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  • Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council
  • Alexandr Vondra, Senator (Civic Democratic Party) and Former Deputy Prime Minister of the Czech Republic 

May 25, 2010

FREDERICK KEMPE:  Well, it is great to see such a good collection of board members, of friends, of experts here.  I am Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council.  And I am happy to welcome you this morning to our discussion with Sen. Alexandr Vondra, my friend, Sasha, on moving the trans-Atlantic relationship beyond the Prague agenda.

Very often when I am talking to junior staff and interns here and I tell them about my professional history, I speak about how the years of 1980 through 1990 changed my life.  And they changed my life partly as a reporter in Central and Eastern Europe for Newsweek and then the Wall Street Journal, reporting what the great publisher, Phil Graham, once called the first draft of history – so being the Gdansk shipyards being in Czechoslovakia before the Velvet Revolution after dealing and talking with people from Charter 77.

But it wasn’t just seeing the shift of politics and seeing the shift of countries.  It was seeing individuals willing to take enormous risk for what they believed in.  And as an American traveling around there, I just wondered how many Americans had to take those risks ever to fight for what they believed in, to express what they believed in or to ultimately change their countries, change their region and ultimately change the world.

So for me to have Sasha here is a personal pleasure because he was one of those people.  And he is one of those people who inspired me that, perhaps, in my small way in different areas, perhaps, I should take some risks to make a difference here and there as well, but never had to take the sorts of risks that he did. 

This is – the event today is part of the Washington Initiative on Central Europe.  It is a broader effort the council is participating in along with the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS and the Center for European Policy Analysis.  The Washington Initiative on Central Europe is a collaborative effort to strengthen U.S. relations with Central Europe by fostering policy debate and practical cooperation.  We see the completion of Europe whole and free as one of the central projects for the Atlantic Council and, of course, one of the unfinished projects for the trans-Atlantic relationship.

As part of our work on Central Europe, our energy and environment program is also organizing a major conference in Prague, June 16 and 18, that will explore trans-Atlantic cooperation on energy security in Central Europe.

I know that Sen. Vondra has many old friends in the audience.  As I said, I am very glad to see several of our board members here, as well as several ambassadors.  I personally want to thank Ambassador Kolar for his partnership with the council and the tremendous profile he has earned in your four-and-a-half years for the Czech Republic in Washington.  You have been an enormously successful ambassador in Washington.  And I think we just negotiated an ongoing Atlantic Council membership.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Kurt.  It is always a pleasure working with you and we are going to miss you dearly.

When you returned to Prague from your time as ambassador here – and you were ambassador, Sasha, I think from 1997 to 2001 – you helped lead your country’s accession into NATO.  You did a remarkable job building support for NATO enlargement not only in the administration, but especially on the Hill.  That really takes knowledge of this town.  And when you returned to Prague, you became the commissioner charged with leading the Czech Republic’s NATO summit in 2002, which I attended and which was a very big success.

You have been a vocal proponent of the trans-Atlantic partnership.  And 2003, you were deputy foreign minister managing relations with the U.S. during the beginning of the war in Iraq, 2006-2007, led your country’s foreign minister and from 2007-2009, deputy prime minister for European affairs handling the Czech Republic’s challenging EU presidency last year.

I always commend to people to read what actually landed you in prison, which was called “A Few Sentences.”  It was actually a whole page.  But it was called “A Few Sentences” and it is one of the most powerful short pieces of work that one can read from that period. 

Co-founded the civic forum that ushered in the Velvet Revolution and played in a rock band – I don’t know if you are still playing in the rock band – but remains the sort of independent thinker that would do so.  (Laughter.)

Sen. Vondra, President Obama dined with the leaders of Central Europe in April.  You were quoted as saying the real test would quote, “come later this year with the new strategic concept for NATO and reassurance of the alliance in Europe that NATO will remain strong and the United States will remain committed.” 

So now we have the first view of what direction that strategic concept might take with the release of Secretary Albright’s expert group report.  We hosted Secretary Albright and Adm. Stavridis here at the council last Wednesday to discuss that.  Having had that, we now look forward to your take on the strategic concept, future of NATO and what this means for U.S. engagement with Central Europe.

I would also beyond that and we would also beyond that like to hear your verdict on U.S. efforts to engage Central Europe on a broader agenda.  So without further delay, let me turn to you for your remarks.  After your remarks, I will rejoin you here at the table and we will have some Q&A.  (Applause.)

ALEXANDR VONDRA:  Thank you very, very much, Fred, for this friendly introduction.  And I think it is really a pleasure to show up at the Atlantic Council because I am observing the development within this organization also because it is a personal interest of mine because beyond all those activities and functions, which you have mentioned, I am also the honorary president of the Czech Euro-Atlantic Council. 

