10. 3. 201918:58

Speech given by the Czech Prime Minister in Warsaw on the occasion of the accession of the Visegrad Group countries to NATO

On 10 March 2019, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, along with his counterparts from the Visegrad Group, attended the ceremonial commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the 15th anniversary of Slovakia’s accession.

Dear Prime Ministers, Dear Ministers, Your Excellency, soldiers, ladies and gentlemen,

we are meeting here today to mark the 20th anniversary of our country’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Twenty years ago, NATO became the pillar of the security and defence capabilities of most of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe that had previously been behind the Iron Curtain, the Soviet sphere of influence, and the Warsaw Pact.

Our path back to the West, the path of transformation of political, state and economic institutions, culminating in EU accession, was gradual. Likewise, our accession to NATO did not happen overnight. We had to work our way there through our participation in foreign missions and alliances. Many of today’s Czech officers took part in the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, our chemical units and field hospitals had a great reputation even back then. Our current generals have experience from missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo in the 1990s and elsewhere, and many of them were decorated by our allies for bravery. We learned to cooperate with the armies of NATO countries. In the 1990s our soldiers showed bravery, strong will and motivation. So out NATO membership was not a free gift, we had to work for it and I would like to express my gratitude to all those who contributed, both in the Czech Republic and in other partner countries that joined NATO with us.

Since our accession, we have been active in NATO, we have never been free riders. Our soldiers have been in NATO’s mission in Afghanistan for sixteen years, we have done a lot of work there and we have had many fallen people, who I personally respect very much. Every day we prove that we are not just relying on someone to protect us, but that we also understand NATO membership as our active responsibility and shared responsibility for others. We take the commitment of collective defence very seriously, and we would never question it.

When I mentioned Afghanistan, let me point out that we are not in Afghanistan because it was and still is a hotbed of Islamist terrorism, but also because we are helping our strongest ally in NATO – the United States of America. Of course, if the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, so will we. The issues surrounding the mission in Afghanistan are crucial to the future of NATO’s European members. It is related to whether we should plan our army with a focus on foreign missions or on the territorial integrity of NATO member states. It is also about the proportion of the two components.

Let me also mention new threats such as hybrid wars, disinformation, cyber espionage, influencing democratic elections, technological dependence on superpowers and energy dependence and security.

Some think that we should set up new European Union agencies to combat these threats. But I think that NATO should also address these issues and coordinate more with the European Union. If cyber-espionage threatens democratic institutions and the constitutionality of the Member States, NATO must take care of it. Future conflicts will not only apply to tanks, missiles and aircraft, but will also run along these lines.

This is also related to the question of whether we want a defence- and security-focused NATO or a NATO that protects the interests and values of the Member States. We should have all of these together, but we also need to be able to update it in the light of new challenges and technologies and agree on it.

Recently, there have also been calls for the creation of a European army that might replace NATO in the future. I strongly disagree with that. I really do not want a European Commissioner to direct Europe’s defence and to address security threats in a similarly chaotic and improvising manner, such as saving the euro area. NATO is a proven and functional organization that can plan, do logistics, and has established management channels. None of this must be questioned. Within the EU, we can only better coordinate arms purchases, but it will not be easy, because every country will want to protect its defence companies.

The Czech Republic is committed to meeting the promised two percent of GDP defence spending by 2024, which we have agreed on within NATO. We can have a thousand reservations about this and organise conferences about it, but the fact is that it is a compromise that we have promised each other and on which we have committed within NATO and which we must respect.

Let me mention Brexit again. It must never result in the antagonism between Britain and the rest of Europe. On the contrary, because Britain is leaving the EU, which I personally very much regret, it must be even more firmly connected with European states in NATO. Let us not forget that Britain has the largest army in Europe and is a nuclear power.

And let me just mention anti-Americanism. I recently read that the Germans trust China more than they trust the US and it is getting worse in some other European countries. We have to do something about it very quickly because, without America, the defence of Europe is simply impossible. And please let us not fool ourselves that it is not so.

Andrej Babiš, Prime Minister