Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

Global Politics

Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

US Foreign Policy Towards Central Europe

After the Middle East Symposium and The Future of the European Union Symposium, editors of the Global Politics journal have decided to launch a Symposium on the Foreign Policy of the United States towards Central Europe. By providing our readers with the opinions of influential scholars from the field, GP aims to stimulate the public debate about the foreign policy of presidents' G. W. Bush, W. J. Clinton and B. H. Obama administrations from the Central Europe´s point of view. Where are the most important differences? What will be the main change during the new B. H. Obama administration? It is our great pleasure to publish the answers of Bradley Thayer, Kim Holmes, Lawrence Korb, Michael Wyganowski, Otmar Höll, Petr Drulák, Wess Mitchell, Elizabeth Zolotukhina and Richard Weitz.

Our authors – scholars from academic institutions and think-tanks in USA and the Czech Republic – have all provided inspiring thoughts based on their experiences and expertise. We offer you opinions of scholars who are current or former members of respectable institutions and think-tanks like Harvard University, Vienna University, Missouri State University, The Heritage Foundation, Center for European Policy Analysis or the Council on Foreign Relations.

GP Questions:

1) Could you briefly compare the foreign policy legacy of presidents' G. W. Bush and W. J. Clinton administrations from the Central Europe´s point of view? Where is the most important difference?

2) In your opinion, what will be the main difference of the new B. H. Obama administration's fo­reign policy towards Central Europe in comparison with preceding period?

Authors provided the answers during March 2009.


Bradley Thayer

Associate Professor of Defense and Strategic Study, Missouri State University Former Research Fellow, Belfer Center, Harvard University

1) Both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations were good for Central Europe because they brought those countries into NATO, setting the stage for stability and EU membership. The Bush administration was better because it inspired Central European states to make a commitment in deed as well as word to the NATO alliance as well as advancing the relationship with Russia.

2) The Obama administration will be worse for Central Europe due to their desire to appease Russia and abandon the missile defense framework developed by the Bush administration in partnership with Poland, the Czech Republic, and NATO.


Kim R. Holmes

Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D. C.

1) Both Clinton and Bush supported further NATO expansion in this region. To this extent they both represent an abiding American commitment to the expansion of the European zone of democracy and security. However, while Bush was preoccupied mainly with the Iraq War, Clinton dealt with the Yugoslavia crisis. U.S. policies in these wars at one time or another irritated countries of the so-called “old” Europe (mainly France), and there was from those quarters a general reluctance to see too large of a U.S. role in determining European security policies. In the end the preoccupation of both presidents with wars (in Bosnia for Clinton and Iraq for Bush) distracted them from a larger role in shaping new institutions in Europe. While it is true that the integration of the European Union stalled with the failure of the constitution, it is also true that neither U.S. administration was able to leave much of an imprint on European institutions.

2) The biggest difference with the Obama administration will likely be a much warmer reception to the idea of European integration. Not that the Bush administration was hostile to the idea, but the Obama administration is more ideologically in tune with the European project than the Bush administration was.


Lawrence Korb

Senior Advisor at the Center for American Progress, Washington, D. C. Former director of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

1) The most important difference lay in the challenges the two presidents faced. Clinton, who came to office within two years after the disintegration of the USSR, made it a priority to oversee the democratization and liberalization of Central European societies, and their integration into the European community after the fall of their Communist regimes. His main legacy will be establishing long term, friendly relations with the new governments in Central Europe and Russia, and expanding NATO into the former Warsaw Pact nations.

George W. Bush came to office after the post-Communist transition was just about completed. Moreover, as a result of the attacks on 9/11, he shifted his emphasis from internal developments in Central European states to regions of greater geopolitical importance to the United States, that is, the greater Middle East. He sought and received support in Central Europe for his invasion of Iraq, referring to them as the „new Europe,“ as opposed to countries like Germany and France, which opposed the invasion. But, his main legacy will be the internal and external effects of the pressure he put on the Czech Republic and Poland to accept U.S. radars and missiles on their soils as part of his National Missile Defense program.