And I remember the U.S. Atlantic Council, what it was doing before and what it is doing now under your leadership.  And that is a sea change, I would say, to the better and hiring the great people with whom I had the privilege to work before and who are sitting here like Damon or Kurt.  So I think you really are up to the job and the job will not be easy in the next couple of years as I would like to stress here today.    

I have been invited to speak about the prospect of the trans-Atlantic partnership from the perspective of Prague, from the perspective of myself.  And I prepare a written statement, so it is not often.  So I really appreciate this organization, so usually I speak my mind.

So let me be clear from the start.  Make no mistake.  (Laughter.)  The broader strategic environment for this cooperation is not as much optimistic.  And we are witnessing this day to day.  Today current development regarding Korea can serve as an example.  The trans-Atlantic partners are undergoing several difficult tests.  American leadership is overstretched and that is publicly admitted by your government more than once.  The Europeans deal with the political and financial hardship.  And you were all reading the stories of euro in the last couple of weeks. 

NATO is trying to redefine its vision for the future.  Russia is becoming an increasingly active and assertive player.  And China, as well as India, Brazil are on the rise.  Ever present are threats of terrorism and WMD proliferation.  Many authoritarian states continue to thrive often at our expense.  Human rights and freedoms are still being violated even in the most proximate neighborhood of the NATO and the EU.
My country, as well as other allies in Central and Eastern Europe, are and will further be influenced by this changing environment.  However, there is a change regarding our position, our positioning in the game.  For the past 20 years, we have been in the center of the attention.  In 1989, the world witnessed the collapse of communist regimes behind the Iron Curtain.  The Velvet Revolution became a symbol of these changes and President Havel, the icon.  Everybody – and I personally remember that – required a photo op with him.

Next, we quickly stepped into democratic transition and economic reforms.  And doing that, we have cooperated with Poland, Hungary, then after the division of Czechoslovakia, with Slovakia, the Baltic states and the others.  The underlying theme of the U.S. foreign policy was to make Europe whole and free, secure and integrated.  The integration of Central and Eastern Europe into NATO was a result of this effort.  And I have to thank the U.S. for taking the leadership.  Without their leadership, it would never happen or would certainly never happen so soon.

This process has generated several synergies.  NATO helped us with military reforms.  Together we worked on stabilizing the Balkans.  We have raised our flags in two Gulf wars. We worked to promote freedoms from Cuba to Belarus to Burma.  The division of labor laid grounds for a trans-Atlantic bargain.  The U.S. shared the responsibility for the protection of Europe and Europe helped the U.S. to maintain global peace and stability in return.  Together we have also managed our relations with Russia in forming the NATO-Russia Council.  And this transition process was completed with the entry of most of the Central and Eastern European states into the EU in 2004.
Now it seems to many that Central and Eastern Europe is no more a part of the problem.  It looks like it is a part of the solution.  This is how many Americans see us nowadays.  And this also means that the party, which we have enjoyed for the past 20 years, is over.  We are no more in the spotlight.  We are no more exposed to such a sunshine.

And that is a good part of the story, in fact.  But there is also a strange part of the same story.  The past two years, 2008 and 2009, did not bring an end of history into Central and Eastern Europe.  They brought, however, an important turning point, a turning point, which probably marks a new historical period, a period, which is accompanied by four major shifts in geopolitical landscape.

Firstly, it has started with the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008, in which the policy of the eastward expansion of the West has reached probably its limits.  Neither the U.S. nor EU were able to prevent this war.  And as a consequence, it caused a significant ideological and geopolitical reversal.  And we can hear this everywhere we can come.  The claim that freedom is universal was simply dropped off our policy debate.

    Secondly, the global recession, which had invaded our capitals since September 2008, has turned overnight our strategies inward rather than internationalist and preservationist rather than the activist.  A reactive posture has prevailed over a proactive stand.

    Thirdly, the Obama administration came into office in early 2009 and have quickly reconsidered the U.S. national interests in this part of Europe.  Realizing that the U.S. were overstretched by multiple wars and scarcity of capital, Washington has turned its foreign policy strategy into a cool realism and accepted the new U.S. role, not as a leader fixing every major problem of the world, but rather a force acting according to the rules of the multipolar world.  Significantly, the first major Obama foreign policy initiative was the catch-all reset policy towards Russia, a reset, which we understand as a tool to achieve some particular goals, but the reset also which did not erase our memories of the past as the computer did not reset its memory.

    And finally, there was a change of the missile defense policy, which was seen by some of us as a kind of a U-turn in September 2009.  The special relationship with the U.S., which we were building for almost 20 years, were put under some question.  After investing a lot of political capital into a project, which was proposed by the U.S. government to Prague and Warsaw, we have asked ourselves a lot of questions.  Were we overly ambitious when we attempted to seal the special relationship with this project?  Have we tried to box in a heavyweight boxing category, while in reality we belong rather to a junior welterweight at best? 

