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12. 3. 2019 18:31

Speech of the Czech Prime Minister at the Gala at the Černín Palace on the occasion of 20 years anniversary of the Czech Republic’s accession to NATO

Speech of the Czech Prime Minister at the gala evening at the Czernin Palace, 12 March 2019.
Speech of the Czech Prime Minister at the gala evening at the Czernin Palace, 12 March 2019.
On Tuesday, 12 March 2019, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš attended a gala evening at the Černín Palace to mark the 20th anniversary of the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Good evening,

President of the Senate, Minister, Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen,         

Let me welcome you to this gala evening to mark the 20th anniversary of our accession to NATO. Today’s conference at Prague Castle has shown the importance of our membership in NATO. I am therefore particularly pleased that I can welcome the representatives of the entire Visegrad Group – a grouping that was established with the aim of integrating our countries into NATO and the European Union. And I am equally pleased to welcome the current and former NATO leaders and the countries that have helped us with accession. Thank you all for accepting our invitation and coming to Prague.

You cannot become a NATO member by filing an application. Each country can decide for itself what security guarantees it wants. And this free expression of will has to be agreed and ratified by all NATO members. At the same time, by joining NATO we have taken on the commitments and values following from the membership, that is, unity and solidarity.

In 1999, we were accepted as one of the first countries of the former Eastern Block. We can be proud of that.

What was true at the time of our accession to NATO is still valid today. We are not and cannot be neutral, we are part of the North Atlantic alliance. It is in our interest to have an internally coherent alliance capable of effective action.

The ideas of the early 1990s that the end of the Cold War would mean the end of all conflicts soon proved to be naive. So did the belief that collective defence will not be needed and NATO is obsolete. The world is not safe, we do not live in eternal peace, unfortunately.

NATO is not an offensive pact directed against non-member countries. We have formed NATO to defend ourselves and our allies against attack, wherever it may come from. Therefore, our soldiers risk their lives abroad to prevent threats and conflicts in their place of origin. We are proud of our troops serving in foreign missions, we appreciate their commitment and, unfortunately, we have already lost fourteen of our troops in Afghanistan and another fifteen in other foreign missions. There various crises going on not far from our border. The most worrying about them is how forces which are in direct opposition to our values and our way of life can gain mass support. These forces are actively trying to destroy our values and our way of life.

The Islamic State ruled with an iron hand, preventing people in their territory from expressing themselves freely, but the truth is that the support for the Islamic State was – at least in the beginning – really massive. And that is something we must be prepared for in the future. Daesh may be defeated, but terrorism needs to be fought relentlessly. We must be aware that our freedom, our values and our way of life are not self-evident and must be defended.

NATO must play an important role in this endeavour. But we have to contribute to this and bear our share of responsibility. Our government is also ready to play its part, with the word “security” being the key term for the entire introductory paragraph of our government policy statement.

We are in favour of sufficient funding for defence, naturally only if funding is allocated to well-prepared and rational projects, because we do not care about spending, but about results – about achieving the required capabilities.

That is why we joined the very demanding Capacity Building initiative a year and a half ago. It is based on the task of building a heavy-type brigade by the end of 2025, and the upcoming acquisition projects, recruitment, training and preparation are also aimed towards this goal. And, of course, we adhere to our commitment to achieving defence spending levels of 2% of GDP by 2024.

But this year is not only about the 20th anniversary of our accession to NATO, but also the 70th anniversary of NATO itself. In order for NATO to continue to fulfil our ideas of security and defence in the future, we must work on its development and adaptation.

This year saw the withdrawal from one of the pillars of a contractual security framework in Europe, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) between the United States and the Russian Federation. Although European NATO members were not parties, the treaty directly affected their security. Moreover, this occurs in a situation where the entire contractual security framework is going through a crisis of confidence and its future is very uncertain.

We must therefore think about how to deal with this situation. Can we find a way to restore confidence in the Euro-Atlantic area? Can we steer developments after the INF Treaty so that our security does not suffer, and that we avoid a massive arms race and a vicious cycle of countermeasures, which would be devastating financially, politically and maybe even physically? We do not have the answer to these questions today. But we have to look for these answers, and where else can we find them than in NATO.

In order for NATO to give us satisfactory answers to our questions, appropriate conditions must be created for this. The most important one is NATO’s unity. It is no secret that there are different opinions on a number of issues in NATO – whether it be the necessary defence spending or the relative emphasis on security in the south and east.

But this is not completely wrong: Without clashes of opinions we would become stagnant. Frequent disagreements are part of democracy. But what counts is the ability to act when it is really needed.

This is exactly the NATO we need. Where the US and Europe are sitting at one table, they have different opinions, but they are always united in the event of crises, when the stakes are really high. You have contributed to such a NATO, and I thank you for that. Because without NATO, ensuring our security would be much harder, more expensive, more painful, and impossible in many ways. Without NATO, we would also be a less trustworthy partner for investors, who take our membership as one of the safeguards of our country’s stability. That is why we need to protect the Alliance and work to ensure it continues to function in the future.

Thank you again and I wish you a wonderful evening.

Andrej Babiš, Prime Minister

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