16
April 2024
Past Event
Prime Minister Petr Fiala on Transatlantic Relations, the War in Ukraine, and the US-Czech Alliance

Prime Minister Petr Fiala on Transatlantic Relations, the War in Ukraine, and the US-Czech Alliance

Past Event
Hudson Institute
April 16, 2024
Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Petr Fiala on March 8, 2022, in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Caption
Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Petr Fiala on March 8, 2022, in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
16
April 2024
Past Event
Speakers:
Petr
Petr Fiala

Prime Minister, Czech Republic

john_walters
John P. Walters

President and CEO

Listen to Event Audio

Hudson is delighted to welcome Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala for a major policy address on the future of the transatlantic alliance.

Since assuming office in November 2021, Fiala has placed transatlantic cooperation at the heart of the Czech Republic’s foreign policy and marshalled crucial support for Ukraine in its hour of need.

As Fiala put it in October 2022, “Ukraine’s fight is our fight too. The Czech Republic’s fight, the European Union’s fight, the whole of Europe’s fight. Our own geopolitical prospects depend on the outcome of this war.”

Under Fiala’s leadership, Czechia is modernizing its military and increasing its defense budget. It has launched an initiative to repair and upgrade Ukrainian armor on Czech soil and hosts the third-most Ukrainian refugees in Europe. Most recently, and to much acclaim, the Czech Republic has spearheaded an initiative to source ammunition for Ukrainian forces from stockpiles across the globe. 

Join Hudson to hear Prime Minister Fiala’s understanding of the current moment and a Czech prescription for transatlantic relations in turbulent times.

Event Transcript

This transcription is automatically generated and edited lightly for accuracy. Please excuse any errors.

John Walters:

Good afternoon and welcome to the Betsy and Walter Stern Policy Center here at Hudson Institute, I am Hudson’s president and CEO, John Walters. Thank you all for being here. It is my pleasure and honor to welcome a good friend of the United States to our headquarters for the first time today. Petr Fiala is the prime minister of the Czech Republic. Last month, Czechia celebrated 25 years of membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. With that act, the alliance made a solemn promise, the events of 1968 will never repeat themselves, that commitment remains important today and is as important as it was in 1999. That commitment has paid off.

Over the past quarter century, relations between Washington and Prague have flourished with our security partnership facilitating strong economic links that have contributed to our collective peace and prosperity. We are now in a perilous moment with the West’s adversaries testing the European Order in ways that have not been seen since the end of the Cold War. Thankfully, we have, in the Czech Prime Minister, a man who has risen to the moment. Sir, as you put it in October 2022, Ukraine’s fight is our fight too, the Czech Republic’s fight, the European Union’s fight, the whole of Europe’s fight. Our own geopolitical prospects depend on the outcome of this war.

Under your leadership, Mr. Prime Minister, Czechia’s military is undergoing modernization and your defense budget is increasing. Moreover, Czechia has launched an initiative to repair and upgrade Ukrainian armor on Czech soil while your country hosts large numbers of Ukrainian refugees. Most recently, and to much acclaim, your government has spearheaded an initiative to source ammunition for Ukraine forces from stockpiles across the globe. We are proud to have you at Hudson, Mr. Prime Minister, and if I may in closing note how grateful we are for the close ties we have built with your embassy team in Washington and your advisors in Prague. Mr. Prime Minister, the floor is yours.

Petr Fiala:

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for inviting me. It is a pleasure to speak at such an excellent institution which represents conservative values. I really appreciate your work, it is very important especially in our times. But I have to confess to one thing and I hope it’ll not damage me in your eyes too much. I mostly follow the outputs of Hoover Institution at Stanford, please accept my apologize for that. I am not an expert in the relations in American conservative circles but I promise, I promise that I will intensively follow Hudson Institute from now at least because you seem to invite really interesting speakers.

Ladies and gentlemen, I spent the first 25 years of my life in Soviet Bloc, the system we lived in was called socialist but it was a lie and the words we used every day was the real meanings. One such word was peace, it was everywhere, in newspapers, television, on banners, on buildings. Peace was the main word used by the communists to justify their power. The communists always said that the Soviet Union was defending Europe from war, that the iron curtain was a protection from imperialists and that our people’s army was ready to stop them. It was not true, it was not true. In 1968, we saw the real meaning of the Soviet peace.

