Overrun by Nazis, Soviets, NATO Member Chilled by Trump's Doubts

  • NATO is pillar to Czech Security, Foreign Minister Says
  • Unclear if Republican candidate's comments reflect policy goal

Donald Trump’s musing last month that NATO is “obsolete” and too expensive has several of the alliance’s eastern members very worried.

Invaded by Nazi Germany before World War II and then subject to Soviet-backed rule for four decades, the Czech Republic and other countries depend on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union for their very existence, and dismantling them would threaten to send the region spiraling back to its violent past, Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said in an interview.

“Membership in NATO and the EU are the twin pillars of Czech Republic’s security, and the erosion of these structures represents a clear danger for us,” Zaoralek, 59, said Tuesday at his ministry near Prague Castle. “The absence of an international platform meant that we were steamrolled by Nazi Germany.”

With Russia reasserting itself as a player on the world stage, some of the NATO’s eastern members are calling for it to put more troops in the region to discourage President Vladimir Putin from entertaining designs of dominion there once again. The Czechs are not among them, but to the north, the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are boosting defense spending following the armed conflict in Ukraine. The U.S. and EU countries accuse Putin of supporting pro-Russian rebels with weapons, cash and troops, which the Russian leader denies.

The Czechs joined NATO in 1999 to reorient the country back toward the West a decade after shrugging off communist rule. Membership is the only sure way to prevent a repeat of 1938, when the Nazis annexed part of then Czechoslovakia, and later took over the rest of the country, following an agreement in Munich among the major European powers that left the Czechs out, Zaoralek said.

“The memory is still strong,” Zaoralek said. “We remained completely isolated with no way out.”

Zaoralek said he “wasn’t sure how to take” Trump’s idea that NATO could “break up,” and his comments may not actually “reflect his real policy intentions.” He added, however, that the real-estate mogul had touched on an important issue, which is the U.S.’s displeasure with low engagement by European countries. That opinion was expressed “in an infinitely more cultivated way” by President Barack Obama when he last met NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Zaoralek said.

“So yes, Donald Trump’s statements are absurd,” the Czech diplomat said. “But he’s expressing an opinion that on some level already exists.”

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