said.

Andreas Nicklish, director of the United Nations Information Center in Prague, asserted that security concerns also led Eastern European governments to support the war in Iraq.

„Obviously, countries in Eastern Europe are weighing (their) strategic priorities,“ Nicklish said. „For them, a functioning relationship with the U.S. has priority over other considerations.“

Although the Czech government supported the war, Czech citizens showed a certain amount of ambivalence. While opinion polls indicated that 75 percent of Czechs opposed the war, only a few hundred attended anti-war demonstrations in Prague, according to Pehe.

„A lot of people here can relate to the experiences of the Iraqi people since they themselves lived under a totalitarian regime. (Although) many people are philosophically against the idea of war, they don’t mind that Saddam Hussein has been overthrown. So it’s an ambivalent attitude,“ explained Pehe, director of New York University in Prague.

Some around the world have justified the conflict as a humanitarian war, but Pehe suggested that might not have been the main reason war was launched.

„Since this is a war aimed at bringing down a very inhumane regime, (where) a dictator killed thousands and thousands of people, it is a humanitarian effort,“ Pehe said, but, in his view, security was still the main motivating factor behind that attack rather than the humanitarian aspect.

„They (the Americans) really feel that after September 11, the marriage between rogue states and terrorists is a very dangerous combination that eventually will result in some catastrophes.“ Pehe said, and added, „these networks have to be dealt with in the opinion of the Americans and Brits. That was the driving factor behind the war, and it certainly cannot be called humanitarian.“

Old Europe and New Europe

Although a portion of Czech society supported the U.S.-launched war, Rumsfeld’s „old Europe,“ „new Europe“ concept failed to resonate in Eastern Europe, according to the commentators.

Calling Rumsfeld’s concept“very unfortunate,“ Jarab contended that „we are as ‚old Europe‘ as France or Spain. We didn’t just become a European country or part of European culture just now.“

Both Pehe and Nicklish emphasized that the differences of opinion within Europe on the Iraqi war were not as clear-cut as Rumsfeld may have wanted to believe.

„I don’t think this country (the Czech Republic) wants to be included in (Rumsfeld’s) description,“ Nicklish said. „Without the endorsement of the U.N., the Czech Republic withdrew its support. The issue became part of the political debate here.“

While Eastern European governments had reservations about the unilateralist nature of the U.S. and British action, Jarab said they also were concerned over similar positions held by certain Western European governments, including France.

He believed that unilateralist stances on both sides of the Atlantic posed a challenge for the U.N., and argued the world body needed to be reformed in a way to „really reflect the world situation as it is now.“

According to both Jarab and Pehe, the U.N. still reflects the world as it existed after World War II and during the Cold War.

„I personally think that the U.N. is an obsolete organization,“ said Pehe, a top adviser to former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

Lack of representation

He noted that the five permanent members of the Security Council were World War II’s victors, but the world had moved in many new directions in the last fifty years. He lamented that economic powers like Germany and Japan, an emerging democracy like India, or even entire continents were not represented in the U.N. Security Council.

The NYU director argued that the world body is handicapped by a decision-making process that favors certain countries, and suggested that Europe be represented by one seat on the Security Council rather than the current three.

Giving Europe only one seat would „force Europeans to seek consensus and build a common foreign policy and a common defense,“ Pehe said.

Nicklish contended, however, that the war in Iraq did not show the U.N. to be irrelevant or in need of sweeping changes.

„Setbacks like this (the Iraqi war) don’t prove that the instrument isn’t working,“ he said.

„That the U.S. found it necessary to attempt to gain legitimacy from the U.N. is a good sign because that is what the mechanism is for – gaining legitimacy.

„The history of the U.N. is one of slow progress where areas of international interaction gradually come under the umbrella of international law,“ Nicklish said.

He disagreed that restructuring the Security Council would be more effective in preventing conflicts such as the Iraq war. „(Increasing) the number of countries with the veto power does nothing to enhance the U.N.’s effectiveness. We would have had the same result in Iraq even if there were 20 countries or fewer countries with veto power on the Security Council,“ Nicklish said.

But he also agreed that the U.N. should „do something to add representativeness to the U.N.“ How is another question.

„You may want to do away with the veto power,“ he said, „but then you would lose the major powers. So I don’t think there is anything you can change in that sense. You can only hope that there are an increasing number of governments which believe that if collective security works and the rules are adhered to, that will be in their national interest.

„Obviously, the present government of the U.S. doesn’t feel that way,“ Nicklish said.

„But governments change so I think I would rather hope for a change of attitude in the capitals than for reorganization of the U.N. decision-making process in New York.“

Taiwan News – 28. 4. 2003


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