An Interview with Martin Palous

MARTIN PALOUS is chief adviser to Jiri Dienstbier, the foreign minister of Czechoslovakia. He spoke to independent writer Mark Sommer recently in Prague.

Many years ago in Charter 77, we started to make contact with people from Western peace movements. But from the beginning we had one fundamental quarrel with them. In our view they were captives of a bipolar vision of the world - that there are two superpowers, both equal, and that the problem can be solved by starting to dismantle the superpowers on the military level. Disarmament was their first issue to solve all other problems. But our point was that the human rights issue was more important.... Finally we arrived at the common conclusion that the human rights principle is really the key ... to arrive at a new definition of politics.

On both sides [East and West] it has been clear that the bipolar system must be replaced by something else. Now this something else is becoming clear. The new European security system must be rebuilt on the basis of multipolarity. Whether NATO is to be a central part of this transformation or whether the Helsinki process will take its place, I cannot give you a precise answer. The idea that we can have one or the other is also a remnant of bipolar thinking. It's evident that the Warsaw Pact is now essentially nonexistent and of course NATO is here. And the dismantling of NATO at this point wouldn't be a very clever thing.

I think, and realistic politicians here share my opinion, that NATO will continue somehow. But which NATO? Not defined as a military force directed against its foe, its enemy in the East, but as a foundation for the multipolar system of the future.

If you believe NATO must stay in place - a surprising answer coming from an official of a Warsaw Pact nation - against whom would they now defend?

It's obvious that major disarmament is necessary. We don't need such big armies. It would be nonsense. The reductions now being negotiated in Vienna are too high for the future. The reality goes much faster than the negotiations; it even makes the negotiators nervous. When I speak of a future NATO, I don't mean such a powerful military system as it is now. This NATO must be transformed into a political system. And against whom? Against all possible sources of disorder and destabilization.

Perhaps we can find a different name for NATO, to take the argument away from the bipolar thinkers that one part has to win, that Western capitalism has defeated communism. This idea is not productive because it's not true. Communism is in decline, it's true. But the outcome is a multipolar system, not the dominance of one system over the other.

Americans are quite nervous about the prospect that they are no longer so needed in Europe. I think that's not only because of American imperialism or the interest of some part of American military industry just to have its army here. It's something deeper in the American spirit why they want to be linked with Europe. It's a question for Americans whether the US belongs to the European political culture or is something different. Americans want to find some place in the Europe of the future. Their role now will be different in a multipolar system, but the links will remain.

But we are not political engineers. So we can't tell you now where the borders are to be of this new political entity called Europe. The [parties] share with the Europeans something like the European mentality, the European idea. That's what will decide the borders, not the decision of some commander in the military system of any superpower. It will not be any generals of NATO who will decide what is Europe and who belongs and who not. They will not have such a big power as in the past.

It's a very nice thing to speak about the structures being built in the framework of the Helsinki process and about the disbanding of both military pacts. The Helsinki structures must be built, and very quickly. But the structures being built in that process will grow in parallel with the transformation of NATO. Where are these new structures? They don't yet exist. And we can't afford to dismantle structures that are more a source of order than disorder. We can't allow the structures of [European security] to be atomized or deconstructed more than they now are.

This is an evolutionary process. We can't afford any more splits, camps, or new beginnings. We have had enough of them in Central and Eastern Europe. Now we need something like stability.

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