The Value of Central Europe on Donald Trump’s Map: Perspective of Slovakia
The main purpose of the two-part analysis is to conduct an examination of the US–V4 relations from the perspective of certain important US foreign policy objectives. In other words, the analysis seeks to clarify whether the notion that the V4 serves as America’s buttress in Europe, especially vis-a-vis the EU core, is valid. The analysis also identifies and evaluates the commonalities and differences between the V4 concerning their approach to the Trump-administration. The behaviour of the V4 is analysed in three broader regional issues which have been high on the transatlantic agenda in recent years. The three regional issues discussed in this paper are:
- the Ukrainian-Russian conflict;
- the future enlargement of the EU and NATO;
- the Iranian nuclear deal and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
Perspective of Slovakia among the V4 Countries.
The Slovak foreign policy is generally categorized as two-dimensional and balanced. Two-dimensional in the sense that there is a national and an EU/NATO level, and balanced as it seeks to maintain pragmatic relations with both countries and to avoid taking extreme positions with regard to the conflict. While bilateral relations with Kiev are dominated by energy security and the easing of tensions in Eastern Ukraine, the EU sanctions regime, and military reassurance measures are the core issues at the EU/NATO level. This is partly due to the maintenance of their image as neither pro-American nor anti-Russian.
Slovakia’s reservations with regard to US influence on the country’s security policy is also reflected by its refusal to sign a Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with Washington, although Poland and Hungary already have done so. In light of Russia’s assertive behaviour in the wider Eastern European region, a DCA with Slovakia would enable the US to quickly move its forces from the north-eastern European flank of NATO (Poland, the Baltics) to the Black Sea region (Romania). At the same time, Slovakia continues to maintain its support for the extension of the EU sanctions against Russia until the Minsk Agreements are implemented, and it has reaffirmed its commitment to support the EU sanctions. However, this support has been rather weak at times, as reflected by past calls from Slovak leaders to end the sanctions. Geopolitical proximity and a shared border with Ukraine, as well as the issue of energy security continue to create dependencies in relation to Kiev, leaving little room for manoeuvre in the Slovak foreign policy.
The Slovak stance on a possible Ukrainian membership in NATO continues to express support for the open-door policy of the organization, but it must be reiterated that it considers the addition of Ukraine premature at this time. Slovakia tends to be more proactive in the EU-NATO enlargement debate. However, a certain tension and uncertainty remain in Slovakia towards the US. In recent years there has been an observable cultural and geopolitical shift towards the West in Slovakia. This was marked by a steady increase in support for NATO and EU membership among the population. Nevertheless, deeply rooted anti-Americanism remains, as 41 percent of the population still regards the US as a bigger threat to the country than Russia.
On Iran, despite the maximum pressure policy of the US, Slovakia continues to strengthen its economic ties with Iran. In line with the related EU policy objectives, Slovakia has been very active both bilaterally and multilaterally, ensuring the success of the EU’s planned trade mechanism with Iran and bypassing US sanctions. The Slovak–Iranian bilateral relations, including economic ties and trade volumes, have been strengthening since the conclusion of the JCPOA, despite the US sanctions. Hence, Slovakia appears to heavily invest in its Iranian economic ties and is aiming to pursue a pragmatic, balanced foreign policy towards Tehran, in contrast to the maximum-pressure US strategy
To conclude, Slovakia has never been seen as a buttress of American influence in Europe, nor does it wish to be seen as such. The country’s foreign policy is both converging with the US interests and is diverging from them. While Slovakia is committed to contributing to the transatlantic relationship and extending it, and it is supportive of US policies that support Ukraine against Russia or enlarge the EU and NATO in the region, at the same time, it is more willing to take Russia’s considerations into account on these matters. In general, Slovakia’s balanced approach regarding the issues examined, including the Iranian JCPOA, is more in line with the core EU than the US.
This excerpt is part of a collective Policy Brief published by the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade written by Baksa Benjámin, Pál Benedek, Szászi Áron, és Varga Gergely in English. You can find both parts of the complete analysis here:
The author of this article is Benjámin Baksa, member of the International Diplomatic Student Association and Secretary-General of Munapest 2020.