Perhaps we got involved in grand strategy politics, which laid far beyond our abilities.  But one thing is for sure – the development around the missile defense definitely confirmed that the trans-Atlantic relations entered a new phase, a phase in which our relationship needs to be at least partially redefined.  Maybe we have to think about our reset, too.
    One thing is certain.  This exercise will not be a walk through paradise.  As I already mentioned, our future steps will be framed by both America’s and Europe’s internal problems, as well as by future developments in Russia. 

    First, regarding the U.S., we are to a certain degree concerned that the trans-Atlantic agenda might be reduced only to a few selective issues that are driven by domestic needs.  The issues that get most attention here are nuclear disarmament, Iran,  Afghanistan and, of course, the aftermath of the financial crisis.  The difficulties that surrounded the passing of the health-care reform bill have confirmed that the domestic issues, not a foreign policy, will continue to dominate the administration priorities in the run up to the midterm elections.

    Of course, city of Prague cannot complain that President Obama omits us from his travel plans.  Last year, he outlined here a new vision for a nuclear-free world.  On year on, he returned to sign the START treaty.  While the Prague agenda has contributed to an overall positive mood in international relations, we have to still wait to see the specific results.  Hopefully, Iran will stop smiling into our faces once he will be confronted with the new sanctions in June.  And we will see whether Russia shows more cooperative attitude when it comes to issues pertaining to the security of Euro-Atlantic area – I mean, OSCE, in particular.

    The risk of this approach to foreign policy lies in the U.S. reliance upon their traditional rivals rather than their longtime partners or allies.  I appreciate the U.S. instinct to fix the problems, which are real.  And this is something what Europeans occasionally lacking.  Ad-hoc alliances can certainly contribute to the short-term solutions.  However, we should not take allies for granted if rivals get the carrot while the allies are just assigned the new tasks.  The unwillingness of many European governments to increase the troops in Afghanistan indicates that there are limits to this approach to foreign policy.

    It brings me to the second issue and that is Europe’s problem as an internal, political and economic situation in the EU keeps most of the EU leaders busy at home.  The euro is now undergoing the most serious crisis since its inception, drawing a new dividing line on the European continent.  It is neither a traditional West and East divide, nor a version of the new Europe against the old one.  The new fault lines divide the North and the South and it is far more dangerous.  This time the division is substantial and threatens to destine Europe to contraction as opposed to further enlargement.
    The Greek crisis will not disappear overnight and is not just limited to Greece.  North is expected to show full responsibility with their Southern neighbors.  But a golden rule says that there is no solidarity without responsibility.  The stability within the eurozone requires a responsibility for each member state.  Therefore, the South is expected to perform a strict fiscal discipline.  However, there is a continuing problem with the different labor productivity caused by different culture traditions.  And this is a problem which can’t be fixed just with the air conditioning like the U.S. probably would like to recommend and like they were successfully the Southern belle from Texas to North Carolina.

    In the end, financial bailouts are only buying us time to come up with more systematic solutions.  And there is a real danger that the debate will create even more tension and real riots in the EU as illustrated by the calls for supranational control of the national budget and the possible consequences of that because the national politicians then will blame Brussels or the Germans for the need, you know, to keep the salary of the doctors, engineers, state sector lower than they would like to reach.

    In sum, despite ambitious plan laid out in the Lisbon Treaty and with several members of the eurozone on edge of the abyss, foreign policy in the EU is not what takes a priority time for the EU leaders now.  Under these circumstances, the troubled and troublemaking Europe does not seem as the most attractive partner for the United States.  The Russians, on the other hand, keep their domestic problems under the surface.  Throughout the 1990s, Russia was on defensive.  Most of the time, it had to respond to the initiatives proposed by the West.  And West was who set the agenda.

    The situation has changed in the last few years.  The West has cleared the way for an assertive and proactive Russia, who promotes logically her interests through diplomatic, economic and also military means.  In the long term, the Russian model of government – that seems to catch the momentum also in Ukraine – will not be sustainable and the country will face severe structural problems as her demographic decline continues and economy is still based on extraction of natural resources.  So it must be modernized if it wants to succeed.

    But in the short run, it is Russia who sets the agenda now.  And it is still Russia, which  claims a right to a sphere of influence around its borders, which sees NATO as a threat as is being stated in the newly adopted military doctrine and which is still increasing its defense spending.

    As the West, we certainly share many interests with Russia together.  We are confronted with the same existential threat emanating from radical Islamism and international terrorism.  However, the trans-Atlantic bond is indispensable.  We are interdependent more than anybody else.  Europe, like many times in the past, needs America during a crisis and America needs Europe, even during the European crisis, as you can read every time in the Wall Street Journal now. 

    In a leadership vacuum, where the U.S. no longer dominates the global chessboard, the only relationship that has proven to last is the one between Washington and Europe, between New York and Brussels or Frankfurt and not the ones between Washington and Moscow or Beijing.  For these reasons, it is the highest time for the U.S. to switch from the enemy-centric foreign policy into the cooperation mode, which will accent and integrate further the trans-Atlantic link.

    The way to achieve this is to pursue several joint projects that go beyond the popular Prague agenda.  That should be our part of reset, which must be based, as you educate us, on the realistic grounds.  First and foremost, we have to clean up our homes to become strong again.  And we have the elections at home just coming in the next few days.  And if there is one common sense in the Czech domestic policy, that is exactly this.  And we have to do it – I mean, Americans and Europeans – in coordinating our effort to tackle the global recession.  And we have to avoid a temptation of free riding and protectionism.  Economy will certainly dominate our common agenda.

    Secondly, there is Afghanistan, which the U.S. views as the test of the trans-Atlantic solidarity.  We have been present in Afghanistan for almost a decade, the Czechs included, and you all know that.  And the cooperation – and we again all know that – has now become unpopular everywhere from U.S. to Europe.  Many Europeans no more see the connection in Afghanistan with the aftermath of 9/11.  The Afghanistan operation badly needs a realistic definition of our success or victory – that does make difference – and a reasonable exit strategy.  We are – we, the Czech – (inaudible) – are escaping the battlefield.  We will stay engaged.  And if my party is elected to be in the government, it is even committed to expand our presence there, but only temporary because we have to stay there until our work is finished, but we can’t stay there forever.

    Thirdly, there is a reform of NATO.  Its core mission is the homeland defense and it must remain so.  The debate on the future NATO strategic concept and on the need of a reassurance has shown that the trust among the allies is weakening.  We have enlarged NATO, but we have forgotten to match it with appropriate capabilities and defense planning. 

The newly released “NATO 2020” report by Madeleine Albright and the – (inaudible) – group has made the first step towards overcoming these concerns.  And I have to tell you that I read the report and I am really positively surprised.  It responded to most of those doubts or questions.  So we have a good foundation here.  And I would say that the Americans working in the group have done a great job.

    But it must be now adopted by the heads of states in Lisbon later this year.  And we should also transform the plans for the phase-adaptive missile defense into a reality.  My country is interested in hosting the shared early warning center.  But there are questions over the seriousness of the new plans.  Unlike the original project, the burden sharing is unclear.  Will the European members of NATO, who struggle to meet their defense spending target in the alliance, be ready to cofinance a truly NATO-led missile defense?

    Fourth, the U.S. and Europe should work together to boost their energy security.  Although we have different energy mixes, we both seek to avoid over dependence on one type of energy through diversification of the routes and sources.  The U.S. cooperation is essential with countries like Turkey, Azerbaijan or with projects like Nabucco.

    The reality of the past year was the U.S. rather withdrawing from the energy sector in Central and Eastern Europe.  Exxon has left.  Conoco has left in exchange for the stakes at the Upstream in Russia.  Now we all go to nuclear again.  And in my country, Westinghouse has shown some, but still passive interest in bidding for the completion of the Temelín Nuclear Power Plant and related acquisition.  The estimated value of this project is approximately 25 billion U.S. dollars.  And it will pertain a major political and strategic decision.  It provides another opportunity for the U.S. how to deepen the bond with Central and Eastern Europe.  And I hope that the U.S. businesses will not miss that opportunity.
    And finally, there is the Europe’s Eastern Partnership project in the Ukraine, Moldova and the Caucasus.  It is important in the light of prevailing opinion that the next decade will be without substantial NATO or EU enlargement.  Europe must be more active in bringing economies and societies of those countries closer to the West and to our rules of the game.  And there are the good projects to deep free trade agreement, in particular.  But the U.S. should stay engaged with the region and keep in mind this endeavor while resetting its relationship with Russia.  Reset should not be just Russia-only policy.

    In order to get back on track, the United States and Europe need to cooperate on the day-to-day basis.  This will require multiple projects at several levels, including political, expert, official, as well as the NGOs.  We also need to broaden a platform where such interaction could take place on the day-to-day basis. 

    One option is to launch a program bringing together U.S. and European think tanks possibly based in Prague.  It is an initiative elaborated by our Ambassador Petr Kolar and it has a full support of the current and I would also say without any doubt of the future Czech government.  We have the election in a few days.  But on this project, there is a full consensus at home because one interest is clear – we should not waste the achievement of past 20 years.  The trans-Atlantic bond is the most valuable alliance in modern international relations.  And by building further intellectual capacity, we will cultivate our shared values, interest and we will keep the public focus into the business.  And that is the most important thing for us who are the politicians.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.) 