2) President Obama's main difference will be in his approach to Central European security. Unlike the previous two administrations, Obama does not feel the need to focus on NATO expansion; all of Central Europe are now members and further expansion, especially into the Caucasus, is unwise at this time. He will seek to use the NATO framework currently in place to ensure Central European security and use NATO to support his increased efforts in Afghanistan. His presidency will also seek to end the problems caused by the missile shield. The deployments of missiles and radars in Central Europe is a constant source of friction with Russia and undermines other, more critical interests that we need to pursue with Russian help, for example, the Iranian nuclear program. At the same time, the President is aware of the political capital used by Poland and the Czech Republic's po­litical leaders to support the deployments and does not want to sacrifice the working relationships created over the past sixteen years.


Michael Wyganowski

Executive Director of the Center for European Policy Analysis, Washington, D. C. Former diplomat with the Polish Foreign Service

1) Clinton came to the White House with the goal of addressing the problems of US economy (like Obama). He was inexperienced in foreign policy. On one hand he was fortunate that the 1990's was the time where the US enjoyed an unprecedented influence in world politics but on the other was quickly confronted with challenges of the Balkan crisis and the need to remake the transatlantic security order. The President had to learn quickly. He waivered on the Balkans but moved fairly quickly on new security arrangements in Europe. The key issue was the enlargement of NATO. Initially there was a debate in the white House on the advisability of bringing Central Europe into the alliance. By 1994 he however made the decision to enlarge.

His main legacy from the Central European perspective is the continuation of assistance to the region in terms of the transition to free markets and Democratic governance and providing a security guaranty through the membership in the North Atlantic Alliance to the initial three countries of Central Europe. Due to the geostrategic reality Central Europe played an important role in the policy of his Administration.

Bush equally inexperienced in foreign policy was confronted with 9/11. From that point on he was on a mission to defeat global terrorism. Central Europe was viewed as new reliable ally in this struggle. Iraq and Missile Defense defined US relationship with the region (Rumsfeld's New Europe). Countries of the region, especially Poland were given more attention in Washington then ever before (they punched above their wait). The down side was that the expectations of Central Europeans (exaggerated) were never fulfilled and we witnessed a paradigm shift in the regional capitals from full support of Washington to a more calculated business like policies. In the latter part of his Presidency CE began loosing it's position in Washington. Bushes legacy is mixed. On one hand Washington did pay attention to the region. However the general US policy made it difficult for Central Europeans to fully support Washington (conflict with EU). Ultimately we have to be remembered that it was Bush who enlarged NATO for the second time and fought for MAP for Ukraine and Georgia.

2) This is a hard question to answer at this time. The Obama administration has not yet fully developed particulars in it's foreign policy. On top of that it does not have all the important players in the administration in place. If one was to judge based on early pronouncements Obama – in Europe – will try to reconnect with main European powers (irony is that it was the agenda of early Bush 43 administration) and dramatically change it's policy towards Russia. It seems that Washington will pay much less attention to Central Europe both for geopolitical and personnel reasons (lack of people knowing the region in high level positions). In general, unless he is confronted with dramatic crisis, Obama will not focus on foreign policy. The goal will be to put out the fires and cooperate with the outside world allowing the US to focus on it's domestic economic reality.


Otmar Höll

Director of the Austrian Institute for International Affairs, Vienna Visiting Professor of the Danube University Krems, Lecturer at the University of Vienna

1) Charles Krauthammer`s post-Cold War “unipolar moment” had already occurred under the George Bush sen. and Clinton administrations. A consequence of the sudden demise of communism and end of bipolarity, US-Foreign policy gave strong signals to all Europeans that it was the USA that had won the Cold War against the USSR alone, and, as the only superpower left, European acquiesce to America’s aims was expected. The alternative view, namely that with the demise of the overriding threat America’s position in Europe had also diminished, was never seriously considered in the US. In spite of a growing divergence of interest on a multitude of political dimensions between the transatlantic partners, under the Clinton Presidency the overall climate however remained respectful and tolerant.

