Slovakia's current foreign policy, fixing the Russia-Ukraine relations crisis, Concert of Powers for a Global Era. These are some of the issues we have discussed in our interview with MP of the Slovak Government and experienced diplomat, Peter Kmec.
You are the foreign policy and international relations advisor to former PM and Chairman of the HLAS – Social Democracy party, Peter Pellegrini. How do you feel about Slovakia's current foreign policy? What do you think should change?
Slovakia is going through a difficult time defining its national interests. Previously, Slovak national interests were unequivocally and inseparably tied to our accession into the EU and NATO. After these integrational ambitions were fulfilled, it almost seems as if Slovak foreign policy has come to an “end of history.” Our membership in these alliances is seen as the ultimate goal, and Slovak foreign policy has given up on defining and nurturing national interests. I am by no means disputing the need for European and transatlantic strategic unity, I do however object to equating national and European interests. The most prominent issue has been on the rise in the world of trade where Slovakia's business sector is faced with the country's inability to provide any meaningful aid in foreign markets. This sad state of affairs is being exacerbated even more during Covid times.
If I am not mistaken, you were opposed to Slovakia expressing solidarity with Czechia by expelling Russian diplomats after what happened in Vrbětice. Why was that?
Seeing as I view Czechia to be Slovakia's most important strategic partner, I did a lot of investigating into this case before making my public statement. Even in Czechia, there were conflicting opinions on this issue, and I decided to join the side that was skeptical and critical towards the intelligence available at the time. My decision was based on the insufficient amount of available evidence as well as the fact that people who had access to reports of Czech intelligence services were calling for restraint. It seems rather peculiar that none of the avenues of investigation ever publicly mentioned the possibility of sabotage or targeted foreign efforts. Funnily enough, additional information was presented to the public only in 2021, prior to the Parliamentary election. This was information that still did not fit with what expert reports were saying, however. That is one of the many reasons why I am doubtful that the intelligence services data will be sufficient for the Czech Public Prosecution to build a case and bring charges (all the while, promises were made that this case would see further development by the end of 2021). It almost seems as if the entire case will be downplayed by the investigators. I have witnessed “guaranteed” intelligence data throughout my political career that has later turned out to be unsubstantiated or completely fabricated, such as the hypothesis about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I am sad to see the Vrbětice case being abused to the extent that it has frozen Czech-Russian relations for a long time to come. No Western country has supported Czechia either, though; not a single one expelled even one Russian diplomat to show solidarity.
You are in favor of strong communication with Russia and China at the highest level. Why do you see it as so important?
Both countries are and will be important players in the geopolitical arena. It must be said that the forms of government in China and Russia are alien to our societal norms, but attempts at exporting liberal democracy have failed in many parts of the world in the past. Discussing human rights with these countries is key, but it should not be focused on removing their respective regimes from power. China and Russia are important economic partners to the EU. I see a good starting point here for nurturing an intense discourse aimed at creating a new multilateral system. Conversely, confrontation will lead to building new divisions and a new Cold War.
The geopolitical situation is constantly changing. The West is weakening, whereas China, India, and other powers are growing in strength. Is the so-called Concert of Powers for a Global Era, which is being talked about more and more right now, a way to lead today's world out of this communication crisis that seems like it could end up causing all sorts of conflict?