    MR. KEMPE:  Sen. Vondra, Sasha, thank you for that very important statement.  And we will put up a full text of that on the Web site as well for those of you who want to get it,  Just a couple of terms that I think are worth reminding ourselves of aside from the four major shifts that you were listing.  The term referring to the Obama administration’s foreign policy of cool realism.  The question of maybe we need to think about our reset, too.  The worry about a contraction of Europe rather than an enlargement of Europe.  The notion of an enemy-centric U.S. foreign policy.  The departure of U.S. from energy projects in your part of the world.  And then finally, we shouldn’t waste the achievements of the last 20 years.  Powerful statement, very powerful statement.

    And it sounds as though you are sounding a warning bell, wakeup call both for the Obama administration and for Europe at the same time.  Am I over exaggerating what you were trying to say to us?  Talk to me a little bit more.  Is that your purpose today?

    MR. VONDRA:  I was always speaking loudly.  That is the reason why I was put into the jail in the ’80s.  (Chuckles.)  I am always serious, although I like to joke and I like occasionally to overstate just to be listened because in the current global mess, you know, you can speak, speak, speak, but the people are sleeping.  So maybe that is one of the reasons why I selected those few statements, which you took notice.  That was exactly my intention that you would take notes about –

    MR. KEMPE:  You know me far too well.

    MR. VONDRA:  And, you know, I am happy with that.  But to a question whether there is certain, you know, light, which we should take seriously, otherwise we can be in danger.  Look, the reality is let’s put this in a triangle.  Here I will show you U.S.  Here is, for example, Russia.  And here is EU or Czech Republic or Central Europe.  So you are approaching Russia with a reset.  The Russians are approaching us with a lot of initiatives.  So here there are the activities.  And if there is an activity, there are the proposal – and there are the proposals – there are some proposals.  There are the written proposals, for example, for the new European security treaty.

    But here is nothing now new, nothing new.  And if there is an activity like, you know, I will go directly from this institute to the airport to fly to Hartford, Connecticut, where the Czechs and the United States are playing their friendly soccer match as a way to prepare the U.S. team for World Cup final in South Africa.

    MR. KEMPE:  Thank you for putting it that way.  (Laughter.)

    MR. VONDRA:  And if there is, you know, some initiative or attack by a soccer player, there must be, you know, some response because if there is not any response, then there is a goal.  And the team is losing.  So you know, those initiatives need to be somehow responses just as a matter of fact.  And if nothing is happening here, then, you know, we are playing shorthanded in the trans-Atlantic relationship.  And that is basically what I am trying to warn that, you know, don’t play shorthanded so long because we can lose.

    MR. KEMPE:  I am going to ask one more question.  Then I will go to the audience.  Drill down deeper on that.  One of the things is so what should we do?  What should be our game there?  But beyond that, you recently warned in an article that we shouldn’t risk alienating Europe at the expense of working with countries such as Russia and China on short-term strategic goals.  But what you hear a lot in this town is the problem – is lack of a united European voice.  And so is the problem here preference for other partners or is the problem that there really isn’t a European partner to reach out to on many of these issues?

    MR. VONDRA:  Look, I think that the U.S. are nothing to be blamed for here.  The U.S., you know, were responding in the past year, let’s say, to the repeated intention and desire of many European leaders to accept the reality of the European integration.  So after some doubts, which I remember in the early ’90s, you have accepted that as a certain reality and not just as a reality, something that is desirable for the U.S. to have just, you know, this famous one telephone number with whom to communicate.

    And you were promised by almost every embassy here that once Vaclav Klaus and Lech Kaczynski are going to sign the Lisbon Treaty, we will enter paradise.  But look, the reality is more complicated.  I am in favor of the European integration, but I am also a realist and just, you know, to tell you the truth; you will have to wait a pretty long time, you know, to see something that would be really seen here as a fully integrated entity.  And right now the reality is that we have the serious problems inside eurozone, which have to be fixed, and the fixing is not any easier. 

    Look, either we have to continue based on the original intention of the eurozone, which is inscribed in this so-called pact of stability and growth.  But it means that everybody would keep a certain discipline in their fiscal order.  It is relatively easy including, you know, to hide out various traditional creative accountings in the time of the boom.  But if there is a time of the crisis and once the U.S. was, in fact, starting with the policy of, you know, great shipping of the money into the economy to stimulate debate a year ago.

    My prime minister, you know, you disliked him when he had his speech in the European parliament about the road to hell.  Yes, it was a politically incorrect statement and I did not write his speech and was personally surprised.  And my understanding was that it was the day after we were outvoted in the parliament, so we were finished as the government, so he wanted to make some signature in the headline of the financial time, which basically made it.

