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Facing Contemporary Threats Together: The role of Portugal and the Czech Republic in Reinforcing the Transatlantic Bond

Joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization 22 years ago was a momentous step for the Czech Republic in terms of developing Western and transatlantic relations. Where are we now in terms of defense and security, and how do we situate Europe geopolitically in the evolving global order? Answers to these essential questions were addressed by experts during an online conference entitled “The Current Challenges and Opportunities for European Security, NATO and Defence in Transatlantic Partnership; The Relationship with Russia and China.”

The conference was organized by the Institute for Politics and Society, the Embassy of Portugal in the Czech Republic, CEVRO Institute, EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy, and the Institute of International Relations Prague.

The first panel was moderated by H. E. Luís de Almeida Sampaio, Ambassador of Portugal in the Czech Republic, and introductory remarks were delivered by Šárka Prát, Executive Director of the Institute for Politics and Society. Ms. Prát asked the audience to come back with her to 1999 when the Czech Republic officially joined NATO. She recognized that it was a major step in the country’s reorientation toward the West and was Václav Havel’s dream coming true.

A stronger European defense and closer coordination among the European Union’s member states are necessary in order to respond to Washington’s frequent appeals, as was stressed by João Gomes Cravinho, Minister of National Defense of the Portuguese Republic. One of the EU’s most challenging tasks is to find common ground between the member states since the EU can only operate together if collective action is taken against all kinds of threats. Therefore, the quality of European cooperation on defense is crucial. Mr. Cravinho highlighted the importance of higher public engagement in allocating defense resources. Besides emphasizing the necessity to engage the public, he advocated for a better understanding of NATO, the role of defense in the community, and economic recovery.

Alexandr Vondra, a Member of the European Parliament, expressed his appreciation for the Portuguese approach to the EU’s discussions, which, he said, is not only close to his heart and mind but also the Czech interests. Mr. Vondra further underlined the key challenges that we are facing: Russian aggression in Europe, a rising China, and radical Islam connected with international terrorism. He stressed that these challenges could not be confronted just by Europe alone, which is why we need a strong partnership with the United States.

João Carlos Espada, Director of the Institute for Political Studies at the Catholic University of Portugal, attached great importance to the transatlantic partnership. It is much more than a military alliance, he noted. It is also a cultural and civilizational alliance in which members share the same fundamental ideas of personal liberties and law. NATO is definitely not in a crisis, nor brain death. The spirit of the Atlantic alliance is very much alive, he concluded.

Jan Havránek, Deputy Minister for Defence Policy and Strategy of the Czech Republic, expressed his support for the forthcoming Czech presidency of the EU, referring to it as a great opportunity for the country. He touched upon the current contrasting geopolitical exposure of the region. The focus, he noted, has been slowly transferred from the Middle Eastern and Balkan security issues to the present day’s affairs: the rise of China and emerging technologies.

Ambassador Sampaio offered the main conclusions of the first panel. He reiterated the need for preserving the transatlantic bond instead of rebuilding it. “We need to preserve, reinforce, strengthen the transatlantic bond.” The Ambassador reminded the audience of Article 5 of The Washington Treaty, which is the core of the transatlantic partnership. Before introducing the second panel, he emphasized the necessity to defend democracy, human rights, and liberalism.

Roman Máca, an Analyst of the Institute for Politics and Society, moderated the second panel.

Lívia Franco, Professor at the Catholic University of Portugal, recognized the main differences between the EU and NATO members. Despite having the same perspectives on realizing the fundamental roles, the EU and NATO have very different standpoints on the potential threats they face. She further highlighted that Portugal has always been considered an Atlantic country; moreover, it is one of NATO’s founding members.

Tomáš Pojar, Vice-President For International Relations and Security expert at CEVRO Institute, believes there is a consensus on the perception of the threat. It is the chaos in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and increasingly, unlike 20 years ago, the rise of China. Mr. Pojar emphasized that the real strategic and technological challenger is going to be China.

Liliana Reis, Professor at the University of Beira Interior and Lusófona University, addressed the differences among EU member states on perceived threats. She emphasized the contrast between countries in the South, where the main threat is posed by security issues related to Africa, and the Baltic states, where Russia is considered the main threat. Nevertheless, democracy and the European approach to human rights are commonly shared values by all member states, she added.

Alžběta Bajerová, an Analyst at the Association for International Affairs, raised concern over European countries’ main threats in the South and the North from ideological, political, and geopolitical perspectives. Current threats contribute to deepening the divides by disrupting unity and cooperation between member states, she warned.

Carlos Gaspar, a Research Fellow at the Portuguese Institute of International Relations at NOVA University, attached great importance to the deficiency of strategic consensus among NATO allies and European partners.

Francisco Proença Garcia, Professor at the Institute for Political Studies at the Catholic University of Portugal, called upon discussing the Atlantic more frequently at a political level. Discussing China is necessary, just like it used to be with Russia. He noted that understanding the Chinese approach and demands is essential to interpreting the world’s shifting powers.

Ambassador Sampaio delivered the concluding remarks. He thanked all the participants and informed them that the conference’s take-aways and conclusions would be published. He also invited the audience to the next meeting, which will focus on comparing the Portuguese Democratic Revolution and the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution.