ALTHOUGH the nations of "new Europe" have been included without question on the list of the so-called "coalition of the willing" by Washington spin doctors, there are hopeful signs that both the Czechs and, to a much lesser extent, the Slovaks are taking a less belligerent and partisan view of the US attack on Iraq than the Bush administration might have hoped for.
The Czech National Security Council decided that, at least for the time being, the Czech Republic would neither support nor oppose a war on Iraq without a UN mandate. If anyone was paying attention, this was not good news for Washington.
Meanwhile, PM Mikuláš Dzurinda said that Slovakia continued to support the stand on Iraq taken by the United States, Britain, Spain, and Portugal at the Azores summit, adding that although he did not want to see a military solution in Iraq, this was up to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
On the military front, the Czech government said it would continue to support the deployment in Kuwait of the Czech and Slovak anti-nuclear, biological, and chemical unit, which consists of some 358 Czech and 69 Slovak soldiers. Both Czech defence minister Jaroslav Tvrdík and Slovak defence minister Ivan Šimko said that the Czecho-Slovak contingent would not be on the front lines of any conflict.
The contingent's aim is to protect the people of Kuwait from chemical warfare, not to participate in an attack on Iraq.
While the 69 Slovak soldiers stood guard in Kuwait, the interior ministry stepped up security measures at home, particularly at border crossings, where freight shipments are being subjected to intensified searches for hazardous and threatening materials.
The government's stated position is that Slovakia does not face an immediate threat because of military hostilities against Iraq. However, there must be some level of threat if heightened security measures have been implemented already.
There is also a high level of public anxiety in Slovakia, from how to explain the war to young children to what to do in the event of a terrorist attack here.
Neither Bratislava nor Košice have their equivalent of the Twin Towers, but a terror scenario is not so far-fetched, given the fact that urban populations are very susceptible to an attack on supplies of drinking water, for example. The government should be doing its best to allay such fears.
If the not-so-unthinkable does happen, and Slovak citizens are attacked at home, the deployment of 69 specialist soldiers to Kuwait will appear to have been a great folly.
Are there any chemical warfare specialists left in Slovakia? And whatever the outcome of the attack on Iraq, in terms of casualties on both sides, the lives of 69 Slovaks have been put on the line in order to demonstrate the Slovak government's more-or-less full support for the United States.
As is the case across all of Europe, new and old, polls show that most people in Slovakia oppose an attack on Iraq. Shouldn't this government pay more attention to the wishes of its own citizens?
24. Mar 2003 at 0:00