    But in a certain sense, he was right because it was the road to hell for some of us because the scissors, they are rising up to a level, which some European countries are not able to sustain.  And, you know, to rely on this arrangement of the self-inflicted discipline is a question because now the Germans and the rich countries of the North have shipped the money into the fund.  And they would require some assurance that the money is not just wasted.  But it would require for the Southern countries to accept basically the measures, which are directed on them by the others.  And it reaches the very core domain of the domestic politics, the national budget.

    And try to imagine that the U.S. national budget is being ordered by the IMF, which is not an elected institution.  So it is very much open, this story.  And my argument is that you will have to be prepared to work with Europe as it is.  And that is my realistic recommendation.  So you are learning us on realism regarding the others.  So my advice to you is be realist in expectation with Europe, but it doesn’t change the constant in that Europe and America needs each other.  Because if there is a total mess in Europe, you will immediately recognize this in Wall Street.  Look what happens with the Dow Jones today.

    MR. KEMPE:  We have time for a few questions.  Let’s do a quick back and forth.  Let’s take two right here.  Please, Mike and then Boyd (ph).

    Q:  Mike Durkee.  I am one of the strategic advisors here at the council.  Sasha, good to see you again.  I remember our work as we were preparing for accession.  It was a very exciting and positive time.  But as you pointed out, the wave of enthusiasm has washed up on the beach and now seems to be receding a bit. 

    What are the things that the strategic advisors group has been working on is looking at the various issues and problems that are involved with the design and approval of a new strategic concept.  And a good bit of work has gone into looking at how to reinvigorate, redefine, give more oomph to the relationship between NATO and the European Union.  And I think most of us here would see that as desirable.

    But for the reasons you have just described, Europe is, at least under current circumstances, less able to work as a coherent and constructive partner in these things.  The attention has shifted to more national concerns.  And in that regard, I am thinking also about the U.S. relationship with non-NATO countries who have been very good partners with us in important things including Afghanistan.  And one of the things that I wanted to ask you about is the way in which we can strengthen the trans-Atlantic links.  And I think we all agree that that would be very important, but also make room for nontraditional, non-NATO countries who are, in fact, very good and constructive partners for all of us.

    MR. KEMPE:  Let me pick up one more point.  Gray (ph)? 

    Q:  Two of your proposals dealt with the economic situation, which is quite integrated between us and Europe as you repeatedly have pointed out.  The other, energy.  Again, not so disparate, integrated.  Neither issue can be addressed in the Atlantic umbrella.  So the question is where should these issues be addressed?  My own preference is that the G-20 is not the appropriate place.  It is not isolated to Europe and the United States, which needs to have its own acts together before they go, you go to the G-20.

    I have always thought that we need an economic security – energy security platform parallel to NATO that would provide a formal and staffed platform for discussing these issues that takes the place of an ad-hoc meeting of a trip here and a trip there that seems to dominate the way we now approach.  Do you have any thoughts about how to regularize a platform, a channel for resolving these non-NATO issues that you raise?

    MR. VONDRA:  I think I will respond to two questions in one because basically, the NATO is a platform to fix the problem which you have articulated.  And it was, it is and it must remain.  And I think it is beneficial both for the U.S. and for the Europeans.  In Afghanistan, as well as, you know, in some other wars or peacemaking or peacekeeping operations, the Europeans were and I would expect still would remain the most important contingencies working together with Europe.

    Yes, 1,000 Czech soldiers can’t compete with 150,000 of the U.S. soldiers.  But still, it means something and if it is counted together with the British, French, Germans, Poles and others, including the partners because certainly Ukraine and Georgians were very much active and supporting just to mention the two examples of the non-NATO, non-EU countries.  But still, the European contribution is and will remain to be the most substantial.     

    I was underlying the importance of keeping the Article 5 and the common defense as a founding principle.  And I think this is important because there are some of us who want to transform NATO into some kind of a cooperative security organization.  But that is the end.  We need to keep this collective defense commitment as the bedrock.  Otherwise, you know, I would personally lose an interest. 

    At the same time, I do understand that there must be some broader trans-Atlantic bargain, that if we require the U.S. to take co-responsibility for the protection of Europe and my argument is that we are still far from having a paradise in Europe.  Then Europe must also be able to provide and to work together with the U.S. in the global scene and despite, you know, all the difficulties, which I have described.  We are doing so and we will be doing so.

    I think what could help, for example, as I told everything is about economy now to go further in the integration of the defense market across the Atlantic.  I know it is difficult.  It faced a lot of problems on both sides.  But it is important.

    And to you – those are the issues.  Energy security, this is not the issue for NATO.  NATO can, you know, have organized the various debates and can be helpful in developing some contingency plans in case of the serious problems.  But I think it is a business for the EU-U.S. agenda and my understanding is that there is a newly created forum to discuss the energy issues in the trans-Atlantic relations.