One morning, Russian tanks were in our streets, they came because leaders in Moscow believed that we wanted too much freedom and planned to escape their control. No, the Soviet Union did not bring us peace, it was not their goal, only the weapons and deterrence of the Western democracies protected Europe from war. In reality, peace existed because there were forces ready and able to face the Soviet Union and its imperialistic tendencies. And the other thing which the regime said was also not true, our army was not prepared for defense. On the contrary, with its poor capabilities, it had the very detailed plans for attacking Western Europe. The iron curtain was not there to protect us from attacks, it exists to prevent people from escape.

The regime liked to call itself the camp of socialism and peace, it was not true, its real purpose was to defend us against, not to defend us against enemies, it was simply a prison. But many people successfully escaped communism, they started a new life in the free world and many of them came to the United States. Your country was always a symbol of hope for us, a real symbol of freedom. This is the reason why the United States has the largest Czech community abroad, it is now about 1.3 million people. The communist system of lies collapsed peacefully in 1989, we got the opportunity to live freely and I will always see it as a miracle. It was the most important change in my life.

To me, this miracle also had a second stage. In 1999, our country became a member of NATO, we returned to the Western civilization but our country was always part of it and only the Cold War removed us by force. I am grateful for that to this day. We already have a new generation of people in my country since then, they now have families, successful businesses and they shape our future and they only know free life in a democratic country, a country protected by the strongest defense alliance in human history. I know very well that this is not granted, we all need to work hard to have freedom and democracy, we especially see this today. From the security perspective, our times are the most difficult since the Second World War.

I’m grateful to America for bringing freedom back to Europe and bringing my country to NATO and for taking the high cost for our protection. In my books and speeches in the last 15 years, I often criticize the approach of larger part of Europe. For too long, many have seen our freedoms as granted and they don’t care about our security too much. This lead to very low spending on defense, we adapted to a life on peace and comfort but, in fact, it was life on borrowed time. I once wrote, when countries lose their essence and values, they also lose control of their own matters and this is a direct invitation for someone to take advantage.

I’m very glad that the current situation is completely different, most countries in the West want to pay this debt. Europe now knows that it cannot use only soft power, it learned that also hard power must be used for global balance but also for our security. The main wake-up call here was Russian aggression but it is not the only reason. Europe is now much more aware of the threats presented by other powers especially China. The Czech Republic does its part, I have all respect of those before me but I believe my government is the biggest supporter of transatlantic connections and we are most active in a responsible security policy since our entry to NATO. We make sure that we stand on the right side of history, not only with words, but mainly with our deeds.

Let me mention five examples. First, in the last two years, we signed the Defense Cooperation Agreement, DCA, it gave us much bigger possibilities of cooperation with the United States and our practical part in the structures of NATO increased. Second, we are active in the defense of the eastern flank of NATO, we participate in military missions in Slovakia, Poland, Baltic States and also Sinai. Third, we also started massive modernization of our defense forces. We got Leopard tanks and new infantry fighting vehicles, a big step is the purchase of 24 F-35 fighter jets and we also bought American helicopters, Venom and Viper.

Fourth, we are now investing 2 percent of our GDP in defense, this meets the NATO commitment. We know that this is a minimum, in the future, defense need to be a much higher priority. Fifth, we help people who support democracy and human rights, this includes the opposition in Russia and Belarus against their governments. Prague is now an important place for activists and journalists who defend human rights. Since 1995, it is also the base of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is clear that the West faces many challenges, potential or existing conflicts are connected around the world. The situation in the Middle East is very difficult, it becomes worse every day. In recent days, we have seen a dramatic escalation. At the moment, Israel is extremely close to open conflict with Iran which could lead to a global conflict. The Czech Republic is a longtime friend of Israel and its most important advocate in Europe, this was evident in 1948 when we provided the young Israeli state with arms for its defense. This assistance started a special Czech-Israeli relationship which is now stronger than ever.

Just before the October terrorist attack, we were preparing for a joint meeting between our governments. Since then, I have been in contact with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Herzog, I visited them in Israel and we have been ready to provide concrete assistance. The last time I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu was about a week ago. We are also standing with Israel on the international level as well as inside the European Union.

Israel is a stronghold of western civilization in the Middle East, it inspire us in many ways and it plays an essential role in global balance. People of Israel don’t have many real friends in the world which makes it even more important to stand by their side. I’m proud that the Czech Republic and the United States are among these closest friends.

