A group of Central and Eastern European intellectuals and former chiefs of state have published on July 16 an open letter to the President of the United States of America, voicing their concerns regarding the current state of relations between the countries of this region and the United States. The letter comes after the US-Russia summit and is signed by Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Emil Constantinescu, Valdas Adamkus, Martin Butora, Matyas Eorsi, Alexandr Vondra and other important figures who have played a part in the recent history of Central and Eastern Europe. In the letter they emphasize the role played by the United States in Central Europe’s (CEE) transition from authoritarianism to democracy, remind Washington of the contribution made by the countries of this region to the American war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, while deploring the fact that the CEE is no longer a priority for US foreign policy. The letter criticizes the new “realist” foreign policy of the Obama Administration concerning Europe and Russia, with the shadow of Yalta looming large in the minds of the signatories.
The document describes the current issues and challenges facing the CEE countries: the impact of the economic crisis on their economies, perceived weakness of NATO, their concern regarding the region’s security after last year’s war in Georgia and the rising trend of anti-Americanism within the societies of CEE states. The transformations that have taken place in the last twenty years in Central and Eastern Europe are also emphasized along with their impact on the relations with the US: EU accession has transformed the foreign policy agenda of these countries, with much more effort and time being allocated to EU matters than on developing trans-Atlantic relations, the region is also on the brink of a leadership change, a new generation of politicians is coming to power who are not aware of the role played by Washington in democratizing the region and the challenge of Russia, characterized as “a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods.”
In the letter a six point plan is laid down in order to transform trans-Atlantic relations and rekindle the partnership between countries of the CEE and the United States:
- Re-affirming the US-Europe alliance.
- The renaissance of NATO as the most important security link between the United States and Europe and having a common position in dealing with Russia.
- The US should not abandon the anti-ballistic missile shield without consulting Poland and the Czech Republic and must not yield to Russian demands.
- The development of a EU-US strategic relationship – NATO and the EU should work in tandem.
- Energy security – the US should support projects that break the Russian monopoly.
- Inclusion in the Visa Waiver program for Romania and Poland and supporting the development of a new generation of leaders in CEE countries attached to the trans-Atlantic link.
The authors of the letter are quite correct in assessing the current state of relations between their countries and the United States. However, it seems that they are also out of touch with the current realities of world politics. Central and Eastern Europe has little to offer to the United States when it comes to solving the Iranian nuclear program issue or the conflicts in the Middle East. Russia is better positioned to put pressure on Iran, but it has not done that yet despite US efforts aimed at convincing Kremlin to change its policy regarding Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Even if the United States offers to abandon its plans to place elements of its ballistic missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, it seems unlikely that Russia will apply the necessary pressure on Iran. The issue of the missile shield will be used by the United States as a bargaining chip in its negotiations with Russia, however it should be pointed out that the missile shield is not the point of contention, but the use of Polish and Czech territory by the United States to project power near Russia’s borders.
Fear of a grand bargaining between the United States and Russia, detrimental to the CEE states, is also a great concern of the signatories. The last summit between Russia and the Untied States has not however ended with a grand bargaining and has achieved very little. Although it is not formerly mentioned, the reference made to Yalta and the criticism levied against the “realist” turn of US foreign policy under the Obama Administration hint at the fear of an accord between the US and Russia that will leave Central and Eastern Europe vulnerable to Russian influence. Such a fear is unwarranted, as the US would gain little from such a deal with Moscow, however it emphasizes the fear and suspicion harbored by the elites of the CEE of a resurgent Russia. A strong and rekindled partnership with the United States would represent a bulwark against Russia’s in rows in this region, not to mention it will put pressure on countries such as Germany and Italy which have a strong relationship with Moscow.
Another issue that shows that the signatories of this letter are out of touch with current world developments is their insistence on a security architecture built on values rather than interests. Such an assertion would have made sense in the 1990s, nowadays however is far fetched. The United States no longer enjoys the impunity and legitimacy it gained after the end of Cold War. It is military overstretched and its attention is captured by Middle East, North Korea and Afghanistan. In order for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to become again a focus of American foreign policy, it is required that they identify a common and vital interest that attracts the attention of Washington’s policymakers. For example the countries of the CEE should become a sort of American lobby inside the EU, acting as a link between united Europe and the United States.
As for the six point program proposed in the open letter to revive the partnership with the United States it is not without merit. It is the sort of solution that, if agreed upon by the CEE countries and the United States, will transform the relations between them. The program is spot on when it comes to energy security, freedom of movement between the US and CEE countries, a common position within NATO regarding Russia and the deployment of the missile shield in Poland and Czech Republic. However the plan should emphasize more the role that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe can have in developing the trans-Atlantic link as members of the EU.
This open letter was meant more as a warning for the Obama Administration to take into consideration the interests of Central and Eastern European countries. It is not a policy document; it is a passionate plea not to forget some small, but trusted allies. The document highlights the state of the trans-Atlantic link from the perspective of Central and Eastern European countries and proposes some remedies. It also highlights the fears and challenges faced by the CEE countries nowadays. This document should be taken seriously by the administration as it comes from individuals who have played important roles in the history of this region and should remind Washington of its responsibilities and interests in Central and Eastern Europe. On the other hand this open letter should encourage the current policymakers of Central and Eastern Europe that in order to rekindle the interest of the US in their region they should come up with serious foreign policy projects that will capture Washington’s attention.