    The problem is that when I was naming those companies, you know, those are the private companies and they are simply leaving.  And even if the government wants to keep them in Europe, they are not listening because they are selecting their priorities and sometimes, you know, for Westinghouse, maybe it is more interested to enter the Chinese market than the European one. 

    And G-20, basically, I agree with you.  And believe me that I was taking part at the various debates during our presidency last year when we were part of the game for the six months within the G-20.  And we were constantly approached by the medium-sized countries, you know, beginning by Netherlands to Sweden and they are totally against the G-20 monopoly of the agenda.  It is, of course, dangerous because it brings kind of a concerto of the powers in the global scale.  And all those who are not part of the solution or not part of the discussions are at least – they felt that they are somehow threatened.

    So certainly, if this is a trans-Atlantic agenda – and I think there is a component there.  It should be discussed between the EU and the U.S.  And if there is a global agenda, we have the IMF and other institutions.  And I think IMF will remain to be important.

    MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  We will go about 10 minutes over.  We started a little bit late, but we will try to keep to time as much as we can.  Fred Hiatt in the back and then I have got Damon and Kurt here.  But let’s see –

    Q:  Thank you, Fred.  Senator, first a small question.  When you said there are risks to the United States if it is giving its enemies carrots and its allies – I couldn’t catch what you said we were giving our – so if you could repeat that.  I just didn’t hear it.

    And on that same point more strategically, you mentioned Afghanistan as one of the risks.  But more broadly, what do you see as the dangers to the United States?  If the Obama administration is calculating that it needs China and Russia for its Iran policy, it has got nothing to lose by – it has got nothing to risk in Central Europe.  What do you see as the dangers of this enemy-centric policy in the long run?

    MR. KEMPE:  Why don’t you pick that up?

    MR. VONDRA:  Hi, Fred.  I don’t know whether you were here when I was trying to describe this briefly in the triangle.  But just look, Russia, China, those are the countries which are the target of the U.S. policy.  Here is the U.S.  You are approaching those countries.  Those countries are approaching us.  And, you know, it means that there is an interrelationship.  Nothing here happens.  Then the map is being redrawn.

    If I am approached by the Chinese, you know, for example, the Chinese are here or not.  I have read some document of the Chinese – Chinese internal document where they are labeling the Czechs as the black sheep because of our constant interest, you know.  We were nominating this gentleman who was in prison for Charter 88 for the Nobel Peace award.  The Dalai Lama is coming to Prague every year and we don’t have the debate like you had just a few months ago.

    And, you know, if we are (alone ?) and we will be subject of those games, then we have somehow to respond.  So the same goes with Russia.  If simply Westinghouse is going to disappear, we will have to cooperate on the nuclear issue with the Russians.  So we have to take a broader picture.  So my recommendation is to take care of this, to take care of this because, you know, nothing is for granted.  Do you understand?

    And the same – maybe, you know, I did not respond to your question fully is, you know, Israel, Australia, Japan.  They are all our friends.  They are proven friends by the history.  They are the countries with the same culture, with the same standards of democracy.  So I think that we should not resign fully on the value-based community.

    MR. KEMPE:  Does that get to it, Fred, or do you want to follow up?

    Q:  That (wasn’t ?) my question:  What is the U.S. risk?  It doesn’t take care of that third (precedent ?), third – (inaudible, off mike).

    MR. VONDRA:  I don’t know what is the U.S. risk.  I think you have to translate; you have to make your selection.  But there are some risks for ourselves and that is what – because I am here as the Czech politician elected at home and trying, you know, to do my best to the people in my country, as well in the broader region because I don’t think that I am so far from our Polish and other friends.

    MR. KEMPE:  Okay, let me pick up the last couple of questions.  Damon and Kurt, if you could make it quickly, and we will take a third one here as well.  And then we will have to close.

    Q:  Thank you very much, Sasha.  Just a quick question.  Under your leadership, the Czech Republic was one of our closest partners in working on this vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace and particularly working on Europe’s East, Ukraine, Moldova, the Western Balkans, the Caucasus, Georgia, in particular.  You mentioned the Eastern Partnership as a priority. 

    But I wondered some are now arguing that sort of the model of a Europe whole and free premised on the processes of integration, enlargement, expansion of NATO and the European Union, that it is running out of steam either because of what is happening in the members’ capitals, in the Western capitals because of the financial economic crisis or perhaps because of the countries that we are actually looking at to our East.

    How do you respond to that?  And how can we think about working together on sort of the unfinished business of integrating Europe, completing Europe?

    MR. KEMPE:  Let me pick up the last two and then we can have –

    Q:  And that is good because it is very much the same point is that I think in Washington, a lot of people have gone from working on – a lot of people have gone from working on completing Europe to wondering if Europe is finished.  And I think that – you know, I thought your remarks were excellent.  And you know, I share your vision of a values-based community and the importance of the U.S. and Europe working together as part of that community in the world.