I must say that Francis Fukuyama's utopian vision of the “end of history” from the 90s, in which he announced the ultimate victory of liberal democracy, did not come to be. Quite the opposite, the international system of today is at a historical crossroads. After two centuries of Western global domination (initially Pax Britannica, later Pax Americana), we are seeing Asia on a meteoric economic rise. The West is losing not only its resource dominance but also its ideological influence. Even should the democracies of the West stabilize their global position, they will not be able to stop the onset of a multipolar and ideologically diverse world. History clearly shows that such tumultuous times of change are often accompanied by significant instability. Powers clashing regarding their positions or ideologies has often led to massive military conflict. That is why we need to look for a feasible and effective form of new global order. I like the concept of two important American political scientists, Charles Kupchan and Richard Haass, who are calling for a Concert of Powers for a Global Era. This Global Concert would constitute six members: China, European Union, India, Japan, Russia, and the US. As evidenced by the aforementioned, democratic and non-democratic governments would have equal footing and the main qualifications for inclusion would then be power and influence, not values or the form of government in the country. These six “heavy hitters” combined would make up for about 70 percent of global GDP and military spending. An important part of the concept is the fact that the Global Concert would not mean abolishing current international structures, be it the UN, G7, or G20. It should serve as a regular avenue of communication between these powers, allowing them to avoid geopolitical confrontation or unexpected regional conflict. Shockingly new is the American political scientists' call for the European Union to unify and claim its geopolitical place in the world. The EU is the most powerful economic bloc in the world, but it lacks the ability to transform this strength into foreign and defense policies.
Last year, you were appointed expert sponsor of activities meant to gather young people's opinions on the future of the EU. These activities tie directly into the Conference on the Future of Europe. How do young Slovaks see the future of Europe?
I see this discourse framed by the Conference on the Future of Europe as a chance to actively include the younger generation in building a vision of a “Common European Home.” I am happy to report that young people are taking a strong interest in – and feel responsible for – the future of Europe. There is widespread consensus on the need to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. The young are in favor of continuous bolstering of joint EU policies, especially in terms of foreign policy, defense, or healthcare. We are seeing strong support for adopting a common language for communication, all the while, of course, keeping national languages. In this regard, we are seeing compelling projects meant to implement bilingual European schools and formulate a common curriculum about the European Union. The Conference is running until May 9, 2022, and the process will ultimately provide us with hundreds of proposals and recommendations from people all over the EU. It is only up to us, politicians, how we turn these proposals into actual solutions.
How do you, personally, see the future of the EU? What should Slovakia's place in it be?
The EU is facing major challenges. Firstly, it has to claim its place on a global level, which means making key decisions on strengthening joint foreign and defense policy, including the implementation of majority voting. Secondly, it needs to stabilize inwardly in order to prevent further cases of fragmentation like Brexit. That means all member states diligently following Union rules. Thirdly, it needs to build strategic autonomy in several areas – defense, production of resources and goods, science and research, etc. Fourthly, it needs to be able to defend its outer borders and implement an effective immigration policy. Slovakia needs to come up with a new national strategy that reflects all the newest trends coming from our region, the EU, and also the world. Of course, all the while upholding all of its EU and NATO obligations.
Peter Kmec, M.A. (born 1966, in Nitra), is an MP of the Slovak National Council.
During the times of Perestroika, he graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). In 1990, he graduated in law from the Komenský University Bratislava; in 1992, he completed a course on parliamentary democracy in the US Congress.
Kmec started his political career in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, he also acted as political advisor to an OSCE mission in Georgia. After working at Slovak embassies in Israel and the USA, he was ambassador to Sweden between 2007 and 2012, and later ambassador to the USA between 2012 and 2018.
After returning home, he worked as an advisor to Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini. He was elected MP for the SMER-SD party in February 2020, going on to co-found the HLAS – Social Democracy party shortly after.
He and his wife Monika have two adult children – daughter Lucia (25) is studying medicine in Bratislava, son Adam (21) is studying mathematics and physics at Oxford.
Kmec enjoys political literature and sports, he likes to listen to 80s music, especially Dire Straits and Deep Purple.
Concert for a Global Era
Is a concept formulated by American political scientists, Charles Kupchan and Richard Haass, which points to a need to create a platform where high officials of current global powers can meet and communicate regardless of national ideology or form of government. The Concert would include the USA, Russia, China, European Union, India, and Japan. The bipolar world of two superpowers – the USA and the Soviet Union – ceased to exist after the end of the Cold War. A new world order is currently being formed, and new powers are making their way to the forefront. These major changes are causing tensions and the danger of conflict, including another World War. To avoid such dangers, the most powerful states of today's world must meet on a regular basis and discuss emerging issues as soon as they appear.