Slovakia is edging rather than racing towards embracing a whole-of-government approach (WGA). Several forces are driving this (slow) progress. The 2016 EU Global Strategy (EUGS) has been influential in general terms, and the 2017 provisional update of the Slovak Security Strategy (Government of the Slovak Republic 2017) specifically names the EUGS as one of its guiding lights. However, Slovakia’s participation in EU missions has been even more instrumental. Since the EU calls for all kinds of contributions (i.e. not just military), and since Slovakia generally strives to please when the EU calls for assistance, the country has found itself pulled towards a more comprehensive kind of engagement.
The influence of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has historically been important, and Slovakia initially lagged behind other EU member states in bringing non-military resources to crisis-management contributions. The MoD has found itself frequently asked to contribute forces to EU (and NATO) missions in order to uphold Slovakia’s reputation and credibility in those institutions, but without ever receiving additional resources. The MoD came to see these requests as basically foreign policy through other means and implemented at the expense of other defence priorities. In response, beginning in the early 1990s, it began to pressure the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to do its fair share by sending non-military experts abroad. Eventually, it took until December 2011 for the country to pass the necessary legislation (National Council of the Slovak Republic 2011) and build a list of reserves capable and willing to deploy abroad, but at least the option now exists. However, it has been used very sparingly to date, and only a handful of civilian experts from the MoD have been posted to Ukraine and Georgia since the law’s passage.
These days, the MFA is the key driver of Slovakia’s WGA, although it has enjoyed only limited success. Inter-party rivalry impedes cooperation with the MoD, which is in the midst of an arms-modernisation drive and is therefore reluctant to dilute its focus and resources – of civilian or military forces – by expanding existing deployments or committing to new missions. The MFA controls development aid and, in principle, should be well positioned to ensure that this aid is used in a manner that is aligned with the overall goals of the country’s foreign and security policies. But this happens too little in practice. Moreover, the MFA does a poor job of narrowing the list of priorities down to a meaningful (i.e. manageable) number. For example, the 2019 statement of foreign policy priorities (MFEA 2019) lists everything from energy security to cultural diplomacy as a priority. The net effect is that such documents give poor guidance to the departments managing security policy and development aid, respectively, in addition to giving them few reasons to actually collaborate. To complicate matters further, the upper echelons of the MFA leadership are not involved in pushing for a comprehensive approach to crisis management abroad, as the issue is not a priority and development aid is often spent with little reference to Slovakia’s participation in crisis-management missions abroad.
One should note, however, that things have not always been this way. For example, Slovakia has tried to match its contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan through small development projects with NGOs, and it applied the same logic to its participation in the EU’s Operation Althea in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But budgetary pressures have caused the MFA to primarily refocus foreign aid on meeting UN priorities to bolster the country’s role as chair of the UN General Assembly (in 2018).