    But frankly, you know, when I was thinking about your advice to the United States as to what we should do, it applies double almost to Europe.  You know, what would we like to see Europe do?  For example, you talked about the Obama administration setting a reset.  Germany has changed all its computers.  And you look at the energy issues.  It is Germany and Italy and others that are building these ties with Russia on gas or on other things as opposed to, you know, just thinking only about the U.S.

    So the question I have is even if we get it right, which I think it is important and I share your vision, is there a Europe that we can really work with that is going to step up and share this vision and be a real partner as well?

    MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, Kurt.  Last comment.

    Q:  Jacob Cohanik (ph), Georgetown University.  Sen. Vondra, you touched on a very important issue and that is our military presence in Afghanistan.  I am curious.  You mentioned that should your be – should your party make it into the government, do you have any figure in mind as to how much we might be able to beef up our presence there?  And also, how do you think this might go down with the Czech public?  Do you think that there will be support for such a policy?  Thank you.

    MR. KEMPE:  So with your remaining two or three minutes.

    MR. VONDRA:  Okay, we have 1,000 abroad in general.  We have half of that in Afghanistan right now.  We were asked by NATO Sec.-Gen. Rasmussen to add some 50 to 100 more.  The senate where my party has the majority has even voted for in the election campaigning.  The house did not because the left has the majority.  So we are waiting now for the post-election atmosphere.

    It is not the most popular.  But it is an issue which could be handled.  So you know, if we could take courage, you know, to vote in favor in the senate before the election.  So I was convinced that this is not going to harm me so much.  But certainly, we should be careful in the long run.  I was personally investing a lot into a trans-Atlantic cooperation, for example, on the missile defense and then had a difficult time at home because I looked like an idiot.  And you can make it once as a politician.  But if you are repeating this second, third time, then you have to be retired.

    So that is the general response to you.  And now I have forgotten the other.

    MR. KEMPE:  Well, we are about running out of time.  But the issue was really where does Europe whole and free go – Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, et cetera?

    MR. VONDRA:  Oh, yeah, Eastern Partnership.

    MR. KEMPE:  And number two again – we don’t have much time to deal with this – is there a Europe to deal with?

    MR. VONDRA:  There is certain Europe to deal with.  I think the current and the future Europe will be better than you had in the past.  But don’t expect a major change from one year to another.  It is a process.  It is a gradual process.  Our interest is to keep the gradual positive development because if you would make it faster than the Europeans already, then it can turn against the original intentions. 

    And the European Eastern Partnership, look, I think it is about Europe.  There are those countries like Poland, Sweden, Czech Republic and others who have promoted that idea because they felt strongly, their traditional means and tools like quick EU or NATO enlargement are not feasible because there is the EU enlargement fatigue now.  The German parliament, for example, has now the right to kill the process even in the initial phase.  So to expose the direct threat to the government is a new – is a product of the Lisbon Treaty, for example.

    So we need to find – to have an instrument what to do between now and between distant future or more distant future because we are all interested to keep the open door policy.  But you have also to know that there are the others who have prevailing interests not in the East, but in the South.  And as the fight, you know, between the East in the Mediterranean and policies.  So when there was a Czech presidency or Swedish presidency that was the last year, 2009.  It was the year of Eastern Partnership.  There is a lot of declaration with some success of allocating the money.  But 2008 was the year of the Mediterranean Partnership.  Now with the Spanish, they have more interest in the South as well.

    So it is a constant fight, not a real one, but it is a constant battle for finding a real balance.  And that is Europe.  And you don’t expect more.  And let me conclude.  Look, I am a realist.  I know that everybody in the city today is busy with North Korea.  But, you know, I have to tell what I have in my mind because one month after, I don’t expect a major border.  We will have our interests. 

I still am in strong – (inaudible) – with the United States.  I will be continuing to come there under any circumstances.  My kids are coming here already, you know.  My son, the oldest, 18-year-old son is coming for a congress to New York in the summer.  So there are the bonds.  But to continue coming as a politician as often as I did in the past, we need to take care of the agenda.

MR. KEMPE:  I think that final comment is maybe even more the headline.  Sasha Vondra becomes cool realist.  (Laughter.)

MR. VONDRA:  Educated by the Americans become a realist. 

MR. KEMPE:  First of all, this has been a great audience, terrific questions.  You really honored us by speaking plainly, by speaking provocatively.  We promise not to put you in jail for this statement.  And, in fact, this is what we really need to do and want to do at the Atlantic Council is really create a debate about the future of the relationship and the role of the relationship in the world.  So it is just this kind of contribution that allows us to do this.  Thank you very much.

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