For the Czech Republic and its historical experience, the main danger is the aggressive policy of the Russian regime. In 1990, our president, Vaclav Havel spoke in the Congress, he asked America to help with making the Soviet Union a normal country. 1990, he said that Czechs wish for real political plurality in the Soviet Union, that they need respect for rights of nations and also market economy and that they need it fast and so does the whole world. But Russia turned away from this way, it made different choices, it decided for autocracy, corruption, violence and fear.

Once again, it is building a system of lies. We know a lot about it from our past, it is a system where success is not what you improve at home, the only important thing is what you destroy in other places. This has very big impact on Europe but also on international law. Main American and European interests and global security, stability in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region is key. We need to stop the Russian aggression and work on stable, independent and democratic future for Ukraine. This is the only solution if we don’t want to face strong Russia at the door of NATO. This is the reason why we are grateful to the United States for the support to Ukraine. We also highly appreciate your partnership with the European Union, we all need to work together, together for Ukraine’s victory.

Russia also leads an energy war with us, the United States covered the energy needs of Europe, we are thankful for that. A big part of LNG for the Czech Republic comes from American companies and we welcome President Biden’s promise to continue with this help. The Czech Republic is a country in the heart of Europe with a population about 10 million. From February 2022, we accepted more than half a million refugees from Ukraine, mainly women, children and elderly people. We know we now have the highest number of Ukrainian refugees in Europe per capita, that is 5 percent, this is the same as the United States growing by 16 million people in five months.

I’m proud of the fellow Czech citizens for accepting these people in need with no big problems and I am also proud of our Ukrainians, they learn Czech language very fast and joined our labor market. This is a serious topic for us, the Czech Republic is not a country of immigrants like the United States, on the contrary, we were a country from which people ran away. Many times in history, we lost our elites, skilled and educated people left because our country was not free. For example, in 1948 after the communist coup or in 1968 after the Soviet occupation. Today, we are the destination country, we are the safe zone, the Czech Republic is the place where people come for hope.

When I see Ukrainian refugees in my country, I am sure that this is our fate, we are paying back for the historical help from you and the free world, this is the best evidence of how far we are now. But the Czech Republic is also involved in the conflict in other ways, we support Ukraine from the beginning at national level and at European Union level. We provide humanitarian, diplomatic, financial and military support. Let me mention six examples.

First, my government provided humanitarian and stabilization aid for $2 billion plus military equipment. In total, the EU and our member states gave $96 billion in financial, military, humanitarian and refugee assistance. Second, we support Ukraine’s future membership in the European Union and NATO, this is now one step closer to the conclusions of the Vilnius Summit last year. Third, we trained around 4,300 Ukrainian soldiers last year and have another 4,000 planned for this year.

Fourth, Czech Republic was one of the first, first countries who sent weapons to Ukraine. From February 2022, we sent 834 pieces of heavy equipment, tanks, helicopters, rocket launchers, infantry fighting vehicles, cannons and other weapons. That is at least one piece of heavy equipment for every day from the start of the conflict. Fifth, during the past two years, we delivered Ukraine about 1.3 million rounds of artillery ammunition. Sixth, in this context, I must mention that we highly appreciate the support of the US, the backfill and foreign military financing allocations helped us a lot.

The latest success is the so-called Czech ammunition initiative, it is based on the premise that, until western countries can produce enough ammunition, we must secure it from third countries. The purpose of our initiative is to find ammunition on world markets, to negotiate the financing and to potentially coordinate deliveries to Ukraine. We have the know-how, we have contacts, we have experience, and we can effectively organize this assistance. I’m glad that, at this moment, about 20 countries already joined our initiative from Canada, Germany and the Netherlands to Poland. Thanks to them, we can now provide 500,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, we believe that more deliveries will follow. There is no reason why we cannot deliver 1 million more in the next 12 months.

I want to highlight, this initiative is not a one-time project, our goal is to create a long-term system of ammunition supplies for heavy weapons, this will directly help to change the situation on their front line. We also know very well that this cannot be our final goal, western countries need to have sufficient defense industry capacity again, we need to accept the fact that the more responsible security policy also includes large increase in the number of weapons. I believe that our initiative can simply cover the ammunition gap, at least until Europe can produce enough ammunition. We cannot resign on this responsibility, we must continue to push for it.

The Czech Republic is a competent and reliable ally, this is because our defense industry is advanced and we have good business contacts worldwide. I’m sure that I don’t need to tell the story of the Colt brand, it is now a part of the Česká Zbrojovka group, together they became the Colt CZ group and created maybe the best producer of firearms in the world. Another important player in the defense industry is the Čzechoslovak Group, also a major investor in the US. I also want to say that our potential is not limited to the security sector, in the past 35 years, we successfully transformed our economy. Now, we offer top quality products in other fields and these products have much higher strategical impact in the world today. These fields include energy especially nuclear, high-tech fields like cybersecurity, AI development or space technology. Prague is also the home of the EU agency for the space program.

