Slovakia Report



In the absence of a unifying WGA strategy, coordination mechanisms or top-down pressure, individual initiative and informal cooperation have produced the few limited examples of a comprehensive approach that Slovakia can point to. The country has a small but fairly tight-knit security community made up of roughly two dozen individuals who move relatively freely between the offices of the president and the prime minister, the MoD, the MFA and, to a lesser extent, the parliament. There is some but relatively little turnover within the community by virtue of the low availability of qualified personnel, and there are not very many newcomers into the system. Also, unlike the Baltic states, Romania or Poland, Slovakia does not have any immediate security threats on its borders, meaning that security issues attract relatively little following or ‘fresh blood’. Instead, those who focus on the issues tend to stay active in them for a long time and to generally remain unchallenged.
Interactions within this security community often stand in for formal WGA structures and policies. When the policy director in the MoD has good relations with his or her counterpart in the MFA (i.e. the security policy director), they will often meet to debate, among other things, a more comprehensive approach to crisis-management missions abroad. Some of the deployments of civilian MoD experts on EU- or NATO-led missions, such as to complement Slovakia’s diplomatic or military efforts in the same theatre, have originated in this way. In other words, these deployments have not happened as a result of top-down pressure, with the prior knowledge of superiors, with EU prodding or with any real reference to any official strategy. Instead, they happened simply because they made sense.
The downsides of such a heavily informal system are as evident as the advantages. First, while the members of the security community do tend to stay put for a long time, when some retire, change posts or are shuffled between departments, they often leave a void that may or may not be filled. Since a WGA is not a top concern, the department that has lost a contact point may not be concerned for years that it no longer enjoys good coordination with its sister departments. What’s more, since so much of the inter-agency interaction is dependent on individual initiative rather than on formal coordination mechanisms, the absence of the right counterpart can degrade or halt coordination for long periods of time.
Second, while the informal security community includes individuals in some senior positions (e.g. advisers to the president or prime minister), its members more often than not operate without official sanctioning or even much interest from the top echelons of the government. They are allowed to coordinate rather than encouraged or urged to do so. This works fine in most instances, but not when decisions need to be made that involve cabinet or, even worse, parliamentary approval. The security expertise at the ministerial or parliamentary level is extremely sparse, interest in the issue is low, and efforts by members of the informal security community to forge better interdepartmental coordination often fall apart when they run up against inter-personal politics and polemics in the upper echelons.
The impact on the WGA is that even if the lower-ranking officials, using informal ties and their familiarity with one another, agree and propose a coordinated inter-agency approach to crisis management to their superiors, the latter often demur or let the suggestion die out of disinterest. Here, one should briefly note that this disinterest in security issues at the top levels also explains why the Slovakia’s key conceptual documents (e.g. the National Security Strategy or the security- sector concept under development), which by definition require multi-stakeholder endorsement and implementation, tend to take so long to get approved or updated.
What also often works against a WGA to EU crisis management is the relatively insular mindset of the defence and interior ministries. While the MFA, by virtue of its mandate and the circulation of personnel between Brussels and Bratislava, tends to be rather immersed in EU policies and to follow the latest thinking, the same cannot be said of the other two departments involved. In fact, members of the defence and interior ministries tend to regard EU or NATO missions as something of a luxury as well as something that one only does after urgent domestic priorities have been met. However, one should note that even if this increasingly is the case for the MoD, the Ministry of Interior is gradually becoming less insular and more active abroad. What’s more, mindsets are not the only hindrance to EU- and NA- TO-related WGAs. Since human and financial resources are always tight, participation in the missions of these international organisations is often the first to get the axe.
It has not always been this way. In days when WGAs were a relatively new phenomenon, the MoD was the entity egging on the interior and foreign ministries to get involved in crisis management abroad. This championing of a WGA was born of first-hand experience, as the MoD had uniformed personnel in EU- and NATO-led operations even before Slovakia’s 2004 accessions, and was long the exclusive provider of personnel for such missions. What’s more, it saw that other countries had started to contribute in ways other than by supplying military personnel, and felt that Slovakia should, too, if only to reduce the pressure on the MoD budget (i.e. to spread the pain). But the last several defence ministers have brought a far more domestic mindset to their job, and the MoD has gone from being the driving force behind a WGA to an often-reluctant participant.
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