The Czech Republic has recently made efforts related to responding to external conflicts and crises. For example, a Czech provincial reconstruction team (PRT) served for five years (2008–2013) in Logar, a province in central-eastern Afghanistan, and specific strategies for Iraq and Syria have recently been elaborated. However, the most important related act has been a new initiative regarding the Sahel, which was about to be approved by the government at the time of writing. The initiative, which follows the country’s strategy for the region adopted in 2018 (Committee for the European Union 2018), integrates various individual projects that were previously introduced, adds new ones, and is supposed to be provided with special funding.
Despite these actions, strategies and initiatives, Czech policy documents currently make no references to a WGA. Nevertheless, the country’s systems for crisis management and foreign policy coordination do include some aspects of a WGA. Below, both systems will be described in more detail and their respective quality will be assessed. After that, the Sahel initiative will be further discussed.
Czech crisis management is conducted according to Act No. 240/2000 (Crisis Management Act 2000). The act stipulates that the government may form a Central Crisis Staff (CCS) as “its own working body for solving crisis situations”. The CCS brings together key ministries and other institutions needed to successfully cope with a crisis. If the crisis involves a military threat, the Ministry of Defence presides over the CCS. For all other crises, the Ministry of Interior is responsible for coordinating CCS efforts. The CCS may also deal with an external threat, which leads to a well-coordinated approach to responding to international conflicts and crises.
Crisis-management efforts may only be invoked if there is a direct threat to the state or if there is a military situation that significantly impacts the security interests of the Czech Republic. These security interests are described and ranked in the country’s 2015 security strategy (MFA 2015), where they are categorised as ‘vital interests’, ‘strategic interests’ or ‘other important interests’.
The comprehensive list covers nearly all security-related interests, from safeguarding the Czech Republic’s sovereignty to protecting the environment, which in turn gives the government a free hand to invoke its crisis-management procedures as it sees fit. However, one can hardly imagine that the government would launch such procedures for a conflict or crisis that is in a faraway place or has little impact on the Czech Republic. That said, this may still happen if an allied (NATO and/or EU) country is in danger or when major exercises (e.g. NATO’s annual CMX crisis-management exercise) are conducted.
As mentioned above, the Czech crisis-management system is unique in terms of the number of domestic actors involved. However, there are no preventive or follow-up mechanisms in place that would permit one to call its activities ‘integrated’. Instead, engagement with crisis situations is reactive, and crisis-management mechanisms are expected to be a short-term. For example, since no set mechanism exists for transitioning from responding to a major crisis to investing in stabilisation efforts, follow-up activities may suffer from depart mentalism and a lack of coordination (MoI Interview 2019). In fact, the Czech stance holds that preventive and follow-up policies should be introduced through standard foreign and European policy coordination.
Act No. 2/1969 (Czech National Council 1969) designates the MFA as “the central state authority for the area of foreign policy”. As such, the ministry is in charge of preparing foreign policy concepts as well as coordinating humanitarian aid and external economic relations. It also manages the Czech Republic’s relations with other countries, international organisations and integration groupings in addition to coordinating all bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Thus, the MFA is responsible for monitoring the situation in conflict regions while instrumentalising embassies or information from international organisations. Furthermore, the MFA manages the country’s development assistance, humanitarian aid and transition-promotion programme, which is a financial instrument for fostering democracy. When it comes to external economic relations, the MFA shares responsibilities with the Ministry of Industry and Trade. The MFA’s key partner in security issues is the MoD, which is also responsible for Czech international military engagement. Last but not least, the importance of the MoI has risen as the issue of managing international migration has climbed to the top of the political agenda. The MoI also plays a key role in the country’s participation in civilian missions. Although there has been a constant clash for competences (mainly with the Ministry of Industry and Trade) and the recent emergence of new actors (e.g. the MoI), the MFA is still the only institution with the capacity to comprehensively follow the developments in conflict regions and propose new actions.
The main authority for foreign policy coordination is the government, and an inter-ministerial comment procedure is in place to facilitate the coherence of its activities. Each ministry may suggest amendments to legislative and non-legislative acts, but the ultimate decision of the government must be followed by all ministries. There is also the National Security Council (NSC) and its committees, which serve as auxiliary authorities and contribute to better policy coherence. The NSC may prepare draft measures for the government aimed at safeguarding the Czech Republic’s security.
On the working level, EU-related dossiers are discussed in an inter-ministerial working group and at the Committee for the European Union on the Working Level. Final positions are approved (often just formally) by the Committee for the European Union, which is chaired by the prime minister and de facto mirrors the composition of the government.
Lastly, the initiative related to the Sahel represents what might be called the Czech Republic’s first WGA-like policy. The initiative is being introduced as a follow-up in response to a changing international environment, and it also reflects changes in the country’s foreign policy interests. This ad hoc application of a WGA brings together a limited number of actors, including the MFA, MoD and MoI. It aims at achieving coherence among and integration of various activities – both those already being conducted in the Sahel region and those planned for the future. Moreover, launching a new, comprehensive programme should result in the allocation of additional financial sources. Indeed, this desire for more funding was openly expressed in an interview with an MFA official while discussing the motivation behind launching the new programme (MFA Interview 2019a).
The prime minister has directly tasked several ministries with preparing such a programme. His motivations are probably twofold – domestic and international. For example, the government has made tackling migration (to the EU) one of its priorities. Since the Sahel is viewed as one of the main sources of illegal migrants to Europe, the government wants to contribute to migration-management efforts in that region. Second, the Czech Republic is one of the EU member states opposed to the reform of the common European asylum system as long as it includes a relocation mechanism with binding quotas. Along with other countries, the Czech Republic is in favour of so-called ‘flexible’ or ‘effective’ solidarity, which means that countries unwilling to accept asylum seekers should be active in other areas of migration management. Enhanced Czech involvement in the Sahel could be perceived as an example of an activity that aligns with the ‘effective solidarity’ logic.