I’m happy that the living and economic standards in the Czech Republic are improving, we are now close to the most advanced countries in the West. Thirty-five years ago, we were supplier of components and cheap labor but, today, we are a confident country which develops modern technologies and successfully invests abroad also here in the United States. Czech Capital has created over 2,000 jobs in the United States in the last five years and our companies invested or are prepared to invest over $6 billion. These are companies like Sev.en Global Investment in the energy sector, R2G in non-woven fabrics, Draslovka in the chemical industry, PPF in sectors like biotechnology and development, GZ Media as the largest producer of vinyl records in the world or KKCG which operates in different industries in the United States from biotechnology to IT.

We are proud of their success but we also know that the future of western cooperation depends on a strategic advantage and we need to keep this advantage in many important fields. For this reason, we are ready to expand to Czech-American cooperation, we are also always happy to support the expansion of US companies which operate in the Czech Republic, we appreciate the success of high-tech companies in our region. There are many examples including Onsemi, Thermo Fisher, IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Red Hat and others.

Ladies and gentlemen, I started with memories from the past, I spoke about the life of flies and the Cold War, a war which the West won and opened the doors to the present day. Today, the question is how long and if this era will continue. We are playing for the future of the West, I strongly believe that the future of the West is key for the future of the whole world. I will explain why.

For people in non-democratic regimes and crisis zones, the West was always the biggest hope, a hope for life and dignity and security, it was a lighthouse showing the way to freedom. People behind the iron curtain could see its light and it gave hope to me, my friends and millions of people in the former Eastern Bloc. Today, my country is a proud contributor to the same light, it now shines on Eastern Ukraine, Belarus or places like the South China Sea. Our civilization introduced many things to the world, human equality, dignity, opportunities for education, personal development or the freedom to choose what we want to do. All this is at risk if we accept the increasing attacks on the world order based on rules.

Europe, the United States and the whole democratic world face the biggest security threats since the Second World War. The global strategic competition is now faster but the global security crisis also give us a new energy, we must work together to transform this energy into a fair transatlantic partnership of responsible countries. All words in this sentence have the same importance, it must be a transatlantic partnership because Europe and America are the two main faces of the West, they must, must work with each other. Without the transatlantic alliance, the chances will be low for people in need but also for us, for the whole free world.

Europe without America is in danger and America is weaker without Europe too, only, only working together make sense but it must also be a partnership which is responsible and fair, the partners must stand side by side and be ready to help each other. Europe is already awake, it understands what needs to be done. Both sides of the Atlantic now know that their security is essential and cannot be outsourced, this involves conventional defense, the security of information space, key infrastructure, energy policy, control over strategic resources and technologies or general stability of the society.

At the same time, it is true that we cannot do this without you, without the active leadership of the United States. There is no other, no other power in the world that can protect the world or like you can. There were times when America was tired of its leading role in the world, times when America cared mainly about its problems and the consequences were tragic for everyone. The West won the Cold War thanks to the strong will of America, especially this saved the free world. Without America, we cannot deal with the crisis which we face today and will face in the future.

I sometimes like to mention the words of American scientist Edward Teller. He once said that it is not pleasant to think about war but war is always possible and the only way to prevent it is to always think about it. Americans have a special ability to see things as they really are and this is one of the main ways how to look at the world, it is something that defines you in the free world, something that puts you at its front. It is the belief that the primary condition of freedom is responsibility, this is true for the whole planet and all people. It means a commitment to protect our values and be ready to defend them. This belief was very important for founding the United States and it shaped the thinking of American leaders since Washington’s time.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, the future of the West is the future of the whole world. Let’s find ways to defend our values today in the face of today’s dangers and let’s ensure that we protect them for the future generation. People who live in fear and absence of freedom will need lighthouses, they will need to see the light of hope for a long time into the future. Thank you very much.

Peter Rough:

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for delivering what I think was truly a major policy address here, we appreciate it a great deal. For our parts, we’d like to think that we can put on even better events than the Hoover Institution and, to prove that point, we’d like to welcome you and your delegation to join our invited guests here for a brief reception in the back. Goodbye to our online audience, thank you for joining us and, to the rest of you, the bar is open. Thank you.

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