After Clinton’s active internationalist second term it seemed natural that the George W. Bush presidency would be more inward-looking. The turning point of the George W. Bushs administration was undoubtedly 9/11, when his prior isolationist policy was transformed to that of an aggressive internationalist. For one brief moment the US was the focus on an unprecedented amount of sympathy, solidarity and empathy almost all over the world – we were, as Le Monde said, truly all Americans now. The stunning and rapid fall from grace – from the unquestioned leadership position that the world had bestowed upon it to a status just shy of international pariah – was the great tragedy of the of the George W. Bush presidency. It was his mistake to answer the terrorist atrocities within same semantic framework in declaring the “War against terror” – and worse yet, a “Crusade”. It was also the great mistake of US allies to fully accept these kind of metaphors, that besides the fallacy of reinforcing a hostile small non-state actor’s paradigm (Al Quaida’s version of the Clash of Civilization), that furthermore left not only had no exit strategy but actually no real victory path for those involved. Most people in Europe were heavily against the Iraq war. Rumsfeld was wrong when triumphantly speaking of the “old” and “new” Europe: It was only the governments in Eastern Europe who opted in favour of the war, not their people. At the end of the Bush Presidency the US strategic position had turned to the worse – while the security paradigm and the perceived security threats were the same as they were in 2002, the unprecedented levels of international goodwill had completely evaporated, leaving the US more isolated than at any time in its history. As of today, the feelings in most parts of “old Central Europe” (what today is the Eastern borders of what is considered Western Europe) on the USA and the Bush era is a highly negative the Presidency has been highly counterproductive to US interests and profoundly unsuccessful. But it strengthened the conviction that military power as such can not produce the kind of security we and the world need today.

2) Although achieving real change in US-Foreign Policy is a slow and difficult process, it seems that the Obama Presidency promises to be radically different to George W. Bush’s. Again international affairs have started to undergo a transformational change in due to the financial crises. This shift of emphasis, from a (relatively) tangible and physical security threat to a non-tangible, non-physical threat, is difficult to overstate. In the case of the global financial crisis, few Americans can realistically consider unilateral action as a possible strategy. This transformation shift again requires a truly transformational presidency. Again things have undergone deep changes in recent months because of the financial crises and the US economy, it is envisaged will not play the same role it did before and so will US Foreign Policy.

In Europe there is a wide public perception that President Obama in one way or the other is also the mental President of all Europeans. He seems to understand much better than the past President what a globalized and crisis ridden world needs: a communicative climate of cooperation, mutual understanding and support. We “old Central Europeans” (invoking the spirit of Mitteleuropa) always understood the need for consultation and cooperation. We want to being consulted and taken serious, and hope in this new spirit to proceed together with our friends across the pond.


Petr Drulák

Director of the Institute of International Relations, Prague

1) From the CEE perspective, the first round of the NATO enlargement represented the most important legacy of the Clinton administration. It was widely interpreted as a sign of the US committment to the region. Even though the enlargement was not without controversy in those days, it eventually turned out to be an integrating project healing the cold war divides. In contrast, the Bush administration came up with projects which created new divides both between the USA and Europe and among Europeans themselves – Iraq war and missile defence. Unlike many critics of the Bush administration, I do not argue that Iraq intervention and missile deefence have been inherently flawed. They have clear merits even though I am not sure whether their benefits outweigh their costs. However, the Bush administration did not do much to co-opt key allies into these projects, instead of that, it rellied on unilateralist arrogance which eventually backfired.

2) The new administration is clearly more lukewarm on the missile defence and tries to seek accommodation with Russia (but Bush tried this as well). The main difference will be in style i.e. less arrogant. But no revolution in US foreign policy can be expected. However, one can expect that the Obama administration will pay more attention to non-European global players and the CEE region will not matter much in their perspective. It will be on their mental maps only in virtue of the NATO and EU membership of the CEE countries.


