Post-Socialist Foreign Policy of Czech Republic

Bullion Bite

History of the Eastern Bloc and the Dissolution Process

The 1980s, often regarded as the final phase of the Cold War, marked a politically busy period for the states within the Warsaw Pact. The period from 1945 to 1990 is referred to as the Cold War era. The defeat or weakening of states that were considered major powers in global politics in the previous century, such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and France, after World War II led to the rise of the United States and the Soviet Union as two superpowers in world politics. These two states, with completely opposing ideologies, spent the Cold War period striving to establish superiority over each other, mainly through ideological means. The term "Cold War" stems from the fact that these two camps hardly engaged in direct military confrontation.

One of the fundamental aspects of the Cold War, the pursuit of ideological superiority, brought about an economic and military race. Due to the security threat perceived from each other, the United States, under the leadership of the US, established NATO in 1949, and the Soviet Union, under the leadership of the USSR, established the Warsaw Pact with Eastern European countries in 1955. One of the main reasons behind the Soviet Union's approach to the Warsaw Pact countries was the expectation that Eastern European states would function as a buffer zone in the event of any events in Europe. Oral Sander explained this situation as follows:


It was clear that the Soviets were facing a 'security problem' after the war. Germany had attacked Russia twice in the last thirty years, using Eastern Europe as a route. Furthermore, some Western countries had fueled the Russian civil war and intervened militarily, adopting unfriendly policies toward the state during the interwar period. After that, the Soviets...


The Warsaw Pact was established among the USSR, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Albania, and Romania. In the preamble of the treaty, it was stated that the reason for the alliance was the entry of West Germany into NATO, which "increased the danger of a new war and constituted a threat to the national security of peaceful states." This process continued with political, military, and economic moves between the blocs until the 1960s. The United States, already possessing nuclear power, gained significant momentum in the arms race against the USSR, which had directed much of its investments towards heavy industry rather than other consumer goods. The world was gripped by panic due to the nuclear power possessed by both superpowers. As a possible nuclear war would result in no winner, the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) vividly explained this situation. Therefore, agreements were signed between the parties to restrict and control nuclear weapons. As can be seen, these agreements reached between the parties are primarily based on the concept of "Balance of Terror" or "Mutual Assured Destruction," stemming from the fact that both states did not want to be drawn into a nuclear war without control. These events paved the way for communication and diplomacy between the parties. In the following years, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which emphasized cooperation among European states, took place. As a result of this conference, an agreement known as the Helsinki Final Act was signed. According to this agreement, the sovereign equality of European countries, not violating each other's borders, refraining from interfering in each other's internal affairs, and respecting human rights and freedoms were the guiding principles. This document fundamentally shook the foundation of the Soviet Union. The movements for human rights and freedom began among intellectuals and nationalists in the socialist satellite countries of Eastern Europe and gradually transformed into a struggle against Moscow's hegemony.

Henry Kissinger mentioned the agreement as follows:


The most important part of the Helsinki Agreement is the section on human rights, known as the Third Basket (Baskets I and II related to political and economic issues, respectively). Basket III would play an important role in the disintegration of the Soviet orbit and would be a key document for all human rights activists in NATO countries...


While freedom movements began to gain momentum in Eastern Europe, the policies introduced by Gorbachev upon assuming power in the Soviet Union in 1985, named "Glasnost" and "Perestroika," strengthened these freedom movements and, at the same time, contributed to the collapse of socialism. The Brezhnev Doctrine adopted by the USSR after the invasion of Czechoslovakia was abandoned during the Gorbachev era. Gorbachev, in a way that implied the demise of the Brezhnev Doctrine to Warsaw Pact members, signaled that henceforth they were on their own and could move freely in their own way, without any Soviet military intervention. 

Velvet Revolution: The End of Socialism in Czechoslovakia

One of the freedom movements in Eastern Europe was the Velvet Revolution that took place in Czechoslovakia. At the core of this movement was a reaction to the harsh and repressive regime, and this reaction was an extension of the Prague Spring that occurred in the 1960s.

Alexander Dubček, who came to power in 1968 and began implementing liberal policies, was ousted from power after the Soviet Union's invasion of the country. During the invasion, Alexander Dubček had called on the public not to resist the occupation and not to use violence. However, this plea was in vain, as the protests that started in the country were harshly suppressed by Soviet forces.

As a result of the Helsinki Final Act signed in 1975, which paved the way for freedom movements, intellectuals in Czechoslovakia presented a document known as Charter 77 in 1977. The document called for the realization of human rights in Czechoslovakia. This request was vetoed by the government.

By the 1980s, Gorbachev's abandonment of the Brezhnev Doctrine and his policies of openness led to an increase in freedom movements. The student protests that began in 1989 can be considered the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. The slogans used in the student protests—emphasizing free elections, academic freedom, and the universal right to freedom—essentially conveyed the deep dissatisfaction in society with the communist regime or even the reforms within the communist regime. The protests started to involve wider segments of the population. Withstanding this situation for a while, the Communist Party formed a coalition cabinet in December 1989, with only half of the members being communists. Finally, on December 28, 1989, Alexander Dubček, who had been removed from office 20 years earlier due to Soviet intervention, was elected as the speaker of the parliament, and later, Václav Havel became the president.

Like other former Eastern Bloc countries that underwent a process of democratization, Czechoslovakia also embarked on a transformation process in culture, economy, domestic and foreign policy. However, during this transformation process, issues such as the Slovak nationalist movement emerged as challenges. After extensive discussions and agreements between Czechs and Slovaks, the country was divided into two independent states, the "Czech Republic" and the "Slovak Republic," on January 1, 1993.

Post-1989 Foreign Policy of the Czech Republic

The dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the complete turn of Czechs towards the West brought about new security challenges. Amidst this transformation process, the Czech Republic, following the Velvet Revolution, embarked on a path of formulating new foreign policies. While undergoing a transition between two opposing ideologies and systems of governance, the Czech Republic's foreign policy priorities included re-establishing the country's full independence and sovereignty and integrating itself into the evolving European system. The security perceptions of the country had changed. Even though the Soviet Union had dissolved, the Czech Republic, which had turned its face fully to the West, still faced some threats. In this context, the Czech Republic needed to seek new alliances. After ensuring the withdrawal of Soviet troops still present in the country following the Velvet Revolution, the Czech Republic left the Warsaw Pact on July 1, 1991.

While it embarked on its internal political transformation, the Czech Republic developed new alliance-seeking tendencies in its foreign policy. Aspiring to be part of the evolving European system, the Czech Republic set its sights on European Union membership soon after leaving behind the communist regime. Alongside this development, the Visegrad Group was established among Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary. The purpose of this group was to assist each other in adapting to the changing world politics and to promote cooperation among the countries. The primary objectives of the Visegrad Group should be to build trust between state and non-state actors within the group, foster internal harmony, and increase the influence of the group in the European Union, NATO, and other international organizations.

Currently, the Czech Republic has friendly relations and shared security with its member countries, defining its relationships with European countries through NATO and the European Union frameworks. The Czech Republic is a member of 57 international organizations and gained full NATO membership in 1999. On January 17, 1996, the Czech Republic submitted its application for European Union membership, and the accession negotiations began in 1998. After fulfilling the conditions for EU membership, the Czech Republic was accepted into the Union through a referendum in 2003 and officially became a member in May 2004.

Presently, one of the most important elements of Czech foreign policy is human rights. Inspired by Vaclav Havel's ideas, the Czech Republic seeks to prioritize human rights as a cornerstone of its foreign policy initiatives. One way to firmly integrate human rights into foreign policy is to implement the Magnitsky Act, which allows for sanctions against individuals who violate human rights. The Magnitsky Act can play a crucial role in ensuring accountability for human rights violations. 

Four distinct ideologies significantly influence the Czech foreign policy landscape. In their study, P. Drulák, M. Kořan, and J. Růžička identified four core ideological orientations that serve as a legitimation basis to promote specific foreign policy preferences in the Czech Republic: internationalism, autonomy, Euro-Atlanticism, and Europeanism. Among these, Atlanticists and Autonomists oppose the deepening of European integration, while Internationalists and Europeanists view it positively. Europeanists focus on the relationship with the EU, adopt moderate policies towards the United States, and tend to view NATO integration negatively. Atlanticists, while supporting European integration in line with Europeanists, differ in their opinions on NATO. They support the development of NATO relations and argue that the EU cannot match NATO's capacity. Autonomists, mostly represented by the Communist Party, view both organizations negatively. They generally see NATO as a definite enemy and, while acknowledging the existence of the EU, oppose Czech Republic's integration into it. Internationalists, on the other hand, support both NATO and EU integration, considering both organizations as crucial for the country's socio-economic development and liberal democracy. 

Though foreign policy formulation in the Czech Republic is built upon a consensus across parties, competition between parties can affect foreign policy decisions. However, this competition is managed in a way that does not jeopardize the interests of the state and society. This consensus relies on dialogue between the other parties, parliament, government, and the president.

The instruments that shape Czech foreign policy include:

- Multilateral diplomacy

- Bilateral diplomacy

- Support for foreign economic relations

- Representation of the Czech Republic abroad and public diplomacy

- Cooperation in environmental protection.

According to the Czech Constitution, the most significant actors in foreign policy are the president and the cabinet. While the constitution grants the president the authority to conduct certain foreign policy activities, the president requires the signatures of the prime minister or the relevant ministers. Any responsibility taken falls under the jurisdiction of the government.

The aim of Czech foreign policy is to integrate the country into a community of advanced democratic states where it will be an equal and reliable partner and assume its fair share of responsibility for developments in Europe and other regions, both in terms of Europe and the world.

Author: Burak Sarigul

#buttons=(Ok, Go it!) #days=(20)

Bullion Bite uses cookies to enhance your experience. How We Use Cookies?
Ok, Go it!