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Winning Back Prague’s Trust

When Nazi troops occupied Prague in March 1939, they destroyed the city’s tribute to former United States President Woodrow Wilson. Erected in 1928, the statue commemorated U.S. support and President Wilson’s leadership in shaping the first free Czechoslovakia. After WWII, a plaque served as a placeholder in the statue’s former location until a new one could be constructed. Today, 70 years after the monument’s destruction, a new statue was unveiled near its former location, in Vrchlické Sady, the park in front of Prague’s main railway station.

The tribute to the U.S. president symbolizes the Czech Republic’s respect and gratitude for the U.S. Czechoslovakia’s first president, Tomáš Masaryk modeled the country’s first constitution after the United States. According to former Czech President Vaclav Havel, Masaryk “sought to emulate America’s democratic experiment in his own country.”

While Nazism and Communism no longer pose existential threats to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), the U.S. maintains close security relations with partners in the region. The U.S. was a major supporter of the Czech Republic’s membership to the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) and has continued to maintain close military ties. In 2008, the Czech government signed a missile defense agreement with the U.S. that was expected to establish a radar shield in the Czech Republic. The missile defense system was part of the Bush administration’s attempt to counter the nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea. With missile interceptors based in Poland and a radar shield in the Czech Republic, American assets and our allies in Europe would be protected should the region be attacked.

Under the Obama administration, the Czech-U.S. relationship cooled. Washington’s resetting of relations with Russia has taken priority over strengthening security relations with NATO allies, particularly in CEE. President Obama’s middle of the night phone call to Prague in 2009, announcing his reversal of his predecessor’s missile defense system came as a shock and disappointment. According

Winning Back Prague’s Trust

Statue of the U.S. President Wilson returned back in front of the Prague main railway station.

to Sally McNamara, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, the move was “a diplomatic loss and a major loss for America’s prestige on the world stage.” As Russia adamantly opposed the U.S. missile defense system, many in Poland and the Czech Republic felt their security was being traded for America’s warmer relations with their former foe.

The Czech Republic’s rebuilding of the Woodrow Wilson statue shows that warm sentiments between the allies still exist. However, the Obama administration must work to win back the trust of its Czech friends. Sending senior level administration officials (apart from the ambassador) would have been a smart diplomatic move. Unfortunately, this was overlooked. The Obama administration should not take its European partners for granted. Rather than resetting relations with his unreliable new friends in Moscow, President Obama should return to long-standing American partners in Europe.

 

Author

Morgan Roach

Morgan Roach is a Research Associate in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. She currently works on transatlantic relations, Middle Eastern and African affairs. She received her MSc. in European Studies from the London School of Economics and her B.A. in Government from Sweet Briar College.

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