The Military in a Postcommunist Czechoslovakia

by Thomas S. Szayna

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The Czechoslovak military has become a genuinely nonpartisan institution that operates on the basis of the democratic principles governing the state. This has been the main achievement since the political changes in 1989. But a new, different problem has emerged since the ouster of the old regime, in that the military has been affected by the ethnic conflict that has shaken the very foundations of the Czechoslovak state. There are indications of extensive and growing ethnic assertiveness among Slovak officers who call for the formation of two separate armies, Czech and Slovak. The spreading of ethnic conflict throughout its ranks is the most serious problem currently facing the Czechoslovak military. The insights of the U.S. military may be helpful, both in applying liberal democratic principles within the military and dealing with ethnic conflict. The United States can play a more substantial role in assisting the conversion process, which in turn could ameliorate some of the ethnic conflict and help create a more stable environment in the region. But U.S. policymakers also need to understand the complex domestic situation that may lead to future Czechoslovak arms sales, and they should therefore not expect too much from the conversion process. The United States might also play a role as part of a policy toward the de facto tripartite entente (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary). Finally Czechoslovakia needs U.S. political support for its reintegration into Europe.

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