Iraq War, Bush administration and Central and Eastern Europe

In 2003, before the Iraq War, the Bush administration was able to create the coalition of the willing as many CEE nations were on board. How much you would say it was a result of Washington’s pressure and how much it was a genuine support?

Raimonds RublovskisResearch Fellow, Latvian Institute of International Affairs

Regarding the efforts and ability of the United States to build up vast coalition of willing in order to engage into military operation versus Iraq in 2003 one has to recall and analyse international security environment and regional security environment in Europe. Another NATO enlargement into CEE region was well under the way in 2002-2003 time table- 7 CEE countries- Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia were invited to join NATO and accessed in early of 2004. It means that during this time these CEE countries had very clear understanding of several aspects which profoundly impacted their security and defense policy.

Firstly, the clear understanding that the United States is the key supportive actor behind the further NATO enlargement agenda into CEE region whereas number of European members of the Alliance were rather reluctant to accept further NATO enlargement.

Secondly, CEE countries had profound understanding that the military capabilities and global political weight of the United States determines the effectiveness and efficiency of entire NATO Alliance and it means that the military effectiveness of NATO is deeply dependent on the military capability of the United States.

Thirdly, taking into account previously mentioned points, CEE countries understood that the United States will have final yes or no within decision of further NATO enlargement and final accession of CEE countries in NATO, therefore, all of those countries put their security and defense policy as highest priority within 2002-2004 time-frame in order to display their political and military support to military actions of the United States in order to be seen on the radar screen of American foreign and security policy. Significant political support of CEE countries to the American security policy and military actions allowed them to receive full American support in their way to join NATO.

One would conclude that the decisions of CEE countries to support American actions versus Iraq were determined by both-value based approach and real politics approach because CEE countries understood that they should show significant support to the United States effort against Iraq and, subsequently, they could count on significant political support of the United States in their aspirations to become full members of NATO in 2004.

David CadierFellow in International Strategy and Diplomacy, Department of International Relations. London School of Economics and Political Science

Actually, I think that what has been determinant was the intervening variable between the two, between Washington’s will to generate support and Central European governments’ actual foreign policy decisions. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia for instance, this intervening variable was the action of a group of atlanticist policy entrepreneurs who were well-acquainted with the Washington circles and who pushed for the Iraq decisions from within their national foreign policy systems. Their role was crucial in the Czech Republic in particular: if it was not for them, Prague’s support to the coalition might have been less conspicuous. Let’s not forget that then Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla had refused to sign the famous ‘letter of the eight’ supporting the intervention. The letter was signed at the last minute by President Havel, although he is not constitutionally responsible for foreign policy and although he was to left office three days later (his successor Vaclav Klaus declared that he would not have signed it). It appears that it was then Deputy Foreign Minister and former Ambassador to Washington Alexandr Vondra who was instrumental in reaching out to President Havel and convincing him to sign but also for in pushing, along with his Foreign Minister, for the governmental decision to contribute a NBC battalion on the ground while several CSSD minister were opposed to it. Similarly, the Slovak Ambassador to the US played an important role in the ‘letter of the Vilnius Group’ initiative.

István Balogh, Junior Research Fellow, Hungarian Institute of International Affairs

I would say that it was a result of both. It was a result of genuine support as far as our hopes for US support on other political issues were concerned. Back then a significant part of the CEE joined NATO only relatively recently, thus, some of them may have wanted to demonstrate that they were reliable and strong allies, even if the Iraq war itself was originally not a NATO mission per se. Furthermore, CEE nations were just before their admission to the EU, thus, this may have been a further incentive to support the war to demonstrate our commitment to euro-atlantic unity – even if Europe itself was very much divided on supporting the Iraq war. On the other hand, the US put significant pressure on European allies to support the Iraq war, thus, support was partly due to this policy as well. However, it must not be forgotten that a significant part of the CEE supported the Iraq war despite the fact that direct CEE interests were not necessarily involved in the war. Still, a number of them calculated that it was worth supporting the war for political reasons.

Wojciech MichnikAssistant Professor of International Relations and National Security Studies, Tischner European University, Krakow

I’d focused mainly on Poland’s perspective, as I understand that some of other CEE countries could have had a slightly different reasons for supporting US in 2003. Poland backed-up invasion of Iraq in 2003 because of the following reasons:

1. To strengthen its relations with United States (especially in the security realm). There’s been a strong tradition in Polish thinking after the 1989 that when it comes to hard security of Poland only the United States can guarantee it (both through NATO and bilateral agreements).

2. To strengthen its international position (well, we can debate whether this worked out).

3. To modernize its military forces (by backing US in Iraq not only politically but militarily, Polish decision-makers tried to take the next step in training and reforming its military forces). The experience Polish troops received in Iraq together with the training with best military forces in the world (American and British) brought the new quality in the process of modernization of Polish military.

4. To answer the call from US – in this regard, it is important to remember that Washington wanted Polish and CEE assistance in Iraq mainly from political (not military) reasons. The whole debate about Iraq prior to war was quite controversial (the split within European/NATO allies etc.) so US wanted to have as many countries on board as possible.

I do not think that Polish government decision was based on the idealistic premise (i.e. Saddam’s regime was inhumane therefore we should play a role in toppling it).

Mircea Micu, Doctoral Student, Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge

I wrote about the Iraq issue from a Romanian angle and a brief answer to your question would be that the support has been as a minimum a combination of pressure and genuine support. Given that Romania’s support to the US continued unabated after Romania’s accession to NATO (a reason for US pressure?), I tend to believe that the latter reasoning (genuine support) has mattered/matters more. This in turn begs a more sophisticated analysis pointing at concepts such as ‘security community’ and ‘strategic culture’…

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