Wess Mitchell

Co-Founder and Director of Research at the Center for European Policy Analysis, Washington, D. C.

1) For all the obvious tactical and stylistic differences between them, the Clinton and Bush II Administrations pursued largely similar U.S. policy priorities in Central and Eastern Europe. In approaching the region, both operated from three foundational strategic assumptions: that Russia was a geopolitical „puissance négligeable“; that Europe was coalescing into a political whole; and that American global – and therefore regional – predominance would persist for the foreseeable future. From these shared assumptions, each Administration pursued as its chief aim in the region the eastward expansion of the Western institutional presence into the former Soviet ambit – for Clinton, Central Europe proper; for Bush, Ukraine and Georgia. To this larger strategic mission, Bush famously added two new agenda items: missile defense and the recruitment of regional allies to backstop U.S. policy in the Middle East. Neither, however, represented a radical departure from the regional policy patterns of the Clinton Administration, which had consciously sought to lay the groundwork for Central Europe's future use as a toolbox for out-of-area military missions and zone for eventual U.S. forward military deployment.

2) Barack Obama will likely be the first President to break from the post-Cold War consensus that has characterized U.S. policy in the region for the past twenty years. On one hand, contrary to some speculation, he will remain just as committed as his two predecessors to the territorial defense of Central European NATO members (including the exposed Baltic States). However, none of the characteristics that created the permissive geopolitical setting enjoyed by Clinton and Bush now apply; Obama inherits a restive Russia, a stalling EU integration process and a thinly-stretched U.S. global power position. In the immediate future, this is likely to translate into at least two practical changes in U.S. policy in the region: (1) a slackening (in deed if not in word), of U.S. support for the eastern enlargement of NATO and (2) a prioritization (likely temporary) of U.S. bilateral links with Russia. Whereas the last President emphasized, and faced a practical need for, hard power assistance (e.g., in Iraq), the new Administration plans to prioritize soft power (e.g., diplomatic pressure on Iran). Since Central European states are less well placed to assist Washington in the latter category than they were in the first, expect the new Administration to re-emphasize relations with large Western European states like Germany. Obama's team will attempt to accomplish this short-term policy recalibration while still retaining the traditional closeness in U.S.-Polish and Czech relations over the long-term. How they square this circle will be the defining test of American statecraft in Central Europe for the next four, and possibly eight, years.


Richard Weitz

Director at the Center for Political-Military Analysis, Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. US Project on National Security Reform


Elizabeth Zolotukhina

Head editor of the Case Studies Working Group with the Project on National Security Reform

1) The Clinton administration was able to enlarge NATO while still retaining good relations with the Russian government. For instance, in March 1999, President Clinton persuaded his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, to accept NATO’s enlargement right up to the borders of the former Soviet Union. The George W. Bush administration helped alienate Yeltsin’s suc­cessor, Vladimir Putin, from the alliance by pressing for the deployment of U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems in the Czech Republic and Poland over Russian objections. Of course, Putin may have sought to exaggerate differences with the United States and other NATO countries, including those in Eastern Europe, in order to rally domestic support behind his government.

2) During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to engage with foreign governments as partners rather than launch unilateral initiatives. This new approach may be in evidence at last NATO summit. In addition, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden has indicated that the administration seeks to “rest” U.S.-Russian relations. Yet, the Obama administration may find it difficult to balance the new approach to Moscow with reassuring anxious Czech and Polish leaders that BMD commitments made under the Bush administration remain in effect. Although the President has reiterated Washington’s com­mitment to the security of Prague and Warsaw, he has yet to reach a final decision on the deployments, which in any case are opposed by many Czechs and Poles.

Lukas Hoder is editor in chief of Global Politics magazine.

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Lukáš Hoder
30. 7. 2009